Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact

This Article

The Buildup to the ‘Greater East Asian War’ from the Japanese Perspective

By Aldric Hama,

Volume 42, Number 1, Spring 2017
The Buildup to the ‘Greater East Asian War’
from the Japanese Perspective
Aldric Hama1*
Hamamatsu, Japan2†
With the present situation in the Far East the reverse of what it
was in the first part of the last century it is interesting to note that
many Japanese have a very different memory of the circumstances
that preceded their entry into World War II than prevails in
the West. The official Western narrative of Japan’s pre-war history
echoes that enunciated by the International Military Tribunal
for the Far East (the “Tokyo trial”), which stated that a Japanese
“criminal, militarist clique” launched a “war of aggression” for the
“domination” of East Asia and “the rest of the world.” Since then
the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Japan’s well-armed, though
key trading partner, has taken every opportunity to lecture Japan
on its past “aggressive imperialism” when criticizing what the
Japanese view as domestic matters, such as visits by government
officials to commemorative shrines, and corrections to post-war
history textbooks. Although the “politically correct” strata in Japan
accepts the Tribunal’s condemnation, the view taken by many
Japanese of the era before what they call the “Greater East Asian
War” remains markedly contrasted from that dictated by the Tokyo
trial, and an elaboration of this Japanese view will facilitate
a better understanding of post-war Japanese actions. In the first
half of the last century, core Japanese interests included raising
the people’s standard of living and more equal relations with the
West, and to these ends, Japanese policy was molded around that
of the United States, a wealthy and powerful state, rather than that
of its culturally and racially related neighbor China, which was at
that time completely dominated by foreign interests. The more favorable
view of Japan’s role sees the country’s pre-war policy with
respect to China as having responded intermittently to fluctuating
circumstances, through accommodation and appeasement, rather
than the attempt to fully subjugate China. In fact, the Japanese
today still tend to react in a similar way towards the PRC and believe
that a more aggressive reaction could lead to an unfavorable
outcome for Japan, as it did in the past.
1* In the current essay, Chinese and Japanese names are arranged by family name first
followed by given name.
2† Correspondence to:
The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies
82 Aldric Hama
Keywords: Japan, China, Pre-World War II Sino-Japanese history,
Japanese perceptions of pre-World War II history, International
Military Tribunal for the Far East.
In response to shrine visits by Japanese government officials
seeking to pay respect to those who died for Japanese interests,
and the “revision” of Japanese history textbooks to bring them
closer to the war as the Japanese remember it, the People’s Republic
of China (PRC) berates the Japanese as having a “lack of proper
historical perspective” and speaks of a “revival of Japanese militarism.”
Such statements, issued by a one-party dictatorship armed
with weapons of mass destruction, are politely taken for granted
by the Japanese.3 At issue, however, is that other countries, particularly
the United States, Japan’s crucial trade and security partner,
fully accept PRC pronouncements. This leads to suspicion in Japan
concerning the value of the US-Japan alliance and an erosion
of the bonds of cooperation between the US and Japan.
Rather than a “lack of historical perspective,” the Japanese are
fully cognizant of their history, particularly with respect to prewar
activity in China. The history viewed in Japan is obviously not
the same as that held by the PRC and it is also not the same history
taught to those outside of Japan. The current essay describes the
Japanese view of events and circumstances that formed the basis
of Japanese policy and actions in the early 20th century. An accounting
of the Japanese historical view may aid in placing current
Japanese policy and actions within a historical context.
The official narrative: Axis “enslavement of the whole word”
The official narrative of the Second World War casts the Allies,
the US, Great Britain and the Soviet Union as saviors of civ-
3 Perhaps as a response to constant PRC chiding, most Japanese (53%) state that they
have “apologized sufficiently for its military actions during the 1930s and 1940s”. In
addition, there are those (17%) who state that “no apology is necessary.” (By way of
comparison, a majority of Americans (61%) believe that Japan has either “apologized
sufficiently” or “no apology is necessary.” (Pew Research Center, April 2015, “Americans,
Japanese: Mutual respect 70 years after the end of WWII.”)) Despite overwhelming public
opinion, the Japanese government has almost annually offered condolences and apologies
to China (and Korea). In parallel with the Chinese Communist Party, both Japanese and
foreign media continue to harangue the Japanese, that they have not apologized enough.
(Pew Research Center, September, 2016, “Hostile Neighbors: China vs. Japan.”)
Volume 42, Number 1, Spring 2017
How the Japanese See the Events Leading to the ‘Greater East Asian war’ 83
ilization and the Axis, Germany, Italy and Japan as destroyers of
civilization. The Second World War was an epic “struggle between
good and evil” and, as between the US and Japan in particular, a
“contest between a peace-loving nation and an arrogant proponent
of aggression and chaos.”4 President Franklin D. Roosevelt
stated that the aim of the “Nazi masters of Germany” was not only
domination of “all life and thought in their own country” but also
“enslavement” of Europe and the “rest of the world.”5 The “whole
world,” FDR asserted, “would be run by threats of brute force.” In
October 28, 1940, FDR warned America to “guard against the forces
of anti-Christian aggression, which may attack us from without.”
FDR went further on November 1, 1940, stating that “these
forces,” meaning the Axis, “hate democracy and Christianity as
two phases of the same civilization. They oppose democracy because
it is Christian. They oppose Christianity because it preaches
democracy.” In the case of Japan, Japanese “aggression” in Asia was
part of a “dark plot against civilization” and, in conjunction with
Germany and Italy, sought “military, naval, political, and economic
domination of the whole world.”6
Skipping ahead to the post-war era, “anti-Christian” Soviets
controlled half of Europe and the most populous nation on earth
was under the thumb of “anti-Christian” Chinese Communists.
Viewing these results, one is lead to wonder whether the official
narrative of the Second World War drifted from historical facts
and is able to explain the grim consequences of the European war.
A number of works have shown a striking contrast between the
official narrative and the facts.7
With respect to the Asian phase of the Second World War,
known in Japan as the “Greater East Asian War,” there is little En-
4 Neumann, W.L. (1953) “How American Policy towards Japan Contributed to the War
in the Pacific,” in Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace. Ed. H.E. Barnes. Cauldwell, ID:
Caxton Printers.
5 F.D. Roosevelt, Fireside Chat, December 29, 1940.
6 Minear, R.M. (1972) Victors’ Justice. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press; Indictment
of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, in Minear (1972).
7 Barnes, H.E. (1953) Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace. Cauldwell, ID: Caxton Printers;
Buchanan, P.J. (2008) Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War. NY, NY: Three
Rivers Press; Hitchcock, W.I. (2008) The Bitter Road to Freedom. NY, NY: Free Press.
The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies
84 Aldric Hama
glish language material that conveys the Japanese perspective of
the era, wherein westerners dominated Asia and Japanese national
survival was entirely dependent on the good graces of westerners.
While there are a number of Japanese language books that
elaborate the Japanese view of the Greater East Asian War, few
have been translated into English. This is unfortunate, as silence
sustains the official narrative. A few English language publications
from a western perspective have analyzed specific issues from
the pre-war and wartime era, such as the so-called Japanese military
“comfort women” and Japanese military operations in China.
8 However, a consideration of the Greater East Asian War from
the Japanese perspective would be useful in counterbalancing Chinese
Communist propaganda as well as the official narrative. In
fact, the persistence of communism in Asia up to the present day
invites close scrutiny of the roots of communism in Asia, which
will demonstrate Japan’s efforts in combating Asian communism.
Contemporary Japanese have pointed out that a few Americans
at the time foresaw the outcome of war between the US
and Japan. American diplomat John Van Antwerp MacMurray,
stood against Washington, DC’s conventional thinking. In 1935,
in a State Department memorandum, MacMurray warned that,
“…even the elimination of Japan, if it were possible, would be no
blessing to the Far East or to the world. It would merely create a
new set of stresses, and substitute for Japan the USSR as the successor
of Imperial Russia as the contestant…for mastery of the
East. Nobody except perhaps Russia would gain from our victory
in such a war.” His warnings went ignored by an internationalist
FDR Administration, which viewed the USSR as an emerging,
democratic friend of the US. With respect to China in particular,
MacMurray stated: “There may be pacifists and idealists who
foresee that our victory over Japan would remove her as a disturbing
force in the Far East and so open a readier opportunity
for closer understanding, collaboration along literal lines between
8 Gray, G. (2012) Comfort women, military prostitution and human trafficking. Electronic
Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies. 12, e-version; Askew, D. (2004) New
research on the Nanking Incident,
Volume 42, Number 1, Spring 2017
How the Japanese See the Events Leading to the ‘Greater East Asian war’ 85
the United States and China. That is a delusive hope. The Chinese
always did, do, and will, regard foreign nations as barbarian enemies,
to be dealt with by playing them off against each other…”
While factions within FDR’s and then Truman’s administration
wavered between backing the Chinese Nationalists and the Chinese
Communists, Americans were led to believe that the Chinese
as a whole were basically “just like Americans.”9 A wartime and
then post-war US policy of getting the Nationalists to cooperate
with the Communists in building a new, democratic Chinese state
ended in failure—and the subsequent deaths of tens of millions
at the hands of Communists. Any hope that the Nationalists were
the bearers of Chinese liberal democracy evaporated with news
that the Nationalist massacred tens of thousands of their own in
following their establishment in Taiwan.
The official narrative:
An entirely alien history imposed upon Japan
The Treaty of Peace signed in 1951 officially ended the state
of war between Japan and most of the Allies.10 Article 11 of the
Treaty states that Japan “accepts the judgment of the International
Military Tribunal for the Far East and of other Allied War Crimes
Courts…” The International Military Tribunal for the Far East
(IMTFE, the “Tokyo trial”) accused Japan of “conspiring” to commit
“crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity,”
waging “aggressive war,” and of violating “international law…
sacred treaty commitments… and assurance.” To “cast a wide net,”
or to prosecute, convict and sentence as many of the accused as
possible, the accused were said to have engaged in a wide-ranging,
long-lasting “conspiracy,” from January 1, 1928 until the Jap-
9 See Bradley, J. (2015) The China Mirage. NY, NY: Little, Brown and Co. Book reviewed
in Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies, Fall, 2016.
10 The then-Soviet Union refused to sign the Treaty. With respect to “China,” neither
the Republic of China nor the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was invited to the
signing. While Japan and the Soviet Union normalized relations in 1956, a full peace
treaty between the two countries has yet to be signed, the main issue being the return
of the “Northern Territories,” four Japanese islands occupied by Soviet forces after
Japan’s surrender—the islands are occupied to this day. Following the US’s lead, Japan
normalized relations with the PRC in 1972.
The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies
86 Aldric Hama
anese signing of the Instrument of Surrender “to secure the domination
and exploitation… of the rest of the world.”11 The Allies,
then, would craft a 16-year period of Japanese history such that
it supported the charges, which would, in turn, justify both the
tribunal’s proceedings and the Allies’ war against Japan. Perhaps
an additional motive in using an extended period of time was to
somehow show that “aggression” is an intractable, inherent Japanese
trait. Thus, implied in the Allies’ version of history is that the
Japanese are not to be trusted—ever.
The general consensus is acceptance of the Tokyo trial’s verdict
that Japan waged a “war of aggression.” From the American
perspective, there is no point in overly scrutinizing claims of a
venerated generation of Americans—the victors. Likewise, most
Japanese have accepted Article 11, being compelled to do so at the
time by military force and from a cultural sense of humble obligation.
Nonetheless, inaccurate history is still inaccurate, even if
dressed-up in legal finery. A number of authors, non-Japanese as
well as Japanese, not complacent with the emperor’s new clothes,
have pointed to errors and lapses in the historical record, thereby
rejecting the Tokyo trial’s version of history and challenging Article
While there are a number critical legal issues related to the
IMTFE, such as due process, precedents and rules of evidence, it
is the Allies’ motivation that demolishes any sense that the trial
was an exercise in justice and fairness.12 Representatives of the Big
Four meet in London in late June 1945 to form a charter that would
form the basis of trials of German and Japanese leaders. During
the proceedings, the British expressed a “preference” for “executive
action,” of immediate and unannounced execution of imprisoned
enemy leaders—without a trial. Furthermore, the British were
unsure if any of the claimed Axis transgressions “can be properly
11 The scope of Japanese “domination and exploitation” was later scaled down in the
IMTFE’s judgment to “East Asia, the Western and South Western Pacific Ocean and the
Indian Ocean, and certain of the islands in these oceans.” With respect to the charge of
“conspiracy,” almost all charged, except two, were found guilty.
12 Minear, R.M. (1972) Victors’ Justice. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press;
Cassese, A. and Röling, B.V.A. (1993) The Tokyo Trial and Beyond. Cambridge, UK:
Polity Press.
Volume 42, Number 1, Spring 2017
How the Japanese See the Events Leading to the ‘Greater East Asian war’ 87
described as crimes under international law.”13 The Americans dismissed
such hesitancy, stating that it was best to give at least the
appearance of legality before executions, as this would “command
maximum public support in our own times and receive the respect
of history”.14 All Allies, nonetheless, long before the opening of
the trial, agreed that the “chief war criminals…have already been
convicted and whose conviction has been already announced by
both the Moscow and Crimea declarations…” The American representative
affirmed that “There could be but one decision in this
case.”15 Rather than legal proceedings, the Tokyo trial was merely a
grandstand from which the official version of history and the “one
decision” against the accused would be pronounced.
Stated IMTFE Chief Prosecutor Joseph B. Keenan, “I think
that the foremost service they [the Tokyo trial] rendered was to
establish the facts authentically…”16 Minear asks if the Tokyo trial
verdicts in fact meet “minimal tests of historical accuracy.” “If the
verdict cannot stand historical scrutiny, then for us the trial loses
its last claim to our respect.”17 A reading of the IMTFE Indictment
gives an idea of the Allies’ world view in general and America’s
motivation behind the war against Japan in particular. From the
outset, we are told that the Japanese leaders on trial are “a criminal,
militaristic clique,” and the “cause of serious world troubles…
and great damage to the interests of peace-loving peoples…” The
accused “… between the 1st January, 1928, and the 2nd September,
1945… participated in the formulation or execution of a common
plan or conspiracy…”
The Allies charged that “many [Japanese] leaders acting in
pursuance of a common plan,” conspired to secure “Japan’s domination
by preparing and waging wars of aggression…” To the
contrary, while Japanese policy frequently shifted, the overall goal
was to maintain peaceful relations with the US. Over the period
13 Minear, p. 9.
14 “Judge Charles E. Wyzanski… stated… ‘…to regard a trial as a propaganda device is
to debase justice.’” Minear, p. 127.
15 Minear, p. 18.
16 Minear, p. 126.
17 Minear, p. 125-126.
The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies
88 Aldric Hama
covered by the Indictment, there was no Japanese political party
that had complete control over the government similar to the
German National Socialist Party. There was no unbroken chain
of Japanese leadership between 1928 and 1945. There were at least
19 changes in the Japanese cabinet. (By contrast, over the same
period, the US had 3 different presidents and the Soviet Union had
one premier.) By claiming that there was a long-enduring “common
plan,” the tribunal demonstrated that it had little knowledge
of the functioning of the Japanese government.
At the time, a new prime minister was appointed by the Emperor,
based on the recommendation of the Lord Keeper of the
Privy Seal and consultations with former prime ministers. The
new prime minister would then select members of his cabinet.
Given the diverse views of the former prime ministers and the
pool from which cabinet members could be chosen, though the
goal was to select a united government, there was never unanimity.
Furthermore, the prime minister along with the cabinet could
fall for a number of reasons. For example, the annual budget could
be rejected by the Diet—and the Diet may object to a number of
specific items within the proposed budget or even the reason for
such items. The rejection of a budget may lead to the prime minister’s
resignation. The prime minister may decide to step down
if he feels that he does not have the support of the cabinet. The
prime minister may resign if he feels he has slighted the Emperor
or the good name of the government. The prime minister may also
resign to dismiss other cabinet members, because the cabinet folds
en masse with the resignation of the prime minister. Thus, there
could not have been, as the tribunal claimed, a “meeting of minds
among the defendants,” and thus “no concrete plan for Japan to
follow and no single decision… which lead inevitably to… war.”18
The tribunal also claimed that a Japanese “militarist clique”
conspired to rule all of Asia. The Army and Navy Ministers did
indeed have considerable influence as they could bring down the
cabinet by disagreeing with the prime minister. The Army and
Navy Ministers, in turn, required the support of their respective
18 Minear, p. 131.
Volume 42, Number 1, Spring 2017
How the Japanese See the Events Leading to the ‘Greater East Asian war’ 89
general staff and could be turned out by a show of no confidence.
In reality, the “militarist clique” could not even bring Japan under
its control, much less “all of Asia.” While there was an attempted
coup by the Army in 1936, this was suppressed by none other than
future prime minister Lieutenant General Tojo Hideki. Moreover,
while the rebellious offices appealed for the Emperor’s support, the
Emperor denounced the rebellion. Rebellious “militarist” officers
were purged following suppression of the rebellion. With respect
to Prime Minister Tojo’s term during the war, because of Japan’s
deteriorating position, he resigned in 1944 and a new prime minister
was appointed. It is unfathomable to conceive such a similar,
peaceful transition in government in Nazi Germany under similar
circumstances. Because of marked differences in governmental
structures between Germany and Japan, “Japan was not Germany;
Tojo was not Hitler”.19 Regardless, the tribunal conflated Japan
with Germany with the sole objective of punishing the Japanese
Not only did the tribunal claim that Japan sought to dominate
Asia, but Japan also conspired to secure the “military, naval,
political and the economic domination of the whole world.” As
evidence, the tribunal pointed to the “Tripartite Alliance,” an alliance
signed between Germany, Italy and Japan in September 1940.
The tribunal claimed that the Tripartite Alliance was necessary in
order for Japan to dominate Southeast Asia and the South Seas
and that based on this Alliance, Japan “agreed” to “attack the United
The purpose of the Tripartite Alliance, as stated in its text,
was to “promote the mutual prosperity and welfare” of the members,
as the three were effectively excluded from global commerce.
Political, economic and military means would be used to “assist
one another” in case of attack. Japan’s primary reason for joining
the Alliance was its diplomatic isolation.21 Indeed, the US led the
way in isolating Japan, denouncing Japanese efforts to establish a
19 Minear, p. 134; Large, S.S. (1998) Showa Japan, Vol. II. NY, NY: Routledge. p. 3-7.
20 Minear, p. 141.
21 Minear, p. 142.
The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies
90 Aldric Hama
colonial state in China (Manchukuo) in 1932, calling for a “quarantine”
of Japan (1937), and waging war by proxy by arming Generalissimo
Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist army. Japan hoped for
German intercession with the Chinese Nationalists in ending the
Sino-Japanese War and German application of diplomatic pressure
against Soviet Russia, which was the closest and largest threat
to Japan’s security, and the Americans.22
The Japanese expressed “disappointment” soon after joining
the Alliance, however. In early 1941, the Japanese attempted to
improve relations with the US, as Japan depended on the US as
a source for key industrial materials and as a market for Japanese
goods. Chancellor Adolf Hitler “viewed these negotiations with
frank alarm,” as this would mean that America’s “back” would
be free and an “expected attack or entry into the [European] war
by the United States would come quicker.”23 Hitler needed Japan
to attack the Soviets and the US’s “back,” to distract and weaken
them—thereby securing victory for his impending war against the
Soviets. Hitler had in fact long supported US pressure on Japan,
hoping that such pressure would bring about war.24 For their part,
as a gesture of good will to the US, the Japanese were willing to
withdraw from the Alliance.
In reality, there was little military cooperation between Japan
and Germany as called for in the Alliance treaty. Japan signed a
Pact of Neutrality with the Soviets in April 1941, which Japan honored
for the duration of the war. Throughout the European war,
despite prompting from Germany, Japan did not attack the Soviet
Union. The Germans, at the same time, never warned Japan of
their planned invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941.
Beyond the Alliance, Hitler demonstrated no great interest in
the Japanese as an ally—the Germans in fact preferred the British
as an ally. The preference for the British made sense to Hitler since
the British were a “colonial, commercial and naval” power.25 Hitler
22 Minear, p. 142.
23 Barnes, p. 299-300.
24 Barnes, p. 279.
25 Buchanan, p. 325.
Volume 42, Number 1, Spring 2017
How the Japanese See the Events Leading to the ‘Greater East Asian war’ 91
also saw the British and Germans as having similar racial and traditional
roots.26 Long before the start of the European war, Hitler
had no intention of fighting the British at all. A German officer
reported, “the Fuhrer has anything but the intention of completely
destroying the British Empire, as England’s downfall would be to
the detriment of the white race…”27 Indeed, Hitler was intent on
seeing the British Empire sustain itself in the east, as the beneficiary
of its collapse would not be Germany, but Japan.28 Well before
the formation of the Tripartite Alliance, Hitler supplied Chiang
Kai-shek with weapons and advisors in exchange for strategic materials.
Chiang readily agreed to this arrangement, as Germany
lost all its colonies in China following World War I. (In fact, the
Chinese Nationalists pointed out to the Germans that it was Japan
that “grabbed” its Asian colonies following World War I.) Hitler
never failed to view events in terms of race. Upon hearing that
the Japanese captured the British colony of Singapore in February
1942, Hitler tore up a statement Foreign Minister Ribbentrop had
written about the news and stated, “We have to think in terms of
centuries. Who knows, in the future the Yellow Peril may be the
biggest one for us.”29
An interesting inversion of history created by the tribunal
concerns Japanese “planning and preparing a war of aggression”
against the Soviet Union. As previously noted, the Pact of Neutrality
was signed between Japan and the Soviet Union in 1941. It
was the Soviet Union, not Japan, that broke “sacred treaty commitments…
and assurances,” unilaterally repudiating the Pact and
attacking Japan on August 9, 1945. Soviet forces swept through
Manchuria, capturing close to one million Japanese civilians and
soldiers and shipping them to Siberia, where they were kept as
slave labor long after Japan’s surrender.30 In addition, the Soviets
dismantled Japanese properties in Manchuria, including whole
26 Buchanan, p. 326.
27 Irving, D. (1990) Hitler’s War. NY, NY: Avon Books. p. 298.
28 Irving, p. 312.
29 Buchanan, p. 329.
30 Courtois et al., (1999) The Black Book of Communism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press. p. 323.
The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies
92 Aldric Hama
factories, and shipped them back to the Soviet Union. Immediately
after Japan’s surrender, Soviet troops occupied the Northern
Territories, a string of Japanese islands—despite the declaration
in the Atlantic Charter (1941) that the Allies sought no territorial
“aggrandizement” or territorial changes. Nonetheless, Japan was
charged with aggression against the Soviet Union.
As further insult to injury, the tribunal raises border skirmishes
between the Soviet Union and Japan that occurred in 1938
and in 1939. The Soviet Union defeated Japan in both encounters
and settlements were negotiated between the two countries. In fact,
as part of the settlement, Japan was forced to cede territory. Nonetheless,
the tribunal found Japan to be the “criminally liable.” The
tribunal’s opinion was that “these agreements [between the Soviet
Union and Japan] afford no defense to the criminal proceedings
being taken before this International Tribunal.” On the tribunal’s
ruling, Minear commented that this ruling suggests that “no international
treaty that settles a dispute without affixing criminal
liability can be considered final.”31 Indeed, to the Japanese, this appears
to be the case. While the issue of wartime compensation was
settled between Korea and Japan by a treaty signed in 1965, South
Korea nonetheless continued to insist that Japan directly compensate
Korean wartime “comfort women.” In the hope of improving
relations between the two countries, Japan agreed to further
compensate the “comfort women” with a 2015 bilateral agreement;
relations since then have not improved.32 Thus, the lesson here, to
the Japanese, is that agreements reached between governments in
good faith may be disregarded as needed.
The United States, South Korea and other countries have
willingly distorted their own history to fit the prevailing socio-political
temperament.33 What perceptive Japanese see as remarkable
31 Minear, p. 139.
32 In exchange for the equivalent of about USD 8 million, Japan asked that a “comfort
woman” statue planted in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul be removed. Rather
than remove the statue, in 2016, Koreans planted yet another statue in front of the
Japanese consulate in Busan.
33 Politically correct American history has been reviewed in detail elsewhere: (e.g.)
Murphey, D.D. (1995) The Dispossession of the American Indian and Other Key Issues in
Volume 42, Number 1, Spring 2017
How the Japanese See the Events Leading to the ‘Greater East Asian war’ 93
is the imposition of a version of history written by a completely
alien race from an entirely alien culture. Even more remarkable is
that, rather than rejection, a number of Japanese people fully embrace
the Allies’ version of history. The official history as written
by the IMTFE is the cornerstone of current historical narratives
of pre-war relations between Japan and other countries, including
China. Those who tell a different version of history—the correct
one—face the wrath of the politically-correct intellectuals and anti-
Japan ethnic lobbies.
Foreign policy two-step:
American policy leads Japanese policy
The 1946 Constitution of Japan imposed sweeping social
and cultural changes by the post-war American Occupational
authority and pointedly prohibits the use of military force as an
instrument of national policy.34 As western nations have freely
engaged in “regime change,” “preventative war” and deployment
of “peacekeeping” forces in the midst of active civil wars, Japan
has been restricted to sending financial or non-lethal aid (“checkbook
diplomacy”). When Japanese military personnel are sent as
peacekeepers, they are under strict rules of engagement and are
sent to areas that are no longer considered active war zones.35 At
the same time, westerners have expressed dismay over the lack of
vigorous Japanese participation in international “peacekeeping”
missions, which demonstrates not only a basic misunderstanding
of the main role of Japan’s “military force,” the Japan Self-Defense
Forces, and its operational limitations but also a lack of awareness
that Japan’s constitution, written by Americans, prohibits the exis-
American History. Washington, DC: Scott-Townsend; Woods, T.E. (2008) 33 Questions
about American History You’re Not Supposed to Ask. NY, NY: Crown. The inversion of
South Korean history, such as attributing North Korean-backed terrorism to South
Korean government “oppression,” has been described in: Oh, S. (2015) Getting over It!
Tokyo: Tachibana Publishing.
34 Article 9: “…the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation
and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes… [L]and,
sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of
belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”
The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies
94 Aldric Hama
tence of a Japanese military force in the first place.
President-elect Donald Trump has suggested significantly
reducing the US military presence in Asia and having Japan shoulder
more of its own defense. To allow an even greater role of the
Japan Self-Defense Forces, this will mean significant changes to
Japanese law or even to the constitution itself. Polls, however, suggest
that there is neither a strong desire by the public to change
the constitution nor eagerness to engage the Self-Defense Forces
in UN peacekeeping missions.36 Contrast Japanese thinking with
that of the British, another island nation. In 1982, the UK, with US
support, quickly deployed an armed force against Argentina to reestablish
control over its “overseas territory,” the Falkland Islands.
By contrast, Japan has yet to assert its authority in a similar manner
over Takeshima Island, currently occupied by South Korea, or
over the Senkaku Islands, which both the PRC and Taiwan have
claimed as their own, even though Japanese people strongly assert
that both are Japanese territory.37
Whether there is a “re-alignment” of US military forces
in Asia or nothing changes at all, the Japanese view their postwar
foreign policy as highly contingent on the policies of foreign
countries, especially of the US. Indeed, pre-war Japanese policy
adopted key elements of US policy, as it was American gunboats
that sailed unimpeded into Edo (Tokyo) Bay, compelling Japan to
sign a treaty of “Amity and Commerce” in 1854. Under this treaty,
Japan lost its right to levy tariffs. Japan lost sovereignty over
its own territory as the treaty allowed Americans to reside within
designated areas and not to be subject to Japanese law. Americans
were also allowed the right to lease land and purchase buildings
on leased lands, effectively giving control of the land to Americans.
Subsequent Europeans demanded similar treatment, such as
foreign control of tariffs and extraterritoriality, in their treaties of
“Amity and Commerce”.
Volume 42, Number 1, Spring 2017
How the Japanese See the Events Leading to the ‘Greater East Asian war’ 95
While the Chinese rejected all things outside its realm as barbaric,
Japan had seen how easily the European and Russian “barbarians”
partitioned its great and once powerful neighbor;38 “no
non-white country had ever maintained its independence once a
White military force had landed on its soil.”39 Thus, in order to retain
its sovereignty, Japan would emulate the West and break with
China, a nation with shared affinities in terms of culture and race.
Further appealing to Japan was the Western notion that nations
share legal equality, in contrast to the Chinese view of China as
the center of the universe and that barbarians reside on the periphery.
Standards of living increased as Japan shifted from an agrarian
economy to a manufacturing and export-based economy and
adopted Western medical and scientific practices. Social and political
institutions were modernized in the Western style. In an effort
to further temper resistance to foreign encroachment, Japan
adopted US foreign policy. General Charles LeGendre was hired
by the Japanese Foreign Ministry in 1872 as a foreign affairs and
military adviser, consulting “a number of times” with Japanese elder
statesmen and Emperor Meiji.41
The key idea he promoted to the Japanese government during
his consultations was a “Japanese Monroe Doctrine for Asia,” a
policy resembling “the one taken by the United States in the wake
of the European filtration and encroachment into the American
sphere of interest,” in which Japan undertakes “to bring the whole
of Asia from its barbarous and primitive stage to the civilized
stage.”42 In order to do this, LeGendre recommended Japan “pacify
and civilize them if possible” or “exterminate them or otherwise
deal with them as the United States …[has]….”
38 Ladd, G.P. (1908) In Korea with Marquis Ito. NY, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons. Reprinted
by Sakuranohana Shuppan, 2015. p. 360.
39 Bradley, J. (2009) The Imperial Cruise. NY, NY: Little Brown and Company, online
40 Dreyer, J. T. (2016) Middle Kingdom and Empire of the Rising Sun. NY, NY: Oxford
University Press. p. 39.
41 Bradley, 2009, online version.
42 Bradley, 2009, online version.
The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies
96 Aldric Hama
American territorial acquisition and consolidation did not
end with the closing of the western frontier. The late 1800s was
characterized by territorial expansion in the Pacific. The US put
the Monroe Doctrine to use in the early 1900s, sending troops to
Latin America. President Theodore Roosevelt extended the American
sphere of influence from the Western Hemisphere to China.
The US staked its claim to China while at the same time imploring
European powers and Japan to follow an “Open Door Policy,” of
“equal opportunity for commerce and industry in China,” respecting
Chinese territorial integrity and preventing any one power
from dominating China.
Japan’s victory over China in the Sino-Japanese War in 1895
and perseverance against Imperial Russia during the Russo-Japanese
War (1904-1905) impressed Theodore Roosevelt and he
viewed Japan as a potential guardian of order in China. Roosevelt
candidly expressed his view to Baron Kaneko Kentaro, who was
sent to Washington, DC to ask Roosevelt to serve as mediator to
end the Russo-Japanese War, that Japan should follow a “Monroe
Doctrine for Asia,” echoing LeGendre’s earlier advice.
Theodore Roosevelt would later reiterate his support for a
“Japanese Monroe Doctrine” in a meeting with Ambassador to the
US Takahira Kogoro, who accompanied Baron Kaneko.43 Thus, the
idea that Japan should defend interests extending well beyond its
own borders was based on American policy and encouragement.
America acknowledged Japan’s leading role in Asia numerous
times. The Taft-Katsura memorandum (1905) reiterated US recognition
of East Asia, including Korea, as within Japan’s (rather
than Russia’s) sphere of influence. As the basis of the war with Russia
was Korea, Prime Minister Katsura Tarō noted that “Korea will
certainly draw back to her habit of improvidently entering into
any agreements or treaties with other powers, thus resuscitating
the same international complications as existed before the war.”
Secretary of War William Taft agreed with Katsura. In exchange,
Japan would recognize the Philippines as being within the US’s
sphere of influence. The primary goal of the discussion between
43 Bradley, 2009, online version.
Volume 42, Number 1, Spring 2017
How the Japanese See the Events Leading to the ‘Greater East Asian war’ 97
Taft and Katsura was to ensure peace in East Asia, which was best
achieved through “a good understanding between the three governments
of Japan, the United States and Great Britain.”
Korea was to be a crucial launching point for Japan’s “Monroe
Doctrine.” Korea had officially been a Chinese vassal for hundreds
of years. China either claimed or disclaimed authority over
Korea as external circumstances dictated. The corrupt and factious
Korean court entirely relied on China to protect its existence
from “barbarians” and to suppress frequent domestic rebellions
arising from government repression or poor harvests. A Japanese
ship ventured near a Korean seaside fort and was attacked. Following
a Japanese reprisal attack, a treaty of amity was signed between
Korea and Japan in 1876, which specifically noted that Korea was
a co-equal—as an “independent state enjoying the same sovereign
rights as does Japan.” The Korean court, nonetheless, continued to
call upon Chinese troops to keep them in power. During periods
of Chinese occupation, Korean officers faced abuse by Chinese
soldiers. At times, Chinese troops, in conjunction with Koreans,
slaughtered Japanese residents in Korea.44 The presence of Chinese
troops in Korea not only hindered Korean independence but also
threatened Japanese security. A convention was signed in 1885
between China and Japan wherein Korea would contact Japan in
case Chinese troops were called into the peninsula. All the while,
the Chinese saw the Japanese as upstart barbarians, aping western
ways, who needed to be reminded of their place in the Celestial
In 1894, the Korean court once again called in Chinese troops
to suppress rioting—without notifying Japan.45 In response, Japan
sent its own troops to protect its citizens and interests. Confrontation
between China and Japan over Korea’s status as an independent
state ensued, culminating in the Sino-Japanese War. Following
China’s defeat, Japan reaffirmed Korea’s status as a co-equal
and independent state in the Treaty of Shimonoseki (1895). With
the loss of Chinese influence in Korea, the void was rapidly filled
44 Ladd, p. 328-330, 334.
45 Ladd, p. 346.
The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies
98 Aldric Hama
by the Russians, who sought Korea’s warm water ports. The Russians
advised the Korean court to support anti-Japanese policies
and otherwise meddled in Korean affairs, in violation of agreements
signed in 1896 and 1898 with Japan to politically stabilize
Korea. (While the Russians negotiated with Japan, the Russians
and Chinese secretly agreed to a mutual security pact 1896, in
which Russia was granted control of large portions of northern
Manchuria.) Further negotiations with Russia to stop interfering
with the internal affairs of Korea were fruitless and Japan waged
war against Russia to protect, once again, Korean sovereignty.46
With Russia’s capitulation in 1905, and with US diplomatic and
political support, Korea was established within the Japanese sphere
of influence. As the Korean court was entirely incapable of providing
for the welfare of the Korean people, the Japanese provided
government advisors and initiated a number of governmental reforms
and infrastructural projects with the aim of raising the Korean
standard of living.47 The Korean court’s reluctance to support
reforms for the purpose of improving the Korean people’s welfare
and pursuit of foreign policies that endangered Korean independence
led to Korea’s protectorate status and, later, Japanese annexation.
Foreign governments, including the US, at the time noted
how the “weak and corrupt” Korean government was incapable of
implementing reforms and expressed their hope that Japan would
facilitate the modernization of Korea.48
Domestic issues
Due to the implementation of Western medical and hygiene
practices during the Meiji Era, lifespan within Japan increased and
infant mortality decreased. The population nearly doubled from
46 Ladd, p. 370-402.
47 Ireland, A. (1926) The New Korea. N.Y., N.Y.: E.P. Dutton. Reprinted by Sakuranohana
Shuppan, 2013.
48 Dreyer, p. 46, 60; Journal de Saint-Petersbourg, August 26, 1910; Mears, H. (1948)
Mirror for Americas: Japan. Boston: Houghton Mifflin; The Times of London, September
28, 1904; The San Francisco Chronicle, March 21, 1908. Early South Korean
presidents have acknowledged the Japanese role in modernizing Korea and further
stated that Koreans have only themselves to blame for losing their sovereignty to Japan;
Oh, p. 51-52, 73-74, 78-82.
Volume 42, Number 1, Spring 2017
How the Japanese See the Events Leading to the ‘Greater East Asian war’ 99
1882 to 1939, from 37,000,000 to 73,000,000—yearly increases
were on the order of almost 1,000,000.49
Perhaps as a side effect of progress, Japan faced a population
crisis. In response, the government increased arable lands within
Japan.50 Agricultural production was improved in Korea and Taiwan
(Formosa), and surplus rice was exported to Japan. The Japanese
government also encouraged emigration. However, white
European nations in the Pacific region, including Australia, Canada
and the US, restricted non-white immigration in response to
domestic anti-Asian sentiment. Labor unions, in particular, resisted
Asian immigration as Asians were seen as undercutting wages.
In the wake of the global depression following the 1929 Wall
Street crash, Congress passed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act in
1930, as a means of protecting and reviving the US economy. The
bill imposed high tariffs on imports. For Japan, the US was their
largest customer—42 percent of all Japanese exports were destined
for the US in 1926.51 In 1934, after passage of the Smoot-Hawley
Act, this figure was cut by more than one-half (18 percent). To
pay for imports, Japan exported manufactured goods. The loss in
export revenue meant that Japan could no longer purchase key
resources and goods from the US in quantities needed to sustain
the nation. In 1934, Japan also imported about one-third of all US
exports.52 The US was a key supplier of iron and petroleum. In fact,
Japan depended on foreign trade for a number of commodities, as
it was resources poor, including cotton, coal and rubber, iron ore,
zinc and bauxite.53
The amount of timber, as well as food, was insufficient for the
growing population, despite government efforts to expand arable
land acreage.
49 Kobori, p. 346.
50 Kobori, p. 321.
51 Suzuki, T. (2013). The USA Is Responsible for the Pacific War. Tokyo: Horiuchi Printing,
p. 269.
52 Suzuki, p. 263.
53 Reston, J.B. (1945) “Terms Will Reduce Japan to Kingdom Perry Visited,” The New
York Times, August 14.
The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies
100 Aldric Hama
Further compounding Japan’s commercial problem was
Great Britain’s creation of an economic bloc in 1932 consisting
of its dominions and colonies. The Ottawa Agreement employed
preferential duties within the bloc and high tariffs or restrictions
were applied to imports from outside the bloc. Other European
countries formed economic blocs with their colonial possessions
as well. Faced with high tariffs, most markets were closed to Japanese
goods—the Japanese economy faced bleak prospects. Following
the US, Manchuria and China were the second and third largest
markets, respectively, for Japanese exports.54 Thus, the survival
and existence of Japan hinged on the development of Manchuria
and a politically and socially stable China.
Manchuria for the survival of the Japanese people
Manchuria is the home of the ethnic Manchu people, who
ousted the ruling Ming in 1644 and established the Qing Dynasty.
A modern day Han Chinese conceit is that “to rule China, the
[conquerors] had to become Chinese.” 55 The Han is the dominant
ethnic group in China and “Chinese” usually refers to the Han.
It is therefore usually not known that the Qing rulers were an
entirely different ethno-cultural group than the Han, who ruled
during the previous Ming Era. In fact, Sun Yat-sen, the father of
the Chinese Republic, considered the Manchus “foreigners”56 and
promised to “entirely overthrow the utterly corrupt regime” and
replace them with “European-advised native Chinese”. As a sign
that Sun believed that Manchuria was not an integral part of China,
in his effort to finance his armed struggle against the Qing he
supported a proposed sale of Manchuria to Japan for 20 million
yen and weapons to arm two divisions.57 The Japanese government
ultimately rejected this proposal.
The Manchus followed completely different customs than
their Han subjects, according to contemporaneous writers. “Being
54 Hatase, M. (2002) Devaluation and exports in interwar Japan. Monetary and Economic
Studies. October, p. 143-180.
55 Bickers, R. (2011) The Scramble for China. London, UK: Penguin Books. p. 67.
56 Chang and Halliday, p. 10.
57 Suzuki, p. 293.
Volume 42, Number 1, Spring 2017
How the Japanese See the Events Leading to the ‘Greater East Asian war’ 101
Manchu was virtually important to them: it was transmitted from
generation to generation, articulated, regulated, displayed and
protected.”58 “Protection” of Manchu identity included Manchu
prohibitions against intermarriage.59 “Anti-Manchu comments
were hunted down because of …continuing strong ethnic identity,
in which important components included the Manchu language,
dress and food…” The Manchus were neither “arrogant nor malicious”
as were the Han and “quite different” from the Han, who
“stole,” “told lies” and were “merciless.”60 Ethnic Han were not allowed
into Manchuria. However, after the Chinese Nationalist
Revolution in 1911 and the fall of the Qing Dynasty, restrictions
against Han migration into the sacred land of the Manchu collapsed.
61 In response to centuries of Manchu oppression, Nationalist
Han massacred Manchus in major cities.62
Japan received control of the South Manchuria Railway as a
result of the Russo-Japanese War, along with the right to station
troops to protect it and control the “economic life of Manchuria.”
Furthermore, Russia formally recognized southern Manchuria as
within Japan’s sphere of influence while Japan likewise recognized
North Manchuria and Outer Mongolia as within Russia’s sphere
of influence. (After Imperial Russia wrested Outer Mongolia from
the Qing, Soviet-supported communists seized control in 1921.)
Imperial Russia had already acquired thousands of square miles
of “the ancestral heartland of the [Qing] dynasty” in the 1800s.63
Agreements between Imperial Russia and Japan affirming spheres
of influence were signed four times between 1907 and 1916.
(These agreements were later voided by the Bolsheviks.) The US
also acknowledged Japan’s interests in Manchuria as well in an
58 Bickers, p. 67.
59 Townsend, R. (1933) Ways That Are Dark. NY, NY: Putnam. p. 314.
60 Suzuki, p. 290.
61 Kobori, p. 248; Townsend, p. 278.
62 Bickers, p. 362.
63 Bickers, p. 154. In addition to the 1896 Li-Lobanov Treaty mentioned earlier, the
Qing ceded large portions of Manchuria to Russia in 1858 and 1860. Whereas Japan
is regularly denounced by the PRC as having a history of “imperialism,” one would be
hard-pressed to hear the PRC level the same accusation at Russia.
The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies
102 Aldric Hama
agreement signed between US Secretary of State Elihu Root and
Japanese Ambassador Takahira (1908), wherein the US allowed
Japan a “free hand in Manchuria” (and Korea as well). At the same
time, Japan agreed to recognize the US annexation of Hawaii and
the Philippines and further agreed to limit Japanese emigration to
the US. Each side would endeavor to uphold the status quo and
continue the Open Door policy in China. Japan’s “special interests
in China, particularly in the part to which her possessions are
contiguous,” was again affirmed by the US with the Lansing-Ishii
Agreement (1917).
In addition to concluding agreements with the key Pacific
powers Russia and the US, Japan sought understanding with
the Chinese concerning Manchuria. “Although Japan and Russia
came to an understanding as to their respective spheres of influence
in Manchuria and Mongolia by treaties concluded between
1907 and 1916, past experience had taught Japan to be very jealous
in guarding her rights and interests. Consequently, for that
purpose numerous treaties and agreements were signed between
China and Japan during the period from 1905 to 1915.”64 Despite
the existence of these agreements, the Chinese pointedly refused
to follow them. For example, while a treaty bound the Chinese
to not build rail lines that competed with the South Manchuria
Railway, they went ahead with building one. It was only through
intercession of a British company that was partnered with the Chinese
that the project was eventually cancelled.65 Later, the Chinese,
under their own initiative, completed competing lines. Despite
treaties that affirmed Japanese rights and interests in China, the
Chinese demanded that the Japanese withdraw from Manchuria
and attempted to “divest Japan and its citizens of their acquired
rights and interests, resorting to cunning and malicious means,”
including instigating a series of boycotts of Japanese goods and
services.66 The boycotts were financially crippling, entailing the
64 Kobori, K. (2003) The Tokyo Trials: The Unheard Defense. Rockport, ME: New England
History Press. p. 241.
65 Suzuki, p. 138.
66 Kobori, p. 287; Osaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry. (1932) A Synopsis of the
Volume 42, Number 1, Spring 2017
How the Japanese See the Events Leading to the ‘Greater East Asian war’ 103
use of threats and violence against the Chinese who continued to
frequent Japanese businesses as well as against the Japanese themselves
and were supported by the Chinese government. While the
Chinese aimed to expel all foreigners, Chinese xenophobia singled
out Japan, as China considered Japan an upstart, barbarian vassal.
This anti-Japan hostility has carried into modern Chinese foreign
policy and domestic attitudes.
Given that Japan was barred from sending its surplus population
to white European countries and that trade with the same was
heavily restricted, the only alternative was to commercially develop
Manchuria and to encourage western migration, just as America
had done during its western expansion in the previous century.
Manchuria is about three times the size of the Japanese mainland.
The total amount of arable land in Manchuria equals the entire
Japanese mainland. Manchuria holds important mineral resources,
and key commercial activities include mining, manufacturing
and agriculture. Over time, Manchuria became a critical Japanese
economic asset. At the end of World War II, The New York Times
opined that Japan would have eventually become self-sufficient
had Japan retained its empire.67
Although critical to Japan’s economic survival, Manchuria
was plagued by banditry, as the Chinese central government
was either unable or unwilling to carry out law enforcement responsibilities.
Following the 1911 Revolution, for all intents and
purposes, China was a “failed state”—at one point three different
groups claimed to be the legitimate government of China. Lurking
in the background, the Chinese Communist Party, established
in 1921, engaged in anti-foreign agitation and terrorism within
their strongholds.68 Provincial warlords, products of a Qing era
policy to decentralize military power, ruled their fiefdoms with
ever-shifting alliances and foreign aid.
Boycott in China. Osaka: Hamada Printing.
67 Reston, J.B. (1945)”The Power in the Pacific Is Now in our Hands,” The New York
Times, August 19.
68 Chang, J. and Halliday, J. (2006) Mao: The Untold Story. NY, NY: Anchor Books. p.
40-41, 54, 59-60, 63, 140.
The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies
104 Aldric Hama
In 1929, in response to a warlord attack on the Chinese Eastern
Railway in northern Manchuria, the Soviets retaliated and
overran the railway and surrounding areas. Later, the Soviets utilized
the railway to supply the Chinese Communists. As an example
of selective Chinese xenophobia, whereas Japan’s later action
in Manchuria evoked boycotts and riots, the Soviet invasion of
Manchuria evoked no violent reaction.
In 1929 and 1930, the Japanese government recorded over
400 instances of property and security breaches against Japanese
railways in Manchuria which the Chinese government had yet to
Chinese bandits regularly attacked railway staff and property.
In June 1931, Japanese Army officer Nakamura Shintaro along
with three others were captured in Manchuria and murdered by
a Chinese warlord. The bodies were burned to hide the evidence.
The Chinese denied any involvement and further stated that the
Japanese merely fabricated the incident. After about three months,
however, Chinese authorities admitted the event and even their
The Wanpaoshan Incident is another example of Chinese xenophobia.
Koreans living in Manchuria had long been persecuted
by local Chinese. (During the Cultural Revolution, Chinese Red
Guards chased Koreans out of Manchuria and into North Korea.)
In July 1931, Chinese farmers assaulted Korean farmers over their
construction of an irrigation ditch, for which local Chinese authorities
had previously given permission but now claimed to be
illegal.70 When news of the Chinese attacks reached Korea, riots
throughout the country resulted in looting of Chinese property
and numerous Chinese casualties. The Chinese retaliated by imposing
yet another boycott of Japanese goods and services, and
further forbid personal contacts between the Chinese and Japanese.
Chinese who cooperated with the Japanese could be subjected
to severe punishment, including death.
That warlords were able to harass and assault Japanese set-
69 Townsend, p. 282-283; also Kobori, p. 242.
70 Osaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Volume 42, Number 1, Spring 2017
How the Japanese See the Events Leading to the ‘Greater East Asian war’ 105
tlers, as well as locals, in Manchuria without fear of reprisal was
due in part to the constrained mission and size of the Kwantung
Army, the Japanese garrison in Manchuria. The Kwantung Army’s
primary mission was protecting the South Manchuria Railway
and its immediate environs. The Kwantung Army consisted of
10,400 Japanese troops—Japan was in fact allowed up to 14,000
troops as stipulated by the 1905 Portsmouth Treaty.71 By contrast,
area warlords commanded about 250,000 soldiers. In 1930, the
tactical reality was that less than 11,000 troops were responsible
for the protection of about 200,000 Japanese and 800,000 Korean
civilians, out of a total population of about 36 million, and their
property within an area four times the size of Japan.72 In addition
to internal security, the Kwantung Army secured the border with
Russia. (As mentioned earlier, the Soviets intruded twice, in 1938
and 1939, and Japan lost in both encounters.) This Japanese imbalance
between mission and manpower remained until 1931.
Officers of the Kwantung Army, responding to an apparent
lack of their own government’s interest in protecting the lives of
Japanese civilians in Manchuria, and elsewhere in China, and the
growing Communist menace, commenced to “seize” Manchuria
in 1931 (the so-called “Mukden” or “Manchuria” Incident). The
Kwantung Army routed the warlords’ forces and took their main
base in Mukden. Other Manchurian cities were later brought under
the army’s control, and Manchuria was under the Kwantung
Army’s control within four months. The Times of London understood
Japan’s desire for restoring law and order in Manchuria,
something that the Chinese were incapable of doing: “‘administrative
integrity’ of China remained a fiction the Japanese were
bound to act to protect their interest in that country, as Britain had
done in 1927…”73 On Japan’s military action, British Ambassador
to Japan Sir Francis Lindley commented, “…The world is, in short,
in the position of a country where the dwelling has been made ille-
71 Kobori, p. 76
72 Kobori, p. 244.
73 Suzuki, p. 358. On January 3, 1927, Chinese Nationalists troops raided British settlements
in Hankou and Jiujiang. In March, Nationalist troops overran Nanjing, raping
and murdering British and other foreign residents.
The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies
106 Aldric Hama
gal before the population have learned proper manners; and however
high-handed the Japanese have been, they have at least taught
China that this sort of behavior still brings unpleasant results.”74
It should be noted that the Kwantung Army officers acted
unilaterally, without the approval of Tokyo. Furthermore, according
to the Meiji Constitution, the military was under the direct
command of the Emperor. The Kwantung Army did not receive
imperial sanction for their requests to move troops from outside
of Manchuria to support the takeover of Manchuria. The day after
the Incident, government approval was given, as fait accompli,
with the idea that military activity would be confined to within
Manchuria. Imperial sanction was belatedly given as well. Under
normal circumstances, the commanders and officers who acted
without government approval or even Imperial sanction should
have been disciplined. However, the Japanese public saw the officers
as heroes and due to the outpouring of popular support, the
government was unable to punish the responsible individuals;
some officers ended up being promoted. While it is not true that
Japan’s foreign policy was dictated by a “militarist clique,” the successful
take-over of Manchuria certainly gives this impression. At
the same time, the fact that the Japanese government was unable
to prevent unilateral military action suggests a lack of clear foreign
policy objectives and poor command and control.
Nonetheless, Japan’s control of Manchuria following 1931
was followed by a semblance of peace that was not present in any
other part of China. The Times of London noted that Manchuria
is “a flourishing oasis in a howling desert of Chinese misrule…”75
American financier Thomas Lamont said of Manchuria: “…Manchuria
is almost the only stable area in the whole of China. The
existence of Japan makes it possible for us to expect that Manchuria
can be the stabilizing power in the China Problem rather the
destabilizing power… The development of Manchuria is actually
contributing to the profits of Chinese people… A lot of people
are flowing to south Manchuria in a unit of several thousands to
74 Suzuki, p. 355-356.
75 Suzuki, p. 355.
Volume 42, Number 1, Spring 2017
How the Japanese See the Events Leading to the ‘Greater East Asian war’ 107
escape from banditry or plunder…”76 In fact, Manchuria’s success
was such that, as American journalist George Bronson Rea stated,
“every freelance bandit chief and warlord… [is looking] forward
to restoring his rule over the most prosperous provinces of China…”
In 1932, a collection of Manchurians, now freed from warlord
subjugation and wishing to break from Han China, proclaimed an
independent Manchurian state (“Manchukuo” or “Manchuquo”).
The following year, the last of the Qing rulers, Xuantong Puyi,
was installed as the Emperor of Manchukuo. The establishment of
Manchukuo further inflamed Han Chinese who claimed Manchu
domain as rightfully belonging to them. As predicted by journalist
Rea, following the establishment of Manchukuo, clashes occurred
between Manchurian warlords seeking to reestablish themselves,
with the support of Chinese Nationalist troops, and the Kwantung
Army north of the Great Wall, the traditional border between Han
China and the Manchus.
The Japanese and Chiang Kai-shek signed the Tanggu Truce
in May 1933, setting up a demilitarized zone in a region south of
the Great Wall. A Chinese force (a “peace preservation corps”)
was to patrol the area. The truce contained Japanese forces within
Manchuria and away from the rest of China. Following signing of
the truce, Chiang planned on uniting the country by first defeating
the Chinese Communists and then expelling the foreigners.
Occasional skirmishes between the Kwantung Army and Chinese
Nationalists occurred, but there were no major engagements between
the two sides until 1937.
In addition to protecting Japanese civilians and property, the
Kwantung Army had an equally important task—to prevent the
spread of Communism into Manchuria and to Japan. As US Ambassador
to Japan Joseph Grew noted: ”Japan will in all probability
eventually guarantee to Manchuria an administration of peace,
safety and prosperity which that unfortunate country has never
before experienced…and furthermore Japan is acting as a staunch
76 Suzuki, p. 369-370.
77 Suzuki, p. 368.
The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies
108 Aldric Hama
buffer against the spread of bolshevism eastward which is an item
worth considering. If Japan deserves merit for nothing else, we
must at least give her credit for the fight she is putting up against
communism which is now overwhelming China like a forest fire
and would rapidly overrun Manchuria too if Japan hadn’t taken a
Following the Bolshevik Revolution, the Soviets focused
their efforts on promoting global communist revolution with the
goal of replacing democracies with “people’s republics”. The Soviets
formed the Comintern to assist communist groups, including
the Japanese Communist Party. One of the Japanese Communist
Party’s stated goals was to overthrow the Imperial Household—in
which “overthrow” meant liquidation of the royal family as was
done with the Romanovs in Russia. Ordinary Japanese civilians
would not be excluded from such a fate. In February 1920, 700
Japanese were slaughtered when a Bolshevik partisan force captured
the port town of Nikolayevsk after overwhelming the Japanese
garrison (“Nikolayevsk Incident”). Surviving servicemen and
Japanese civilians were imprisoned. Upon learning that a Japanese
Army force was approaching Nikolayevsk, the Bolsheviks massacred
remaining Japanese captives and several thousand residents,
stabbing them and then forcing them under the ice of the frozen
Amur River. The Japanese had good reason to fear the communists.
In the end, in August 1945, the Soviets overwhelmed the
Kwantung Army and overran Manchuria, handing it over to the
Chinese Communists. One could speculate as to whether communist
domination might have occurred sooner if Japan had withdrawn
from Manchuria in 1931, as demanded by the League of
Nations, or in 1941 as demanded by FDR during peace negotiations.
Perils of cooperation
“International cooperation” was a cornerstone of pre-war
Japanese foreign policy, the idea being that “international cooperation”
would lead to just and fair treatment among “equal” states.
Volume 42, Number 1, Spring 2017
How the Japanese See the Events Leading to the ‘Greater East Asian war’ 109
To this end, Japan agreed to quotas on its naval forces at the Washington
and London Naval Conferences. It should be highly startling
that Japan, entirely dependent on secure sea lanes for commerce,
would voluntarily reduce its naval strength as dictated by
other major sea powers Great Britain and the US.
Furthermore, the US insisted that Great Britain not renew
the 1902 Anglo-Japanese Alliance, a naval alliance between the
two countries that at the time countered the Russian and German
Imperial navies in the Pacific. The Japanese saw the Anglo-Japanese
Alliance as highly prestigious, as one between equals. The
treaty had benefited both Japan and Great Britain. During the
Russo-Japanese War, Britain prevented France from entering the
war on Russia’s side. During World War I, Japan sent a naval task
force to the Mediterranean and kept the Pacific clear of German
forces. At the end of the war, for participation on the Allies’ side,
Japan received German rights and interests in China and German
Pacific territory.
The past notwithstanding, Japan readily went along with
the US’s insistence and declined to bring up the issue of renewing
the alliance with Great Britain. As a replacement for the Anglo-
Japanese Treaty, Japan was invited to sign the Nine-Power
Treaty (1922), a treaty created in response to the world’s concern
over continuing turmoil in China. The treaty called for the “status
quo” and that members follow an Open Door policy, while China
promised to protect the rights and interests of all parties. Japan’s
hope was that its rights and interests in China would be protected
by this treaty. However, in exchange for Japan’s signature, Japan
was forced to give up rights to the German concession of Shandong,
which it acquired following World War I. Moreover, Japan
was forced to cancel previous agreements with the US concerning
Manchuria as vital to Japanese national interest. Seeing how
easily Japan yielded, the US adopted a hard-line stance in future
negotiations. In fact, the US led the rest of the world in isolating
Japan, condemning it in 1932 for the “seizure” of Manchuria, calling
for a global “quarantine” against Japan in 1937, cancellation
of the US-Japan Treaty of Commerce and Navigation in 1939 and
The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies
110 Aldric Hama
cutting off American access to crucial industrial raw materials beginning
in 1940.
Japan willingly ignored its national interest in favor of vague
notions of “international cooperation” due in part to foreign pressure,
but the main source of this diplomatic naïveté was the Japanese
leadership at the time. For example, Japanese Foreign Minister
Shidehara Kijuro had an extremely sympathetic view of China,
promoting negotiations and “indulgence and patience” in solving
problems.78 Rather than a “conspiracy” or determined effort
to conquer China, as alleged by the IMTFE, Japan’s China policy
could be described as stop-and-go crisis management, of responding
to and containing endless Chinese provocations without an
overall objective.
The lack of an effective long-term China strategy is highlighted
by frequently arising Chinese government-sanctioned anti-Japanese
protests. Boycotts of Japanese goods and services were the
usual Chinese responses to Japanese “aggression.” Boycotts were
accompanied by other activities, including anti-Japanese propaganda
leaflets, anti-Japanese lectures in schools, violent strikes,
pillaging of Japanese property and targeted assassination. Overseas
Chinese also participated in boycotts and demonstrations.79
As the Japanese did little in response to these outrages, other than
lodge diplomatic protests with the Chinese, the Chinese gradually
increased the stridency of their demonstrations.
The effect of an accommodating policy in China, however,
proved to be highly unfortunate for Japan, as the Chinese perceived
accommodation as weakness and took advantage of Japan’s naïveté.
Rather than respond in kind to Japanese accommodation, the Chinese
held fast to their anti-Japanese position. The Chinese government
found opportunities to test the limits of Japanese patience.
The Chinese war against the Japanese
Sun Yat-sen claimed that the Chinese Han, unlike the ruling
“decadent Manchus,” were “on the side of history.”80 Chinese na-
78 Dreyer, p. 65; Suzuki, p. 338; Townsend, p. 283.
79 Osaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
80 Bickers, p. 385.
Volume 42, Number 1, Spring 2017
How the Japanese See the Events Leading to the ‘Greater East Asian war’ 111
tionalism can, in fact, be viewed as an expression of deep-seated
ethnocentrism. The Chinese emperor was a righteous man designated
by Heaven to keep order in the universe. This “Mandate of
Heaven” formed the basis of the Chinese empire. As an extension,
the Chinese empire, the “Middle Kingdom,” was the apex of civilization
and peripheral states were merely uncivilized, barbaric
states.81 Barbarians could become “civilized” barbarians by observing
the proper rituals and paying tribute to the emperor. As the
center of the universe, the Middle Kingdom contained everything
worth having—modern Western technology (except advanced
military technology) meant little to the Chinese. The Qing rejected
barbarian attempts to improve Chinese transportation, commercial
and communication infrastructure.82 Losing repeatedly to
barbarians in several wars (e.g., the Opium Wars, the Arrow War
and the Sino-Japanese War), the Qing Dynasty belated initiated
a short-term program of modernization. Despite its efforts, the
Qing eventually collapsed in 1912.
In 1935, American diplomat John Van Antwerp MacMurray
commented on Chinese ethnocentrism as a basis of Chinese
policy: “The Chinese, in their resurgence of racial feeling, had
been willful in their scorn of their legal obligations, reckless in
their resort to violence for the accomplishment of their ends, and
provocative in their methods…Those who sought to deal fairly
with them were reviled as niggardly in not going further to satisfy
them…” While MacMurray was referring to the Nationalists, this
characterization could apply to the present-day PRC as well.
In 2016, the PRC rejected a Permanent Court of Arbitration
decision that found that the PRC’s demarcation of its South China
Sea boundaries (the “Nine-Dash Line”), which claimed numerous
islands contested by a number of its neighbors, has no historical
basis, and is therefore invalid. The Court also ruled that China unlawfully
infringed on the exclusive economic zone of its neighbor
(the Philippines). The Chinese, who did not even bother to send a
representative to the hearings, dismissed the findings as irrelevant
81 Dreyer, p. 5.
82 Dreyer, p. 37-38.
The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies
112 Aldric Hama
and contended that the Court had “no jurisdiction.” One could say
that such thinking as entirely consistent with historical Chinese
thinking, that China is a righteous country and no barbarian court
may pass judgment on it.
The confluence of World War I, the Chinese Revolution of
1911 and the Russian Revolution of 1917 thrust China deeper into
chaos. President Woodrow Wilson promised “self-determination”
and “autonomy” to captive nations during World War I. The
Chinese Republicans promised to unite China and to expel the
barbarians. At any and all opportunities, the Chinese boisterously
denounced European and Japanese partitioning of their country
in international forums. When none of the foreign powers
budged, Chinese Nationalists and Communists organized violent
“anti-imperialism” strikes and demonstrations. More recently, anti-
Japanese riots in major Chinese cities in 2004, 2005 and 2012,
which brought about much property destruction but miraculously
spared lives, were at least tacitly permitted by the ruling Communist
Following the Republican Revolution, Sun’s Republican
faction lost a power struggle and established headquarters in
Guangdong Province. While having many Western and Japanese
backers, Sun requested military assistance from the Soviets in
1922. Stalin saw the potential of the Nationalist Army in defeating
Western imperialists in China and as a counterweight to the
Japanese Army stationed near the Soviet border. Stalin agreed to
fund Sun’s Nationalists—his support of the Chinese Communists
began the year before—and he instructed the Chinese Communists
to infiltrate the Nationalist Party to ensure that they towed
Moscow’s line. The extent of communist subversion of the Nationalist
leadership has been elaborated elsewhere.83 In short, the Chinese
Communists were in a position to guide Nationalist policy
and action, which included directing anti-Japanese agitation. The
Communists hoped that the Japanese military would focus their
efforts towards the Nationalists and away from them, who were
at the time numerically and militarily weaker than the National-
83 Chang and Halliday, p. 131-132; 197-206.
Volume 42, Number 1, Spring 2017
How the Japanese See the Events Leading to the ‘Greater East Asian war’ 113
ists. Thus, the Chinese Communists and their Soviet patrons had
a significant, but largely hidden, role in engineering a state of war
between Nationalist China and Japan.84
At the same time, factions within the Chinese Nationalist Party
jostled for control. Nationalist cliques sought alliances among
other Nationalist cliques and foreigners for support as motivated
by personal interest.85 To further their own survival, the various
Nationalist factions engineered anti-Japanese provocations. For
instance, non-mainstream factions of the Nationalist Party wanted
to force Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek’s clique into a war with
Japan, thereby curbing the concentration of power around Chiang
and preventing Chiang from engaging in campaigns that would
deplete their own forces. However, the factions that continuously
provoked Japan did not take responsibility when Japan protested
or confronted them. Instead, the factions pinned the blame elsewhere.
Such was the state of the “democratic hope” that sought
to expel the barbarians and unite China. It is surprising that the
American government supported Chiang before and during the
US-Japan War without realizing the true state of his Nationalist
Party. Such a lack of American understanding domestic politics
of foreign countries can be readily observed today—Iraq and Afghanistan
come to mind.
In 1926, Chiang seized control of the Nationalist Party following
Sun’s death, purged open Communists from the Party and
launched the Northern Expedition from Guangdong in July, with
the goal of unifying China. From Guangdong, the Nationalist
Army marched north to subdue the warlords and a rival Nationalist
Party faction based in Beijing. Along the way, the Nationalist
Army plundered the countryside in order to support itself, in the
tradition of Chinese “locust armies,” leaving a trail of destruction.86
84 Perhaps as a means of further neutralizing the Japanese Army on the Soviet Union’s
eastern flank, the Soviets instructed their mole, US Treasury official Harry Dexter
White, to script an antagonistic and uncompromising US policy against Japan that
would eventually pressure Japan to attack the US. Koster, J. (2012) Operation Snow.
(NY, NY: Regnery.)
85 Townsend, p. 199-247.
86 Bradley, (2015), p. 468-470.
The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies
114 Aldric Hama
The Chinese Communists used terror to silence or eliminate
its enemies. Chiang’s Republican Army, the vanguard of democratic
China, was no better. The officers, members of the landowning
class, were generally well paid. By contrast, the foot soldiers
were illiterate peasants who were unluckily conscripted. The vast
majority of the conscripts lived a hand-to-mouth existence, looting
villages for food and burning anything that may be useful to
the enemy. Women who fell into their hands were either used as
coolies or gang-raped. Like their leaders, foot soldiers were more
than willing to switch sides if promised more pay or better prospects
for looting.87 Their poor record of fighting the Japanese, despite
possession of new, foreign-made weapons, foreign advisors
and foreign-educated Chinese officers, has been suggested to be
due to a fundamental lack of “courage” and sense of “cooperation.”
This could in fact explain why less than 11,000 Japanese troops defeated
over 200,000 Chinese troops in Manchuria “in a few weeks”
in 1931.88 (Pro-China admirers at the time bemoaned that if the
Chinese had more weapons and money, they would be able to beat
the Japanese and unite the country.)
The Chinese were, however, more than capable of murdering
unarmed civilians. During the Qing and previous eras, victorious
armies massacred hundreds of thousands of captured soldiers by
drowning, beheading and live burial.89 The Nationalists continued
in this line, sending few, if any, live prisoners to prisoner of
war camps.90 Foreign as well as Chinese civilians who fell into Nationalist
hands were subjected to traditional Chinese methods of
87 Townsend, p. 208, 226-227.
88 Townsend, p. 207-208.
89 Hei, S. (2007) A History of Massacres in China. Tokyo: Bijinesusha; Courtois et al., p.
468, 471.
90 Risking thousand or even millions of lives is no obstacle in the pursuit of victory. In
June 1938, Chiang Kai-shek ordered the blasting of the Yellow River banks in Henan
Province as a means of stopping a Japanese Army advance. However, “11 cities and
4,000 villages were flooded, the crops and farms of three provinces ruined, two million
people [were] rendered homeless…” Moreover, as a consequence of destroying the river
banks, a drought in Henan Province in 1942 led to famine (Suzuki, p. 450-451). Between
2-3 million people died in the famine and “many cases of cannibalism were recorded”.
Courtois et al., p. 469.
Volume 42, Number 1, Spring 2017
How the Japanese See the Events Leading to the ‘Greater East Asian war’ 115
torture before being killed.91
In March 1927, a communist-instigated riot in Nanjing, the
nominal capital of China, led to occupation by Nationalist soldiers,
who, under the command of Nationalist officers, proceeded
to plunder the British, American and Japanese consulates, schools,
hospitals and homes and set numerous structures on fire. Chinese
Nationalists beat and raped civilians and performed other acts
“too indecent to be published.”92 Thousands of Japanese abandoned
their livelihood in China and returned to Japan in response
to this incident. Amazingly, while British and American warships
shelled Nanjing and landed troops to protect their citizens, Japanese
consulate guards were told not to resist. The Japanese sent a
token force of one warship, which did not even participate in the
naval bombardment. The official explanation was that the Japanese
did not respond so as not to provoke the Chinese.
In April, Nationalists troops invaded and occupied the Japanese
concession in Hankou, allegedly in response to Japanese
military provocation. Chinese rioting was suppressed when Japanese
troops moved in to secure the concession. This incident also
prompted numerous Japanese to flee Hankou, and elsewhere, back
to Japan with nothing but the shirt on their back. The seizure and
destruction of foreign property violated the Nine-Power Treaty,
yet Japan, America and European countries did not call China to
account. More Nationalist Army outrages occurred in May (Jinan
Incident), despite previous assurances by Chiang that Japanese civilians
would be protected. Also during April and May, Chiang
executed “thousands of Communists” in Shanghai.93 The Northern
Expedition ended in 1928 with Chiang defeating his rival in Beijing
and establishing Nanjing as the capital.
Conflicts between the Nationalist and Japanese military were
limited in nature between the signing of the Tanggu Treaty in 1933
91 The infamous “death by a thousand cuts” (lingchi) comes to mind. A survivor of
the Tongzhou Massacre (July 1937) recounts ghastly methods of torture employed by
Nationalist soldiers and their Chinese civilian collaborators:
92 Townsend, p. 328-329.
93 Courtois et al., p. 469.
The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies
116 Aldric Hama
and the “Marco Polo Bridge Incident” in 1937. Chiang used this
period to pursue the Chinese Communists, which embarked on
their year-long Long March in 1934 to northwest China. Surprisingly,
while Chiang was in a position to wipe out the Communists,
for personal and political reasons he allowed the Communists to
reach the safety of their base.94
The Chinese war against Japan redux
The Communists issued on August 1, 1935 their “Resistance
against Japan, National Salvation” declaration, exhorting the Chinese
to stop fighting each other and to resist Japan. The Communists’
call for a “United Front” against Japan should be viewed as a
cynical attempt to extend their own lifespan, as the Communists at
the time were nowhere near Japanese military units.95 Recognizing
that it would be folly to directly engage the Japanese military, the
Communists nevertheless kept the Japanese off-balance via judicious
use of terrorism. Following the August 1 declaration, a number
of terrorist acts specifically targeting the Japanese occurred,
such as looting and burning of Japanese-owned businesses and the
assassination of Japanese civilians and military personnel.96 Chinese
“collaborators” were singled out for execution as well.
During one of Chiang’s expeditions to annihilate the Communists
in 1936, he was betrayed by one of his commanders, Chang
Xueliang, a dispossessed Manchurian warlord who sought to regain
his former stronghold. Chang captured Chiang and handed
over him over to the Communists at Xian (“Xian Incident”). Chairman
Mao Zedong wanted to kill Chiang immediately, but Stalin
stopped Mao because the death of Chiang and the collapse of the
Nationalists would lead to a strengthening of Japan’s position in
China against the Soviets. Stalin also promised to release Chiang’s
son from captivity in Moscow if Chiang stopped his war against the
Communists.97 Following Chiang’s release, the Nationalists funded
94 Chang and Halliday, p. 128-135.
95 Ko, B. (2015) “A Grateful China Should Also Pay Respect to Yasukuni Shrine.” Rekishitsu,
March 15 Special Issue.
96 Moteki, H. (2015) How China Started the Second Sino-Japanese War. Tokyo: Jiyuusha.
English Online version:
97 Chang and Halliday, p. 185-187.
Volume 42, Number 1, Spring 2017
How the Japanese See the Events Leading to the ‘Greater East Asian war’ 117
the Communists and gave them territory in which to build their
strength. Thus, the so-called Chinese Civil War was temporarily
halted and the Chinese Communists were able to rebuild itself
while the Nationalists expended their strength against the Japanese
military. Despite halting attacks against the Communists,
Chiang was reluctant to use his military against Japan. Regardless,
the Communists would create an opportunity to put Chiang’s
army up against Japan.98
A company-strength Japanese Army unit, which had previously
notified the local Chinese Army garrison, the 150,000-strong
29th Route Army, held night-time maneuvers near the Marco Polo
Bridge, southwest of Beijing, on July 7, 1937. The Japanese unit
used blank ammunition during the exercise. Shots from the Chinese
position were fired at the Japanese unit in at least four instances—
the Japanese finally returned fire after the last instance.
Local Japanese and Chinese commanders arranged for a truce on
July 11. The truce included a statement of Chinese regret over the
incident, a promise to punish the person responsible and control
of anti-Japan agitation. With respect to responsibility, the Chinese
singled out Communists and Chinese fascist elements. With the
truce in place, all sides hoped that the no other incidents would
occur. Following the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, the Japanese
Government rescinded orders to deploy troops to North China—
twice—to reinforce the small contingent already stationed there.
Chiang, however, with assurances by the Soviets that they would
aid him,99 moved his troops into areas prohibited by the Tanggu
Truce and declared a policy of “no surrender” in his “The Limit of
China’s Endurance” speech on July 17, 1937. The possible goal of
Chiang’s move was to reclaim Manchuria.
Under the mistaken notion that the Japanese military suffered
a massive defeat at the hands of the Nationalists at the Marco Polo
Bridge and spurred by Chiang’s virtual declaration of war, Chinese
Nationalists sprang into action. Nationalist troops ambushed Jap-
98 Chang and Halliday, p. 197-198.
99 Dreyer, p. 71-72.
The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies
118 Aldric Hama
anese troops on routine maintenance calls (“Langfang Incident”)
and routine movements (“Guanganmen Incident”). The July 11
truce was apparently one in name only. In response to deteriorating
security, on July 27, 1937, the Japanese government approved
the dispatch of three divisions for the Beijing-North China area.100
While a number of acts of anti-Japanese terrorism occurred
throughout China up to 1937, perhaps the most infamous was
the Tongzhou Incident. The Jidong Peace Preservation Corps (the
“East Hopei Army”) was a police force comprised of nominally
pro-Japanese Chinese paid and armed by the Japanese to patrol
the demilitarized zone between Nationalist China and Manchuria.
On July 29, 1937, the Jidong Peace Preservation Corps massacred
Japanese military personnel and then Japanese civilians, going
from house to house, dragging victims, including children, out
into the streets and then bayoneting or strangling them to death.
Some were tortured, mutilated and left to die. Women were raped
before being killed. Over 200 Japanese were murdered. Survivors
reported that both Nationalist Army personnel and Chinese civilians
participated in the massacre. The “mutiny” may have been inspired
by a rumor that the Japanese had suffered a massive defeat
at the Marco Polo Bridge.
Despite years of violent, Chinese anti-Japanese sentiment,
in 1937 only 2,000 Japanese troops were stationed in Shanghai
to protect about 30,000 Japanese residents.101 Another 2,000 reinforcements
remained off-shore. The presence of Japanese as well
as other foreign troops was entirely legal according to the Boxer
Protocol (1901) and the Shanghai Ceasefire Agreement (1932).
In addition, the Shanghai Agreement made Shanghai, at the time
comprised of numerous western concessions, off-limits to Chinese
On August 9, Lt. Oyama Isao and Seaman Saito Yozo of the
Japanese Naval Special Landing Force were killed by the Shang-
100 Suzuki, p. 423.
101 Moteki, (2015) online version. For comparison, the British, the second largest group
of foreigners, kept two Army battalions in Shanghai. Americans were protected by the
4th Regiment of the US Marines.
Volume 42, Number 1, Spring 2017
How the Japanese See the Events Leading to the ‘Greater East Asian war’ 119
hai Security Corps, Chinese guards responsible for protecting foreign
lives and property. The incident was apparently staged by the
Communists.102 An investigation by American, British and French
police, who were accompanied by the Mayor of Shanghai, concluded
that the Japanese were ambushed and that they failed to return
fire in self-defense.103 Beyond an investigation, the Japanese government
did nothing—perhaps in order not to incite the Chinese.
On August 13, 1937, a Chinese Nationalist force of 30,000-
50,000 entered Shanghai, in violation of the Shanghai Agreement,
and attacked the Japanese. The following day, Nationalist
warplanes bombed the city, killing over a thousand civilians and
wounding an equal number. The Nationalists blamed Japan for
this outrage, but it was clear to all that the Chinese were responsible—
they were later forced to recant. Four days after the Chinese
ground assault, the Japanese government allowed two divisions
to be dispatched to Shanghai. Another three divisions were later
sent. The Japanese finally defeated the Chinese force in October
and pursued them to Nanjing.
Rather than the easy fight Japanese commanders hoped for
based on previous encounters with the Nationalist Army, the
Japanese sustained over 40,000 casualties. By contrast, as Chiang
feared, but to Mao’s delight, Nationalist casualties were over
400,000, many of whom were trained by German advisors and
equipped with the latest European arms.104 Thus, a war that Japan
did not want ensued. The Japanese military, recognizing that the
Chinese had over two million soldiers under arms and that the
Soviets had a total of over one million soldiers, saw no way in
which the Japanese could win against a combined Chinese-Soviet
army. The Japanese military insisted upon continued negotiations
with Chiang, even though Chiang had ended negotiations.
More Japanese troops would be needed to occupy key cities
in order to deny the Nationalists material support and to secure
supply lines to feed urban populations, numbering in the tens of
102 Chang and Halliday, p. 198-199.
103 Farrere, C. “Voyage en chine,” Revue des Deux Mondes., Mai 1938.
104 Chang and Halliday, p. 199-200.
The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies
120 Aldric Hama
millions, an entirely unenviable task.105 For their part, the Chinese
Communists would stay on the sidelines and look on as the Japanese
fought and lost to the Nationalists in a war of attrition.106
Weakened fighting the Japanese and further decimated fighting
the Chinese Communists, the Nationalists fled to Taiwan in 1949
and left China in the hands of the Communists.
War dictated by security
Perhaps the best way to describe the pre-war period in Japan
and Japan’s response to the circumstances is to read the words of
Supreme Commander of Allied Powers General Douglas MacArthur,
head of the American Occupation. General MacArthur
made the following comments during a hearing before the Senate
Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committee on the Korean
War in May 1951:
Senator [Bourke] Hickenlooper: Question No. 5: Isn’t
your proposal for sea and air blockade of Red China
the same strategy by which Americans achieved victory
over the Japanese in the Pacific?
MacArthur: Yes, sir. In the Pacific we bypassed them. We
closed in. You must understand that Japan had an enormous
population of nearly 80 million people, crowded
into four islands. It was about half a farm population.
The other half was engaged in industry.
Potentially the labor pool in Japan, both in quantity and
quality, is as good as anything that I ever known. Some place down
the line they have discovered what you might call the dignity of
labor, that men are happier when they are working and constructing
than when they are idling. This enormous capacity for work
meant that they have something to work on. They build the factories,
they had the labor, but they didn’t have the basic materials.
There is practically nothing indigenous to Japan except the
silkworm. They lack cotton, they lack wool, they lack petroleum
105 Minoru, K. and Lin, S. (2014) The Reluctant Combatant. Lanham, MD: University
Press of America.
106 Chang and Halliday, p. 200-202.
Volume 42, Number 1, Spring 2017
How the Japanese See the Events Leading to the ‘Greater East Asian war’ 121
products, they lack tin, they lack rubber, they lack a great many
other things, all which was in the Asiatic basin.
They feared that if those supplies were cut off, there would
be 10 to 20 million people unoccupied in Japan. Their purpose,
therefore, in going to war was largely dictated by security.
The post-war era: Has anything changed?
At the end of World War II, though severely weakened, China
became the regional power not only by virtue of its sheer size
but also due to diligent US efforts to dismantle Japan’s ability to
carry out foreign policy based on its national interests. The US
Occupation decommissioned Japan’s military, thereby ensuring
Japanese dependence on the US for protection from both China
and the Soviet Union. In 1950, while Japan was still under US occupation,
the Chinese Communists and Soviets concluded a Treaty
of Friendship, the intent of which was to “prevent the revival of
Japanese imperialism” and pledge mutual aid against Japan and
“any other State that might in any way join with Japan in acts of
aggression,” clearly referring to the US.107
Transformation of Japan into a liberal democracy was assured
by the imposition of a constitution written by New Deal Democrats
and by the purging of “militaristic” and “feudal” elements
from political and social spheres. To further liberalize Japan, leftist
political prisoners were freed and labor unions were legalized. The
PRC reached out to leftist intellectuals and the Japanese media,
both of which unquestioningly accepted and disseminated communist
propaganda, and to anti-American labor unions and student
groups. The Chinese media encouraged the “Japanese masses”
to “rise up” against the government and tried to drive a wedge
between Japan and other Asian nations by repeatedly evoking the
specter of a “remilitarized Japan”.108 A series of violent, pro-communist,
anti-American demonstrations, resulting from foreign
subversion and an ineffective national government, marked the
immediate post-war period.
107 Dreyer, p. 86.
108 Dreyer, p. 83-89.
The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies
122 Aldric Hama
As further demonstration that the Chinese Communists were
intent on defining the post-war order in Asia, they denounced the
1951 Treaty of Peace as a sign of revised “Japanese militarism and
aggression towards Asia.” In addition to the peace treaty, a mutual
security treaty was signed between the US and Japan which
allowed the US to station troops in Japan and gave the US permission
to intervene in the event of “domestic instability,” pending
permission by the Japanese government.109 The mutual security
treaty reminded the Japanese of the unequal treaties of the 19th
century. Thus, Japan would join the post-war “family of nations”
as a US dependent.
Nonetheless, Japan attempted to define its own China policy
as means of enhancing its own economic and international political
positions while luring the PRC away from Moscow’s orbit.
Much to the consternation of all involved, including the US, Japan
set out to build relations with the PRC as well as the Republic of
China. Being prohibited by their constitution to own a “stick,” Japan
offered nothing but “carrots” in promoting better bilateral relations,
in the form of economic assistance (official developmental
assistance, OAD) worth billions of US dollars and access to Japanese
markets for Chinese goods. In exchange, the PRC would allow
Japanese access to Chinese markets. In spite of Japan’s long-standing
generosity (economic aid to China would last into the 21st
century), the PRC developed an arsenal of nuclear weapons, the
world’s largest standing army, and uses any opportunity to denounce
“nationalist” Tokyo’s “aggressive” drive to “dominate” Asia.
The decline of the Japanese economy and concurrent rise of the
Chinese economy in the 1990s raised alarms in Tokyo, but foreign
and domestic policies were not to be forthcoming from the leadership
as cabinets during this period formed but then collapsed
in rapid succession. Perhaps as a sign of resurgent self-confidence
and recognition that Japan’s days as a major economic power are
numbered with its burgeoning aging population, Chinese rhetoric
against “aggressive” Japan decreased, though the frequency of
public anti-Japanese rioting did not.
109 Dreyer, p. 89.
Volume 42, Number 1, Spring 2017
How the Japanese See the Events Leading to the ‘Greater East Asian war’ 123
China’s eclipse of Japan as the second largest economy, as a
culmination of competitive labor cost and technological sophistication,
led to resigned acceptance by some Japanese to “also
placed” status.110 Indeed, whereas Japan relied on China as its
main export market, China’s exports were headed for the US and
elsewhere. The US’s turn to China as a potential key Asian politico-
economic partner provoked further anxiety in Japan, in that
it was believed that the Americans were looking to relegate the
US-Japan alliance to insignificance or perhaps even abandon it.111
Perceiving internal Japanese weakness and ambiguous American
statements concerning American defense of Japanese territory,
the Chinese found the timing fortuitous to assert its authority and
initiated vigorous naval patrols in the resources-rich South China
Sea and around the Senkaku Islands, encouraging fishing vessels
to literally “fish in troubled waters.”
The ongoing conflict between China and Japan could well be
characterized as ethnic in addition to political. Each side developed
unique cultural environments reinforced over generations.
Each side draws upon their respective culture’s unique behavioral
responses to confront outsiders. The Chinese have not demonstrated
adaptiveness to foreign influences to the extent demonstrated
by the Japanese, as the Chinese have historically viewed the
Chinese people being at the center of the universe and that China
already has everything it needs. In this vein, negotiating with China
merely on the basis of “common interests” will fall on deaf ears.
It may be that China is prepared to accept a status quo in its favor
110 Dreyer, p. 374.
111 However, a survey suggests that with China’s rise in “military and economic power,”
a majority of Americans (60 percent) see US relations with Japan as “more important”
than ever. (Pew Research Center, April 2015, “American, Japanese: Mutual Respect
70 Years after the End of World War II.”) In the same survey, most Americans (55
percent) in 2015 saw Japan as having a “fair trade policy” in stark contrast to the 1980s
and 1990s, when the majority of Americans viewed Japanese policy as “unfair”. More
Americans favor “strong economic ties” with China (43 percent) than with Japan (36
percent). Interestingly, those in favor of “strong economic ties” with China (as opposed
to “strong economic ties with Japan”) are non-whites, under 50 years of age, Democrats
and Independents. While the US currently looks to China as a significant trade partner,
only 37 percent of Americans view China as having a “fair trade policy.”
The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies
124 Aldric Hama
into the foreseeable future. The dean of Beijing University’s School
of International Relations summarized relations between China
and Japan in this manner: “…complexity and ambivalence will last
almost forever.”112 Given Japan’s constrained policy options and declining
economic power and Washington, DC’s changing political
climate, to avoid recurring frustration and disappointment, and
possible war, the Japanese, and others in the Far East, may choose
to adapt to an “almost forever” status quo.
Askew, D.
2004 New research on the Nanking Incident.
Barnes, H.E.
1953 Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace. Cauldwell, ID:
Caxton Printers.
Bickers, R.
2011 The Scramble for China. London, UK:
Penguin Books.
Bradley, J.
2009 The Imperial Cruise. NY, NY: Little Brown
and Company, online version.
2015 The China Mirage. NY, NY: Little, Brown and Co.
Buchanan, P. J.
2008 Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War.
NY, NY: Three Rivers Press.
Cassese, A. and Röling, B.V.A.
1993 The Tokyo Trial and Beyond. Cambridge, UK:
Polity Press.
Chang, J. and Halliday, J.
2006 Mao: The Untold Story. NY, NY: Anchor Books.
Courtois et al.,
1999 The Black Book of Communism. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press.
112 Dreyer, p. 379.
Volume 42, Number 1, Spring 2017
How the Japanese See the Events Leading to the ‘Greater East Asian war’ 125
Dreyer, J. T.
2016 Middle Kingdom and Empire of the Rising Sun.
NY, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 39.
Farrere, C.
1938 “Voyage en chine,” Revue des Deux Mondes,
Mai 1938.
Gray, G.
2012 Comfort women, military prostitution and human
trafficking. Electronic Journal of Contemporary
Japanese Studies. 12, e-version.
Hatase, M.
2002 Devaluation and exports in interwar Japan.
Monetary and Economic Studies. October,
p. 143-180.
Hei, S.
2007 A History of Massacres in China. Tokyo:
Ireland, A.
1926 The New Korea. N.Y., N.Y.: E.P. Dutton.
Reprinted by Sakuranohana Shuppan, 2013.
Irving, D.
1990 Hitler’s War. NY, NY: Avon Books.
Ko, B.
2015 “A Grateful China Should Also Pay Respect to
Yasukuni Shrine.” Rekishitsu, March 15
Special Issue.
Kobori, K.
2003 The Tokyo Trials: The Unheard Defense.
Rockport, ME: New England History Press.
Ladd, G.P.
1908 In Korea with Marquis Ito. NY, NY: Charles
Scribner’s Sons. Reprinted by Sakuranohana
Shuppan, 2015.
Large, S.S.
1998 Showa Japan, Vol. II. NY, NY: Routledge.
The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies
126 Aldric Hama
Minoru, K. and Lin, S.
2014 The Reluctant Combatant. Lanham, MD:
University Press of America.
Minear, R.M.
1972 Victors’ Justice. Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press.
Moteki, H.
2015 How China Started the Second Sino-Japanese War.
Tokyo: Jiyuusha.
Neumann, W.L.
1953 “How American Policy towards Japan Contributed
to the War in the Pacific,” in Perpetual War for
Perpetual Peace. Ed. H.E. Barnes. Cauldwell, ID:
Caxton Printers.
Osaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
1932 A Synopsis of the Boycott in China. Osaka:
Hamada Printing.
Pew Research Center
2015 “Americans, Japanese: Mutual respect 70 years
after the end of WWII.”
Pew Research Center
2016 “Hostile Neighbors: China vs. Japan.”
Reston, J.B.
1945 “Terms Will Reduce Japan to Kingdom Perry
Visited,” The New York Times, August 14.
Reston, J.B.
1945 “The Power in the Pacific Is Now in our Hands,”
The New York Times, August 19.
Suzuki, T.
2013 The USA Is Responsible for the Pacific War.
Tokyo: Horiuchi Printing, p. 269.
Townsend, R.
1933 Ways That Are Dark. NY, NY: Putnam.