Kōki Hirota (廣田 弘毅, Hirota Kōki, 14 February 1878 – 23 December 1948) was a Japanese diplomat and politician who served as prime minister of Japan from 1936 to 1937. Originally his name was Jōtarō (丈太郎). He was executed for war crimes committed during the Second Sino-Japanese War at the Tokyo Trials.

Kōki Hirota
廣田 弘毅
Hirota, during or before 1946
Prime Minister of Japan
In office
9 March 1936 – 2 February 1937
Preceded byKeisuke Okada
Succeeded bySenjūrō Hayashi
Personal details
Born(1878-02-14)14 February 1878
Chūō-ku, Fukuoka, Empire of Japan
Died23 December 1948(1948-12-23) (aged 70)
Sugamo Prison, Tokyo, Occupied Japan
Cause of deathExecution by hanging
Political partyIndependent
SpouseShizuko Hirota
Alma materTokyo Imperial University
Criminal conviction
Criminal statusExecuted
Conviction(s)Crimes against peace
War crimes
Crimes against humanity
TrialInternational Military Tribunal for the Far East
Criminal penaltyDeath

Early life Edit

Name plate of Suikyo Shrine written by Hirota at the age of 11

Hirota was born on 14 February 1878, in Kaji-machi dori (鍛冶町通り) in what is now part of Chūō-ku, Fukuoka, Fukuoka Prefecture, to stonemason Hirota Tokubei (廣田 徳平). His father had been adopted into the Hirota family of stonemasons.[1]

Tokubei married Take (タケ), a daughter of the president of a Japanese noodle company. On 14 February 1878, the couple had a son, whom Tokubei named Jōtarō (丈太郎). They later had three more children. Tokubei's name is engraved on the epigraph that recognized masons who contributed to the construction of a statue of Emperor Kameyama in Higashi kōen (東公園) in Fukuoka city.

Hirota's writing was recognized as good from a young age since the name plate of the torii gate of Suikyo Shrine was written by Hirota when he was 11.[2][3] After attending Shuyukan, he continued his education at Tokyo Imperial University and graduated with a law degree. One of his classmates was the postwar Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida.

First diplomatic career Edit

After graduation, Hirota entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to become a career diplomat, and he served in a number of overseas posts. In 1923, he became director of the Europe and America Department of the Foreign Ministry. After he was minister to the Netherlands, he was ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1928 to 1932.

In 1933, Hirota became Foreign Minister in the cabinet of Prime Minister Saitō Makoto, just after Japan had withdrawn from the League of Nations. He retained the position in the subsequent cabinet of Admiral Keisuke Okada.

As Foreign Minister, Hirota negotiated the purchase of the Chinese Eastern Railway in Manchuria from Soviet interests. He also promulgated the Hirota Sangensoku (the Three Principles by Hirota) on 28 October 1935 as the definitive statement of Japan's position towards China. The three principles were the establishment of a JapanChinaManchukuo bloc, the organization of a Sino-Japanese common front against the spread of communism, and the suppression of anti-Japanese activities within China.[4] Hirota argued that warlordism and Chinese Communism represented a "festering sore deep down in the bosom of Eastern Asia" that threatened "all Asian races with sure and inescapable death" and considered further military engagement in China to be "heroic surgery," rather than invasion.[5]

Prime Minister Edit

List of Ideological Criminal Probation Offices installed by Ideological Criminal Probation Act established under Kōki Hirota regime of Imperial Japan in 1936.

In 1936, with the radical factions within the Japanese military discredited after the 26 February incident, Hirota was selected to replace Okada as Prime Minister of Japan. Hirota placated the military by reinstating the system by which only active-duty Army or Navy officers could serve in the Cabinet posts of war minister or navy minister. The military had abused the system in the past to bring down civilian governments.[citation needed]

In terms of foreign policy, the Anti-Comintern Pact with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy was signed during his premiership. The treaty was the predecessor to the Tripartite Pact of 1940.

Hirota's term lasted for slightly less than a year. He resigned after a disagreement with Hisaichi Terauchi, who was serving as the war minister, over a speech by the Rikken Seiyūkai representative Kunimatsu Hamada criticizing military interference in politics. Kazushige Ugaki was appointed as his successor but was unable to form the government because of army opposition. In February 1937, Senjūrō Hayashi was appointed to replace Hirota as prime minister.

Second diplomatic career Edit

Hirota soon returned to government service as foreign minister under Hayashi's successor, Prince Konoe Fumimaro. During his second term as foreign minister, Hirota strongly opposed the military's aggression against China, which completely undermined his efforts to create a Japan-China-Manchukuo alliance against the Soviet Union. He also spoke out repeatedly against the escalation of the Second Sino-Japanese War. The military soon tired of his criticism and forced his retirement in 1938.

In 1945, however, Hirota returned to government service to lead Japanese peace negotiations with the Soviet Union. At the time, Japan and the Soviet Union were still under a non-aggression pact even though all other Allied Powers had declared war on Japan. Hirota attempted to persuade Joseph Stalin's government to stay out of the war, but the Soviet Union ultimately declared war on Japan in between the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Koki Hirota listening to his death sentence being read by Sir William Webb, 1948

Postwar Edit

Following Japan's surrender, Hirota was arrested as a Class A war criminal and brought before the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE). He offered no defense and was found guilty of the following charges:

  • Count 1 (waging wars of aggression, and war or wars in violation of international law)
  • Count 27 (waging unprovoked war against the Republic of China)
  • Count 55 (disregard for duty to prevent breaches of the laws of war)

He was sentenced to death by hanging and was executed at Sugamo Prison. The severity of his sentence remains controversial, as Hirota was the only civilian executed as a result of the IMTFE proceedings. It is often stated that the main factor in his death sentence was the fact that he was party to information about what is now known as the Nanjing Massacre, which he allegedly telegraphed to the Japanese embassy in Washington, DC.[citation needed][6]

As foreign minister, Hirota had received regular reports from the War Ministry about the military's atrocities, such as the Nanjing Massacre, but lacked any authority over the offending military units themselves. Nonetheless, the tribunal condemned Hirota's failure to insist for the Japanese Cabinet act to put an end to the atrocities.[7] Other possible factors in Hirota's sentence included his signing of the Tripartite Alliance and the antipathy of China's Kuomintang government towards the Hirota Sangensoku, which it viewed as providing justification for Japan's aggression against China in the Second Sino-Japanese War, which began during Hirota's second term as Foreign Minister.[citation needed]

Honours Edit

Notes Edit

  1. ^ "広田弘毅|近代日本人の肖像". 近代日本人の肖像 National Diet Library (in Japanese). Retrieved 2022-03-03.
  2. ^ 城山三郎1974『落日燃ゆ(新潮社)--Saboro Shiroyama 1974 Rakujitsu moyu
  3. ^ 『水鏡天満宮』福岡市中央区HP (Fukuoka city Chuo ward HP (Japanese)) Archived 2013-08-02 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Stephen Lyon Endicott, Diplomacy and enterprise: British China policy, 1933–1937, p. 118
  5. ^ Japan: A Modern History, James L. McClain (2002), p.450
  6. ^ Chang, Iris (2011). The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II. New York, NY: Basic Books. pp. 103–104. ISBN 978-0-465-06836-4.
  7. ^ The Complete Transcripts of the Proceedings of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, reprinted in R. John Pritchard and Sonia Magbanua Zaide (eds.), The Tokyo War Crimes Trial, vol. 20, 49,816 (R. John Pritchard and Sonia Magbanua Zaide, eds. Garland Publishing: New York and London 1981)

Sources Edit

  • Frank, Richard B. Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire. Penguin (Non-Classics); Reissue edition (2001). ISBN 0-14-100146-1
  • Maga, Timothy P. Judgment at Tokyo: The Japanese War Crimes Trials. University of Kentucky (2001). ISBN 0-8131-2177-9
  • Minear, Richard H. Victors' Justice: The Tokyo War Crimes Trial. University of Michigan (2001). ISBN 1-929280-06-8
  • The Complete Transcripts of the Proceedings of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, reprinted in R. John Pritchard and Sonia Magbanua Zaide (eds.), The Tokyo War Crimes Trial, vol. 20 (Garland Publishing: New York and London 1981)
  • Toland, John. The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936–1945. Modern Library; Reprint edition (2003). ISBN 0-8129-6858-1

External links Edit

Political offices
Preceded by Minister of Foreign Affairs
September 1933 – April 1936
Succeeded by
Preceded by Prime Minister of Japan
March 1936 – February 1937
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of Foreign Affairs
June 1937 – May 1938
Succeeded by