Hideki Tōjō (Kyūjitai: 東條 英機; Shinjitai: 東条 英機; ) (30 December 1884 23 December 1948) was a General in the Imperial Japanese Army and the 40th Prime Minister of Japan during much of World War II, from 18 October 1941 to 22 July 1944. After the end of the war, Tōjō was sentenced to death for war crimes by the International Military Tribunal of the Far East.
Hideki Tōjō was born in the Kōjimachi district of Japan in 1884. He was the third son of Hidenori Tōjō, a lieutenant general in the Imperial Japanese Army. Tōjō's two older brothers died before his birth. In 1909 he married Katsuko Ito, with whom he had three sons and four daughters.
He graduated with top grades from the 27th class of the Army Staff College in 1915, after which he was promoted to the rank of captain and assigned as commander of the 3rd Imperial Guards Regiment. In 1919, he was dispatched to Switzerland as a military attaché. On his return to Japan in 1920, he was promoted to major. In 1921, he again traveled overseas, this time as a resident officer in Germany.
In 1922, Tōjō returned to Japan to assume the post of instructor at the Army Staff College. In 1929, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. During the 1920s, Tōjō became involved in Army politics. He was a leading member of the Tosei-Ha along with Kazushige Ugaki, Gen Sugiyama, Koiso Kuniaki, Yoshijiro Umezu, and Tetsuzan Nagata. They attempted to represent the more conservative moderates in opposition to the extremist Kodaha group led by Sadao Araki.
He was appointed commander of the IJA 24th Infantry Brigade in August 1934. In September 1935, Tōjō was transferred to become commander of the Kempeitai of the Kwangtung Army in Manchuria. Tōjō's nickname was "Razor" (Kamisori), earned for his reputation for a sharp, legalistic mind capable of making quick decisions.
During the February 26 Incident of 1936, Tōjō and Shigeru Honjo, a noted supporter of Sadao Araki, came out against the coup attempt. Emperor Hirohito himself was outraged at the attacks on his close advisors, and after a brief political crisis and stalling on the part of a sympathetic military, the rebels were forced to surrender. In the aftermath, the Toseiha was able to purge the Army of radical officers, and the coup leaders were tried and executed. Following the purge, Toseiha and Kodoha elements were unified in their conservative but highly anti-political stance under the banner of the Kodoha military clique, with Tōjō in a leadership position.
Tōjō was promoted to Chief of Staff of the Kwangtung Army. As Chief of Staff, Tōjō was responsible for various military operations to increase Japanese penetration into the Mongolia and Inner Mongolia border regions with Manchukuo. In July 1937, he personally led the units of the 1st Independent Mixed Brigade in Operation Chahar.
In order to further isolate China from external aid, Japan had invaded French Indochina in July 1941. In retaliation, the United States imposed economic sanctions on Japan in August, and imposed a total embargo on oil and gasoline exports.
On 6 September, a deadline of early October was fixed in Imperial conference for continuing negotiations. On 14 October, the deadline had passed with no progress. Prime minister Konoe then held his last cabinet meeting, where Tōjō did most of the talking:
For the past six months, ever since April, the foreign minister has made painstaking efforts to adjust relations. Although I respect him for that, we remain deadlocked...The heart of the matter is the imposition on us of withdrawal from Indochina and China...If we yield to America's demands, it will destroy the fruits of the China incident. Manchukuo will be endangered and our control of Korea undermined.
The prevailing opinion within the Japanese Army at that time was that continued negotiations could be dangerous but Hirohito thought that he might be able to control extreme opinions in the army by using the charismatic and well-connected Tōjō, who had expressed reservations regarding war with the West, although the emperor himself was skeptical that Tōjō would be able to avoid conflict. On October 13, he declared to Koichi Kido: '"There seems little hope in the present situation for the Japan-U. S. negotiations. This time, if hostilities erupt, I might have to issue a declaration of war.''
On 16 October, Konoe, politically isolated and convinced that the emperor no longer trusted him, resigned. Later, he justified himself to his chief cabinet secretary, Kenji Tomita:
Of course his majesty is a pacifist, and there is no doubt he wished to avoid war. When I told him that to initiate war is a mistake, he agreed. But the next day, he would tell me: "You were worried about it yesterday, but you do not have to worry so much." Thus, gradually, he began to lead toward war. And the next time I met him, he leaned even more toward war. In short, I felt the Emperor was telling me: "My prime minister does not understand military matters, I know much more." In short, the Emperor had absorbed the views of the army and navy high commands.
At the time, Prince Higashikuni Naruhiko was said to be the only person who could control the Army and the Navy and was recommended by Konoe and Tōjō. Hirohito rejected this option, arguing that a member of the imperial family should not have to eventually carry the responsibility for a war against the Occident. Following the advice of Koichi Kido, he chose instead Tōjō, who was known for his devotion to the imperial institution. The Emperor summoned Tōjō to the Imperial Palace one day before Tōjō took office.
Tōjō wrote in his diary, "I thought I was summoned because the Emperor was angry at my opinion." He was given one order from the Emperor: To make a policy review of what had been sanctioned by the Imperial conferences. Tōjō, who was on the side of the war, nevertheless accepted this order, and pledged to obey. According to colonel Akiho Ishii, a member of the Army General Staff, the prime minister showed a true sense of loyalty to the emperor performing this duty. For example, when Ishii received from Hirohito a communication saying the Army should drop the idea of stationing troops in China to counter military operations of occidental powers, he wrote a reply for the prime minister for his audience with the emperor. Tōjō then replied to Ishii : «If the emperor said it should be so, then that's it for me. One cannot recite arguments to the emperor. You may keep your finely phrased memorandum.»
On 3 November, Nagano explained in detail the Pearl Harbor attack to Hirohito.. The eventual plan drawn up by Army and Navy Chiefs of Staff envisaged such a mauling of the Western powers that defense perimeter lines--operating on interior lines of communications and inflicting heavy Western casualties--could not be breached. In addition, the Japanese fleet which attacked Pearl Harbor was under orders from Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto to be prepared to return to Japan on a moment's notice, should negotiations succeed.
On 5 November, Hirohito approved in Imperial conference the operations plan for a war against the West and had many meetings with the military and Tōjō until the end of the month. On 1 December, another imperial conference finally sanctioned the "War against the United States, England and Holland".
Tōjō did his best to keep negotiating. However, the results were not encouraging. For Japan, the Hull Note was the last straw. On the night of 7 December, Tōjō was said to have sat on a futon with his back straight and his knees together, sobbing. He might have regretted his move to go to war, or his failure to obey the Emperor.
As Education Minister, he continued militaristic and nationalist indoctrination in the national education system, and reaffirmed illiberal policies in government. As Home Minister, he approved of various eugenics measures.
His popularity was high in the early years of the war, as Japanese forces went from victory to victory. However, after the Battle of Midway, with the tide of war turning against Japan, Tōjō faced increasing opposition from within the government and military. To strengthen his position, in February 1944 Tōjō assumed the post of Chief of the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff. However, after the fall of Saipan, he was forced to resign on 18 July 1944. He retired to the first reserve list and went into seclusion.
After Japan's unconditional surrender in 1945, U.S. General Douglas MacArthur issued orders for the arrest of the first forty alleged war criminals, including Tōjō. Soon, Tōjō's home in Setagaya was besieged with newsmen and photographers. Inside, a doctor named Suzuki had marked Tōjō's chest with charcoal to indicate the location of his heart. When American military police surrounded the house on 8 September 1945, they heard a muffled shot from inside. Major Paul Kraus and a group of military police burst in, followed by George Jones, a reporter for The New York Times. Tōjō had shot himself, but despite shooting directly through the mark, the bullet missed his heart and penetrated his stomach. At 4:29, now disarmed and with blood gushing out of his chest, Tōjō began to talk, and two Japanese reporters recorded his words. "I am very sorry it is taking me so long to die," he murmured. "The Greater East Asia War was justified and righteous. I am very sorry for the nation and all the races of the Greater Asiatic powers. I wait for the righteous judgment of history. I wished to commit suicide but sometimes that fails.
He was arrested and underwent emergency surgery in a U.S. Army hospital, where he was cared for postoperatively by Capt. Roland Ladenson (a Chicago native who later practiced Internal Medicine in Columbia, Missouri). After recovering from his injuries, Tōjō was moved to the Sugamo Prison.
Hideki Tōjō accepted full responsibility in the end for his actions during the war. Here is a passage from his statement, which he made during his war crimes trial. :
It is natural that I should bear entire responsibility for the war in general, and, needless to say, I am prepared to do so. Consequently, now that the war has been lost, it is presumably necessary that I be judged so that the circumstances of the time can be clarified and the future peace of the world be assured. Therefore, with respect to my trial, it is my intention to speak frankly, according to my recollection, even though when the vanquished stands before the victor, who has over him the power of life and death, he may be apt to toady and flatter. I mean to pay considerable attention to this in my actions, and say to the end that what is true is true and what is false is false. To shade one's words in flattery to the point of untruthfulness would falsify the trial and do incalculable harm to the nation, and great care must be taken to avoid this.
He was sentenced to death on 12 November 1948 and executed by hanging on 23 December 1948. In his final statements he apologized for the atrocity committed by the Japanese military and urged the American military to show compassion toward the Japanese people, who had suffered devastating air attacks and the two atomic bombs.
Tōjō is often considered responsible for authorizing the murder of millions of civilians in China, Korea, the Philippines, Indochina, and other Pacific island nations, as well as tens of thousands of Allied POWs. Tōjō is also implicated in government-sanctioned experiments on POWs and Chinese civilians (see Unit 731). Like his German counterparts, Tōjō often claimed to be carrying out orders; in his case those of the Emperor, who was granted immunity from war crimes prosecution.
Many historians criticize the work made by MacArthur and his staff to exonerate Emperor Showa and all members of the imperial family from criminal prosecutions. According to them, MacArthur and Brig. Gen. Bonner Fellers worked to protect the Emperor from the role he had played during and at the end of the war and attribute ultimate responsibility to Tōjō.
According to the written report of Shuichi Mizota (Mizota Shūichi), interpreter for Admiral Mitsumasa Yonai, Fellers met the two men at his office on 6 March 1946 and told Yonai that : "it would be most convenient if the Japanese side could prove to us that the Emperor is completely blameless. I think the forthcoming trials offer the best opportunity to do that. Tōjō, in particular, should be made to bear all responsibility at this trial.
The sustained intensity of this campaign to protect the Emperor was revealed when, in testifying before the tribunal on 31 December 1947, Tōjō momentarily strayed from the agreed-on line concerning imperial innocence and referred to the Emperor's ultimate authority. The American-led prosecution immediately arranged that he be secretly coached to recant this testimony. Ryukichi Tanaka, a former general who testified at the trial and had close connections with chief prosecutor Joseph Keenan, was used as an intermediary to persuade Tōjō to revise his testimony.
Tōjō's commemorating tomb is located in a shrine in Hazu, Aichi, and he is one of those enshrined at the controversial Yasukuni Shrine. He was survived by a number of his descendants, including his granddaughter, Yuko Tojo, a right-wing activist and political hopeful who claims Japan's was a war of self-defense and that it was unfair that her grandfather was judged a Class-A war criminal. Tōjō's second son, Teruo Tōjō, who designed fighter and passenger aircraft during and after the war, eventually served as an executive at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.