Hideki Tojo once said of himself: “I am just an ordinary man possessing no shining talents. Anything I have achieved I owe to my capacity for hard work and never giving up.” By all accounts he was right. During his school years, he became known as utterly tenacious and stubborn, but not highly intelligent. What he lacked in intelligence though, he more than made up in his enormous capacity for hard work.
Hideki’s father was a samurai and his mother a daughter of a Buddhist priest, which ensured his family great prestige, and somehow compensated for their poverty. After finishing elementary school, Hideki enrolled at Army Cadet School and after that to Japanese Military Academy, which he graduated 10th out of 363 cadets in 1905. Like many of his fellow countrymen, he was deeply unsatisfied with the Treaty of Portsmouth, which ended the Russo-Japanese War. Many Japanese felt that the territorial gains made by Japan were insufficient and that U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt cheated them out of their rightful conquest. This sense of betrayal by the Americans was something that stayed with Tojo during his entire life and colored his every decision regarding the United States.
Hideki married Katsuko Ito in 1909. The couple had three sons, Hidetake, Teruo, and Toshio, and four daughters, Mitsue, Makie, Sachie, and Kimie. Tojo regarded children raising a women’s job, and he refused any part in it, leaving it to his wife.
In the meantime, his career progressed. He served in Siberia in 1910 and as Japanese military attaché to Germany between 1919-1922. In 1928 he was promoted to colonel and given command of 8th Infantry Regiment. He often visited homes of the men under his command and even made loans to his officers when they needed the money. He was also known to slap his subordinates on the face while giving them orders, claiming that the practice was invaluable training for them.
In 1924 Tojo’s dislike for America increased when the Immigration Control Act was passed, banning immigration from Asia. To him, it was another proof that Americans would never accept Japan as equal.
Tojo became Major-General and Chief of the Personnel Department in the Ministry of the Army in 1934. He was heavily involved in politics and was one of the key players in suppressing the February 28 coup in 1936. He became Chief of staff of the Kwangtung Army, the strongest Japanese army unit, stationed in Manchukuo. Tojo was recalled in 1938 to assume the position of Vice-Minister of War. In 1940 he became Minister of War in Prince Fumimaro Konoe’s government. Konoe was against the war with America and was convinced that a deal with Washington could be negotiated. However, under pressure from both Army and the Navy, he resigned in October 1941. Hideki Tojo was elected as the new Prime Minister of the Empire of Japan. In his first radio speech, he announced his intention to bring to life Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, a euphemism for the Japan-controlled East Asia. Two months later, Imperial Japanese Navy carriers were sailing towards Hawaii. Tojo had brought the Empire into the war.
Hideki remained Prime Minister until 1944, occasionally filling other ministries as needed. He never relinquished his position as Minister for War, believing that it was essential he had both offices under his control. During his reign, he was also Minister for Education, Home Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Commerce and Industry.
After the initial successes, the tides of war turned against Japan. By 1943, it was clear that the victory was unachievable, but Tojo refused to acknowledge that. He created an ambitious plan calling for conquering China and India, while simultaneously inflicting a decisive defeat on American Navy, believing that this would be sufficient to bring Washington to the negotiating table. After the disastrous Battle of Saipan, it was clear to everyone in Japanese upper echelons that Tojo’s plans were nothing more than a pipe dream. Japanese cities were now in the range of the American B-29 bombers, and Tojo lost the support of the Empire. He was forced to resign the office in July 1944.
After Japan’s surrender, General MacArthur ordered the arrest of 40 top Japanese generals and admirals accused of war crimes, Hideki Tojo among them. As Americans approached his house, he attempted to commit suicide by shooting himself in the chest, but missed the heart and later recovered from his wound. He was sentenced to death and hanged in 1948. Upon hearing his sentence, he accepted the full responsibility for his actions, saying: “It is natural that I should bear the entire responsibility for the war in general, and, needless to say, I am prepared to do so. 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. Therefore, with respect to my trial, it is my intention to speak frankly, according to my recollection, even though when the vanquished stands before the victor, who has over him the power of life and death, he may be apt to toady and flatter. I mean to pay considerable attention to this in my actions, and say to the end that what is true is true and what is false is false. To shade one’s words in flattery to the point of untruthfulness would falsify the trial and do incalculable harm to the nation, and great care must be taken to avoid this.”