852: RARE – Joseph Berry Keenan Digital Collection

The Harvard Law School Library is pleased to announce the creation of the Joseph Berry Keenan Digital Collection. Comprised of manuscript materials and photographs, the Digital Collection offers researchers invaluable insight into the Japanese War Crimes Trial — one of the most important trials of the twentieth century.

Joseph B. Keenan was born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island on January 11, 1888. He earned a B.A. and M.A. from Brown University in 1910, and a LL.B. from Harvard Law School in 1913. After serving in World War I he pursued a legal career. His prosecution of gangsters such as “Machine Gun Kelly” earned him a national reputation. Keenan was serving as Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Criminal Division of the United States Department of Justice when he was selected by President Truman to lead the prosecution of the Tokyo Trial.

One of the most important results of both the Nuremberg and Tokyo Trials was the creation of a permanent historical record of the events leading up to, and including, the trials. As one might imagine, these trial collections are enormous. Copies exist in repositories around the world, including Harvard. Unique to Harvard, however, is a collection of correspondence gathered by Joseph Keenan during his involvement with the trial.

The Joseph Berry Keenan Papers, held by the Harvard law School Library, consists primarily of correspondence written during Keenan’s work as Chief Counsel in the International Prosecution Section. Most of the correspondence relates directly to the trial. There is a small subsection of letters between Keenan and colleagues from his Washington, D.C. law firm. Additional documents in the collection include: material relating to the court-martial of Major Walter V. Radovich; a three-page transcript of a 1946 interview with Madame Chiang-Kai-Shek; letters from Japanese and American citizens expressing their opinions on the war crime trials and the war itself; as well as some candid notes by Keenan on Japan and his work. The collection also includes newspaper clippings, photographs, business cards and notes.

The Joseph Berry Keenan Visual Materials Collection spans the years of 1945-1947 and consists primarily of unidentified black and white photographs collected by Keenan.  Mostly personal in nature, the represented subjects include Keenan himself, military ceremonies and figures in Japan — including General Douglas MacArthur — banquets and celebrations, views of Japanese people and scenery, and aerial views of the Japanese landscape following the atomic bomb drops of 1945.

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