Hideki Tojo was born on December 30th, 1884. His father was Hidenori Tojo, a well-respected officer in the Imperial Japanese Army. Tojo received a typical education for Japanese young men of the time. Meiji-era education revolved primarily around training boys to grow up to be soldiers. Students were taught to revere war and honor the Emperor, not only as their leader, but as a god. To die serving the Emperor was a great honor.
Although he wasn’t an outstanding student, Tojo pressed through Cadet School, working his way toward a legacy that nobody would have expected for the stubborn, opinionated student.
From Cadet to Officer to Anti-American
In 1905, Hideki Tojo graduated from the Japanese Military Academy tenth in his class. He was then commissioned as second lieutenant in the Imperial Japanese Army’s infantry unit.
It is about this time that anti-American sentiment started to gain momentum in Japan as it was the United States that helped mediate the Treaty of Portsmouth, ending the Russo-Japanese War. The Japanese believed that President Theodore Roosevelt had cheated them out of the gains they deserved from the war. It was then that Tojo got his first taste of hatred towards the United States. It would stick with him throughout his life.
The Early Career of Hideki Tojo
During the 1918 Russian Civil War, Tojo served briefly in Siberia in the Japanese expeditionary force. From 1919 to 1922, he was the military attache to Germany. Towards the end of his time in Germany, Tojo visited the United States and was left unimpressed. His train ride across the nation left him seeing Americans as materialistic and “soft.” The values they held were childish compared to those of Japan’s people.
His already low opinion on the United States grew, and became even worse in 1924 when the American Congress passed the Immigration Control Act that banned Asian immigration to the United States. He felt the act proved that the Americans would never consider Asians their equals.
As his disliking of the United States grew, so, too, did his influence in the Imperial Japanese Army. By 1934, he was promoted to major general and took over as the Chief of the Personnel Department. It would be his first major step in his rise to Prime Minister.
Rise to Prime Minister
In the mid-1930s, Hideki Tojo had a hand in repelling an attempted coup by rebels of a radical faction of the Japanese military, and supported the expansion of Japanese influence into China.
Tojo was made prime minister on October 17th, 1941, after the fall of his predecessor, Fumimaro Konoe.
Hideki Tojo took up his new position at a complicated time. The relationship between the United States and Japan had already deteriorated to a point where Japanese officials including Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto were discussing the possibility of attacking an American installation in the Pacific.
Though Hideki Tojo wasn’t the man who orchestrated the attack on Pearl Harbor, and still required the Emperor’s approval before going ahead with the plan, he’s often credited as the official who ordered it. In fact, on November 27th, 1941, after Japan received the Hull note, Tojo characterized it to his Cabinet as an ultimatum, leading them to think the United States was pushing for war. He claimed the note demanded that Japan withdraw from China entirely, rather than the areas occupied since 1937.
On December 7th, 1941, Prime Minister Tojo announced to the nation that Japan was at war with the United States. And for three years after that, Tojo oversaw the War in the Pacific. Early on in the war, Tojo had the support of the Japanese people as the Empire earned victory after victory. After the Battle of Midway turned the tide of the war, however, he started to face increasing opposition. The war, and the nation, were slipping away from him.
The End of the Road
In 1945, after Japan announced it would surrender, Tojo and 39 other Japanese leaders were arrested and charged with war crimes. Rather than be taken in, Tojo attempted to commit suicide by shooting himself in the heart. He survived the attempt, enabling him to stand trial. He did so gracefully, admitting to his crimes and accepting full responsibility for his actions during the war.
His behavior at trial didn’t save him, however, and on December 23rd, 1948, Hideki Tojo was executed by hanging.