Death of Hideki Tojo

On 23 December 1948, former prime minister of Japan, Hideki Tojo, was executed for war crimes.

Hideki TojoBorn in Tokyo on 30 December 1884, Hideki Tojo, the son of a general, was brought up in a military environment that held little regard for politicians or civilians. An admirer of Adolf Hitler, Tojo advocated closer ties between Japan and Germany and Italy, and in September 1940, the three Axis powers signed the Tripartite Pact.

Appointed Japan’s Minister for War in July 1940, Tojo was keen to accelerate the coming of war against the US. He viewed the US as a weak nation, populated by degenerate and lazy civilians. Tojo was appointed Japan’s prime minister in October 1941 and within two months had ordered the attack on Pearl Harbor, thus turning the war into a global conflict.

As well as prime minister and minister for war, Hideki Tojo was also appointed home and foreign minister. From February 1944 he was also made Commander-in-Chief of the General Staff. Thus, he ruled almost as dictator, answerable only to Emperor Hirohito.

But as the war turned against Japan, Tojo faced mounting pressure from his government and military hierarchy. Eventually, on 18 July 1944, after a string of losses, the Emperor obliged Tojo to resign.

‘Sorry it is taking me so long to die’

In September 1945, following Japan’s surrender, Tojo tried to resist capture by the Americans by committing suicide – shooting himself in the heart. With US military police pounding at his door, his doctor used a piece of charcoal to draw a circle on Tojo’s chest, pinpointing the exact location where Tojo should aim. However, Tojo somehow missed, shooting himself in the stomach. ‘I am very sorry it is taking me so long to die’, he mumbled as he was arrested, ‘I await for the righteous judgment of history. I wished to commit suicide but sometimes that fails.’ Nationalists were appalled that Tojo, having advocated suicide to his countrymen, had failed to take his own life. His use of a gun was considered cowardly – it should have been a samurai sword.

Having been nursed back to health, Tojo was tried as a war criminal and found guilty. At his trial, he declared, ‘It is natural that I should bear entire responsibility for the war in general, and, needless to say, I am prepared to do so.’

Along with six other ‘Class A’ war criminals, Hideki Tojo, a week shy of his 64th birthday, was executed by hanging on 23 December 1948.

Rupert Colley

See also article on Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.

Read more about the war in World War Two: History In An Hour published by Harper Press and available in various digital formats and audio.