Year
1941

Konoye government falls

On this day in 1941, the government of Prince Fumimaro Konoye, prime minister of Japan, collapses, leaving little hope for peace in the Pacific.

Konoye, a lawyer by training and well studied in Western philosophy, literature, and economics, entered the Japanese Parliament’s upper house by virtue of his princely status and immediately pursued a program of reform. High on his agenda was a reform of the army general staff in order to prevent its direct interference in foreign policy decisions. He also sought an increase in parliamentary power. An antifascist, Konoye championed an end to the militarism of Japanese political structures, especially in light of the war in Manchuria, which began in 1931.

Appointed prime minister in 1933, Konoye’s first cabinet fell after full-blown war broke out between Japan and China. In 1940, Konoye was asked to form a second cabinet. But as he sought to contain the war with China, relations with the United States deteriorated, to the point where Japan was virtually surrounded by a U.S. military presence and threats of sanctions. On August 27, 1941, Konoye requested a summit with President Roosevelt

in order to diminish heightening tensions. Envoys were exchanged, but no direct meeting with the president took place. (The U.S. government believed it could send the wrong message to China-and that Japan was on the losing end of that war anyway.)

In October, Konoye resigned because of increasing tension with his army minister, Tojo Hideki. Tojo succeeded Konoye as prime minister, holding on to his offices of army minister and war minister. Imperial Japan’s foreign policy was now formally controlled by the military. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Konoye was put under military surveillance, his political career all but over until 1945, when the emperor considered sending him to Moscow to negotiate peace terms. That meeting never came off.

When Saipan fell to the U.S. Marines and Army, Tojo’s government collapsed. Upon Japan’s surrender, Tojo shot himself to prevent being taken prisoner by the United States. He lived and was tried by an international war-crimes tribunal—and hanged on December 22, 1948. As for Konoye, the grand irony of his career came when he was served with an arrest warrant by the U.S. occupying force for suspicion of war crimes. Rather than submit to arrest, he committed suicide by drinking poison.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Earthquake rocks San Francisco

The deadliest earthquake to hit the San Francisco area since 1906 strikes at 5:04 p.m. and lasts for 15 seconds. The quake measured 7.1 on the Richter scale, and its aftermath was witnessed on live television by millions of people watching the third game of the World Series of ...read more

Patriot victory at Saratoga

During the American Revolution, British General John Burgoyne surrenders 5,000 British and Hessian troops to Patriot General Horatio Gates at Saratoga, New York.In the summer of 1777, General Burgoyne led an army of 8,000 men south through New York State in an effort to join ...read more

OPEC enacts oil embargo

The Arab-dominated Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) announces a decision to cut oil exports to the United States and other nations that provided military aid to Israel in the Yom Kippur War of October 1973. According to OPEC, exports were to be reduced by 5 ...read more

Algerians massacred in Paris

Paris police massacre more than 200 Algerians marching in the city in support of peace talks to end their country’s war of independence against France.Tensions were running high in Paris at the time, with Algerian terrorists setting off bombs in the French capital and randomly ...read more

Capone goes to prison

On this day in 1931, gangster Al Capone is sentenced to 11 years in prison for tax evasion and fined $80,000, signaling the downfall of one of the most notorious criminals of the 1920s and 1930s.Alphonse Gabriel Capone was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1899 to Italian ...read more

President Johnson goes to Asia

President Johnson leaves Washington for a 17-day trip to seven Asian and Pacific nations and a conference scheduled in Manila.En route to Manila, Johnson visited New Zealand and Australia; in Melbourne, antiwar demonstrators heckled him. In Manila, he met with other Allied ...read more

Olympic protestors stripped of their medals

On October 17, 1968, Olympic gold medalist Tommie Smith and bronze medalist John Carlos are forced to return their awards because they raised their fists in a black-power salute during the medal ceremony. In a press conference the next day, International Olympic Committee ...read more

Nathanael West is born

Novelist Nathanael West, was born in New York to a family of Jewish immigrants on this day in 1903. He attended Brown University, then went to Paris to write for a year and a half, where he wrote his first novel, The Dream Life of Balso Snell (1931), about disgruntled characters ...read more

Benji debuts

On this day in 1974, Benji, a film about a stray dog who helps rescue several kidnapped children, opens in theaters; it will go on to become a family classic. Written and directed by Joe Camp, Benji starred a mutt named Higgins, who had been rescued as a puppy from a California ...read more

A shoemaker leads German soldiers in a robbery

Wilhelm Voigt, a 57-year-old German shoemaker, impersonates an army officer and leads an entire squad of soldiers to help him steal 4,000 marks. Voigt, who had a long criminal record, humiliated the German army by exploiting their blind obedience to authority and getting them to ...read more

U.S. aid to Contras signed into law

In a short-lived victory for the Nicaraguan policy of the Reagan administration, the President signs into law an act of Congress approving $100 million of military and “humanitarian” aid for the Contras. Unfortunately for Ronald Reagan and his advisors, the Iran-Contra scandal ...read more

Longstreet returns to command

On this day in 1864, Confederate General James Longstreet assumes command of his corps in Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia in May of that year, Longstreet missed the campaign for Richmond, Virginia,and spent five ...read more

OPEC states declare oil embargo

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) implements what it calls “oil diplomacy” on this day in 1973: It prohibits any nation that had supported Israel in its “Yom Kippur War” with Egypt, Syria and Jordan from buying any of the oil it sells. The ensuing ...read more