A retrospective: Hideki Tōjō and the Empire of Japan

The Empire of Japan (大日本帝國 Dai Nippon Teikoku) is an Island nation in the North Pacific Ocean, made up of over 6000 smaller islands, and four main islands, Hokkaidō, Honshū, Shikoku and Kyūshū. Honshū is the most developed, and where most of its economy is based, and is home to Japan’s capital, Tokyo. Four fifths of Japan is mountainous, with many active volcanoes, and is renowned for being incredibly geologically unstable with regular earthquakes, which is quite remarkable considering its population’s exceeding 126,000,000.

Shintō is Japan’s indigenous religion, but there are also followers of Buddhism and Christianity, but children aren’t indoctrinated in school, and many people are polytheists and accept parts of each religion, or no religion at all. Meiji Restoration in 1868 ended the Tokugawa period which many claim was the final Japanese traditional government (the Shogunate) and its intention was to keep Christianity away from Japan, and 300,000 Japanese Christians living there were heavily persecuted by the Confucianists.

Meiji Restoration was a political revolution that ended the dictatorship of the Tokugawa regime and gained imperial rule back to the monarchy of Emperor Meiji, the 122nd Emperor of Japan. After this point, the Japanese society underwent a dramatic shift as it modernised itself into a powerful world economy, that’s now one of the forerunners in scientific, and technological advancement.

The change came when the Japanese public, and young Samurai, decided that they’d had enough of being under the Shogun’s rule, and a Coup d’état was organised to overthrow the government of Japan’s final Shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu. They were fearful of turning into a totalitarian state like neighbouring China, and wished to prosper like many western countries. At the time Kyōto was Japan’s capital, but it was moved to ‘Edo’ and renamed to Tokyo.

In 1889 Meiji presented a constitution to the people of Japan. The Meiji Constitution lasted for 57 years, just past the end of the Second World War. In it Meiji declared absolute monarchy, but adopted a British style of government where there was a Prime Minister and a Parliamentary government (Imperial Assembly), the first ever in any Asian country.

The Charter Oath of Five Principles was also presented by Meiji to the Japanese population, to highlight the intended reform his government proposed:

• Deliberative assemblies shall be widely established and all matters decided by open discussion.

• All classes, high and low, shall be united in vigorously carrying out the administration of affairs of state.

• The common people, no less than the civil and military officials, shall all be allowed to pursue their own calling so that there may be no discontent.

• Evil customs of the past shall be broken off and everything based upon the just laws of Nature.

•!Knowledge shall be sought throughout the world so as to strengthen the foundation of imperial rule.

The Imperial Diet is most notably from the Roman Empire, and it’s the highest political assembly in an Empire, and Japan adopted this as part of Meiji’s constitution, using the title Imperial Assembly. The Imperial Assembly consisted of two houses:

• The House of Representatives (Shūgiin – Lower House)

• The House of Councillors (Sangiin – Higher House)

The House of Representatives has the most power and is led by the Prime Minister who vote on bills and legislations.

This was the beginning of Japan’s journey into a modern world in which they’d became unstoppable. Many of the young Japanese aspired to Darwinistic ideas like survival of the fittest, and children were taught mandatory Bushidō (the way of warriors) at school so they’d grow up as soldiers, able to defend the Empire against tyranny. Bushidō is a code of conduct that was adopted by Samurai warriors and it resembled honour and chivalry.

In 1904 Japan was ready for the Russo-Japanese War, which was a conflict between the Russian Empire and the Empire of Japan over land control including the region of Korea, and Manchuria. The War lasted just over a year, and Japan dominated the Russians due to a greater number, and superior leadership and discipline. In the final battle, 160,000 troops from both countries lost their lives, forcing Russia to submit a peace agreement. Korea stayed under Japan’s control until they surrendered at the end of WWII.

Theodore Roosevelt was heavily involved in the peace negotiations, but Japan accused America of siding with Russia despite Roosevelt’s award of the Nobel Peace Prize for his actions. This created a lot of American animosity in Japan, and they questioned America’s continuous involvement in Asian affairs leading up to WWII. Was this partially Japan’s motive to attack Pearl Harbor in 1941?

World War I was responsible for much bloodshed, the destabilisation of Europe, the fall of several empires, the lead up to the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, and laid the groundwork for World War II. In 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife we assassinated in Sarajevo by the Bosnian Serb, Gavrilo Princip. Franz was heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and the assassination caused the Austria-Hungary government to declare war on Serbia, and within a short time each country gained support and Germany declared war on Russia, and upon Germany’s invasion of Belgium, Great Britain were obliged to join in and declared war on Germany, and Japan also declared war in Germany, and played a major part in ocean-defence and strategies.

Germany at the time had land in China, and Japan thought that if they forced Germany to surrender they could take the land, like Tsingtao that was under German control.

In November 1918 Germany and its allies knew that their war efforts were futile and agreed to sign the Armistice Day agreement which halted all the fighting, and caused Kaiser Wilhelm, Germany’s ruler, to step down from power.

Hideki Tōjō was born in Tokyo, in the Kōjimachi district in 1884, and was son to a Japanese Lieutenant General in the Imperial Japanese Army, and was of Samurai descent. In 1899 Hideki joined the military academy in the hope of following his father and becoming a successful soldier.

Hideki Tōjō

Between 1919 and 1922, he studied in Europe and returned to Japan to become an instructor in military science, and even at a young age he adopted the nickname kamisori (the razor) for his short temper and lack of patience. His desire sent him up the military hierarchy quickly and in 1936 reached the same post of Lieutenant General that his father held, and in 1938 he became Japan’s vice-minister of War.

In 1939 Hitler invaded Poland and once again German forces were occupying regions that didn’t belong to them. Within days other countries had declared war in Nazi Germany, and by 1941 it had become a world wide war, with the Nazis occupying large portions of Europe, the Italians controlling the Mediterranean, and Japan patrolling the Pacific. In 1941 Japan made an unexpected attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, taking over 2,000 American soldier’s lives.

Hideki Tōjō was a militant ultranationalist, and worshipped the ground the Emperor walked on, and was prepared to obey his every command. In September 1940 he was involved in the signing of the Tripartite Pact (Axis Alliance). Japan has already invaded China three years previously, Germany had invaded Poland two years after that, and Italy joined the Axis war effort when they were confident of Germany’s authority over Europe. Hungary, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia later joined the Axis Alliance.

Fumimaro Konoe, the Prime Minister of Japan was losing confidence from the government fast, and in the final cabinet meeting before he resigned, Tōjō did most of the talking and declared that despite not wanting to declare a war against America, he felt that they had no choice as they were bullying white supremacists, and Japan was past compromise due to America’s aggression in Asia. Soon after Konoe resigned and Tōjō became Japan’s new Prime Minister. Tōjō attempted to ease the tensions that had escalated over the past decade with America up to the declaration of war, but on December 7th, 1941, The Empire of Japan launched a military attack on Pearl Harbor, and later that day made an official declaration of war against the United States of America and Great Britain.

Pearl Harbour

The following day America declared war against Japan, and in response Germany and Italy also followed Japan’s declaration of war against America. Due to Japan and America still in peace negotiations, the attack on Pearl Harbor wasn’t declared, and was later judged as a war crime which was a huge part in the future trial of Tōjō. Japan went from strength to strength and the government fell under the delusion of being invincible and made plans for the demands after the west had surrendered which would result in Japan claiming much of Asia and Central America as theirs.

In 1942, with backing from the Emperor, he announced his plans of a Greater East Asia Ministry which would result in Japanese rule across Asia, and this was the beginning of his military dictatorship, and was able to make decisions without consensus from the government. He had to strengthen Japan’s defence as America was advancing in the Pacific, and attempted a diplomatic effort to create peace with China and enlist other Asian states to join Japan’s war effort, but everything failed. In early 1944 Japan invaded India to attempt to cut off supplies being sent to American bases in China by sending 150,000 soldiers. During this time the American offensive grew in the Pacific and they began destroying Japanese naval bases and gaining massive distance across the Pacific towards Japan.

Tōjō assumed the position of chief of the Imperial Army and took direct control of military forces, and he ended the war with China giving him back 2,000,000 soldiers who he used to attempt to slow down the advancement of allied forces. He was extremely confident that he would soon be able to announce to the Japanese public that they’d had defeated the allies and won the war, but monsoons and lack of food halted their progress in India and the majority of the 150,000 soldiers died. This was a massive set back for Tōjō. Many battles continued against America and many planes were shot down and the casualties soared as America started to gain advantage over Japanese naval and army forces.

Tōjō lost confidence and support from the Emperor and his demise became imminent, and in July, 1944 he was forced to resign from all positions. During 1944 America bombed Japan in an attempt to destroy their infrastructure and damage their morale, and over 500,000 Japanese casualties were a result.

Hiroshima three months later

On August 6, 1945, the United States of America committed the most shameful act by sending a B-29 bomber to drop an atomic bomb onto Hiroshima, and three days later the same over Nagasaki. This was a result of the Manhattan Project, which involved American scientists developing an atomic weapon because of fears that Hitler was also creating nuclear weapons and was prepared to unleash them.

The research was done at the Los Alamos laboratory in New Mexico, and testing began in the deserts of Alamogordo. The scientists were developing two types of bomb, one was Uranium based, and the other was Plutonium. America was certainly not playing games here, and were perfectly aware of the destruction and the loss of innocent lives that their actions would result in. August the 6th saw the almost complete destruction of Hiroshima and an area of five square miles decimated by a Uranium bomb. Japan were defiant, and despite America assuming they’d surrender, Japan didn’t, and three days later the Plutonium bomb was dropped on Nagasaki which resulted in Japanese surrender.

Hundreds of thousands of people died either from the blast or as a result of the after effects, ranging from burns, radiation, sickness and shrapnel injuries. Both cities casualties were predominantly civilians, and scholars to this day are debating the ethical and political motivations of the attacks. It was later proven that if Japan hadn’t surrender then America had planned dates as to when further bombs would have been ready to unleash against Japan and no doubt remove the nation from existence.

It’s difficult to accept that the attack on Pearl Harbour was deemed as a ‘war crime’ because Japan hadn’t officially declared war on America, but the dropping of two nuclear bombs on civilians wasn’t deemed as a ‘war crime’ considering that despite it ending the Japanese war effort, it was genocide on innocent civilians.

Did America learn from this, or show any empathy, or compassion? No, they didn’t, and went on to create a second generation called the thermonuclear weapon, which was a thousand times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. By the mid eighties the United States and the Soviet Union had almost 65,000 between them, which I’m sure you’ll agree is terrifying.

Hideki Tōjō’s trial

After Japan surrendered, Hideki Tōjō knew that the Americans would want him for war crimes upon their occupation of Japan, and he attempted suicide when a warrant for his arrest was issued, but he survived and was taken to Sugamo Prison in Tokyo to heal and await trial. Many Japanese were outraged that he survived as a suicide was an atonement and was expected to die in honour and avoid capture. Seppuku was usually the Japanese method which was disembowelment which often resulted in a swift death from excessive blood loss.

Tōjō was put on trial in Tokyo in 1946, charged with multiple war crimes.

He was found guilty of:

• count 1 (waging wars of aggression, and war or wars in violation of international law),

• count 27 (waging unprovoked war against China),

• count 29 (waging aggressive war against the United States),

• count 31 (waging aggressive war against the British Commonwealth),

• count 32 (waging aggressive war against the Netherlands),

• count 33 (waging aggressive war against France (Indochina)),

• count 54 (ordering, authorizing, and permitting inhumane treatment of Prisoners of War (POWs) and others).

Trial International

On 23rd December 1948, he was executed by hanging.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s