TŌJŌ, HIDEKI (1884–1948)

Wartime photograph of Hideki Tōjō, 1884–1948
Born into a military family, Tōjō was a career army officer with political ambitions. He was an arch nationalist and a leader of the Toseiha, political faction in the Japanese Imperial Army, active in the 1920s and 1930s, that wanted the army to have a more prominent role in Japan’s political life. He fully supported Japan’s imperialist ambi­tions in China and the Asia-Pacific region.

From 1935 to 1937 while serving in Manchukuo (Manchuria) Tōjō was Army commander of the Kem­peitai, Japan’s dreaded “Gestapo” that ran POW, forced labor, and special camps like Unit 731 where the most horri­fic medi­cal and other experi­ments were per­formed on thou­sands of Chinese, Amer­i­can, Euro­pean, and Korean pri­soners. He gradually rose in seniority and became chief-of-staff of the Japa­nese Kwan­tung Army in China during 1937 and then Vice-Minister of War the next year.

From December 1938 to 1940, Tōjō was Inspector-General of Army Aviation. Also in 1940 he headed the Taisei Yoku­sankai, Japan’s para-fascist organ­i­zation created by Prime Minis­ter Fumi­maro Konoe to promote the goals of his “New Order” move­ment. It evolved into a polit­ical party that advo­cated creation of a total­i­tarian, single-party state to maxi­mize efficiency of Japan’s total war effort in China.

Between 1940 and 1941 Tōjō served as Army Minister in Konoe’s cabinet and helped move his country into the Tripartite Pact with German dictator Adolf Hitler and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in September 1940. In October 1941 Tōjō moved into the prime minister’s seat after Konoe’s negoti­ations with the United States over its economic sanctions and embargo on oil and gasoline exports to Japan proved futile. Tōjō was therefore directly respon­sible for the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, which led to the war between Japan and the United States. Emperor Hirohito (posthumously referred to as Emperor Shōwa) had earlier consented to the enterprise on November 2.

Upon succeeding to the office of prime minister, Tōjō moved to dominate the government and the war effort by holding a number of key positions: Home Minister from 1941 to 1942, Foreign Minister in September 1942, Education Minister in 1943, Minister of Com­merce and Industry in 1943, and Chief of the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff in February 1944.

As Japan’s fortunes in the war against the Allies began sagging after the Amer­i­can victory at Midway (June 4–7, 1942), Tōjō faced increasing oppo­si­tion from with­in the govern­ment and mili­tary. On July 18, 1944, in the wake of another Amer­i­can victory at Saipan (June 15–July 9, 1944), Tōjō resigned from his posi­tions. After the war Gen. Douglas MacArthur issued orders for Tōjō’s arrest. (Tōjō’s prede­ces­sor Fumi­maro Konoe com­mitted sui­cide rather than report for arrest.) Tōjō was tried by the Inter­na­tional Mili­tary Tri­bu­nal for the Far East, the Japa­nese counter­part to the Nurem­berg Trials of German leaders. He was found guilty on seven counts, including “war crimes, crimes against human­ity, and crimes against peace,” and hanged at Sugamo Prison in Tokyo on Decem­ber 23, 1948, his cre­mated remains, along with those of six other “Class A” war crimi­nals, covertly scattered over the Pacific Ocean from a U.S. Army air­craft 30 miles off the Japa­nese coast. Neither Tōjō’s emperor nor the imme­di­ate imperial family ever faced crim­i­nal prose­cu­tions for their part in crimes against humanity and crimes against peace.

Hideki Tōjō: Japan’s World War II Warlord Sentenced to Hang, November 1948