First Korean member in Japan’s Cabinet
Who was the highest-ranking Korean in the Japanese Empire? Some people may name Hong Sa-ik, lieutenant general of the Imperial Japanese Army or Lee Chi-ho, one of the few Korean members of the Imperial Diet.
There was one Korean who occupied an even higher position. This man once was a minister of foreign affairs and a member of the highest organ of state, the Supreme Council for the Direction of the War.
He was born on Dec. 10, 1882 in the small village of Naeshirogawa in the Kagoshima Prefecture. His name was Pak Mu-dok. Three years later, the Japanese government implemented census reforms requiring all subjects of the empire to take official surnames. Mu-dok’s father took the new surname Togo and his son’s name became Shigenori, according to the Japanese pronunciation of the characters Mudok. This is how Shigenori Togo acquired his new name name.
In 1904, Togo entered Tokyo Imperial University where he studied German literature. His interest in Germany would define the course of his life.
In 1910, Korea was officially annexed by Japan. Togo, however, became a resident of Japan proper and thus escaped discrimination, along with every Korean who acquired Japanese citizenship before the annexation.
In 1912, he entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and after Japan, along with the other Allies, emerged victorious from World War I, participated in negotiations that led to the Treaty of Versailles. While in Germany, he met his future wife, Edith de Lalande, the widow of famous architect Georg de Lalande. It is ironic for de Lalande to have designed the first sketch for the residence of the governor general of Korea.
Despite his love for Germany, he had no love for national socialism. When Hitler swept to power in 1933, he opposed an alliance with the new government in Berlin. He was in a sane but small minority.
In 1937, when Japan invaded China, Emperor Hirohito created the Supreme Council for the Direction of the War which consisted of the top-level ministers and can be seen as a war Cabinet. In October 1941, Togo became minister of Foreign Affairs and a member of the council. When in early December, the council’s members discussed the attack on Pearl Harbor, Togo was the only one who did not approve the plan. He thought that it would be impossible for Japan to win a war with the United States.
Nevertheless, his voice ― along with the voices of relatively sane Japanese politicians ― were thoroughly dismissed by the Prime Minister Tojo Hideki with the fateful words that said the war was Japan’s destiny.
As the war progressed, Togo earned himself a rival. Korechika Anami, an influential general in the Imperial Army demanded the continuance of hostilities even after the United States dropped atomic bombs first on Hiroshima and then even after Nagasaki. The emperor did not share his optimistic appraisal of the situation. The declaration of surrender was scheduled for Aug. 15, 1945. The devastated Anami met with Togo the night before and on Aug. 15, he committed suicide.
Togo lived and was tried by the Tokyo Tribunal of Allied Powers. Despite his efforts to stop the war, Shigenori Togo was still a part of the Japanese Empire’s war machine. He was found guilty on charges of waging an aggressive war against the Allies ― including, ironically, the United States ― but innocent of any part in the inhumane treatment of prisoners’ of war. He was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment and, died in 1950.
The writer is a graduate of the Russian State University of Humanities. He is currently studying at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. His email address is Fyodor.email@example.com.