February 21

This Day in History

World War II

Feb 21, 1944:

Tojo makes himself "military czar"

On this day, Hideki Tojo, prime minister of Japan, grabs even more power as he takes over as army chief of staff, a position that gives him direct control of the Japanese military.

After graduating from the Imperial Military Academy and the Military Staff College, Tojo was sent to Berlin as Japan's military attache after World War I. Having earned a reputation for sternness and discipline, Tojo was given command of the 1st Infantry Regiment upon returning to Japan. In 1937, he was made chief of staff of the Kwantung Army in Manchuria, China. When he returned again to his homeland, Tojo assumed the office of vice-minister of war and quickly took the lead in the military's increasing control of Japanese foreign policy, advocating the signing of the 1940 Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy that made Japan an "Axis" power.

In July 1940, he was made minister of war and soon clashed with the prime minister, Prince Fumimaro Konoye, who had been fighting for reform of his government, namely, demilitarization of its politics. In October, Konoye resigned because of increasing tension with Tojo, who succeeded him as prime minister. Not only did Tojo keep his offices of army minister and war minister when he became prime minister, he also assumed the offices of minister of commerce and industry.

Tojo, now a virtual dictator, quickly promised a "New Order in Asia," and toward this end supported the bombing of Pearl Harbor despite the misgivings of several of his generals. Tojo's aggressive policies paid big dividends early on, with major territorial gains in Indochina and the South Pacific. But despite Tojo's increasing control over his own country--tightening wartime industrial production and assuming yet another title, chief of staff of the army, on February 21, 1944--he could not control the determination of the United States, which began beating back the Japanese in the South Pacific. When Saipan fell to the U.S. Marines and Army on June 22, 1944, Tojo's government collapsed. Upon Japan's surrender, Tojo tried to commit suicide by shooting himself with an American .38 pistol but he was saved by an American physician who gave him a blood transfusion. He was convicted of war crimes by an international tribunal and was hanged on December 22, 1948.

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