Magazine article History Today

Dec 23 1948: Tojo Hideki Executed

Magazine article History Today

Dec 23 1948: Tojo Hideki Executed

Article excerpt

The dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 forced the Japanese government into unconditional surrender and the country, which was in a state of collapse, was occupied by Allied forces under an eleven-nation commission headed by the United States, the Soviet Union, China and Britain. In practice, however, Japan was ruled by the Americans under General Douglas MacArthur who, so far as he took orders at all, took them from Washington. His authoritarian style would cause far more resentment in Washington than it did in Japan.

The main purposes of the occupation, achieved in remarkably short order, were the disarming of the Japanese armed forces, the introduction of democratic institutions and the repair of the devastated Japanese economy. Meanwhile, there was the question of the prosecution of Japanese war criminals, headed by Tojo Hideki, nicknamed 'Razor', a high-ranking army officer from a military, family. He had been minister for war from 1940 to 1941 and then prime minister until 1944. Regarded as a personification of ruthless Japanese militarism, he was held responsible for the murder of millions of civilians in China and the Far East and of thousands of Allied prisoners of war.

When his arrest was ordered in September, Tojo tried to commit suicide. According to one story, he got a doctor to put a charcoal mark on his chest to indicate the right place to shoot himself in the heart and fired a shot into his body, but somehow the bullet missed his heart and ended up in his stomach. According to another, he fired four shots at himself without success. Lying bleeding profusely when the military police and accompanying journalists burst in, he was heard to murmur a polite apology for taking so long to die. The press photographers put the gun back in his hand and told him to hold on to it before snapping their pictures of him. He was taken to hospital and patched up, before being moved to the Sugamo Prison in Tokyo. He was bitterly condemned by some Japanese for failing to kill himself as honour demanded.

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The trial of twenty-five 'Class A' war criminals by an international tribunal with judges from eleven countries began in Tokyo in May 1946. The chief prosecutor for the US, Joseph Keenan, issued a statement that 'treaty-breakers should be stripped of the glamour of national heroes and exposed as what they really are--plain, ordinary murderers'. In November 1948, all the accused were found guilty. There were misgivings at the time about whether all the right people had been tried. …

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