* World War II Japan background








World War II: Japan--Background


Figure 1.--The Japanese military steadily expanded its influence in the early 20th century, but aggessively moved in the 1930s to seize total control of the government. It very sucessfully coopted young people. Here we see a Japanese boy meeting Santa in an admiral's uniform. The wire service caption read, "A Japanese little admiral welcoming Santa Clause: If asked what he is going to be when he griows up, almost every Japaneseboy replies thst he is going to become anAdmiral or General. The oocture shows a boy who admires Admiral Togo welcoming Santa Cluse on the Christmas in the uniform of an admiral." The photograph was dated December 13, 1939.

The Emperor Taisho (1912-26) is generally seen as a weak emperor. During his reign the center of power in Japan shifted from the Emperor and the oligarchic clique (genro) around him to the Parliament (Diet) and the democratic parties. Japan with little encouragement joined the Allies in World War I. The country played only a minor role in the War, but gained German possessions in the Central Pacific which they proceeded to turn into fortified bases. Japan as a member of the victorious Allied World War I coalition expected to be treated with considerable deferemce. Instead they were largely ignored at the Paris Peace Conference. The convent of the League of Nations was part of the Versailles Treagty. Japan proposed adding a "racial equality clause" to the covenant of the League of Nations. This was rejected by the United States, Britain and Australia. President Wilson promoted national self determination at the Conference, but he was not ad advocate of racial equality. Racist attituides were also common among the other European powers. Japanese diplomats at the Washington Naval Conference (1921) failed to achieve goals and this angered nationalist elements, especially in the Army. Japanese diplomats at the Washington Naval Conference (1921) failed to achieve goals and this angered nationalist elements, especially in the Army. Racist attitudes toward oriental people had plagued Western attitides toward both the Chinmese and Japanese in the 19th and 20th centuries. With the Japanese this began with Commodore Perry's opening of Japanese ports (1850s). Japanese emmigrating to America encounterted both racism and racist laws. Even so, a sizeable Japanese population flourished in both the Hawaian Islands and California. These laws were a sore point in American_Japanese relations. Incidents in the 1920s were widely reported in Japan. America after World War significantly restricted immigration. Restrictive quotas were established for European immigration. The United States enacted the Exclusion Act that prohibited further Japanes eimmigration (1924). Japan in the 1920s and 30s was Asia's only industrial nation. It was, however, an indudtrial nation with few natural resources. It also did not have an agricultural sector capable of feeding the population. Japan was thus the country at the time most dependent on foreign trade, especially exporting its industrial output to finance raw material and food imporys. The country, however. experienced economic difficulties after World war I. The Great Kanto Earthquake did substantial ecionomic damage (1923). The Wall Street stock crash (1929) and resulting Depression caused further problems. The protectionist trade policies in America and Europe in particular adversely affected the Japanese economy. The Japanese military increasingly advocated action to secure markets and raw materials. Japan as part of its late 19th century modernization program began to build modern military forces. The Imperial Army was the dominant service and built on the Prussian model. The Imperial Navy was smaller, but give Japan's island location still of considerable importance. The Navy was built on a British model. After World War I, both services gave considerable priority into building power air wings. In this effort they received invaluavle assistance from the Germans.

Expanionism

The Meiji leaders who seized control of Japan (1870s) sought to transform Japan into a modern nation of the first order (ittô koku). And at the time this included foreign territorial possessions. And at the time the Ruropeans were emershed in the Scramble for Afruca. Thus from an early stage, even under civilian governments began pursuong expanionist policies. In oartucular they eyed China. The First Sino-Jaoanese War secired Formosa (1894-95). The Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) secired Korea.

Emperor Taisho (1912-26)

The Emperor Taisho (1912-26) is generally seen as a weak emperor. During his reign the center of power in Japan shifted from the Emperor and the oligarchic clique (genro) around him to the Parliament (Diet) and the democratic parties.

World War I (1914-18)

Japan joined the Allies almost at the onset of the War (August 23, 1914). It seems surprising that Japan would have entered the War so quickly when the German Army was marching through Belgium and seemed likely to reach Paris. Japan had signed an Alliance with Britain (1902), but it was not aimed at Germany nor did it require Japan to join the Allies when war broke out in Europe. The British fearing that the German Far Eastern Squadron would disrupt trade, asked the Japanese for assistance. The Japanese Government for largely domestic reasons quickly agreed to the British request. Japan saw the opportunity to seize Germany’s Pacific colonies and obrin control over its Chinese concessions. [Strachan] Germany had acquired several colonial possessions, including concessions in China and Pacific islands. The Germans build a major naval base at Tsingtao. It was hear that the only major engagement in the Far East was fought. The Japanese supported by the British succeeded in seizing Tsingtao a very little cost in a combined land sea operation (November 1914). More importantly for the future, the Japanese seized control of the formerly German owned Shantung Railway. Japan seized German Pacific islands without resistance, includung Palau and the Marshall, Caroline, and Marianas islands. This gave them the naval bases at Yap, Ponape, and Jaluit. Japanese naval surveyors subsequently discovered the potential fleet base of Truk, and after the war built a major naval base there. As agreed by the Allies, the Japanese seized German colonies north of the Equator while those to the south were seized by British and Dominion forces. A New Zealand force escorted by British, French and Australian warships seized German Samoa (August 28, 1914). A British ship seized the guano-mining island of Nauru. The Australian Navy seized the Bismarck Islands (September 1914). The German forces surrendered German New Guinea and the Bismarck, Admiralty, and Solomon Islands. After seizing the German bases, the Japanese Navy assisted the Allies in convoy protection from German raiders. There were small German military units in these colonies as well as civilians. We do not notice any attrocities by the Japanese during World War I like they committed during World War II.

Versailles (1919)

Japan as a member of the victorious Allied World War I coalition expected to be treated with considerable deference. Instead they were largely ignored at the Paris Peace Conference. The convent of the League of Nations was part of the Versailles Treagty. Japan proposed adding a "racial equality clause" to the covenant of the League of Nations. This was rejected by the United States, Britain and Australia. President Wilson promoted national self determination at the Conference, but he was not an advocate of racial equality. Racist attituides were also common among the other European powers. The Treaty awarded Japan a mandate over the Pacific islands they had seized from Germany.

Washington Naval Conference (1921)

The major naval powers (America, Britain, France, Italy, and Japan) agreed to substantial limitations on their naval strength which at the time was measured in battleships. American Secretary of State, Charles Evans Hughes organized a conference to address the problem of spiraling naval expendidutres as a result of the naval arms race. Senator William E. Borah, Republican of Idaho, who had led the fight againstvAmerican ratification of the Treaty of Versailles and participation in the League of Nations, strongly advocated efforts to limit the arms race. His efforts were not at first favored by the new Harding administration, but was eventually adopted as the Republican alternative to the Democrat's (Wilson's) policy of collective security through the League of Nations. The Confrence opened on Armistice Day 1921--a very meaningful date so close to World War I. The American delegation was led by Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes. Hughes shocked the other delegates by proposing a major reduction in naval fleets and not just limitations on new construction. This was far beyond what the other countries had anticipated. Some have called this one of the most dramatic moments in American diplomatic history. The American proposals entailed scrapping almost 2 million tons of warships as well as alengthy “holiday” on new building. The consequences of the Washington Treaties went far beyond this. Japanese diplomats at the Washington Naval Conference (1921) failed to achieve goals and this angered nationalist elements, especially in the Army.

Turning Point: Mationalist Outrage

The Anglo-Japanese Alliance (1902) was a departure for both Britain and Japan. British policy in the late-19th century at the time was 'Splendiud Isolation' that had dominated British diplomacy after the Naspoleonic Wars, but is especially associated with the late-19th century, despite the growing German challenge. The primary purpose was the mutual concern toward the Russians. The Alliance beefitted both countries. The British relationship was a fctor in the subsequent Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05). And the Japanese supported the Brutish in World War I (1914-18). There were discenters, both within and outside the Empire. Australians and others were not all that happy with the arrangements. Neither were the Americans. And concerns were growing in Japan, not so much with the British, but toward the Americans, but many Japanese did not destinguish between America and Britain which had the same language and looked alike. Problems began with the American immigration policy and than President Roosevelt's who mediated an end to the Russian War. Many Japanese nationalists believed that Roosevelt prevented them from obtaining the spoils they believed that they deserved. Than America and Britsin forced them to backdown from the Twenty-One Demands they desired to impose on China. The Japanese were offended by their treatment at the Versailles Peace Conferencer (1919). In particular they expected support from the British. The Americans further incened the Japanese by demanding they withdraw from Siberia after World War I (1922). Perhaps the greatest greviance of all, espcilly for nasval officers, was that that Japanese did not receive parity with the American and British fleets. Many officers considered the Treaties a humiliating insult to their national honor. Many natioinalists advocated an aggressive preparation for war, although this was their mindset even before the Washington Treaties. Others such as Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto insisted that war with America and Britian would be suicidal. Because of America's superior industrial and technical capability, Yamamoto argued that Japan could never win a naval arm's race. The Washington Trasty thus was advantageous to the Japanese. Yamamoto was for a time targeted for assasination. He was, however, appointed commander of the Imperial Navy. He was an inovative strategist and in particular prompted the naval air wing. After the Washington Treaty, Britain how to make a decision. They could continue their relationship with Japan or develop a new relationship with America that had begun when America entered World War I on the Allied side (1917). Britain's policy since Trafalgar was to maintain a naval force ar least equal to the two other largest navies. The cost of World War I and the rise of the United States meant that this was no longer possible. And the British estblishmenbt wuth some unease decided to accept the rise of American naval power. The Treaty was terminated by the British (1921-23). The Japanese were offened, another factor in the series of grevianses felt by the Japanese.

Traditional Society

Japan after experiencing a disruptibe perid as a resu;t of Western influene, tried to cut itself off grom the outside world. The Tokugawa shogunate attempted to cpmplelety isolate the country from all outside influences, especially Christian. The kept Japan an essentially feudal, medievel society. This did not change until until the arrival of Commodore Perry and his Black Ships (1853). The Japanese correctly cocluded unlike the Chinese that the only way of maintaiing their independence was to industrialize so they could build European weapons. China had a population 30 times the population of England in the 19th centry, but industry gave Britain 10 times the firepower of China. Japan saw this and China did not, even afyer rhe humiliation of the Opium Wars (1840s-60s). The result in Japan was the Meiji Restoration (1867). The Emperor Meiji and his advisors introduced many modernizing reforms. He began Japan's industrialization, a parlimentary government, a Western school system, aWestern military and secular civil service. At the same time the Mmperor did not attempt to moderize Japanese siciety. Land remained in the hands of imprtant nobels and was highly ineffiucent. Most of the population intunued to live in theccountryside at subsistence lebels. Women cintinued to live sunservient rules. Labor unions were barely tolerated. Medevil concepts like emperor worship and bushido continued along with the moderizing reforms. While Japan was the only indutrial ecomomy in Asia, its economy was a fraction of the size of even European powers, let alone america and the Soviet Union. The urban population had begin to modernize, but not the rural population. The Army steadily grew in importamce especiallya fter World War I. It was the major way that rural youth could seek opprtunity in Japan. By the time of the War the Japanese Army was controlled by a leadership which saw how it could conquer neighboring countries by military force, but withoiut any knowlledge of the modern countries of Europe and America. The Army leadership was fervently nationalistic and loyal ti the Army as an institutiom becuse it had offered oportunity and advancement. And because many came from the virtually medieval rural areas, embued in the spirit of medieval Europe with the Samarai and Bushido spirit.

Racist Attitudes and Policies

Racist attitudes toward oriental people had plagued Western attitides toward both the Chinmese and Japanese in the 19th and 20th centuries. With the Japanese this began with Commodore Perry's opening of Japanese ports (1850s). Japanese emmigrating to America encounterted both racism and racist laws. Even so, a sizeable Japanese population flourished in both the Hawaian Islands and California. These laws were a sore point in American_Japanese relations. Incidents in the 1920s were widely reported in Japan. America after World War significantly restricted immigration. Restrictive quotas were established for European immigration. The United States enacted the Exclusion Act that prohibited further Japanes eimmigration (1924).

Internationalist Policies


Economic Difficulties

The Japanese economy rapidly grew during the late-19th and by the turn-of-the 20th century, Japan was Asia's only industrial power. It was, however, an industrial nation with few natural resources. It also did not have an agricultural sector capable of feeding the expandinbg industrial workforce. Japan was thus the country at the time most dependent on foreign trade, especially exporting its industrial output to finance raw material and food imports. World War I helped bring about further growth. Japan during the War presented the Twent-one Demand to China to help adress the growing problwems of Japanese industry. Japan's rapid growth came to a sudden stop with the Shōwa financial crisis (early-1920s). The result was growing social unrest and the sharopened polarization of society. Socialist, communist, and anarchist ideas spread among Japanese workers, especially the labor unions. This was a shock to conservative Japanese society already adjusting to industrialization. The Great Kanto Earthquake did substantial economic damage (1923). The Wall Street stock crash (1929) and resulting Depression caused further problems. The protectionist trade policies in America and Europe in particular adversely affected the Japanese economy.

Japanese Military

Japan as part of its late 19th century modernization program began to build modern military forces. The Imperial Army was the dominant service and built on the Prussian model and Bushido spirit. The pretigious Kwantung Army played a key role in driving the march to war, essential young, ultra nationalist junior officers pushing their more consrervtive commanders. The Imperial Navy was smaller, but given Japan's island location still of considerable importance. The Navy was built on a British model. While the military was built on European models, one departure was the increasing politization of the military, especially the Imperial Army after world War I. After World War I, both services gave considerable priority to building powerful air wings. In this effort they received invaluable technical assistance from the Germans. We do not yet have information on Japanese conscription laws. We note a naval recruit about 1940, Tadashi Yoshihara.

Militarism

Japan was different than the other totalitarian powers. There was no Communist or Fascist polititical party driving expanionism and racism and promoting war--the thrust for these policies came from the military. The Japanese military, especially the junior officers, came to largely reject liberal democracy with its squabling political parties that were prone to restrict military budgets. Elements in the military increasingly advocated action to control Communist agitation, expanded arms spending, and expantionist policies to secure markets and raw materials. The focus of expanionist policies was initially on China. Industrial and financial leaders continued to profit by close ties to to politicians and bureaucrats. The military was considered "clean" in terms of political corruption, and elements within the army were determined to take direct action to eliminate the perceived threats to Japan created by the weaknesses of liberal democracy and political corruption. One of the most important of the Army factions was the Imperial Way Faction (皇道派, Kōdōha). It became influential in the 1920s. Many junior officers ascriped to Kōdōha and came to think that the military should set up a totalitarian government that would pursue militarist and expansionist policies. This was in part a reaction to the social unrest and rising Communist influence in labor unions. Kōdōha was never organized as a political party, but its ideas were widely accepted throughout the Army. The founders of the Kōdōha faction were Sadao Araki and his protégé Jinzaburō Masaki. A more moderation faction developed within the Army--Tōseiha. It was notable primarily to the opposition to Kōdōha. Actually Tōseiha accepted many Kōdōha goals such as the need to expand and acquire natural resources. Tōseiha saw that expantionism would require morecthan than the military, but government beaureacracy, politicans, and industrial leaders. Some of the Kōdōha/Tōseiha split would be recflected in the subsequent Strike North/South debate. In Japan rather than a totalitarian political party seizing control of the state and military, it was the military, especially the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) that seized control of the state and abolisghed political parties. And like Hitler, the Japanese militarists reached the conclusion that that expansion of their small empire (Formosa and Korea) through military conquest would solve the country's economic problems. Japan had a parlimentary system controlled by conservative parties. The militarists began to grown in power after Wiorld War I when some Pacific Island gfoups were added to the Empire. Vut what the Japanese wanrted was China and furing the war the cvilian governmen issued the 21 Demands on the new Chinese Republic (1915). Conservative elements in the military was disappointed when civilian governments did not pursue these demands with more vigor. And they were outraged when the Government did not achieve parity with the United States at the Washington Naval Talks (1921). Actually the talks assisted Japan in achieving naval dominance in the Pacific becaue they restructed American naval contruction while Japan did not have the industrial capacity to build at a greater rate than she did. Secret socities in the military, especially the Army advocated military expansion and expoused xeophoniv nationalist and racial ideas. Civilian politicans who attempted to resist them were assainated. These ideas gained even more support with the onset of the Great Depression (1930s). The militarists, most without any academic training in economics, insisted that the rapid growth of Japan’s population to support industrialization had created a national crisis. The population of 65 million could not be fed from te ciuntry agricultural sector. Food had to be imported. And to pay for those imports, Japan had to have secure export markets. Western countries had as a result of the Depression increased tariffs and limited exports. The militarists saw China with its large population and agrucultural production as the answer to Japan's problems. And the militarists saw the country's political parties and parlimentary government failing to pursue these policies. As a result of the Russo-Japanese War, Japan obtained the Kwantung Leased Territory and the areas adjacent to the South Manchurian Railway. Manchuria remained a part of China, but these cincessions gave the Japanese a major role in the economy. Kwantung means 'east of Shanhaiguan', a strategic pass and entance of the Great all, east of which lies Manchuria. The Japanese Army established the Kwantung Garrison (1906), it was gradually expanded into the Kwantung Army (KA). Radical expanionist policies popuklar in the IJA were especially strong within the KA. The KA became the largest and most prestigious command in the IJA. Many of its top personnel, such as Chiefs of Staff Seishirō Itagaki and Hideki Tōjō were promoted to high positions in both the military and civil government during the 1930s. Military officers were appointed to important government positions. The impetus for expanion came from the Kwantung Army, both the seizure of Manchuria (1931) and the invasion of China (1937). By the late 1930s, the military not only controlled the Government, but military officers were appointed to the major ministries. General Tōjō became prime minister. From these positions, the militarists were able to dominate Japanese sicir=ety through ciontrol of the press and schools. The Japanese Army military police, Kempeitai, expanded to assume the role of a secret police in Japanese civilian life, rather like the German Gestapo to supess any civilain discent.

Tanaka Memorial (1929)

The Tanaka Memorial (田中上奏文) is an suposed Japanese strategic planning document (1927). Prime Minister Baron Tanaka Giichi allegedly prepared for Emperor Hirohito a strategy to conquer the world. It was during the 1930s and 40s a widely accepted authentic plan. The weight of scholarly opinion today is that it was a forgery, but there is no conclusive evidence one way or another. One imporant factor to consider is the extent to which Japan's foreign and military stratefy adhered ton the tenants of this aledged non-existant document. The Japanese never released the document to the public. It was aledgedly a secret document prepared for the Emperor. The Tanaka Memorial first was reported in the Chinese journal, Current Affair Monthly (時事月報) published in Nanking (December 1929). The Chinese at the time certainly has an interest in depicting the Japanese in the blackest terms, although they had not yet invaded Manchuria. The articles discussed the central tenants: 1) In order to take over the world, you need to take over China, 2) In order to take over China, you need to take over Manchuria and Mongolia, 3) If we succeed in conquering China, 4) The rest of the Asiatic countries and the South Sea countries will fear us and surrender to us, and 5) Then the world will realize that Eastern Asia is ours. It first appeared in the West on the Coomunist Communist International magazine, but circulation and thus the impact was limited (1931). This changed when Herbert W. Armstrong choes the document for the lead article in his new Plain Truth magazine (February 1934). The Japanese denied that the document was real, but their seizure on Manchuria (1931) and invasion of China (1937) suggested that they were proceeding just as Baron Tanaka had planned. One aspect of the Tanka Memorial leads us to questin it that seizyre of Soviet Siberia does not feature prominently in Barin Tanaka's suposed plan. This was the time the centralm tennany of the powerful Strike North Faction. None other than Leon Trotsky just before he was assasinated under Stalin's orders. He charged that Soviet intelligence had obtained the document from a highly placed operative in Tokyo, but did not want to compromise the source by releasing it openly. [Trotsky] What ever the truth concerning the origins of the document, it was widely used cited by Allied propaganda to explain Japan's objectives furing the War. When the America occupation forces arrived in Japan arrived in Japan after the country surrendered, they begabn searching for the Tanaka Memorial and other incriminating documents. A Japanese language original has never been found despite extensive search efforts. It should be noted that the interval between the Japanese surrender (August 15) and the arrival of American occupation forces in Japan (September 3) that the Japanese set about the massive destruction of documents. The Military and the various ministries burned mountains of documents. This complicated the subsequent war crimes trials. In contrast, much of Germany was occupied before the Germans surrendered. This destruction was noted in the War Crimes trials. The inability to find a copy of the document thus by itself is not strong evidence that it did not exist.

Sources

Trotsky, Leon. The ';Tanaka Memorial'(1040. Published after Tritsky's death by the Fourth International Vol. 3. No. 5 (June 1941 (PP. 131-135).

Current Affair Monthly (時事月報) published in Nanking (December 1929). The Tanaka Nemorial was firsr mase opublic here. It was again publishd in China Critic (September 14, 1931), pp. 923-34. This was an English-language publication in Shangahi. "







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Created: 5:54 AM 11/20/2005
Last updated: 11:34 PM 4/7/2016