Konoe Fumimaro (sometimes referred to by the bungo
spelling of his last name, "Konoye") was the prime minister of Japan
during the early days of World War II
. He was a descendant of the ancient Fujiwara
family, which was how he became a part of the extended Imperial family
Born in Tokyo in 1891, Konoe studied philosophy at Tokyo Imperial University and law at Kyoto Imperial University, entering the foreign service after his graduation. He represented Japan at Versailles in 1919, and upon his return entered the House of Peers, which was then the upper house of the Japanese Diet. In 1933, he was elected its president, at a time when a military junta was taking control of the Japanese government. In the Diet, he won favor as a statesman, and was offered the post of premier by the military as early as 1936, although he turned it down at first.
Konoe became prime minister in 1937, while the second Sino-Japanese War was heating up. His first term lasted for only two years: after seeing the atrocities being committed by the Kwantung Army in China, Konoe tried to force the military to relent. He resigned in protest in 1939, but was re-inaugurated by the military in 1940, after which he began advocating a change in Japan's power structures, where an Imperial Rule Assistance Association would replace political parties and the genro.
In 1941, after re-organizing his cabinet, he began negotiating with the United States of America in an attempt to avert war between the two powers, a conflict that he believed Japan would lose. Hideki Tojo, Konoe's war minister, didn't like the idea of negotiating with America, and won enough support from Japan's elders to again oust Konoe, installing himself as prime minister shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
For the remainder of the war, Konoe was Tojo's main opponent within the Japanese ruling elite. He finally succeeded in having Tojo removed in 1944, but by then, Japan was already losing the war. In August of 1945, they capitulated, and the Allied occupation of Japan began.
Douglas MacArthur, Japan's new "shogun," asked Konoe for advice on drafting a new Japanese constitution. Konoe happily submitted his original wartime proposal, which horrified MacArthur as being too conservative. Afterward, Konoe was listed as a war criminal. Rather than face almost certain death before the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, Konoe killed himself the night before he was scheduled for transfer to Sugamo Prison. He is yet another of many wartime leaders who went down in Japanese history as a martyr for Emperor Hirohito.
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