Contrary to popular myth, Japan’s version of Adolf Hitler was not the Emperor Hirohito but rather its infamous War Minister Hideki Tojo. The son of an army general, Tojo followed dutifully in his father’s footsteps, attending the Japanese Military Academy. Over the next 20 years he received steady promotions, eventually reaching the rank of lieutenant general. In 1935, Tojo was promoted to Head of the Army’s Military Police. Nicknamed Kamisori, or “Razor” Tojo, he was respected for his sternness, efficiency & decisiveness. By 1937, he was Chief of Staff of the Kwantung Army in Hobei Province China. During Sino-Japanese War, he began consuming Manchuria’s vast natural resources to feed Japan’s hungry military industrial machine.
Returning to Japan in 1938, he became Vice Minister of War, adopting an aggressive stance by continuing pre-emptive strikes against China. By 1940, he was appointed Minister of War by then Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe. When Hitler’s war erupted in Europe, Tojo pushed for an alliance with Germany where he had briefly served as military attaché in the 1920s.
Japan’s continued imperial expansion in Indochina eventually led to economic sanctions by western powers with a freezing of all Japanese assets in the US. Then in the summer of 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt enacted a fateful oil embargo against Japan. By September, Tojo and his naval commanders began openly discussing war with the United States. Staunchly against war at any cost, Prime Minister Konoe resigned in October 1941.
Emperor Hirohito summoned Tojo to the Imperial Palace in Tokyo and named him Japan’s 40th Prime Minister.
Tojo’s first task was to conduct a careful evaluation of war. He noted: For the past six months, the foreign minister has made painstaking efforts to adjust relations with the United States.. Although I respect him for that, the heart of the matter is the imposition on us for a withdrawal by Japan from Indochina. If we yield to America’s demands, it will destroy the fruits of our China expansion.
In November 1941, Tojo’s staff reported their failure in searching for any peaceful solution with the west. Tojo presented his war plans to Emperor Hirohito, who formally approved “War Against the United States and England.” The Pacific War began on Sunday 7 December 1941 when Japanese aircraft bombed the American naval base at Pearl Harbor.
Japan’s early victories greatly strengthened his Tojo’s personal prestige in Japan and his “Faith in Victory.” Over the course of the war, he methodically placed himself in direct charge of the Army, Foreign Affairs, Commerce, Education, and the munitions industry. As Education Minister, he began militaristic indoctrination with his feared Tokko (Gestapo-style) secret police. Throughout the war in the Pacific, the ruthless brutality of Tojo’s military became apparent with numerous atrocities committed against Allied POWs including torture, starvation, beheadings, burnings, drowning, wholesale massacres and bayonet executions,
In 1944, he assumed the role of the Commander-in-Chief, effectively gaining dictatorial powers. Yet despite all his many titles, Tojo was never able to establish a dictatorship on a par with Hitler or Stalin. When Japan’s defeats by the Allies mounted, and its industrial foundation began to crumble, Tojo sought to gather total administrative control of Japan. He still however served at the behest of the Emperor. Without the support of his party, the industrial complex and the courts, he was unable to do so. After the island of Saipan fell to American forces in July 1944, he was forced by Emperor Hirohito to submit his resignation.
Faced with a costly invasion of Japan, President Harry Truman ordered the dropping of atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After the Japanese surrender, Tojo saw his ultimate fate before him. He tried to commit suicide by shooting himself in the chest. The bullet missed his heart however and he survived the attempt. He was arrested by the Allies while recovering and sent to military prison.
Tojo was tried by the International Military Tribunal for War Crimes and found GUILTY of “waging unprovoked wars of aggression in violation of international law, and ordering, authorizing, and permitting inhumane treatment of POWs.” Tojo was sentenced to death and hanged in 1948. Before his execution, he claimed that in regard to the atrocities committed by the Japanese Army, he was simply following orders from Emperor Hirohito.