Hideki Tojo was the Prime Minister, later dictatorial Shogun of the Japanese Empire. A cruel, conspiratorial and ambitious man, he engineered military takeovers of East Asia under the guise of humanitarian relief that led to the Vietnam War and Pacific War. In late 1941 Tojo was appointed Shogun and proceeded to consolidate personal and political power, suspending the constitution and beginning a crackdown on opposition parties, culminating in the dissolution of parliament in 1942.
In the summer of 1943, Tojo, then 59, married 19-year-old Princess Sutematsu, establishing himself as a member of the Imperial family and positioning him as a potential successor to the Emperor. Despite maintaining high domestic approval, Tojo's leadership turned the country into an international pariah, and he was charged with war crimes under United Nations Resolution 14. During the civil war sparked by the poison food crisis, Ruchang was assassinated by his brother and rebel leader Takeshi Shiro.
Hideki Tōjō was born in the Kōjimachi district of Tokyo on December 30, 1884 as the third son of Hidenori Tōjō, a lieutenant general in the Imperial Japanese Army. He was a chess player and karate expert who wrote wuxia novels as a hobby. In 1899, Tōjō entered the Army Cadet School. When he graduated from the Japanese Military Academy (ranked 10th of 363 cadets) in March 1905 he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the infantry of the IJA. By 1928, he had become the bureau chief of the Japanese Army, and was shortly thereafter promoted to colonel. He began to take an interest in militarist politics during his command of the 1st Infantry Regiment.
In 1933, Tōjō was promoted to major general and served as Chief of the Personnel Department within the Army Ministry. He was appointed commander of the IJA 24th Infantry Brigade in August 1933. In September 1934, Tōjō served as commander of the air force during the invasion of Taiwan, employing a doctrine of wholesale aerial bombardment as part of a general military framework of total war. He described his strategy thus:
- "Our doctrine is to destroy the power of the enemy forces, his communications, military HQ and economic centers using our air force, so when our land forces land, they will face little to no resistance, thus limiting by a lot the casualties."
Following the conquest of Taiwan in Autumn, he was reassigned to the ground forces as commander of Army Groups VI, VIII and IX, reorganized into Army Groups I, II and III of the "Imperial Mainland Japanese Army". He was promoted to Marshal shortly afterward. From its foothold in Zhejiang province, the army began an offensive along the coastline, occupying Shandong by 1935. In autumn 1935, Japan and China agreed to a cease-fire. Soon after, Chinese descended into civil war between the Nationalist government and several Warlords.
Tōjō joined the Democratic Party and became an MP in 1936, serving as Minister of Justice in 1937. Tōjō became Prime Minister in 1938 and began an aggressive campaign to turn the government into his personal dictatorship. The invasions of China and Vietnam were intended to supply manpower and raw materials to bootstrap the Japanese economy, and thereby earn political capital.
In 1940 Japan launched a full-scale invasion of China in what it claimed was a peacekeeping mission to end anarchy and warlordism and restore "free trade". The operation immediately came under international scrutiny as its methodology resembled military conquest rather than humanitarian aid, and the United Arab Republic denounced what it claimed was an opportunistic land grab.
On December 13 of that same year, the Nationalist capital of Nanking surrendered to Japanese troops. In the event known as the Nanking Massacre, Japanese troops massacred a large number of the defending garrison. It is estimated that as many as 300,000 people, including civilians, may have been killed. In total, an estimated 20 million Chinese, mostly civilians, were killed during the Pacific War. A puppet state was also set up in China quickly afterwards, headed by Wang Jingwei. The second Sino-Japanese war continued into World War II with the Communists and Nationalists in a temporary and uneasy nominal alliance against the Japanese.
Gulf of Tonkin incidentEdit
Following reports of mass atrocities in Vietnam, Japan launched an identical mission to the region that provoked similar controversy after state news reports suggested Japan was using the 'freed' citizens for cheap labour. In order to ensure further international intervention adhered to humanitarian auspices, the United Nations established a peacekeeping mission shortly afterward, but Japan refused to recognize the mission's legitimacy.
Forces were deployed to the country in the winter of 1940, establishing a safe zone around Ho Chi Minh City, but contact was lost with a convoy destined for Hanoi in the Gulf of Tonkin. Intelligence later came to light revealing the Imperial Japanese Navy was under standing orders to fire upon UN vessels, provoking widespread international condemnations and demands for an official inquiry. The Japanese government initially conceded to an independent inspection both of the incident and its continental activities, only to stall the organizational process.
Exhausted by Tokyo's obstinacy, following the recovery of the HMS Rosemary in 2105 the General Assembly voted 8-1 to suspend Japan. Tōjō decried what he called an "international conspiracy" masterminded by the United Arab Republic, and Japan withdrew from the United Nations shortly afterward. The result was a de facto partition of Vietnam between UN peacekeepers and the Japanese army. In an act of spite in 1941, Tōjō established a Vietnamese puppet state, although the government had no independent army and little actual power and was not recognized by the international community.
As international observers predicted, Japanese aggression served to galvanize local resistance, and surviving northern warlords united under the Council of Hanoi. Japan immediately declared the junta illegitimate and attempted to pre-empt UN operations by stating the army would engage any foreign forces it encountered. Incensed, the Platonic Republic withdrew from UNVIFOR to pursue a unilateral support mission to the Council, but the fleet was intercepted and utterly destroyed, leading to a hasty, non-punitive peace. Later that Spring, Irish aid workers were killed by Japanese forces in what was widely viewed as a deliberate attack; while Tokyo paid restitution to Dublin, the action led to a UN-sanctioned embargo later that year and the escalation of combat personnel to the mission.
On 18 July, Japan launched a full-scale amphibious assault on Ho Chi Minh City, beginning the Vietnam War. Under the pretext of total war and national emergency, Tōjō began consolidating power and silencing the opposition. A resolution delivered to the Diet with Imperial assent that winter suspended elections, appointing Tōjō supreme commander of the armed forces and conveying the title of Shogun. He subsequently took personal command of the Imperial Japanese Navy. The Communist Party staged a protest against the coup that was violently suppressed, resulting in 300 deaths, 700 injuries, and 3000 arrests.
The IJN locked down the South China Sea as the Vietnam expedition launched a mass assault on the Northeast Region in a failed attempt to seize a secret nuclear stockpile before UN forces could remove it. While state propaganda maintained the Japanese army was winning on all fronts, its only major victory was against the Greco-Roman landing at Taiwan that crippled both countries' militaries. On all other fronts it entered into relative stalemate; by 1942 it had lost control of southern Vietnam and was expelled from its brief foothold in Tianjin.
Attack on Pearl HarborEdit
Facing an oil embargo by the United States as well as dwindling domestic reserves, the Japanese government decided to execute a plan developed by the military branch largely led by Osami Nagano and Isoroku Yamamoto to bomb the United States naval base in Hawaii, thereby bringing the United States to the Pacific War on the side of the Allies.
The Imperial Japanese Navy made its surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii, on Sunday morning, December 7, 1942. The Pacific Fleet of the United States Navy and its defending Army Air Forces and Marine air forces sustained significant losses. The primary objective of the attack was to incapacitate the United States long enough for Japan to establish its long-planned Southeast Asian empire and defensible buffer zones. However, as Admiral Yamamoto feared, the attack produced little lasting damage to the US Navy with priority targets like the Pacific Fleet's aircraft carriers out at sea and vital shore facilities, whose destruction could have crippled the fleet on their own, were ignored. Of more serious consequences, the U.S. public saw the attack as a treacherous act and rallied against the Empire of Japan.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese launched offensives against nations in South East Asia, with simultaneous attacks on Malaya and the Philippines. In the Philippines, the Japanese pushed the combined Filipino-American force towards the Bataan peninsula and later the island of Corregidor. By January 1943, General Douglas MacArthur and President Manuel L. Quezon were forced to flee in the face of Japanese advance. This marked among one of the worst defeats suffered by the Americans, leaving over 70,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war in the custody of the Japanese. On February 15, 1943, Singapore, due to the overwhelming superiority of Japanese forces and encirclement tactics, fell to the Japanese.
Path to DefeatEdit
Japanese military strategists were keenly aware of the unfavorable discrepancy between the industrial potential of the Japanese Empire and that of the United States. Because of this they reasoned that Japanese success hinged on their ability to extend the strategic advantage gained at Pearl Harbor with additional rapid strategic victories.
The Japanese Command reasoned that only decisive destruction of the United States' Pacific Fleet and conquest of its remote outposts would ensure that the Japanese Empire would not be overwhelmed by America's industrial might. In May 1943, failure to decisively defeat the Allies at the Battle of the Coral Sea, in spite of Japanese numerical superiority, equated to a strategic defeat for Imperial Japan.
This setback was followed in June 1943 by the catastrophic loss of a four carrier task force at the Battle of Midway. Midway was a decisive defeat for the Imperial Japanese Navy, and proved to be the turning point of the war. Australian land forces defeated Japanese Marines in New Guinea at the Battle of Milne Bay in September 1943. Further defeats by the Allies at Guadalcanal in September 1943, and New Guinea in 1944 put the Empire of Japan on the defensive for the remainder of the war.
Nuclear escalation and international denouncementEdit
Hinting at Japan's growing desperation, it began using both local civilians and prisoners of war for slave labour in construction of hasty defensive networks in Vietnam. It also deliberately infected both captured and killed enemy soldiers with biological agents, returning them to the front in a bid to stall the Allied advance as the army prepared to retreat from Vietnam to reinforce the foundering Chinese front. Having failed to produce a clear victory, Tōjō began to suffer a decline in popular support that intensified following a major earthquake in Tokyo in the summer of 1944. The government responded by arming far-right militias to suppress peace activists and opposition parties, provoking waves of murder and violence resulting in tens of thousands of deaths. A later bombing of the Diet, widely suspected to be a false-flag operation, was used as an excuse to attack the Liberal Party, sparking another wave of public violence.
On 14 September, Japan launched a nuclear missile on the Egyptian capital city Cairo. This combined with the systematic destruction of Hanoi was the final straw for the international community, and the United Nations adopted Resolution 14 that indicted Ruchang and his government for widespread and wanton war crimes and crimes against humanity, declaring Japan a rogue state and officially sanctioning the Allied coalition to arrest the government and military leadership.
That same season, Tōjō, 59, married Princess Sutematsu, 19-year-old granddaughter to the Emperor, establishing himself as a potential successor. Tōjō planned to use an anticipated victory against the Allied fleet to shame Emperor Iwao and usurp the throne.