Yosuke Matsuoka

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Yosuke Matsuoka

Yosuke Matsuoka (松岡 洋右 Matsuoka Yōsuke, March 3, 1880June 26, 1946) was an influential Japanese Foreign Minister during World War II.

Born in Japan in 1880, Yosuke Matsuoka traveled to the United States while a teenager and eventually studied law at the University of Oregon, from which he graduated in 1900. Matsuoka eventually returned to Japan and joined the foreign service, which he served in for eighteen years. Matsuoka gained international notoriety in 1933 when he announced Japan’s departure from the League of Nations (as a result of the League’s criticism of Japan’s operations in Manchuria) and led the Japanese delegation out of the League’s assembly hall. After leaving the foreign service, Matsuoka went to occupied Manchuria and became President of the South Manchurian Railroad, at which time he worked closely with Hideki Tojo (then serving as chief of the Kwantung Army’s secret police). In 1940, Matsuoka became Minister of Foreign Affairs under Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe. Matsuoka was a major advocate of a Japanese alliance with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, and as such was one of the primary orchestrators the Tripartite Pact in 1940. Matsuoka also signed a Russo-Japanese non-aggression treaty in April 1941. However, after Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Hitler proposed to Matsuoka that Japan take part in the attack as well. Matsuoka became a fervent supporter of the idea of a Japanese attack on Russia, and constantly pressured Konoe and the leaders of the Imperial Japanese Army and Imperial Japanese Navy to mobilize the military for that purpose. However, both the army and the navy as well as Konoe decided to bypass war with Russia and concentrate their military efforts on targets south of Japan.

Despite the military’s opposition to his ideas, Matsuoka continued to loudly advocate an invasion of Russia and became increasingly reckless in his diplomatic dealings with the United States, which he despised. Matsuoka’s hostility towards the U.S. (a vocal opponent of Japan’s military campaigns) alarmed Konoe, who wanted to avoid war with the United States. As such, Konoe and the military hierarchy, who were both fed up with Matsuoka, conspired to get rid of him. To this end, Konoe resigned in July 1941 and his cabinet ministers resigned with him, including Matsuoka. However, Konoe immediately became prime minister again and replaced Matsuoka as Foreign Minister with Admiral Teijiro Toyoda. Matsuoka subsequently drifted into obscurity. Captured by the Allies in 1945 and brought up on war crimes charges by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, Matsuoka died in 1946 before his trial was completed.

Matsuoka's Role in Causing the Pacific War

The villifying of Matsuoka has undergone some needed revision in recent years. Whilst he has often been portrayed, particularly by Western historians, as aggressive, inept and incompetent, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that this may not be the case. He was educated in the United States and was known to hold liberal views. Indeed, it is more likely that his signing of the Tripartite Pact was a result of German manipulation and hope that it would serve as a deterrent to a Pacific War rather than as an act of aggression.

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