18 July 2010

Tojo's Fall From Power

Today, July 18, is the anniversary of a memorable shake-up in the Japanese government. On this day in 1944, under the stress of a failing war effort, the loss of Saipan in particular, Hideki Tojo, the man who had been Japan's prime minister since October 1941, resigned that post.

Tojo's rise to that position is in its way revealing of the pathology of Japanese decision making at the time.

It involved what one might call a love/hate relationship between Tojo and Fumumaro Konoye.

In November 1938, Tojo, now vice-minister of war, spoke to a group of industrialists and spoke harshly about a list of actual and potential enemies, including the Chinese, the British, the Americans, and the Russians.

The speech received a good deal of attention, and seems to have set off a sharp drop on the Japanese stock exchange. It also worried Konoye, who was prime minister at this time. Konoye was was no pacifist. He was perfectly content to lead a government in an endless war in China, but he wasn't eager to expand Japan's war by attacking, even rhetorically, the US and UK and the Russians.

Konoye quietly re-assigned Tojo to a position where he'd be less visible, give no speeches, and so do no further harm.

Konoye himself resigned in January 1939, complaining that he had become merely a "robot" for the military. Hiranuma Kiichiro became the new prime minister.

Kiichiro's government wanted a treaty with Germany, and it wanted that treaty to be especially aimed at what Kiichiro saw as the common enemy of Germany and Japan: Soviet Russia. When Hitler and Stalin entered into their own treaty in August 1939, the bottom fell out of Kiichiro's plans.

The political maneuverings of the following months are complicated and would be tiresome to relate. Suffice it to say that Konoye returned to the office of prime minister -- apparently no longer scrupulously refusing to be a robot -- in the summer of 1940. Konoye, who had once demoted Tojo to an invisible position, now promoted him to a highly visible one, making Tojo his War Minister.

It was under Konoye, too, that Japan entered into the Tripartite Pact with Italy and Germany. Therafter, Hitler attacked Russia and Japan moved its military ambitions southward, into Indochina. This precipitated a U.S. cut-off of oil sales to the Japanese. Konoye was still reluctant to do anything that would involve a direct confrontation with the English-speaking powers. And in September 1941, Konoye told the US ambassador that he would like to meet with Roosevelt personally in an open-ended summit.

Roosevelt and Cordell Hull were leery of a summit. They suspected (accurately) that Konoye would expect them to acknowledge Japanese pre-eminence in its sphere of influence.

At any rate, Konoye resigned in October when he saw that the armed forces were pressing for a war with the western powers and he didn't have the support to stop them. Tojo became prime minister at this time, in this context.

So today we mark the day of his downfall. I don't have any cosmic lessons to draw from any of this, but various fascinating alternative histories suggest themselves.

1 comment:

Gregg said...

You might find this site interesting http://tojos-hara-kiri-sword.com/?p=525

Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.