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It's like letting a genie out of the bottle, the samurai attitude has been bottled away in Japan for centuries and suddenly they're unleashed again on the rest of Asia and they're still behaving like it's the Middle Ages, it's total war.
And with total war, it means total and utter destruction. And these people, people like Tojo and his friends, are going to drag Japan absolutely into the abyss. So we knock out the United States Pacific fleet before they're ready. We are required by our destiny. Now, they put it to make war and the war itself read the declaration. Pearl Harbor will be a self declaration as it happens now. It breaks every rule in terms of protocol and diplomatic nicety.
But there's a logic, a bitter, vicious logic. It's December 1941, and the Imperial Japanese army is on the rampage throughout China. General Hideki Tojo, head of Japan's military and prime minister to boot, is relentless in his pursuit of an overseas empire. But one entity still stands in his way and it's going to be pretty hard to shift the United States. My name's 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.
In this episode, we return to Japan and the story of the man who led the nation into the war to end all wars from Noisey podcasts. This is real dictators. In 1941, Japan faces a pivotal decision. Does it go to war with the United States or not? Victory over America could pave the way for Japan's domination of the Asian continent and the entire Pacific region. Dr. Anthony Best from the London School of Economics, is an expert in Japanese history and politics.
If you were a betting man, would you decide to bet on the axis or the allies in the autumn of 1941? Yeah, it's a difficult decision. Defeat is not inevitable. You might die. You might survive. And if you survive, it will be glorious. Tojo's eyes are on Pearl Harbor, America's naval base in Hawaii. Over the past months, his spies have infiltrated the U.S. outpost. One of them is a man called Tadashi Imura.
Well, that's not his real name. It's the identities being given by spy masters and the Japanese military. Despite the fake I.D., he's no super spy, Marimar Moore is hiding pretty much in plain sight. The simplicity, the brazenness of his intelligence gathering staggering. Marie Mora has been given six hundred dollars in cash to fund his mission, as well as a cover job at the Japanese consulate in Hawaii. Each afternoon, he leaves the office to travel up through the sloping hills of Oahu Island to the neighborhood of iritis, which overlooks Pearl Harbor from the north.
Here, he simply sits and watches, observing the comings and goings of U.S. military hardware and personnel. After sending his notes back via the consulate, Marimar is free to spend the rest of his time as he sees fit. In the evenings, he enjoys the company of geisha girls at the local teahouse. All he needs to do is to keep a beady eye on the ships in the harbor below. From his vantage point up in the hills, Murray Murray is able to provide extremely detailed intelligence on the positions of U.S. warships.
Armed with this intel, Tojo's military machine is locked and loaded. On December the 7th, 1941. Tojo begins the assault on America as he means to continue the attacks Pearl Harbor. Without warning. At 748 a.m. Hawaiian time. 353 Japanese aircraft attack in two ways. The US losses are extensive. Two thousand four hundred three Americans killed, one thousand one hundred seventy eight others injured. Eight Navy battleships damaged. But more than that, America is rattled.
By international standards, this first act of war is an astonishing crime. Dr. Michael Lynch is an author and historian from the University of Leicester, the Japanese justification, as they put it, for Pearl Harbor, was that we don't need to declare war because the war itself will be a declaration. What they were saying was, if we give warning of a possible war, we lose that advantage. That surprise will bring us a surprise is of the essence to win this engagement.
If we're going to defeat the Pacific fleet, it must be done by surprise. If we give them time to prepare, we have a situation which you can't control. So we knock out the United States Pacific fleet before they're ready to retaliate or respond so we can't declare war. If we did so, we'd show our hand. So we are required by our destiny. Now, they put it to make war and the war itself will be the declaration.
Pearl Harbor will be a self declaration as it happens now. It breaks every rule in terms of protocol and diplomatic nicety. But there's a logic, a bitter, vicious logic. But it makes sense if you believe that speed and surprise were of the essence and therefore you couldn't give warning of Pearl Harbor. There's no turning back. The next day, the United States Congress votes for war with Japan with only one dissenting ballot. Thousands of Americans rushed to sign up to the armed forces.
Japan has been preparing for total war now. America does the same. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt begins the process of converting the economy and civilian industries into military assets. General Tojo is braced for a short term economic hit, but he's convinced his naval commanders will land a knockout blow. Japan is walking a tightrope between economic ruin and military glory. Francis Pike is an historian, an expert on Japan and author of Hirohito's War. 1939, Japan got 85 percent of its oil from California.
America was a big oil exporter and Standard Oil exported to Japan because it was cheaper to send oil to Japan, it was to send it to the east coast of America. So Japan was highly, highly dependent on American oil and suddenly that oil was cut off. So they were strangulated.
They were in a corner. The cutting off of oil was existential. And of course, the Americans put pressure on the Dutch not to sell the Dutch with the other great oil exporters in the Pacific area. So Japan had oil stocks for two years, so they had to surrender effectively to American power or they had to fight America to a point where they could negotiate a deal with America. Japan's government propaganda portrays the master general as a glorious leader. Whether or not the Japanese people stand behind him 100 percent is harder to discern, but clearly at this stage, Hideki Tojo has widespread support.
In no small part, this is because in addition to all his other roles, General Tojo controls the military police. The Kempeitai enforce so-called Right-Thinking both within the army and Japanese society at large. Mark Felton is a military historian and author of books on Japan and World War Two, they take the pick of the litter. The most ideologically strongest Japanese soldiers are put through this. They a lot of extra training. They have extraordinary powers over ordinary soldiers and even over senior officers.
They are analogies also with a kind of Soviet commissars, if you like, the kind of thought police and Tojo, the prime minister of Japan, is basically in charge of the thought police for a large part of World War Two.
So you say the wrong thing, you can be hauled off by them for anti-war statements and pacifist statements. They go after communists very effectively in Japan and destroy the Communist Party that exists there. They also take on the Social Democrats and the Christians and any other group that basically has opposed this very strict emperor worshipping empire building megalomaniacs who are currently in charge of the government there in the 1930s. So a real force to be feared. They also run the camps.
So they are the administration behind the running of the camps. And we all know what happens in them as well.
After attacking America, Tojo now has more than enough political capital to put into motion. The second phase of his plan.
Soon, the Japanese army is sweeping down the British controlled peninsula of Malaya in Southeast Asia. At its tip is one of Japan's most sought after prizes, Singapore, Japan has never signed the Geneva Convention. They are not party to international norms concerning the treatment of prisoners. When they take enemy combatants captive, the Japanese are utterly brutal. Jonathan Clements is an expert on East Asia and author of the book A Brief History of the Samurai.
The Samurai have a very specific way of fighting there wars, which is that if you lose, you're going to die. They have no concept of the Geneva Convention. They have no concept of surrender. A samurai is going to commit suicide if he's caught. So when the Japanese army is fighting a more conventional modern war, they are baffled by the idea of people surrendering to them, of people who expect to be treated nicely as prisoners of war, because that's not how things worked in Japan.
What you end up with is like letting a genie out of the bottle. The samurai attitude has been bottled away in Japan for centuries, and suddenly they're unleashed again on the rest of Asia and they're still behaving like it's the Middle Ages.
It was probably the most brutal of all the armies involved in the Second World War and of course, before the Second World War in China. So his reputation precedes it on every battlefront, the way the Japanese army maintained discipline was through violence. So recruits from day one are beaten regularly for every kind of infraction you can think of. Now, the British Army NCO and officers cannot strike other ranks, and this is forbidden. In the Japanese army. It was standard practice.
So the beatings went down the ranks all the way down to the bottom. Now, of course, if you brutalize young men to this degree, and especially in a very face orientated society such as in Japan and or shame culture as well, a lot of this shame is going to come out at some point. And we find quite often that the Japanese soldiers were very, very brutal to prisoners of war and to civilians, largely because they could expel some of that pent up violence and shame upon those people that were considered even less than them within the system.
So it is a very, very important point. Many people don't realize just how violent the training was, but it worked because it produced soldiers who were extremely dehumanized, very, very good at their jobs and extremely brutal. And of course, the one object was the following of orders. That's the most important thing. The Japanese society is very hierarchical based on Chinese Confucian concepts. So the superior, inferior relationships are utterly different from what we know in the West.
There's no sense of individuality. It's a group culture. So it comes down to the fact that Japanese soldiers had to obey their superiors will be severely punished and often carry out extremely morally questionable acts simply through fear of exclusion from the group or through punishment as well. Tojo produces a field manual for his troops, it's intended to offer guidance to Japanese soldiers on how to conduct themselves when dealing with the allies.
In this volume, Tojo declares that surrender in war is a dishonorable act. Here he's drawing on the samurai traditions into which he was born. No surrender in any circumstance. Prisoner of war is not a concept that makes sense. As a soldier, you should never let yourself be taken prisoner. You should fight your way out of a corner or kill yourself if you have no other recourse, if you surrender. You've proven yourself to be subhuman. From this perspective, it follows that captured allied soldiers are deserving of no mercy whatsoever.
In Malaysia and the Philippines, the rounded up and march to camps where the conditions beggar belief, we see an awful lot of random killings happened very early on.
For example, anybody who was quite tall was generally singled out and abused or killed because the taller you are, the more Anglo-Saxon you are. In the eyes of the Japanese, we see the shock of military officers in charge of surrendered passes and they can't understand why their rank is not being respected. They can't be given water. Their troops under their command are not being taken care of properly. The Japanese are no respect as a rank. You're all just slaves from general down to private.
So everybody's herded off. The idea is to march them to a railhead at a particular town and then put them on to trains, cattle, trains, and then take them off to a series of camps. But the Japanese turn it into a death march. What they do is they deliberately deny the men water. The only water they're allowed to touch comes from filthy buffalo wallows, which is ridden with diseases. So you can imagine guys with dysentery and whatever.
Every time they step out of line, they're either beaten or shot or bayoneted. They prevent the local Filipinos from helping them. So occasions when Filipino people come forward and try to give these starving, dehydrated men some food or water, those civilians are also killed and often the most brutal way, usually with swords and bayonets.
So it's just an entire process of thinning out the ranks, if you like. They kill off pretty much anybody who can't get there under his own power, anybody who's sick, wounded or injured in some way or just looks to them a target. The stories are that, you know, the people are marching and Japanese soldiers are literally just running in, picking out people they don't like the look of and just abusing them by the side of the road. People have to understand you can't judge the imperial Japanese army and its mentality by European standards.
We have to kind of reverse the what we know. And I think that's why the initial shock of the captured British and Australians and Americans, they simply couldn't fathom why these people were behaving like this. It seemed, you know, irrelevant and stupid. Why kill your own workforce, for example? But when you look at the history behind it, going all the way back to the samurai period, this brutal, fierce, uncompromising, single minded way of dealing with things, you can understand why they treated us with such disrespect.
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The Alexandra Hospital in Singapore is home to wounded allied soldiers tended to by a staff of nurses and doctors. On February the 14th, 1942, the water supply to the medical facility is cut off, then the hospital is rocked with explosions from shelves throughout the day, the blasts get nearer and nearer. The first Japanese troops are spotted in the early afternoon. A British lieutenant is sent out with a white flag to submit the hospital surrender. But before he can raise the banner above, his head is bayoneted to death by the first soldier he comes across.
Trampling over the white flag, Japanese troops flowed into the building and wreak havoc on the ground floor throughout the hospital. Soldiers set upon medical staff in a bloody frenzy. Allied troops stretched out and operating tables who cannot flee or skewered on bayonets. A party of prisoners is strongarmed into an outhouse for safekeeping. The room is so packed they can't even raise their arms above their heads, let alone sit down or move about. Prisoners have no choice but to urinate on each other standing up.
Finally, at around six pm, the riot soldiers depart for the survivors left in their wake. Life will never be the same again. The extreme sadistic violence witnessed at the Alexandra Hospital comes right from the top. Prime Minister Hideki Tojo was fueled by a potent brew of Japanese nationalism and racist ideology, in part inspired by the Nazis. This is often a bit of a jump for Western mindset to understand that prisoners of war and the Japanese concept had no rights.
They were literally nothing nonentities. They were men who had lost all their honor by surrendering. Now, of course, these guys may have been lying in hospital beds, previously wounded in battle, but the Japanese don't care.
They simply are killing people in very large numbers or abusing them in large numbers to work off some of this pent up xenophobic rage that they have towards the West.
Time and time again is Tojo's war machine spreads out across Southeast Asia. The same pattern of senseless brutality plays out mass rapes, torture and murders, subhuman treatment of prisoners. I think the brutality shown by the Japanese army is really quite unique and quite extraordinary. And literally every single place where they occupied, there were astonishing scenes of brutality and not just against soldiers, nuns, priests who'd really done nothing at all. They would be heads and break them and torture them.
And in very extraordinary ways.
As the Imperial Japanese Army surges through Asia, it takes tens of thousands of American, British, Dutch and Australian prisoners of war. One hundred and forty thousand allied personnel were captured. Some 30000 die from starvation, disease and maltreatment. Part of it was just the nature of war, the bloodlust that arises in the experience of war. That's one thing. There's another important aspect, and that is Japan's racial purity and the way it saw itself. One has to remember that Japan is a caste society.
So at the bottom of society, you have house of cards, Brackman, people who are outcasts from Japan, racial purity and cleanliness is very, very important.
And that was, of course, even truer at this time, particularly with regards to Westerners.
They were fearful that the West's ultimate ambition was to control all of Asia, and they felt that this existential threat from the West also and the end of the 19th century, in the first part of the 20th century, there was genuine racism in America. There were laws enacted to prevent Japanese from from owning property and participating in the life of America. And this is an America which is open to incomers, to foreigners. There was also the disdain for the other peoples of Asia.
They didn't have like America or Breadbasket, which could sustain their armies. The armies had to live off the land and that meant repression and brutality. And for the common Japanese soldier, the Chinese people, they often described as pigs. In fact, in the Dutch East Indies, prisoners of war, they were moved about the country in pig baskets. There are two smaller chaps. They put two in the pig basket. A lot of them would die simply in the transportation from one place to another.
People would report the sight of these lorries loaded with pig baskets, not carrying pigs, but carrying people. And of course, inevitably, some of the lorry drivers decide, well, let's just turn them into the river or turn them into the sea where they draw out these extraordinary things happened. And, you know, they happen to the Westerners, but they also have to the native populations.
Of course, Tojo himself is not directly coordinating every single act of barbarity. That's not how military hierarchies work, but the atrocities are undoubtedly condoned by the general himself. He, more than anyone, has promoted the loathing of foreigners and so-called inferior peoples. Besides, he's an obsessive intelligence gatherer. He receives regular, detailed reports of his underlings activities.
Tojo was not ignorant of what was going on, but I think it's inconceivable that the emperor was ignorant of what was going on. I think almost certainly Hirohito must have known or must have been told, must have been informed of atrocities that were taking place, as I understand it, in international law.
And this is failing to react on hearing that atrocities have taken place. If there's no evidence that one directly ordered them, it's what you do once you have that information passed on to you. So in Japan's case, you have the Red Cross passing on information that there have been accusations of ill treatment, of abuse and a number of people who were foreign ministers during this period. One of the charges is they then failed to effectively follow up and failed to say to the Army ministry, this is unacceptable.
Under international law, you must take action. So Tojo is presumably aware that these accusations are being made. So he's aware these events are taking place. The issue is then, does he or others step in to indicate that this is unacceptable behaviour? And the war crimes tribunals account is that there was no evidence to suggest that action had been taken.
In spring 1942, Hideki Tojo makes another big power play. Already prime minister of Japan, as well as minister for the Army, he now takes every significant government post for himself.
Tojo, as a soldier becomes also a minister, not merely a prime minister. He becomes equivalent. The home secretary becomes defense minister, war minister, minister of munitions. He is as powerful as any single figure could be under the emperor. Now, that means if he has almost absolute power militarily, therefore he has it politically with military and ministerial jobs to his name, Tojo has unique influence across these two once separate areas. The incursion of the army into political life is a broader trend in Japanese history at this time.
There's a sense in Japanese history, particularly from the 1920s onwards, of there being what they call the dark valley, which is where the military industrial complex, particularly the Army and the Navy, take control over every aspect of Japanese society. They start to control the culture. They start to control the fashion. They start to control business and to influence on laws and censorship until basically the Army ministry and the Navy ministry are the most powerful organs of government to which everything has to defer.
So the country is on a permanent war footing. The Japanese don't talk about World War two. They talk about the 15 Years War, which for them began in 1931.
War with America and the Allies has become Tojo's animating principle.
As far as he can tell, it seems to be going beautifully, little does Tojo know his delusion is about to be shattered. By 1942, Hideki Tojo is at the supreme height of his powers. He's declared war on America with a sneak attack on the base at Pearl Harbor. He's building a Japanese empire across Asia in the Pacific, capturing tens of thousands of allied troops along the way. The prime minister believes that a final victory in the war is within his grasp, but Tojo is suffering from an acute case of what the Japanese call sense Shibu.
It translates as victory disease. It's the idea that military generals, as victories begin to stack up, become far too willing to believe their own hype. When that happens, they start to overstretch. That is exactly what is about to occur out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. America's reaction to Pearl Harbor was absolutely extraordinary. Let's just think about this, Germany, which was a great military power, failed to get across 25 miles of the English Channel.
America transported one 1/2 million soldiers to Asia six thousand miles away. That is in historical terms, that's unique. No country has ever done that or will ever do that again. Europe would have difficulty sending 20000 troops anywhere in the world. America sent one and a half million and the logistics of supporting 6000 miles away were absolutely extraordinary.
I don't think the Japanese were being as stupid as we now tend to think because I don't think anybody could have imagined what America would achieve. Japan's war strategy was to start fast. Their intent was to win a series of battles on the front foot, then step back to hold a line around the Pacific region. But as the months of war dragged on, that objective has become lost in the noise, increasingly, it's given way to a much more aggressive, proactive policy of constant expansion.
But for a nation of Japan's size and capabilities, powerful as they are, this simply isn't sustainable. Now, in June 1942, a vital U.S. base on the tiny atoll of Midway will become the setting for Japan's first naval defeat in 75 years. As the Japanese close in on the American positions, they believe they're ambushing the U.S. fleet, but unbeknownst to them, American cryptographers have cracked where and when this attack will transpire. The Americans have planned their own counter ambush, the battle of Midway is decisive for Japanese fleet carriers, and a heavy cruiser sunk.
The fleet carriers in question are called cargo. So do you here, you and Akagi. Six months ago, they were part of the assault on Pearl Harbor. Now they're at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. It's a chastening defeat, one that strips Japan of its naval dominance in the Pacific. Todd, you might be a de facto dictator in many aspects of Japanese political life. Such is the range of powers and offices he holds. But ultimately, his career does rest on pleasing a single superior man.
Tojo has promised his emperor victory. Up to now, Hirohito has allowed Tojo to steal the limelight. But defeat at the Battle of Midway was not in the script for Tojo, Midway is more than a reality check. It's a personal and political disaster. He must give some account of this in a way that justifies the power he's accrued and that becomes increasingly difficult as the war turns against Japan. So his career, his future, his belief is tied to success in war.
There's no room for manoeuvre. He can't explain away defeat. That's the condition Japan and the army and military have got into. They can justify their existence and their control of politics only by success. Civilian government could always say what would concern us over domestic policy. Military government can only win on the military front. If it doesn't win on that, it loses on all fronts. And that's Tojo's great dilemma. From 42 on, the tide of the war has turned.
Up to now, Todd, you seem pretty much invincible, but now he and Japan both are entering uncharted waters. Tojo turns to that guiding principle of the Japanese armed forces, the samurai spirit, which fight tooth and nail confronting defeat with suicide. It's now looking pretty likely after Midway that Japan's Pacific Island territories will face invasion. If things go really south, the mainland itself will be under threat. Tojo tells Japan's civilian population they must be prepared to fight to the death.
Everyone must get ready to die, even children. The war starts to go against him now, he still believes it would appear in ultimate victory, but he begins to qualify and he says it might take longer, it might need greater effort on our part, which is why the argument we must militarize the whole society becomes so powerful while you train the kids at school, you give them wooden rifles to parade with and you tell them that you may, even as children need become soldiers of the empire.
And that's because the war is going badly. And of course, that gets through to the people eventually. Fascinatingly, most of them accept that. And there's very little evidence of resistance to the war itself. There is challenge politically within the system, the way the war is being handled. But the people of Japan seem certainly by 42 to be committed to the war.
How if it ends? Tojo is clear, Japan must not go quietly, the people must be prepared to take up arms, destroy infrastructure, conduct campaigns of civil disobedience, whatever it takes to make life hard for the occupying forces. The thinking on this went right up to the end of the war, right to the day that Hirohito spoke on the radio and surrendered. That is, the senior people in the army felt if we can cause America enough casualties and enough pain, they will come to terms something short of unconditional surrender.
And so that's the reason for saying let's arm our civilians. Let them also make the sacrifice for Japan, for the greater good of Japan, for the cause of the emperor. Because if we can inflict as much pain as possible at this stage, then we prevent the ultimate humiliation of the invasion of Japan. The US fleet is rapidly closing in on Japanese home territory, but Tojo is belligerent. The war is about to enter its final tragic chapter.
Next time on real dictators. With the walls closing in, Prime Minister Tojo takes hands on control of the army despite minimal battlefield experience. Clutching at straws, Tojo hatches a rogue scheme to knock the British out of the war. As the Americans land on Japanese soil, thousands of civilians commit suicide at the behest of their government. And Emperor Hirohito finally pulls the trigger on his master general. The end of the war will soon arrive, but its final scene will change the world forever more.
That's next time on Real Dictators. 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 Braggy. The strings were recorded by Doree McCallie. The sound mixer is Tom Pink. Real Dictators is a noisy and world media writes co-production. If you haven't already, we'd love to follow us wherever you listen to your favorite shows or check us out.
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