By Eric Hammel Japan’s road to World War II was a long one. Throughout the late 19th century, the island nation broke out of its feudal past on a path to modernity with a ruthlessness and singlemindedness that would have scared Western nations had they been paying attention. The modern Japanese Navy was modeled on Britain’s Royal Navy, its army was patterned on the Prussian army, and it imported its new modern industrial base from the best examples the world around. By 1894, Japan was ready to join in the game of empire that had so enriched the major European powers over the previous 400 years. Japan Expands Into Korea Japan’s first target for acquisition was Korea. First, in July 1894, it attacked the Chinese forces that outposted the peninsula, then it declared war four days later. The Chinese were routed and a peace treaty was signed in March 1895 that gave Japan access to Korea and Formosa. Shortly, France, Germany, and Russia informed Japan that they would oppose the outright absorption of Korea into a Japanese empire. This so-called Triple Intervention was taken by Japanese leaders to mean that even the most modern Asian state was not to be granted a status equal to that of European nations. This rebuke only fueled Japan’s newfound lust for empire. Japan needed resources to realize its industrial ambitions. The country possessed precious few of its own, but nearby Korea and adjacent Manchuria had them in abundance. This outlook cast Russia as a leading cont
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8 thoughts on “Japan’s Road to War”
A few points on personalities that affected the conflicts: Woodrow Wilson was a total failure because of his racism and lack of knowledge in international affairs. He had zero knowledge of Asia and treated Asians with the same disdain he treated Black Americans. He also failed to make clear to Germany (as Teddy Roosevelt would have had he won the election in 1912) that America would fight if its rights on the high seas were interfered with. His fellow democrat president, Franklin Roosevelt, made the same mistake with Japan in 1941. The comments in this article regarding the somewhat pragmatic approach by Hirohito are largely conjecture as he destroyed all his diaries before his death. Finally, the Japanese military leaders, Army and Navy, placed too much credence on their own abilities after their earlier successes against second rate opponents. The Japanese should have learned from the British, also an island nation who they modeled their military after, that Britain’s economic success was due to manufacturing, trade and commerce, not colonies and war which were largely a net drain on the treasury.
What if, as an Axis power, Japan had simply declared war on Great Britain and took Singapore, Borneo, the Dutch possesions etc. off the hands of the continental powers, with Germany’s assent of course. It would have had all it needed to run its war machine without a U.S. declaration of war. Doubtful that the U.S. congress would have wanted a war with Japan over a few scattered colonial possesions on the other side of the world. But they got greedy, wanted the entire western Pacific under their control including Guam and the Philippines, and badly underestimated U.S. resolve and reaction when they attacked Pearl Harbor. A more calculated approached might have worked, at least for a time, or maybe even longer, and Hitler wouldn’t have had a flimsy excuse to declare war on the U.S. either.
Quite correct. Adm. Yamamoto warned of overreach and he was correct.
Japan’s other mistake was not letting its Imperial navy be at the forefront, like Britain whose main defense was its navy, the only country who let their army control was Germany.
It has been recorded that the Japanese Navy had major concerns about U.S. Battleships being bigger and more heavily armed. And, the U.S. Navy had a war-tested veteran from WWI in Admiral Kincaid. The Japanese did not want to slug it out with their battleships and the American battleships because they would have lost. And, then there were the aircraft carriers that the Japs were scared to death of. After sending observers to watch the British carrier-born torpedo bombers take out half of the Italian battle fleet at Taranto harbor, Italy in November 1940. The Japanese learned the use of shallow diving torpedoes from the British since Taranto harbor and Pearl Harbor were shallow. Also, the Japanese lacked signficant technological prowess. After sinking the battleships at Pearl Harbor, the Americans raised and repaired all of them within 12-18 months, except the USS Arizona. The Japanese could not replace their battleships or aircraft carriers and were involved in a zero-sum game.
It should be noted that the Japanese were just as racist as any other country at that time. They believed they were the superior race and part of the reason they took umbrage to what other countries required of them was because of their beliefs. The article seems to be solely from a Japanese point of view. After all, why should they take insult if the US limited migration from their country when they wouldn’t allow anyone to migrate to their country. The real problem the US had was with China.
The troops that went to Russia after WW1 were to help the White Russia army against the Red Army and had nothing to do with Japan. It was only a Brigade and did not stay very long.
Trying to compare what the US did to what Japan did to China and Korea is ridiculous. China and Korea and Japan fought wars with each other for hundreds of years. They had similar technology and they were recognized countries.
Was the US a racist country? Of course it was. All countries during that time were racist by our current standards.
The Japanese government leaders by the authors own admission were liars, murderers, and racist. No better than the Nazis of Germany. They used deceitful tactics to start the war and they murdered POWs.
The Japanese leadership, and the Japanese pubic to the degree they expressed opinions, were definitely racist, as much of the world was at this time. We are better in that regard today, but with a long way to go yet. I can’t defend Wilson but it is a bit odd to complain about ‘democrat’ FDR being racist, considering the record of the GOP over 1920-1932 leading up to the war, including support for Hitler’s fascistic racism right up to Pearl Harbor. The solidly GOP west coast generated much of the anti-Asian fervor in this early period leading up to the war, and they pretty much bulldozed FDR’s administration to implement the internment camps for Japanese during WWII. FDR was a strange bird but no Wilson in terms of racism. It was Eleanor that spurred much of his activities in terms of civil rights, but he was much less racist than his white peers at the time.
Roosevelt opposed the anti-lynching bills that were introduce in congress. He also opposed any form of integration in the armed forces. It is quite right that Eleanor was the driving force behind the Tuskegee Airman and FDR never did much to take credit for it. Probably his attitude toward the Japanese began when he was Assistant Secretary of the Navy and had regarded Japanese naval participation in WW I as self interest in seizing German possessions in the Pacific. An examination of American news reports after Pearl Harbor shows a strong bi-partisan support throughout the country for Japanese internment in the US. While this was most unfortunate, it pales compared to Japanese treatment of Western internees in the areas they controlled.