Last modified 25 September 2011.
First published 16 June 2010
AKA 'Kamisori' (The Razor).
Kill tally: At least 20 million Chinese in the Second Sino-Japanese War. About 15 million people killed in the Asia and Pacific regions during the Second World War, including over 11 million Chinese and nearly two million Japanese.
Background: Towards the end of the 19th Century Japan becomes increasingly expansionist. Control of Taiwan is ceded to Japan after the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95). In 1904 Japan prevails in a war with Russian forces stationed in Manchuria (now Dongbei Pingyuan, north of Korea), giving Japan control of the Liaodong Peninsula and sealing its position as the preeminent power in the region. Korea is made a Japanese protectorate in 1905, then fully colonised in 1910.
Following the final collapse of the Chinese Imperial Government at the start of the 20th Century Japan sees a further chance to expand its empire.
The Japanese military is steeped in the tradition of unquestioning loyalty to the emperor. Commands from superior officers are regarded as equivalent to commands from the emperor himself. Military leaders have direct access to the emperor and the authority to transmit his pronouncements directly to the troops. The emperor is considered divine and the seat of ultimate power. More background.
Mini biography: Born on 30 December 1884 in Tokyo. The eldest surviving son of an army lieutenant (later general) with samurai ancestry, Tojo pursues a career in the military, graduating from the Imperial Military Academy in 1905 and the Military Staff College in 1915.
Between 1919 and 1922 he continues his military studies in Switzerland and Germany while serving as a military attaché. On his return to Japan he serves as an instructor at the Imperial Military Staff College before being given a command. He moves steadily through the ranks, becoming a captain in 1915, a major in 1920, a lieutenant-colonel in 1924 and a full colonel in 1928.
Tojo marries Katsuko Ito in 1909. The couple will have three sons and four daughters.
1914 - The First World War begins in August.
Japan sides with the Triple Entente (Britain, France and Russia) against the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary) and occupies German-leased territories in China's Shandong Province (across the Yellow Sea from Korea) and the Mariana, Caroline and Marshall islands in the Pacific.
Japan's preeminence in Manchuria is also confirmed in a 1916 agreement with Russia and by the disorder within the Russian Empire following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.
At the end of the war Japan is recognised as a world power. The country is ranked among the "Big Five" powers at the Versailles Peace Conference held in 1919 (Britain, France, Italy, Japan and the United States) and is granted a permanent seat on the Council of the League of Nations. The territorial gains of the war are confirmed.
1927 - Hirohito is enthroned as emperor of Japan. His enthronement coincides with a rise in Japanese nationalism and militarism, engendered in part by social discontent over a decline in the economy and dissatisfaction with the country's political leaders.
Ultra-nationalist right-wing terrorists start to target leading political figures, acting with the support of sympathisers within the military.
Meanwhile, Japanese troops are sent to China to obstruct attempts by the Guomindang (Nationalist Party) to unify the country. The Guomindang, headed by Chiang Kai-shek, are battling the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), headed by Mao Tse-Tung, for control of China.
1928 - In June officers in the Kwantung (Guandong) Army, the Japanese Army unit stationed in Manchuria, begin an unauthorised campaign to precipitate a war with China. Both the Japanese high command and the Chinese refuse to take the bait.
1929 - Tojo is made commander of the lst Infantry Regiment in Tokyo.
1931 - On 18 September conspirators in the Kwantung Army stage the 'Manchurian Incident', blowing up a section of track on the South Manchuria Railway then blaming Chinese saboteurs.
With the Japanese Government powerless to intervene, the Kwantung Army mobilises, taking nearby Mukden (now Shenyang) then, in January 1932, attacking Shanghai, south of their territory in Shandong Province.
A truce is called in March 1932. The Japanese then establish the puppet state of Manchukuo, centred on Manchuria and headed by the last Chinese emperor, Puyi.
While these developments are viewed favourably by much of the Japanese public, the international community reacts negatively. Japan subsequently withdraws from the League of Nations.
1932 - The military effectively takes control of the Japanese Government on 15 May when the prime minister is assassinated by a group of junior naval officers and army cadets. Manchukuo is formally recognised by the military-controlled regime.
1933 - Tojo is promoted to major-general on 18 March. In August 1934 he is given command of the 24th Infantry Brigade.
1935 - On 21 September Tojo is appointed head of the Kwantung Army's military police. On 1 December he is promoted to lieutenant-general.
1936 - Following a military insurrection by Japanese troops in February (the so-called 'February 26 Incident'), the emperor appoints a new government that is acceptable to the rebels. The government agrees to increase defence spending and boost naval construction. Japan is arming for war and aiming for the construction of a "New East Asian Order."
Tojo, who resisted the rebel troops, emerges from the February 26 Incident as a major player in the military.
1937 - Tojo is appointed chief-of-staff of the Kwantung Army on 1 March.
The Second Sino-Japanese War breaks out on 7 July following a skirmish between Chinese and Japanese troops outside Beijing. Chinese forces evacuate Beijing on 28 July. The Japanese overrun Tianjin (100 km southeast of Beijing) on 30 July then attack Shanghai on 13 August.
Tojo is directly involved in combat during the initial stages of the war.
After a three-month siege, Shanghai falls and the Guomindang forces withdraw to the northwest towards their capital Nanking (now known as Nanjing). The Japanese pursue.
The ground assault on Nanking begins on 10 December after the Chinese troops assigned to defend the city refuse to withdraw. When Nanking finally falls on 13 December, just hours after the Chinese forces have fled, the Japanese begin a bloodthirsty massacre that will last for six weeks.
The 'Rape of Nanking' results in the indiscriminate murder of between 200,000-350,000 Chinese civilians and surrendered soldiers. It is the worst single massacre of unarmed troops and civilians in the history of the 20th Century.
The atrocities set an example that leaves the Chinese population terrorised and passive to further Japanese advances. The Japanese later make Nanking the capital of their Chinese puppet state.
1938 - In May Tojo is recalled to Japan to take up the position of vice-minister of war. Six months later he is appointed commander of the army's aviation division.
In June the Japanese establish a biological and chemical weapons research facility at Ping Fan, 25 km southeast of Harbin in northern Manchukuo. Headed by Shiro Ishii, it is largest biological weapons research facility in the world. Its task is to develop and test biological and chemical weapons for use in both the Sino-Japanese War and the approaching Second World War.
At least 3,000 prisoners are killed in experiments at the Ping Fan facility. Approximately 200,000 are killed in field tests of biological weapons. Between 20,000 to 30,000 Chinese are killed when plague-infected rats are released from the facility by the Japanese at the end of the war.
Tojo later says that though he knew Ishii and thought his knowledge was "excellent," he forbade experimentation on humans and the use of chemical and biological weapons on the battlefield. Ishii claims that Tojo supported his research into biological weapons. During the war, Ishii receives at least two awards from the Japanese Government, including one presented by Tojo.
By the end of 1938 the Japanese occupy most urban areas in central and eastern China.
In Japan the military holds complete authority and is answerable to the emperor only.
1939 - The Japanese attempt to invade Mongolia in May but are badly defeated by combined Soviet-Mongolian forces.
Meanwhile, in Europe, German troops invade Poland on 1 September. Britain and France declare war on Germany two days later. The Second World War has begun.
1940 - On 22 July Tojo is appointed minister of war. He is considered to be a hawkish proponent of Japanese military expansionism and an advocate for an alliance between Japan and Nazi Germany.
The Japanese Government announces its plan to build a "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" across the region.
A few days later Japan joins the Axis alliance with Germany and Italy, signing the 'Tripartite Pact', an agreement to carve up the world following victory in the Second World War.
The US responds by placing a ban on the export of steel, scrap metal and aviation fuel to Japan.
1941 - Japan and the Soviet Union sign the 'Japanese-Soviet Neutrality Pact' in April, removing the threat to Japan of invasion by the Soviets and allowing the Japanese military to concentrate its war efforts on the southward drive into China and Southeast Asia.
When Japan occupies southern Indochina on 23 July the US and Britain freeze Japanese assets and impose an oil embargo on Japan, an action that has the potential to cripple the Japanese armed forces.
"This was a grave threat to the existence of Japan," Tojo later writes. "In addition to this, the British-American side concentrated troops in Hawaii, the Philippines, Singapore, and Malaya, and reinforced their defences. In this way, economic pressure was increased just as the circle around Japan was tightened, and conditions arose that severely threatened the existence of Japan. ...
"Finally ... the United States repeated demands that, under the circumstances, Japan could not accept: complete withdrawal of troops from China, repudiation of the Nanking Government (the Chinese puppet state), withdrawal from the Tripartite Pact. At this point, Japan lost all hope of reaching a resolution through diplomatic negotiation."
The Japanese prime minister, however, believes that a negotiated solution is possible, especially if Japan agrees to withdraw troops from China. The military object.
Tojo terminates peace talks between Japan and the US on 15 October. The government resigns the following day. On 18 October Tojo becomes prime minister. He retains control of the war ministry. The government Tojo leads is broadly supportive of his policies, however, he does not wield unlimited power.
Talks begin within the new government on the best strategy to adopt. Tojo maintains his hawkish position, telling an imperial conference on 5 November, "I fear that we would become a third-class nation after two or three years if we just sat tight."
On 1 December the decision is made. Emperor Hirohito approves a war against the US, Britain and Holland (the colonial power in Indonesia). The conflict will come to be described by the Japanese as the 'Greater East Asia War' and by the Western Allies as 'The Pacific War'.
The Japanese strike on 7 December, bombing the US naval base at Pearl Harbour in Hawaii. The US and Britain respond by declaring war on Japan.
Tojo tells Japan that "to annihilate this enemy and to establish a stable new order in East Asia, the nation must necessarily anticipate a long war."
The Japanese follow-up the raid on Pearl Harbour with swift invasions of Southeast Asian countries and Pacific islands. By May 1942 they control Hong Kong, Kiribati, Guam and Wake Island, Burma, Malaya, Singapore, Borneo, Indonesia, the Philippines and the north of New Guinea.
1942 - The first setback for the Japanese comes on 7-8 May at the Battle of the Coral Sea. On 4-5 June the Japanese fleet is forced to withdraw at the Battle of Midway or risk destruction. By February 1943 the Japanese have been driven out of Guadalcanal at the southern end of the Solomon Islands.
Tojo hides the truth of the defeat at Midway, telling the Japanese public on 27 July, "Recently our naval forces have carried out an attack on the enemy stronghold of Midway and have annihilated the remnant aircraft carrier force ... With the strong determination never to cease fighting until the enemy is crushed, the indomitable fighting spirit characteristic of our men is being constantly displayed by their operations."
1944 - On 21 February Tojo adds the post of chief of the Army General Staff to his responsibilities.
The Battle of the Philippine Sea on 19-20 June confirms US naval superiority in the Pacific and seals Japan's fate.
Though admitting that Japan faces "the most critical situation in the history of the empire," Tojo refuses to consider negotiating for peace.
The capture of Saipan in July puts the Japanese mainland within range of American B-29 bombers. Tojo resigns from office on 16 July. Two days later his entire cabinet resigns.
1945 - Beginning in February extensive firebombing raids will be conducted over Japan, concentrating on the capital Tokyo and the cities of Nagoya, Osaka and Kobe. The raids result in the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians. The most devastating raid occurs over Tokyo on the night of 9-10 March. About 100,000 people are killed, around one million are left homeless and almost half the city is burnt to the ground.
In June the Japanese determine to fight to the finish. Their plan for a last-stand battle against an US-led invasion is called 'Ketsu Go' (Operation Decisive). Japanese troops are massed in the south of Kyushu Island, where the invasion forces are expected to land.
Japanese preparations for an all-out fight continue until the US drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August respectively, killing about 120,000 people outright and fatally injuring over 100,000 more.
On 8 August the Soviet Union declares war on Japan and launches a surprise attack on Japanese forces in Manchuria.
Emperor Hirohito surrenders unconditionally on 15 August, ending both the Second World War and the Second Sino-Japanese War.
About 15 million people have been killed in the Asia and Pacific regions during the Second World War, including over 11 million Chinese and nearly two million Japanese. The Second Sino-Japanese War has claimed at least 20 million Chinese.
Japan is occupied by Allied military forces. The Japanese army and navy ministries are abolished, arms and military equipment are destroyed and war industries are retooled for civilian output. Japan pledges never go to war again and surrenders its colonial holdings, including China and Korea.
On 11 September, while awaiting arrest at his Tokyo home, Tojo attempts to commit suicide by shooting himself in the chest. However, the bullet misses his heart and he is nursed back to health and moved to Sugamo Prison in Tokyo.
1946 - Emperor Hirohito repudiates his "divinity" on 1 January.
On 29 April Tojo, along with other Japanese wartime leaders, is indicted for war crimes.
The proceedings of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East are held in Tokyo from May 1946 until November 1948. The tribunal convicts over 4,000 Japanese officials and military personnel. Seven hundred are executed.
Tojo is found guilty of having "major responsibility for Japan's criminal attacks on her neighbours," of waging war against China, the US, Britain, the Netherlands and France, and of permitting inhumane treatment of prisoners of war. On 12 November 1948 he is sentenced to death by hanging.
"It is natural that I should bear entire responsibility for the war in general, and, needless to say, I am prepared to do so," Tojo says at the trial. "Consequently, now that the war has been lost, it is presumably necessary that I be judged so that the circumstances of the time can be clarified and the future peace of the world be assured."
1948 - Tojo is executed at Sugamo Prison on 23 December. His body is interred at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. The shrine commemorates Japan's war dead.
Comment: Despite his offer to "bear entire responsibility for the war in general," Tojo appears to have gone to the gallows as delusional and self-denying as contemporary Japan can appear to be about its role and actions in the Second World War. Consider these extracts from the journal Tojo kept while in custody awaiting trial:
"Throughout that period (the Sino-Japanese War), Japan had made honest efforts to keep the destruction of war from spreading and, based on the belief that all nations of the world should find their places, had followed a policy designed to restore an expeditious peace between Japan and China. Japan was ensuring the stability of East Asia while contributing to world peace. Nevertheless, China was unfortunately unable to understand Japan's real position, and it is greatly to be regretted that the Sino-Japanese War became one of long duration."
And this, "According to the address by the chief of counsel (for the International Military Tribunal), Japan declared war on civilisation, but the responsibility for declaring war lies rather ... with the Anglo-American side, which forced Japan into war. Japan fought in order to ensure its own survival and also to establish the proper survival of the people of East Asia. In other words, it sought true civilisation for mankind. This truth is not to be judged hastily as the sorrowful lamentations of a vanquished country, for it is the truth of mankind."
Both these statements are plainly and simply false. It is a mark of Tojo's blindness that he could ever even think them, let alone set them down.
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