On this day, Hideki Tojo, prime minister of Japan during WWII, is born in Tokyo.
After graduating from the Imperial Military Academy and the Military Staff College, Tojo was sent to Berlin as Japan’s military attache after World War I. Having already earned a reputation for sternness and discipline, Tojo was given command of the 1st Infantry Regiment upon return to Japan.
In 1937, he was made chief of staff of the Kwantung Army in Manchuria, China. Returning again to his homeland, Tojo assumed the office of vice-minister of war and quickly took the lead in the military’s increasing control of Japanese foreign policy, advocating the signing of the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy in 1940 that made Japan an “Axis” power.
In July of 1940, he was made minister of war and soon clashed with the Prime Minister, Prince Fumimaro Konoye, who had been fighting to reform his government by demilitarizing its politics. In October, Konoye resigned because of increasing tension with Tojo, who succeeded as prime minister while holding on to his offices of army minister and war minister, and assuming the offices of minister of commerce and of industry as well.
Tojo, now a virtual dictator, quickly promised a “New Order in Asia,” and toward this end supported the bombing of Pearl Harbor despite the misgivings of several of his generals. Tojo’s aggressive policies paid big dividends early on, with major territorial gains in Indochina and the South Pacific. But despite Tojo’s increasing control over his own country, even assuming the position of the chief of the general staff, he could not control the determination of the United States, which began beating back the Japanese in the South Pacific.
When Saipan fell to the U.S. Marines and Army, Tojo’s government collapsed. Upon Japan’s surrender, Tojo tried to commit suicide by shooting himself with an American .38 pistol but was saved by an American physician who gave him a transfusion of American blood.
He lived only to be convicted of war crimes by an international tribunal—and was hanged on December 22, 1948. Asao Uchida portrayed him in the 1970 film Tora! Tora! Tora!.