Perhaps one of the most feared and at the same time ridiculed men in history, General Hideki Tojo (December 30, 1884 December 23, 1948) was the Army Minister, and subsequently Prime Minister, of Japan during most of World War II. A hardcore militaristic nationalist with fascist leanings, Tojo led the Empire of Japan into war with the United States and the British Empire, leading to the eventual defeat and near total destruction of the nation he loved at the hands of the Allied forces.
Born in 1884 to Hidenori Tojo, a lieutenant-general in the Imperial Japanese Army, Tojo followed his father into the military. He was well-respected as a cadet, and served in a number of increasingly senior positions, becoming Bureau Chief of the Army as a colonel in 1928, Chief of the Personnel Department in 1933 as a Major-General, and commander of the 24th Infantry Brigade in 1934. In 1935 he assumed command of the Kenpeitai of the Kwangtung Army in Manchuria, where he earned the nickname The Razor for his iron will, and ability to make quick decisions.
A hardline nationalist with a strong xenophobic streak, Tojo was one of a clique of officers within the IJA and IJN who sought to make Japan a great power, with or without the support of the civilian government. After being promoted to Chief of Staff of the Kwangtung Army in 1937, Tojo increased Japanese penetration into Inner Mongolia, and following the Marco Polo Bridge Incident he ordered his forces into northern China. He was eventually recalled to Japan where he became first Vice-Minister of the Army, and then Inspector-General of Army Aviation.
It was in 1940, however, that Tojo entered the domestic political scene in a major way, when then-Prime Minister Prince Konoe made him the head of the Army Ministry in his second cabinet. Tojo was a strong supporter of Japans alliance with the other Axis powers, and used his new position to further expand the war in China, while pushing Japan closer and closer to a confrontation with Great Britain and the United States of America. When Konoe resigned as Prime Minister in 1941, Tojo was appointed Prime Minister of Japan by Emperor Hirohito, much to his own surprise. Following the breakdown of negotiations with the USA, Tojo approved both the attack on Pearl Harbor and the seizure of the "Southern Resource Area" (Indonesia and Malaya) bringing Japan into WWII in a big way. In Allied propaganda, the bespectacled and moustachioed Tojo would quickly become a target of racist caricature, and was a favourite victim of mockery, being frequently represented as a monkey or a small boy.
From 1941-1944, Tojo was the dominant figure in the Japanese cabinet, holding the positions of both Prime Minster and Army Minister. He was, however, unable to fully control the Army, and the various factions within it, and had no control over the Navy Ministry. As Japans defeats began to pile up, the other members of the military junta turned on Tojo, who resigned his position in 1944 after the loss of Saipan. When Japan surrendered to the United States, Tojo attempted to commit suicide, but failednote , and was arrested by American troops.
Following the recovery of his health, Tojo was put on trial for war crimes. During his time as Chief of Staff of the Kwangtung Army, and as Army Minister and Prime Minister, Japanese ground and naval forces had committed numerous flagrant violations of The Laws and Customs of War. Somewhere between ten and thirty million Chinese civilians were murdered by Japanese troops, with some being subjected to grisly human experimentation by Ishii Shiros Unit 731. Japanese troops gang raped tens of thousands of women (likely more), abducted still thousands more to serve as "comfort women"—forced into prostitution by the Japanese army and beaten and raped to death by imperial soldiers, and regularly tortured and killed Allied prisoners of war. Biological weapons, including anthrax, were "tested" on Chinese civilian populations, killing several million more. Even cannibalism was common in the Japanese military, who regarded non-Japanese as subhuman. Tojo, both as leader of Japans armed forces, and as a shaper of military and foreign policy, not only refused to punish the perpetrators of such acts, but encouraged them, using Master Race propaganda, and the Imperial Cult to justify the wholesale butchery of Japans enemies. With a death toll in the tens of millions, Tojo's actions put him in the running, alongside the likes of Idi Amin, Josef Stalin, Benito Mussolini, and Adolf Hitler, for the title of "the twentieth centurys worst human being." Tojo himself seemed to realize this; following his conviction for war crimes, Tojo accepted full responsibility for all of Japans atrocities, apologised to the victims, and asked that the United States not do unto Japan, as Japan had done unto others. He was hanged on December 23, 1948.
In recent years there has been some discussion about whether Tojo took the fall for Emperor Hirohito, taking the blame for actions that the Emperor had in fact ordered. Given the opaque nature of the Empire of Japans wartime politics, and the fact that in many cases, officers like Tojo had to interpret what the Emperor wanted (an attempted coup by fanatical military hardliners in August 1945 to prevent the Emperor from ordering capitulation certainly lends some credence to the idea that he wasn't calling all the shots), there is certainly a great deal of room for error in either direction, but in the end the most reasonable conclusion seems to be that there was plenty of blame to go around, and regardless of who wanted the war, it was undoubtedly Tojo who chose to wage it in the way that he did.
See Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini for Tojos Axis partners. See Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Chiang Kai-shek for his Allied enemies. See Imperial Japan, Katanas of the Rising Sun, The Second Sino-Japanese War, The Pacific War, and World War II proper for the nation and forces he commanded, and the wars that he waged.
Tropes as portrayed in fiction:
- Asian Buck Teeth: The Trope Codifier in fact. His teeth were so misaligned they actually began to die and fall out and he needed a set of dentures made to speak at the war trials.
- A Nazi by Any Other Name: A common treatment by those works that actually deal with him or Imperial Japan in general, particularly those that do a Palette Swap and leave it at that. In reality while both Nazism and Tojo's ideals were racist, murderous, imperious, and authoritarian-to-totalitarian there were a number of non-insignificant differences.
- Reality Is Unrealistic: In most propaganda he is portrayed with a high pitched screechy voice when in reality one of the things that made him so influential was his deep, penetrating voice. Of course some of this may have been simply for humorous purposes. Ironically, it was Stalin who had an embarrassingly-squeaky voice, which he concealed by having voice actors read his speeches.
- You No Take Candle: Allied propaganda, such as this poster◊ usually portrayed Tojo in this light.
Appears in the following works:
- The ultranationalist Japanese film Pride has Tojo as its hero, portraying him as a good man forced into war by the treacherous United States of America.
- The 1970s Japanese film, The Militarists, portrays Tojo as a ruthless tyrant, and being an alternate history, has him remain in power until the end of the war, making life even worse for the Japanese.
- He appears in the 2012 film Emperor, where he is one the men on trial for war crimes, and one of those who is questioned about whether Emperor Hirohito should be tried as a war criminal.
- Asao Uchida plays him in the film Tora! Tora! Tora!!, where he appears at regular intervals during the planning of the war against the USA.
- Tetsuro Tamba plays him in 1982's Dai Nippon Teikoku, in one of the more positive/neutral portrayals of him, although this was mostly due to Executive Meddling, as Ryuzo Kasahara was forced by Toei exes to nix an earlier draft portraying him and Hirohito as far more sinister.
- The 2006 film The Tokyo Trial, told from the viewpoint of the Chinese judge sitting on the trial, featured Tojo as one of the defendants.
- In Harry Turtledove's Worldwar saga, Tojo survives The Race's nuclear bombing of Japan, and goes on to lead the Japanese war effort against the alien invaders, treating The Race as brutally as he had treated his American enemies. By the time of Colonization, he is still Prime Minister, and attends the funeral of US President Earl Warren at the age of eighty-two.
- In Days of Infamy Tojo appears briefly at the start, where he authorises the invasion of the Hawaiian Islands.
- In The War That Came Early, Tojo does not appear, but is mentioned frequently. He becomes Prime Minister a year early, in 1940, and leads the Japanese into war with America following the successful campaign against the Soviet Union.
Manga and Anime
- In the setting of Arachnid, Tojo waged war because he was brainwashed by a little ageless girl who had been using her possession powers to control the country's politics.
- David Low's political cartoons (collected post-WWII as Years of Wrath) used Tojo to represent Japan, often rendering him as a bespectacled, pigdin English speaking monkey.
- He (or perhaps Hirohito himself) is caricatured in the War Time Cartoon The Ducktators.
- Tojo provides kitchen hints in the War Time Cartoon Tokio Jokio.
- Bugs Bunny dresses up like Tojo to fool a Japanese soldier in the War Time Cartoon Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips.