Hideki Tojo, along with Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, personally represented the evil Axis to many people around the world. Though not a dictator like his Axis allies, Tojo ruled the military with an iron fist, and as prime minister was responsible for many of Japan's strategic successes during the early stages of the war.
Tojo was born in Tokyo in 1884, the son of an army general. He attended the Imperial Military Academy and then the Army Staff College, from which he graduated at the top of his class in 1915. From 1919 to 1922 he was a military attaché in Switzerland and Germany, and in the late 1920s he served in a section of the Army General Staff, monitoring mobilization preparations for full-scale war.
In the early 1930s, Tojo joined a group of officers known as the Control Faction, which was devoted to updating and modernizing the Japanese army, with an emphasis on military technology. However, his association with the group was viewed unfavorably by an opposing faction, and Tojo was punished with a series of posts far below his status and ability. His career took a turn for the better after 1935 when he was sent to Manchukuo, the puppet state established by the Japanese in Manchuria. Tojo eventually became the chief of staff of the Kwantung Army, the primary Japanese military force in the region.
While in Manchukuo, Tojo became known for his efficient and decisive manner and his aggressiveness as a staff officer. A tough disciplinarian, he was secretly called “The Razor” by his men. Tojo was ordered back to Tokyo in 1938 to serve as vice minister of war, and in 1940 he was promoted to war minister. He closely watched the war in Europe and became convinced that Germany would eventually triumph. In the fall of 1940, he actively supported an official alliance with Germany and Italy, making Japan the third member of the Axis triad.
Tojo strongly advocated Japanese expansion into East Asia through military force and the establishment of a regional co-prosperity sphere under Japanese control. When relations between Japan and the United States worsened in 1941 as a result of Japanese aggression, Tojo held firm, opposing any compromise that would undermine Japan's position in East Asia. By the fall of 1941, it appeared that Japan would have no choice but to enter the world war. Tojo, widely viewed by many as a man who could guide Japan to victory, was named prime minister in October. In December 1941 his cabinet decided to declare war on the United States by attacking the American naval base at Pearl Harbor.
Tojo's scope of authority widened over the course of the war. While retaining his position as war minister, he became head of the Munitions Ministry in 1943 and took over as army chief of staff in 1944.
Tojo's political power began to wane as Allied victories over Japan became increasingly common toward the end of the war. Forced to resign as prime minister in July 1944 when the United States took the island of Saipan (thus placing Japan within range of Allied bombers), Tojo remained in retirement for the rest of the war.
In September 1945, Tojo tried to commit suicide when he learned that he was to be arrested and tried for war crimes. After his recovery, he was tried as ordered by the International Military Tribunal in Tokyo and found guilty. He was hanged in December 1948.