2003: Liu Yong, for corruption 1705: John “Half-Hanged” Smith Half-Hanged

1948: Hideki Tojo and six other Japanese war criminals

December 23rd, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1948, seven “Class A” war criminals, including Japan’s wartime Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, were hanged at Sugamo Prison by the American occupation authorities.

Like other Axis heads of state, Tojo was in for a bad end: he shot himself in the chest before American troops could arrest him, but missed his heart even though a doctor had helpfully marked the spot on his chest for him.


Fail.

However inevitable Tojo’s postwar fate, however, he was not exactly of a kind with the likes of Hitler and Mussolini. Indeed, he’d been cashiered from his Prime Ministerial gig in 1944 by the real power behind the throne — the Japanese military.

Unlike the “Fuhrer” and “Il Duce,” Tojo was a reflector, not a creator, of national thought. His word was not law. It was not his command or dictate. He was one among many and not even the first among equals. He was a militarist — misguided, naive, and narrow in outlook; he regarded war as a legitimate instrument of national policy; he apparently believed what he told the court, and failed to recognize the patent contradictions between his contentions and the facts. This had been his undoing.

That’s Robert Butow in Tojo and the Coming of War. Butow argues that the titular authority in Japan (he became Prime Minister shortly before the bombing of Pearl Harbor), a dedicated, patriotic officer of adequate talents but limited vision, came much too late and controlled much too little to be seen as the equal of the European theater’s villains.

The Japan of which General Hideki Tojo became premier was operated by remote control. It was a country in which puppet politics had reached a high state of development, to the detriment of the national welfare. The ranking members of the military services were the robots of their subordinates — the so-called chuken shoko, the nucleus group, which was active “at the center” and which was composed largely of field-grade officers. They, in turn, were influenced by younger elements within the services at large and by ultranationalists outside military ranks. The civilian members of the cabinet were the robots of the military — especially of the nucleus group, working through the service ministers and the chiefs of the army and navy general staffs. The Emperor himself, through no fault of his own, was the robot of the government — of the cabinet and the supreme command, a prisoner of the circumstances into which he was born … Finally, the nation — the one hundred million dedicated souls, the sum and substance of Japan, from whom the blood and toil and tears and sweat of Churchill’s phrase were wrung — the nation was the robot of the throne.

He was the man for his time and place. He fit right in.

Even when being fitted for a noose.

Once Tojo had recovered from his errant self-inflicted wound,* and even though he had been among those opposing surrender even after the atomic bombings, he played ball with the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (whose trial transcripts run to 50,000 pages).

The former premier embraced responsibility, diligently shielding the Emperor from any intimation of guilt (some argue this was the procedure’s entire raison d’etre, from the perspective of both the prosecution and the defense), and walked a dignified and honorable last mile in the courtrooms of the victor’s justice, presenting his perspective as he knew it in the context of a wish for peace between the late antagonists.

1. I deny that Japan “declared war on civilization.”

2. To advocate a New Order was to seek freedom and respect for peoples without prejudice, and to seek a stable basis for the existence all peoples, equally, and free of threats. Thus, it was to seek true civilization and true justice for all the peoples of the world, and to view this as the destruction of personal freedom and respect is to be assailed by the hatred and emotion of war, and to make hasty judgments.

3. I would like to point out their [my accusers'] inhumane and uncivilized actions in East Asia ever since the Middle Ages.

4. In the shadow of the prosperity of Europe and America, the colored peoples of East Asia and Africa have been sacrificed and forced into a state of semi-colonization. I would point out that the cultural advance of these people has been suppressed in the past and continues to be suppressed in the present by policies designed to keep them in ignorance.

5. I would point out that Japan’s proposal at the Versailles Peace Conference on the principle of racial equality was rejected by delegates such as those from Britain and the United States.

6. Of two through five above, which is civilization? Which is international justice? Justice has nothing to do with victor nations and vanquished nations, but must be a moral standard that all the world’s peoples can agree to. To seek this and to achieve it — that is true civilization.

7. In order to understand this, all nations must hate war, forsake emotion, reflect upon their pasts, and think calmly.

The “Class A” convicts not executed along with Tojo were freed afterwards.

Tojo has enjoyed a bit of a latter-day resurgence in the public regard, product of the nationalist right’s resurgence in Japan. The hanged man’s granddaughter Yuko Tojo has waged a tireless campaign to clear him.

Further to that end, his ashes — and those of the other Class A convicts — were covertly added to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, and remain there to this day. That public tribute to principals of Japan’s bloody foreign occupations has become a hot political football between Japan and other nations, especially China.

But after all, Tojo the man was never a leper, but part and parcel of his times. Small wonder that we moderns hear an echo of the general’s postwar justification for the War in the Pacific from the country that hanged him.

Japan … faced considerable military threats as well.

Japan attempted to circumvent these dangerous circumstances by diplomatic negotiation, and though Japan heaped concession upon concession, in the hope of finding a solution through mutual compromise, there was no progress because the United States would not retreat from its original position. …

Since events had progressed as they had, it became clear that to continue in this manner was to lead the nation to disaster. With options thus foreclosed, in order to protect and defend the nation and clear the obstacles that stood in its path, a decisive appeal to arms was made.

The problematic nature of the war crimes proceedings in postwar Japan (especially vis-a-vis those in Germany) is examined in Yuma Totani’s The Tokyo War Crimes Trial: The Pursuit of Justice in the Wake of World War II. The author discussed her research on the New Books In History podcast.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

* According to John Dower’s Embracing Defeat, the suicide scenario angered some nationalists because Tojo only “belatedly summoned the will to die,” and “chose the foreigner’s way of the bullet rather than the samurai’s way of the sword, and then botched even this.”

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Hanged,Heads of State,History,Infamous,Japan,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Notable Jurisprudence,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Popular Culture,Power,Soldiers,USA,War Crimes

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

18 Responses to “1948: Hideki Tojo and six other Japanese war criminals”

  1. 1
    Thomas Says:

    One of your sources, VHO.org, is an organization of Holocaust deniers. I’m not sure they’re credible enough to use in your article.

    Are you sure the Tojo “War Diary” is even authentic?

  2. 2
    Richard Says:

    Thanks for the information.

  3. 3
    Hideki Tojo Attempted Suicide | American Studies Cockerham Says:

    [...] “1948: Hideki Tojo and six other Japanese war criminals.”  Executed Today.com.  2009.  [...]

  4. 4
    ExecutedToday.com » 1949: Yoshio Kodaira, soldier turned serial killer Says:

    [...] the year after Japan’s wartime surrender to the World War II Allied powers (beginning slightly before that surrender), former Imperial Navy [...]

  5. 5
    Harrison Lapahie Says:

    Even though Hideki Tojo played a major part in Japan entering World War II, Emperor Hirohito was ultimately the major person responsible for the War. He was given a pass by General MacArthur and Tojo was coached by the Americans in saying that the Emperor had no part in World War II during his trial. Tojo’s love for the Emperor to see that no fault would be placed on him made Tojo to lie during the trial. Emperor Hirohito should have done the most noble Japanese method for serious offenses by committing seppuku (harakiri).

  6. 6
    Peter Robinson Says:

    I remember these events clearly, I woulld have been about
    15 at the time. I have never, and never will understand why
    the emperor and his family (all were guilty) did not stand
    trial. Indeed subsequently Hirohito was welcomed by HM
    the queen on a state visit. This despite the protestations of
    many ex soldiers my own father included, who fought in the “forgotten war”. The whole affair clearly smelt, the
    official reason being that we did not want to upset the Japs.
    I do not htink that anyone in the world gave a s—- for the
    sensibilities of the Japs.

  7. 7
    ExecutedToday.com » Executed Today’s Third Annual Report: Third Time Lucky Says:

    [...] 9. Dec. 23, 1948: Hideki Tojo and six other Japanese war criminals [...]

  8. 8
    bruno Says:

    Gen MacArthur or Washington decided to keep the royal family out of any responsibility in order to have a leader capable of keeping the country united and under control. The emperor was considered a deity and put him on trial was impossible.
    It must be remembered Russia, the old ally and new enemy, was few miles away, and there was need of a new ally in the region.

    More or less the same policy applied with old Nazis enemy, the new enemy was Russia and was compelling stop communism from expansion.

  9. 9
    Ed Nichols Says:

    I have just finished reading “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. I think every Japanese should be required to read it.
    Why were we so lenient to them after the war? We should have hung the emperor and kept the country under our iron fist for at least a hundred years.

  10. 10
    Wayne Warner Says:

    Ed Nichols read “Unbroken” but is apparently in disagreement with the hero of the story, Louie Zamperini, whose eventual philosophy–coming after his Christian conversion– led him to forgive his evil captors.

  11. 11
    ExecutedToday.com » Executed Today’s Fourth Annual Report: Wrung, Wan and Quartered Says:

    [...] 7. December 23, 1948: Hideki Tojo and 6 other Japanese war criminals [...]

  12. 12
    Charles James Says:

    Iam in the process of writing a novel which involves the behaviour and crimes committed against Chinese, Asian and Eurasian civilians in Singapore 1942-1945.
    I have a limited amount of information gained from people I worked with whilst serving in Singapore with the RAF in the early 1960′s. Would appreciate any facts or information relating to Japanese activity at this time.

  13. 13
    asit guin Says:

    Japan agreed to eliminate Netaji;
    In WW-I, Japan was an ally of British. Before WW-II, Japan-US trade war and political war started, this led to actual war between US and Japan. So British became an enemy to Japan by diplomatic manipulation as US – British alliance was there. After WW-II, Japan revived their old connection with British via spies. Japanese and British spies were enough linked before WW-II. Japanese spies agreed to eliminate Netaji. Motive was to appease the British and purchase security for Japan royal family. Thus, Japan sold Netaji to British and British eliminated him. The false news of air crash was Japan’s fabrication. In any controversial case, liar is to be suspected first.
    Netaji’s plan to start second independence war with the help of USSR was known to Japan. There was enough scope for British and Japanese spies to develop a common minimum program against pro-communist agenda of Netaji. Why should Japanese imperialism agree to patronize emergence of independent India as a permanent communist ally? Is it not more logical to fulfill British condition and purchase favor? Why Japan royal family was not tried as a war criminal? What is the mystery behind this favor?

  14. 14
    asit guin Says:

    The diary of the World War Two Prime Minister of Imperial Japan, General Hideki Tojo, was made public by his wife, as per his wishes, many years after he was hanged in 1948 for war crimes. There were reports in some Japanese newspapers that in his diary, General Tojo had written that India was to be conquered by Japan with the assistance of Subhash Chandra Bose and the Indian National Army, and after that was accomplished, Bose was to be exterminated by the Japanese. This item of news did not speak well for Bose, and was therefore suppressed by the Government of India as well as the Indian media. The sum of it all was that Bose joined the wrong forces, and had to pay dearly for his folly. The British gave India independence in 1947. Had India been a colony of Germany or Japan, God only knows if and when it would have ever got its freedom.

  15. 15
    asit guin Says:

    British Indian archival documents show that during the dying months of World War II, Viceroy Wavell and senior British officials did not want Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose brought to India even as a prisoner. The surviving documents reflect British preference for dealing with the leader ‘on the spot’ – whatever that meant. On the other hand, Bose was focused on stimulating a post-war internal Indian upsurge against the British Raj. Subhash was convinced that India’s partition was inevitable if the British Parliament were allowed to “transfer power” under an act of the British Parliament. (Gandhiji in 1946-47 had the same fear. He wanted the British to leave India and allow Indians themselves to find a solution to the Muslim League’s demand for partition along religious lines). Bose’s aim in 1945 was not just to escape the British pursuit. He had foreknowledge of Japan’s decision to capitulate. In the spring of 1945, he had wanted personally to lead a military challenge against the superior forces of the Allies. He wanted to court death in this battle. Suicide was not the aim of this move. He thought that, after Aung San of Burma switched over to the victorious British side at the last moment, the INA needed to set an example of patriotic bravery in battle. He felt his own death in battlefield would stimulate a new phase in India’s internal freedom struggle. He was dissuaded from this course because two divisions of the INA were still intact and he thought of a new role for this patriotic Indian military force in the postwar situation. Unlike other leaders of the Japan-occupied Southeast Asian countries, he, at one stage, thought of staying with INA troops in Singapore to await the arrival of the Mountbatten-led British Indian occupation force. This course was abandoned on August 14, 1945, on the advice of the members of the Azad Hind government and other important officers of the INA. On Aug 14, 1945, some information was brought to him from Thailand. This information led him to abandon the plan that the INA troops with Netaji as their head, should await the capture of Singapore by the British occupation force. There is no record of the information that caused the Azad Hind government to ask Netaji to fly to Tokyo for final consultations with the Japanese government. Is it likely that Netaji had been forewarned of the British preference for dealing with him “on the spot”? Netaji had not rejected the idea of his being taken to India as a prisoner. Did he fear that he would not be taken to India as a British prisoner? He knew of the existence of the Allies’ spies and operatives in the INA and the Anglo-American forces and agents operating behind the Japanese lines. As the war drew to a close, important but vulnerable people changed sides. They acted on the Allies’ directives.
    The INA, too, had been penetrated by persons who were Allies’ operatives. Even in Japan there were important people who wanted to please the victors. They were ready to pay the price the new masters demanded of them. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose knew that he was in a veritable snake pit. It is necessary to bear this fact in mind when the story of his death in an air crash on August 18, 1945 is read. The British Foreign Office had ordered the assassination of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose in 1941, just after he had made his “grand escape” from Kolkata. But his decision to change route and reach Germany via Russia had scuttled their plan. Eunan O’Halpin of Trinity College, Dublin, made this claim while delivering the Sisir Kumar Bose lecture at the Netaji Research Bureau on Sunday. O’Halpin said the British Special Operation Executive (SOE) (formed in 1940 to carry out sabotage and underground activities) informed its representatives in Istanbul and Cairo that Bose was thought to be travelling from Afghanistan to Germany via Iran, Iraq and Turkey. The orders had come from London. “They were asked to wire about the arrangements made for his assassination. Even in the midst of war, this was a remarkable instruction. Bose had definitely planned a rebellion to free India, but the usual punishment for this was prosecution or detention, not an assassination. He was to die because he had a large following in India,” said O’Halpin. He added that it was strange that the British did not consider any alternative. If British agents could get close enough to kill him, they surely could have attempted to capture him. The fact that any trace of London’s orders to assassinate Bose remains in official records is just as striking. O’Halpin handed over relevant documents to Krishna Bose, former MP and wife of late Sisir Bose. The British Foreign Office did not learn about Bose’s arrival in Germany in April for two months. Towards the end of May, the London office was told by Delhi that Bose could still be in Afghanistan because there was no radio propaganda from Russia, Italy or Germany as they had expected. This was despite the fact that a message had been decoded in March confirming Bose’s departure from Kabul. On June 13, 1941, the British SOE confirmed to Istanbul that the assassination order still stood. After Japan surrendered to British- American, again scope came for British to utilize a surrendered Japan against Netaji. So, British must have utilized this new opportunity and assassinated Netaji in secret. Thus Netaji assassination is common program of Japan and British. Defeated and surrendered japans had not worked as azad hind ally. On the contrary they worked as per order of their new mentors, the British. AZAD HIND FAUZ had fought for right purpose but in the wrong side.

  16. 16
    asit guin Says:

    Japan sold Netaji and Netaji-dummy to British;
    In WW-I, Japan was an ally of British. Before WW-II, Japan-US trade war and political war started, this led to actual war between US and Japan. So British became an enemy to Japan by diplomatic manipulation as US – British alliance was there. After WW-II, Japan revived their old connection with British via spies. Japanese and British spies were enough linked before WW-II. Japanese spies agreed to eliminate Netaji. Motive was to appease the British and purchase security for Japan royal family. Thus, Japan sold Netaji to British and British eliminated him. The false news of air crash was Japan’s fabrication. In any controversial case, liar is to be suspected first.
    Netaji’s plan to start second independence war with the help of USSR was known to Japan. There was enough scope for British and Japanese spies to develop a common minimum program against pro-communist agenda of Netaji. Why should Japanese imperialism agree to patronize emergence of independent India as a permanent communist ally? Is it not more logical to fulfill British condition and purchase favor? Why Japan royal family was not tried as a war criminal? What is the mystery behind this favor?
    There is another point about gumnami baba. Who was he? Gumnami baba was a dummy created as a part of common minimum program of Japanese imperialism and British imperialism. In axis camp, creation of dummy by plastic surgery was a common practice. Hitler and Mussolini were having number of dummies. Japan sold Netaji-dummy to British. British deputed this dummy at faizabad of Uttar Pradesh, with a purpose to create confusion that as if Netaji’s death or life is doubtful. The confusion prevented the nation to be doubtful about role of Japan or British. So gumnami baba of faizabad is a common creation of Japanese spies and British spies. Never had he told the truth. If he had told anything, that must be lie. In a controversial case, liar is to be suspected. So, Japan sold Netaji to British and British executed him in secret. Japan sold Netaji-dummy to British and British deputed him at faizabad of Uttar-Pradesh. Japan surrendered to US-UK side on 15th august 1945. Netaji’s last flight was on 18th august 1945. A surrendered Japan was no longer an ally of azad hind. They worked as per their new mentors, the British.

  17. 17
    samuel welsh Says:

    truly tojo was the Hitler of the east very evil.

  18. 18
    One of many Says:

    No, Tojo was not the Hitler of the East (this doesn’t mean he wasn’t one of the Japanese war criminals, but he never was so powerful to be called a “Hitler”). As Max Hastings wrote, “the reality is that Tojo had less authority in Japan than Churchill had in Britain.” Tojo was a loyal servant of Emperor Hirohito and his actions must be evaluated on that light.

Leave a Reply


Calendar

Archives

Categories




Recently Commented

  • JCF: “people, who made no sign that the fact was...
  • Lim Lynn: I wonder: How many innocent people were...
  • Ted Montgomery: Hello friends, I hope you all had a...
  • Greg O: I was stationed with Sean at LTA Tustin.We...
  • Greg O: I was stationed with Sean in 1980-81.we shared a...

Accolades