Excerpts of notes written by General Hideki Tojo, Prime Minister of Japan for several years during WWII, were released by the National Archives of Japan and published in newspapers Tuesday. The private musings of the General – memos on postcard sized papers rather than diary entries as some newspapers are saying – written just after atomic bombs decimated hundreds of thousands, reveal his dismay that Japanese government and the public were frightened and losing their backbone (my words). He felt that the military was frustrated by this “lack of nerve” in the face of strange new bombs and pending Soviet invasion. No longer Prime Minister at the time, he stated he would refrain from speaking out against the decision of the Emperor to surrender despite his opposing view. Thank goodness, although there were other military leaders happy to take his place in disagreeing.
My mother, though a teen during WWII, remembers Tojo as the monster responsible for the destruction of Japan. A military leader taking charge of government leaders, Tojo was a warmongerer happy to let the people of Japan be annihilated because of his imperialist pride. I am not surprised that the General wrote such notes even after the atomic bombs, but it is interesting to find such uncompromising hard evidence of his convictions.
Why did Tojo write these private notes to himself? He planned to commit suicide rather than face a foreign-run tribunal, although he failed and was hanged instead. Knowing he was undoubtedly doomed, why would he provide such damning evidence? Obviously, this was a man hardened in his attitude. Did he think Japan could still win? He was ready to die for his convictions and his pride, thinking his countrymen shameful not to—Japan … all or nothing.
Writing one’s thoughts can help make sense of situations, clarify one’s convictions, and leave explanations for those who survive us. In Tojo’s case, he leaves us shaking our heads and perhaps pondering anew if the atomic bombs might have been necessary after all.