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.
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. He was one among many and not even the first among equals. 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 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.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. 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. 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.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. I would like to point out their [my accusers’] inhumane and uncivilized actions in East Asia ever since the Middle Ages. 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. To seek this and to achieve it — that is true civilization. In order to understand this, all nations must hate war, forsake emotion, reflect upon their pasts, and think calmly.