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“”I came so much, it was hard to clean it all up
|—Kishi in 1945, talking about his time as a major figure in Manchukuo|
“”...Kishi wove together the interests of politics, army, business and gangsters, in a way that would have deeply impressed Hitler and Stalin.
|—Stearling and Penny Seagrave, "The Yamato Dynasty" (1999)|
Nobusuke Kishi (岸 信介) (1896 - 1987), also known as "The Devil of Showa" and "The Monster of Manchuria" was a Japanese bureaucrat and politician from the 1930s all the way to 1960. In 1935, Kishi was given control of the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo's economy, and quickly turned the state into a slave labor hub to help the Japanese war efforts. Under his direction, millions of Chinese laborers were worked to death via a cruel and barbaric system in supporting the Japanese war effort in China and the Pacific. On top of being a massive rapist and racist, Kishi is often regard as one of the worst of Imperial Japan's war criminals, and voted for war with the United States before the Attack on Pearl Harbor. Working alongside other infamous war-criminal Hideki Tojo, Kishi expanded the slave system used to arm Japan against the US.
Even though Kishi has a body-count higher than many of the top Nazis, and even though he was declared a "Class A War-criminal", Douglas MacArthur and the US Occupation Force did not try Kishi for his countless crimes, and let him go arguing he was "the best option for Japan". Once the occupation ended, Kishi spent no time in regaining his political power. In the 50s, he was one of the key members in forming the Liberal Democratic Party, helped establish their supremacy for the next fifty years, and elevated himself to Prime Minister in 1957 (with full support from the United States, who favored Kishi for the position). Yet, while the United States loved him for his willingness to beat down some leftists, the rest of the country was not favorable to Kishi. Kishi's term would see the largest protests in Japanese history, and his determination to re-militarize Japan would lead to his own party overthrowing him in 1960.
His grandson is Shinzo Abe, former far-right Prime Minister of Japan who shared many of his grandfather's worst racial tendencies. Runs in the family I guess.
Kishi's road to being a monster started in the late 20s. He was a follower of Ikki Kita, who is considered to be the "father of Japanese fascism", and his ideology of combining spiritual loyalty to the Emperor, socialist principles, and of course, racism. Kita would go on to be implicated in a coup and be executed for it in 1937. In 1926, Kishi traveled the world, and spent time in the US, Germany, and the Soviet Union. He was most impressed by the USSR, especially Stalin's Five Year Plans that were seemingly doing a lot to boast the economy of the Soviet Union. It was from this experience, that Kishi adopted the idea of a state-run economy, and he would implement this idea to horrifying results
Economic Manager of Manchukuo
In 1931, Japan invaded the Chinese province of Manchuria under a false-flag attack on a Japanese railway in Korea that was actually carried out by the Imperial Army to justify such an invasion (called the Mukden Incident). In five months, Japan conquered Manchuria and established a puppet state called Manchukuo. In order to keep up appearances that Manchukuo was TOTALLY NOT A PUPPET STATE GUYS WE SWEAR, Chinese officials and ministers were installed to "lead" the state, but it was their Deputies (who were all conveniently Japanese) that called all the shots. Kishi, after the establishment of Manchukuo, journeyed to the state and began getting all buddy-buddy with the officers that were running the state under the guise of Chinese authority. This would prove to be key to seeing Kishi become a key figure in the region. In 1935, Kishi was made the Economic Manager of Manchukuo, which gave him the responsibility of managing the industrial development and output of the state, and his only goal to this was to "grow industry".
To this end, Kishi organized his own version of the "Five Year Plan" that he saw improved the industrial capacity of the USSR. Just like Stalin, Kishi decided to go about it by forcing the Chinese inhabitants to slave labor in the worst conditions you could imagine. Even though it wasnt considered "slave labor" until 1937, millions of Chinese laborers were shipped into Manchuria to help man the heavy industrial plants that fueled the Japanese war machine. Over a million Chinese slaves A YEAR were imported into Manchuria between 1938 and 1945. Of those who were sent to Manchuria, hundreds of thousands, if not millions died in the grueling conditions in factories and mines across Manchuria. Many began calling this movement of slaved labor the "Manchurian Passage" in an analogy to the infamous "Middle Passage" of the Atlantic Slave Trade. One example of the brutality of this enslavement was in the Fushun coal mines. 40,000 people worked in Fushun, of those 40,000, 25,000 had to be replaced every year due to their predecessors having died in the mines. Kishi also ensured that all industrial and economic operations in Manchuria were managed by state-owned corporations. In an ironic twist, post-war Japan would use the same tactics to rebuild the island, though with immensely less brutality and 100% less slavery.
Kishi also was a super racist. Now, Tokyo touted the line that Manchukuo was a place for all Asians to live in peace and prosperity, that Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Mongolian, and Manchu could work together and live together in Asian brotherhood. Kishi didn't give two shits about what his bosses in Tokyo thought. Kishi was a devout believer in Yamato-damashii, a theory that promoted the superiority of the Japanese people over all other Asian peoples. Kishi as such believed that the Chinese were "lawless bandits incapable of governing themselves", and thus refused to implement a rule of law over Manchuria. If the Chinese complained or got rowdy in opposition to being slaves, Kishi responded with brutality and brutality alone, seeing it akin to shooting dogs in the street. In-fact, Kishi often treated the Chinese like dogs, that the Chinese had to be trained to be obedient to their Japanese masters. He referred to the area as "Manchu" and not "Manchukuo", which showed that he only saw the region as a place for Japan to extract resources, and not any semblance of a nation (puppet or not). All of Manchuria's people and resources were simply to be used by Japan to further her Empire in Kishi's eyes, and that if the Chinese didnt like it... well refer back to the analogy of the dogs. Kishi even employed the Yakuza to help keep the Chinese in line. In return for allowing the Yakuza to establish a massive opium network and to turn Manchuria into an opium-trade region that would have impressed the East India Company, the Yakuza were used to keep the Chinese in line. They were notably used as strike breakers to beat and murder any Chinese person who objected to being worked to death for next to nothing in the worst conditions possible. Kishi's friend and infamous Yakuza gangster Yoshio Kodama summed Kishi's policies towards the Chinese as: "We Japanese are like pure water in a bucket; different from the Chinese who are like the filthy Yangtze river. But be careful. If even the smallest amount of shit gets into our bucket, we become totally polluted. Since all the toilets in China empty into the Yangtze, the Chinese are soiled forever. We, however, must maintain our purity".
Kishi was also a notorious rapist and sexual deviant, called a "playboy of the Eastern world". Though he spent most of his time in the Manchukuo capital of Hsinking (Modern Day Changchun), he often took monthly trips to Dalian, where he indulged his sexual desires and drank himself stupid. Those who accompanied Kishi to Dalian "never took their wives" with them. He also indulged himself with women even in standard ventures. In restaurants he frequently visited, after being served his meal, he would demand sex from the waitress who served him, often saying sex at the end of the meal was "a part of the fine dining experience". In line with his incredibly racist views, he believed the only use a Korean or Chinese woman had was to fulfill Japanese men's sexual desires. It's also no surprise that he indulged himself with many comfort women.
Kishi was able to fuel his debauchery through corruption and kickbacks from the Yakuza's opium trade. He was able to move millions with "a single phone call", and told his staff before departing Manchuria in 1939 that they needed to "filter" any bribes they received to "cleanse them" before spending them. This way, if a problem came up, "the 'filter' itself will then become the center of the affair, while the politician, who has consumed the 'clean water', will not be implicated."
From Manchuria to All of Japan
After reading all of that, would it surprise you that Hideki Tojo, the man who lead Japan through the Pacific War, was key in orchestrating the attack on Pearl Harbor, and oversaw many of the atrocities across Imperial Japan during WWII, saw Kishi as his fucking protege? The two first met back in 1931 during the invasion of Manchuria, and became friends. In 1940, Kishi was appointed as a minister, but was dropped in in December of that year. When Tojo became Prime Minister in 1941, he appointed Kishi as his Commerce Minister. On December 1, 1941, Kishi voted with the cabinet to go to war with the United States, a decision that would lead to the attack on Pearl Harbor and the entrance of the US into WWII. As Commerce Minister, Kishi oversaw the industrial war-effort across the Empire, which of course meant 670,000 Korean slaves and 42,000 Chinese slaves were to be worked in Japan to fuel the war effort. A majority of those people did not make it.
Even though Tojo and Kishi were buddies, Kishi did not hesitate to turn on Tojo when the war turned against Japan. When the US took Saipan in 1944, Kishi began starting disagreements and friction in Tojo's cabinet. When Tojo tried to get Kishi to support a cabinet reorganization, Kishi told him that he would only resign if Tojo and the government resigned. Tojo saw no alternative, and thus his government collapsed. Talk about being a shit friend.
End of the War and Arrest
Japan would lose WWII. After the surrendered, the Allied Command in Occupied Japan led by General Douglas MacArthur had Kishi arrested as a "Class A War-criminal" and was sent to Sugamo Prison to await trial and eventual execution. During this time, he lamented that the worst part of his prison sentence was the forced celibacy as a result of being in a cell. Yet, Kishi was never put on trial, and never faced justice for his countless crimes. MacArthur and the other American officials who led the occupation saw Kishi as "the best bet for Japan" following the war, probably because Kishi would turn his brutal tendencies on possible communists that would try to take advantage of Japan's problems after the war. Kishi as such, was released, while his friend Tojo found himself dangling from a rope. Kishi's release is the prime example of the United State's unwillingness to prosecute Japanese war-criminals with the same ferocity as they did with Nazi war-criminals. The US was more interested in building up Japan as an ally against the increasing force of the Soviet Union and their new allies in North Korea and eventually China that it saw these war criminals as the best options to stabilize Japan and to keep them friendly to the US.
Kishi responded to the extremely generous display of mercy from the US by working to rehabilitate all Japanese War Criminals convicted after 1945, calling the trials to imprison them farces. What a guy!
A Completely Unexpected Return to Politics
Kishi wasted no time after his release in returning to politics. His main goal in his entire political career after WWII was to remove Article 9 from the new Japanese Constitution. Article 9 is the Article that outlaws war as an option in Japan's diplomatic arsenal, which basically meant Japan's only option when it got involved in a war was "Call the US". After failing to run on his own platform, and being laughed out of the party building when he tried to run as a socialist, Kishi eventually found himself in the Liberal Party. After joining, he almost immediately began working to take over the party. The leader of the Liberals saw this and had Kishi expelled, but by this point Kishi had many Diet members in his pocket. Since Japanese elections were very expensive, many Diet members often needed to fund-raise or find a way to pay for their campaigns. Kishi, being super rich (who knows how he was able to do this!) was able to finance the campaigns of many eager politicians. This also proved the case when he joined the Democrat Party after his expulsion. It was through his efforts that the Democrat Party was able to win the 1955 election. After this victory, Kishi was able to merge the Liberal Party and the Democrat Party together into the Liberal Democrat Party, the main reason being to fight the growing presence of the Japanese Socialists. It was through this merger that the LDP would be able to secure power for the next fifty years.
In 1957, Kishi was appointed as Prime Minister with a healthy endorsement from the United States. His main goals in office were simple. First, he wanted to re-negotiate security treaties with the US that kept Japan as "a virtual protectorate" of the US, in Kishi's head. This was the first step to the ultimate goal of repealing Article 9. His second goal was to garner closer relations to Southeastern Asian nations to form an economic sphere (some would argue a Co-Prosperity sphere) which Kishi hoped would one day become a political sphere. His third goal was for the US to release all Class B and C war-criminals that were still in American custody, saying that in order for Japan to be a good ally to the US in the Cold War, it needed to forget Japan's past.
His goal of forming an economic sphere, which he called the "Asian Development Fund" was doomed from the start. The reason for the focus on Southeastern Asia was simple; China, which by this point was under communism, would have laughed at such a proposal. North Korea would have laughed at such a proposal. South Korea would have laughed at such a proposal (South Korea didnt even have diplomatic relations with Japan until 1964, and when it did establish relations, fucking RIOTS ensued in response). With those three nations off fines, Kishi looked to the Southeast. Yet, the nations of Southeastern Asia still had scars from their occupations, and that the ADF sounded too much like a softer-language version of all the Pro-Japanese slogans and insults their occupiers shouted at their people. Even Burma, whose entire government at the time had collaborated with the Japanese during the war, told Kishi they would not join the ADF out of fear that the Burmese people would be reminded of them praising Japan as Asiatic overlords and turn on them. It also didnt help that the US was very supportive of the ADF, and many countries (especially India and Pakistan) wanted to remain neutral in the Cold War and saw the ADF as the US trying to bring Asia into its sphere through Japan.
Kishi's downfall though would come through his first goal. For background, the US-Japan Security Treaty of 1952, whose signature was a prerequisite for America to end its occupation of Japan, basically gave the US military free-reign over Japan. It allowed the US military forces in Japan to be used for any purpose in Japan without requiring Japan's consent, it allowed said troops to put down domestic disturbances (read: left-wing protests), and even declared the US would not commit to a war if Japan was attacked by a third party. Japan had spent the 50s trying their hardest to revise the treaty. The US initially ignored such requests, but after a few incidents regarding US military bases, the US came to the negotiating table. Kishi was able to secure a better Security Treaty for his country, and in general the Treaty Kishi drew up was a better deal for Japan than the 1952 one[note 1]. Kishi, confident that this obviously better treaty would be passed quickly and be met with praise from the people, planned to celebrate the ratification.
Spoiler alert, it would lead to one of the largest protest movements in Japanese history...
The Anpo Protests
Kishi failed to realize that a chunk of the Japanese public didnt want a Security Treaty AT ALL. Many left-wing and even conservative members of the Japanese public wanted to remain neutral in the Cold War, and wanted to end the alliance with the United States completely. Kishi suspected some degree of resentment to the new Security Treaty, but responded by giving the Japanese police a blank check in searching and seizing protestors to the Treaty. The public saw this as a return to authoritarianism, and responded with protests. Kishi was forced to withdraw the police bill, but the protestors had been emboldened. Tensions in the Cold War also brought many supporters to the "neutrality" camp of Cold War thinking, especially after a U2 Spy-plane launched from an American base in Japan was shot down over Russia, leading many in Japan to fear their homes would become targets to Russian nukes when WWIII started (Japan had good reason to have immense fears over nuclear weapons). It also didnt help Kishi's cause when South Korea overthrew their dictator in early 1960, a dictator who was backed by the US, leading many in Japan to believe the US couldn't enforce a leader on them.
Kishi wanted to get the National Diet to approve the new Security Treaty before President Eisenhower visited Japan in June of 1960. Yet, the Diet was not cooperating with him. The Japanese Socialists were using every parliamentary tactic and trick in the book to drag out debate on the Security Treaty in order to prevent its ratification before Eisenhower visited. With the Diet scheduled to go into recess on May 26th, Kishi decided to bring back his ruthless political tendencies, and called for a fifty-day extension of the Diet session on May 19th. This was met with disapproval from many politicians, even some within the LDP. The Socialists protested this blatant defiance of parliamentary norms by staging a sit-in. Kishi responded by calling the police in and fucking dragging them all out. With only LDP members left, Kishi was able to pass his session extension. Almost immediately after that vote, Kishi ordered a vote on the Security Treaty. With only his party in the Diet, it was passed.
This move set off EVERYONE. Kishi was condemned for his actions across the political spectrum, and thousands of Japanese people went into the streets to protest this authoritarian power-play. The protests aimed at simply revoking the Security Treaty became protests to see Kishi ousted from power. On June 15, 6.4 million workers went on strike in support, making it the largest strike in Japanese history. Hundreds of thousands of people poured into Tokyo, surrounding the National Diet, Kishi's Residence, and the US Embassy on a daily bases.
Side-note, remember how Eisenhower was supposed to visit in June? Well, White House Press Secretary James Hagerty had come to Japan on June 10th to finalize the preparations to Eisenhower's visit. He was picked up by the Japanese Ambassador (MacArthur's nephew) who had the brilliant idea of driving into the protests. As you can expect with American officials driving through anti-American protests, it did not end well. For over an hour, thousands of Japanese protests hounded and rocked Hagerty's car, shouting anti-American slurs. It took a US MARINE HELICOPTER to get Hagerty and the Ambassador out of the situation. The Ambassador hopped that such an incident would propel Kishi to brutally crack down on the protests to satisfy the Americans.
On June 15th, ultra-nationalist supporters smashed their way into the protests with trucks and wooden bats with nails, injuring dozens and hospitalizing seven. Minutes later, radical left-wing agitators stormed the Diet building, barricading themselves in and culminating in a standoff with police which ended that night with one person killed. The violence of the day provoked a sudden turn in the media in opposition to the protests, condemning violence on both sides and calling for the protests to end. Yet, the protests showed no signs of stopping. On June 18th, the day before the treaty would take effect, hundreds of thousands of protestors stormed the Diet, refusing to leave until midnight, when the Security Treaty took effect. It was the largest single day of protest in Japanese history.
Kishi grew desperate as the protests grew, and as even his fellow LDP members called on him to resign. In one final act to secure his country before Eisenhower's visit, Kishi was planned to call in the Japan Self-Defense Forces (the closest thing Japan had to a standing army) and his Yakuza buddies, and clear the streets with whatever means necessary. Yet, he did not go through with this. His cabinet reminded Kishi that this was 1960 Japan, not 1940 Manchuria, and talked Kishi down from this action. In the end, Kishi agreed to resign in July, and cancelled Eisenhower's visit. He would leave office on July 15th.
After the Prime Ministry
Kishi would spend the rest of his life fighting for the re-arming of Japan and the repeal of Article 9. He was willing to work with the system to promote his cause though.
His ideals and beliefs in a revived nationalistic Japan would be echoed by his grandson, Shinzo Abe, when he became Prime Minister of Japan.
- It basically committed the US to Japan's defense if it was attacked, required Japanese consultation regarding US troop deployments, removed the clause about the US military being able to interfere in domestic disturbances, and allowed for reviews of the treaty every ten years.