On August the 14th, 1945 in New York City's Times Square, Americans have a lot to cheer about as they celebrate victory over Japan day and into the night.
A happy crowd screamed their relief at the. The greatest war in history for four years since the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States has been at war with the empire of Japan. Now, finally, Japan has surrendered. Times Square is packed out with civilians, sailors and guys on leave, all celebrating the new. But while they party 7000 miles away, a bizarre drama is playing out in a Tokyo suburb knowing the war is lost.
General Hideki Tojo, Japan's disgraced former prime minister, is on the run from the Americans. American reporters have been roaming the city covering the closing days of the war, and they're on Tojo's tail. He may be in hiding, but after days in hot pursuit, they've tracked him down. Tipped off by the reporters, a command of American GI's arrives at a nondescript house in suburban Tokyo. The press corps is already camped outside the soldiers translators shout out their message to the fugitive hidden inside the property.
Surrender now. But surrender isn't in General Tojo's vocabulary. My name is Paul McGann and welcome to Real Dictators, the series that explores the hidden lives of tyrants such as Adolf Hitler, Chairman Mao and Kim Jong Il. You'll be right there in their meeting rooms and private quarters on the battlefields and in their bunkers, up close and personal with some of history's most evil leaders watching on as they make the decisions that shaped the world as we know it. We'll take you behind the curtain, beyond the propaganda and the myth making to hear the real stories of their totalitarian regimes in this episode.
We're in Japan in the 1930s and 40s. Have you ever heard of General Hideki Tojo? Perhaps not. He's the man who led Japan through World War Two without him. Pearl Harbor might not have happened. The atom bombs might not have been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Outranked by the Japanese emperor, Tojo wasn't technically a dictator in the strictest sense of the term. He did not hold absolute authority. His means of exercising power were more subtle, nuanced and full blown autocracy.
But he more than earned his place at this table. This is the story of the minister who outgrew his master ruling under a compliant emperor, Tojo gathered power to himself. He was prime minister, education minister, head of the army and multiple other roles all at the same time. In his pursuit of Japanese dominance in Asia and the Pacific, Tojo was utterly cold blooded. He preached an absolute code of no surrender, a code which saw him fight one of the dirtiest wars ever known.
He indoctrinated a population of 70 million people, then drove them to mass suicide when the tide of the war turned. In the pantheon of tyrants, this general turned politician is often overlooked. It's time to correct that. From noisy podcasts, this is the story of General Tojo and this is real dictator's. In 1945, in the Tokyo back street, American soldiers stand outside the house in which General Hideki Tojo was hiding for a split second, his bald head appears at a window, eyes framed by his signature circular glasses.
Then he disappears from view once more if he won't come out by his own volition. They'll have to drag him out. Checking their weapons, the soldiers prepare to storm the house, everything they know about Tojo suggests he won't go down without a fight. But in fact, inside the property, the fugitive is preparing to die by his own hand. The general is accompanied by his personal physician. If this plan comes off, they will shortly exit the stage together for good.
Suicide is a vital component of the ancient code of the samurai. Surrender is not an option. To be captured by the enemy is to lose all dignity. Death by one's own hand is the only course of action. Cornetist Tojo is now the only way to leave this life with any semblance of honor is to take it himself. Michael Lynch is an historian and author. He did say to his wife, as was later revealed, that he wouldn't take his life so long as he could be of some service to the state and to the emperor.
He would remain alive until the war is actually lost. He will not commit Hari Kari as soon as the war is lost. He goes to his doctor and he asks him, where is the heart and the doctor? The charcoal brush puts a ring around his heart. Tojo, the man who has waged a campaign of total war on the U.S. and its allies, takes his American made automatic pistol from his holster and holds it in a trembling hand. Despite reams of military honors, he's something of a battlefield virgin more accustomed to holding a fountain pen and a gun.
As the troops outside prepare to kick down the door, Tojo turns the firearm on himself.
He takes a pistol and he shoots himself. He's going to be arrested. He's under house arrest effectively, but they break him when they hear the shot and he's lying there bleeding profusely.
Reporters pile into the house behind the soldiers. The room is lit up by the flashes of the cameras as they create images for the ages. General Tojo is slumped in an armchair half propped up by a pillow head lolling to the left. He's removed his glasses, his face is adorned solely by his military mustache. His white shirt is unbuttoned almost all the way down to his high waisted gray trousers, his shirt is stained crimson with blood. In centuries past, the samurai called their ritual act of suicide, seppuku or harakiri.
This time honoured procedure was the last resort for members of Japan's warrior caste defeated in battle, they would stab into the abdomen with a blade and slice from left to right, thus disemboweling themselves. Tojo seems to have attempted something similar with his handgun. It seems he has evaded justice right at the last. But then one of the soldiers notices something. Tojo may be unconscious. He may be bleeding out all over the floor, but his suicide attempt has failed.
He chose into his stomach and not into the heart, very badly aimed. Why didn't he commit formal traditional Arikara? He had the sword. There is a suggestion he wanted to survive against any suggestion. But could he be that bad shot at close quarters? His pulse is faint, his breath so shallow as to be barely discernible. But General Tojo is alive. How did it come to this, how did Japan's infamous warlord end up turning a gun on himself in this suburban Tokyo house?
What events conspired to produce this somewhat pathetic climactic chapter? To understand that, we have to take a trip back in time. The story of Tojo's rise to power begins over 40 years earlier. The year is 1984. Japan is an emerging power, just starting to flex its muscles on the world stage. It feels it is the natural leader of the Asian continent, an empire waiting to happen at this stage in history, Japan and the USA are allies.
The Japanese are locked in a bitter war with their regional rival, Russia. They're fighting over territories in eastern Siberia and Korea. To the world's amazement, Japan comes out on top. This unheralded island nation inflicts an emphatic defeat on the Russian empire. This is the first major military victory of an Asian power over a European one in modern times. Japan is clearly a serious military and economic force in the world. From a Japanese perspective, this emergence is no surprise, after all, Japan claims to have the smartest people, the toughest soldiers and an emperor who was a living God.
One of the rising stars of the Imperial Japanese Army is a young second lieutenant, Hideki Tojo. He's exceptionally hardworking and has an extremely sharp intellect. His colleagues nickname him The Razor Tojo has two outstanding characteristics. I think we could say one is total loyalty to the empire and to the emperor. The other is a commitment to work, which he sees as a duty which can never be limited or controlled or undermined. And therefore he'll work 18 hours a day if he has to.
He sees work as his way of contributing to the state. I don't think he thinks very deeply. He's not intellectual in the sense of pondering issues and finding out justification. He accepts Japan and its struggle. And I'd say about Tojo, it's not simply power, lust for its own sake. He wants power, but he wants it in the name and for the cause of Japan. It's not power lust for its own sake. I would suggest it was a cause he believed in.
Japan was the cause, the empire and the Emperor with the cause. Japan was going somewhere and he would be its servant. But he'd need to rise in the system not to be an effective servant. And he always said his first duty was always to the emperor. Whatever he did was done in the name of and for the good of the emperor.
Historically, Japanese society has been divided into four classes or castes, the peasants, the artisans, the merchants and at the top, the samurai. The Tojo family is from this highest caste. The samurai are the warriors of Japan, they hold true to martial values, they're born and bred to relish war, disregard pain and pursue glory at any cost. Jonathan Clements is an expert on East Asia and author of the book A Brief History of the Samurai. The samurai were the aristocracy basically ran Japan for 250 years as a police state until 1868, when the Meiji restoration supposedly put the emperor back in charge.
This led to the modernization of Japan and it led to the disbandment of the samurai. Suddenly this warrior class whose job it is to fight people who had nobody to fight for 250 years.
I suddenly told that their surplus to requirements and a lot of them join the military, the Navy in particular. But also the Army was a real home for all of these disenfranchised officers with nothing better to do who trained up with modern weapons and brought this samurai spirit, brought this notion of a life of warfare into the modern Japanese military.
This burgeoning samurai spirit partly explains Japan's emergence in international affairs. This is a nation growing in self-confidence and in ambition.
So what you get is a country that's been shut off from the world for all this time, suddenly with a new mandate, with a new mission to go off and set up colonies abroad to imitate the Europeans and the Americans by colonizing China. And so within very few years, you see the Japanese moving into the UCU islands, into Okinawa, into Korea and Taiwan, and then into part of the Chinese mainland and the imitating the Western powers they're trying to do to China, where everybody else is going to China.
They are called the British of Asia because they're this plucky island nation who's never been defeated.
And you get this euphoric period from the 18 70s up until the 1930s, really, where the Japanese regard themselves as a warlike military race, carving out a new empire for themselves in East Asia.
The caste system has officially been abolished by the time you take. Tojo was born in 1884, but it still shapes how people think and how they conduct themselves. As a hereditary samurai, young Hideki is raised to behave in a certain way to conduct his life in a certain manner, his purpose and his calling is the pursuit of war. Mark Felton is a military historian and author of books on Japan and World War Two, including Japan's Gestapo. Tojo is is an interesting fellow.
He's a member of a samurai family. He's from that very narrow political class that runs Japan since the Meiji restoration up until the end of World War Two. He was born in Tokyo, his father's lieutenant general in the Imperial Army. So he's very much inured into that honorable officer class. They see themselves very much as the inheritors of the samurai traditions of the past. And he is absolutely devoted to the person of the emperor. Many of them were, of course.
But Tojo is particularly loyal to the whole idea of the imperial family and personally to Emperor Hirohito. After graduating from the Japanese Military Academy, Tojo earns a reputation as a tough, disciplined operator. His single mindedness impresses his superiors. He marries and has children. But in truth, is wedded to the job. He refuses to have any part in raising his four daughters and three sons, lest it distract him from his work. He's born into a military family and all he knows really are military standards.
It's sometimes said I'd go with this and he he's not a private man ever, meaning by that, that his private life, his family life, although he married, had children, it meant nothing to him in terms of defining what he wanted, what he did. He wanted to serve as a soldier while his wife, Katsuko, looks after the kids husband works late into the night in his study, trawling through army paperwork. In a nation where diligence is valued above almost all other qualities, Tojo's work ethic puts him right on track for a series of rapid promotions.
Charisma, political charisma is not important in Japan at the time, very much is run by gray men. If you like suits, he's a bureaucrat. I have to say I would draw analogies to Himmler, head of the SS even looks a bit like him with his round glasses and short haircut. So he's really, really efficient bureaucrat. He's not particularly a combat officer. That's something that's not really a part of his makeup. He manages to climb the greasy pole of Japanese internal politics and the military from the 1920s and 30s.
He makes himself useful to the right people. Now in Japanese society at the time, and perhaps even today, many of the Asian societies are patronage societies. So it's not necessarily advancement by merit. It's more who you know rather than what you know. So in the Japanese society at the time in the military, it was important for him to form alliances with the right people on the way up. Mention his bureaucracy. This is a guy who works nearly all night going through piles and piles and piles of paper, a guy who keeps color coded notebooks for every single thing he's looking at.
So very similar kind of Himmler, obsessive notetaking, obsessive details, lists of enemies, lists of people. They're keeping an eye on an allergy perhaps, who had, you know, this kind of storing away ammunition for later use against his opponents. Tojo hates America, and all it stands for is deeply offended by the Immigration Control Act passed by Congress in 1924. This act bans all Asian immigration to the United States on the basis that Asians supposedly work harder than whites and therefore represent a threat to American jobs.
Stung by this insult, many in Japan turned decisively away from the United States. As a part of his military training, Tojo is sent by the army on a tour of Europe. As he travels from capital to capital, he comes to loathe what he sees as Western decadence, softness, materialism, the pursuit of money for its own sake, couples holding hands and other public displays of affection. As far as he's concerned, much of Europe can be written off except one place.
Tojo is highly impressed by what he sees in Germany. The rise of the Nazi party is clearly changing Germany at a fundamental level. Crucially, it's recalibrating the basic relationship between citizens and the state. The German military wants to create a totalitarian defense state in this version that everyone has a role to play in protecting the nation. Factory workers, housewives, even children. The next war will be a Toca war, and that requires a total commitment from every man, woman and child in society.
This is an idea that told you is keen to realize in his own country. He dreams of a Japan that can one day become a kind of Asian Prussia, a supremely disciplined, militarized society. But that is not the site to greet him when he returns to the Far East. After weeks at sea, Tojo disembarked his ship and sets foot on home soil. It's clear as he wends his way home through the fraught streets of Tokyo that his beloved Japan is in dire economic difficulty, the country has been on the rise in recent decades, but that progress has been checked.
And now throughout the rest of the 1920s and 30s, the outlook will only become more chaotic like so many countries around the world. Japan is hit hard by the economic downturn that follows the Wall Street crash in the United States. Japan's political elites struggle to contain the fallout, especially after the onset of the Great Depression in 1930. There's widespread social unrest. Protests flare up on the streets of towns and cities from Osaka in the south to Sapporo in the north, under the Meiji Constitution introduced in 1889, Japan has a modern legislature known as the Imperial Diet.
While suffrage for women is still withheld, adult men have had the vote since 1925. Japan has been flirting with Western style democracy, but this looks set to end pretty much before it starts. As unemployment skyrockets and the cost of living spirals out of all control, the notion of moderate consensual politics seems wildly unsuitable. Remember that Japan was a military state for two hundred and fifty years beforehand for almost a millennium. The real ruler of Japan has not been the emperor, it's been the Shogun, it's been the general.
So the idea of democracy, the idea of civilians being in charge is actually something of a flash in the pan in the early 20th century. The military is very swiftly reasserting itself, military might and the connections of the military industrial complex of the people that make the cars and the guns and the planes. These become much more powerful bargaining chips in the Japanese government than simply the votes of the people.
Japan is, in essence, a hierarchical society at the top of the society. It's the Emperor Hirohito. At just 29 years old, Hirohito has already had a distinguished military career before becoming head of state on the death of his father. He will father seven children and become the longest reigning Japanese emperor and one of the longest serving monarchs on the globe. As the country veers off the rails, it's increasingly towards Hirohito and his generals in the army that the Japanese people look for leadership.
It becomes increasingly important. Throughout the 1920s and by the early 1930s, the army really has moved very centrally into the government. Under the major constitution, the army and Navy ministers are, of course, serving officers and they sit in the cabinet. So there's always been uniformed military members in the cabinet advising Hirohito democracy was on the way out. It has to be said there was a general feeling that Japan needs to move back to something more Japanese rather than these Western impositions.
They talked about something called the Kokoity, which is called the national polity. It's a very peculiar Japanese expression, but it means a kind of Japan, if you like, under the emperor and all of those kind of traditions that perhaps were being eroded by Western style democracy and elements of socialism, communism, et cetera. Hirohito's court sets the benchmark for royal grandeur. It's the envy of monarchs the world over. Hirohito was born to rule and boy, does he know it.
But despite all the trappings of power, Hirohito is no autocrat. He's an army man, and the army contains many of his key allies. Though the throne is his birthright, Hirohito leans heavily on the support of his generals.
In policy terms, in shaping Japan's role in the world, it's the army, not the emperor, that calls the shots.
So there is a feeling that the military needs to do something to save Japan. But of course, they're also rather self-serving because they want to put themselves into a position of power and push their own agenda, which is imperial expansion. Everybody agrees that Japan has to invade other countries and that's going to happen regardless of who is in control. Many believe that the answer to Japan's woes lies in creating an overseas empire. This, they argue, will unite the Japanese people and increase prosperity.
East Asia and the Asian subcontinent are the obvious places to invade, although some generals want to seize territories as far afield as the Philippines and even Australia. The military is united in wanting overseas expansion, but it is divided in terms of who they see as the enemy. The Japanese army can broadly be split into two factions, each bitterly at odds with the other.
The COHA are known as the Imperial Wave Action in English. Now these guys, they are very much looking to the past in Japan. They're looking to a time when during the samurai period, and particularly at the fall of the samurai period, some of the great final battles, the samurai, a guy called Saigo Takamori, who became a great romantic hero in the modern industrialized Japan. So they're looking to that. They believe that Japan has to have a military government primarily.
That's the important thing. And they're most interested in trying to knock off the Soviet Union. Incredibly, they see the Soviet Union as the greatest threat to Japanese imperial ambitions, particularly in Manchuria and Mongolia. So they want a showdown with the Soviet Union.
Japan and Russia have been rivals for centuries by now in the early 20th century. They are mortal enemies. They both crave control of North East Asia. Siberia, the Idaho faction of the Japanese army are hell bent on settling old scores with the Soviets.
The other side, the Tosya, known as the control group, of which Tojo becomes a prominent member. They share a similar empire building desires. They're very much for the mechanization of the military and the building up of the Army and Navy. They reject, again, Western democracy and those kind of ideas. Both groups, of course, are into emperor worship, and already the position of the emperor has been codified in law as being a living God. So that's a very important point.
But the control group are primarily interested in a war in China, so they see China as the future for Japan.
Japan has long been tantalized by the vast expanses of Chinese land right on their doorstep. The Toshiya argue that invading China would provide the essential natural resources Japan desperately needs to build and sustain an empire. So the two groups broadly unpleasant. However, they do vary in enemies as the important thing. And and literally throughout the whole 1930s, these two groups are constantly arguing and literally fighting with each other.
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A leading member, Major General TT's and Nagata, becomes a close friend and mentor, Nagata is hated by the rival group. As tensions bubble up, his life is increasingly at risk. A young Cardosa officer, Lieutenant Colonel Sabata Izawa, decides to take matters into his own hands on August the 12th, 1935, Nagata sits in his office in the Army's Tokyo headquarters, working through papers at his desk. Across the building, the disenchanted Lieutenant Colonel Izawa paces purposefully in the direction of the major general's office is Joyce set his face fixed with a stony look.
Isao around the corner and walks down the long corridor to the major general's room. He stops at the ornate wooden doors. He knocks.
After a few moments, an attendant comes to the door and blinking. Izawa enters in his chair. Major General Nagata swivels to see who this unscheduled visitor is.
He locks eyes with the young lieutenant colonel. Then, without further ado, Sabata Izawa draws his longsword from Italy and runs the major general clean through. Negatus gas becomes a bloody gergel. Clutching his punctured stomach, he collapses to the floor. Francis Pike is an historian, an expert on Japan and author of Hirohito's War Throughout Japanese History. There is a history of political assassination using the Japanese sword. This comes from the samurai period. And the sneak attack is actually culturally very acceptable in in Japan.
It's within the cultural acceptability of Japan. When you feel strongly about something, the sneak attack is perfectly fine. This was obviously an extremist devoted to his faction.
He decided to put away the regard to the man he saw as the arch enemy of his faction. It's a stunning, grisly act of insubordination. The emperor is horrified. It's not a good look to have officers in the Imperial Army, the country's most revered institution, murdering each other.
The Izawa incident, as it becomes known, will prove to be the high point of political infighting, but the damage is done. Riven by a schism, Japan's military is in disarray, its reputation tarnished in the minds of many. The only solution is to find someone ruthlessly efficient enough to restore order and discipline. The obvious choice for such a task is Razor Tojo.
In the next episode of Real Dictators. Hideki Tojo assumes control of Japan's military police, the Kempeitai, under his leadership, they will become a force as feared as the Nazi Gestapo. The Japanese army invaded China and embarks on a campaign of terror against the native population. The Kempeitai set up a research lab to plumbs the depths of human cruelty in the name of science, and before long, Tojo becomes the most powerful politician in the land under his leadership. Japan will ready itself for war with the United States.
That's next time a real dictator's. Real dictators, as presented by me, Paul McGann. The show was created by Pascal Hughes, produced by Joel Daddle, edited by Katrina Hughes. The music was composed and assembled by Oliver Baines from Flight Brigade. The strings were recorded by Doree McCoole. The sound mixer is Tom Pink. Real Dictators is a noisier and world media writes co-production. If you haven't already, we'd love you to follow us wherever you listen to your favorite shows or check us out at real dictators dotcom.