On this day, in 1894, Hideki Tojo, the wartime prime minister of Japan, is born in Tokyo. He came from a prominent family and he attended the prestigious Imperial Military Academy and later the Military Staff College. He was a brilliant student and showed immense promise. Tojo was sent in 1919 as the Japanese military attaché to Berlin.
Tojo was a disciplinarian and was a no-nonsense officer. He was later given command of a regiment and later was given command of the Kwantung Army in Manchuria. Here he displayed his flair for leadership and organization. He was ordered back home and made vice-minister of war and played a leading role in the growing military control of the government.
Tojo was also instrumental in persuading the government to sign the Tripartite agreement with Italy and Germany. With this agreement, Japan joined the Axis powers. Tojo was a leading ‘militarist’ and he played a crucial role in ousting Prime Minister Prince Fumimaro Konoye, who favored civilian control of the state. Tojo after this was the leading light in the cabinet and he was appointed Prime Minister. He had the support of the army and this made him all-powerful in Japan.
Tojo held a series of government portfolios including the war ministry. He had almost absolute power and was a dictator in all but name. Tojo was very worried by the sanctions that America imposed on Japan for her invasion of China. He believed that the best approach was to attack America and he supported the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Tojo also helped to plan the Japanese offensive in the Pacific that saw the Imperial Japanese army and navy conquer South East Asia, the Philippines, Dutch East Indies and many Pacific Islands. This was the high point of Tojo’s career and he was widely admired in Japan for his role in the expansion of the Japanese Empire. Later he would have himself appointed as Chief of Staff of the army.
However, soon Japan found itself on the back foot, especially after the Battle of Midway. Tojo had underestimated the determination of America to defeat Japanese aggression. Soon the Americans were making gains in the South Pacific and both the Chinese communists and Nationalists continued to resist the Kwantung Army. Soon there was growing criticism of Tojo and his running of the Japanese war machine and his grip on the government was weakening.
When Saipan fell to the US Marine Corps his position was untenable and he was forced to resign. When Japan surrendered he tried to commit suicide but he was saved, ironically by an American doctor. Later he was tried by a tribunal and convicted of war crimes and he was hanged on December 1948.