Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact


SDHF Newsletter No. 395 The Road to the Greater East Asian War Part 19, Chapter 5 : Japan and World War I-3

Nakamura Akira, Dokkyo University Professor Emeritus
(English Translation: Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact)
Part 19, Chapter 5: Japan and World War I-3

In 1917, while World War I was still raging, the Russian Revolution began. During the chaotic years that followed the Russian Revolution came the Siberian Intervention, in which Japan participated along with the other Allies. It earned the reputation of being an exercise in futility, as history textbooks often describe it.
When we contemplate international politics of that time, and the events that followed, i.e., the flow of history up to this very day, especially the spread of communism and political crimes, we must conclude that Japan’s Siberian Expedition, regardless of its consequences or effectiveness, did have historical value.
On January 1, 1918 Britain appealed to Japan to lead an expedition to Siberia, whose purpose would be to prevent the Germans from taking possession of more than 600,000 tons of munitions that had accumulated in Vladivostok. Britain’s request for Japan to act as the Allies’ consignee was supported by France. A consultation with the US revealed that Woodrow Wilson was vehemently opposed to a Japanese expedition, especially an independent one, even as a consignee of the Allies.
The proposal from Britain and France for a joint expedition gave rise to a debate in Japan. The doves worried about US opposition, and were convinced that interfering militarily in Siberia without American approval would be a dangerous diplomatic choice. On March 19 the Japanese government responded as follows: “Japan is prepared to support the joint Allied objective. However, our participation would depend on the support of all Allies. We shall refrain from taking any action whatsoever until we have reached an understanding with the US and all other Allied nations.
However, in mid-May the situation in Russia changed abruptly. The Czech Corps was fighting in the Eastern theatre under the aegis of the provisional Russian government. Because of the advance of German troops, they were forced to evacuate eastward to Vladivostok. Fifteen thousand of them reached Vladivostok in mid-May and another 40,000 were heading for Vladivostok via the Trans-Siberian railway.
On June 7, in accordance with a resolution passed by the Allied Supreme War Council, Britain requested that Japan dispatch troops to Siberia. In response, the Japanese responded that the Imperial government “attach great importance to the positive support of the [American government] in considering any action of intervention in Siberia.”
The Allied Supreme War Council appealed to Wilson to sanction a joint expedition, as it was indispensable to an Allied victory. The US Supreme War Council resolved to dispatch approximately 7,000 troops each from Japan and the US to Vladivostok, and to announce that the objective of the expedition would be to assist the Czech Corps.
Today the cooperative effort between Japan and the US is referred to as the Japan-US joint expedition. But as Griswold writes, “In the Far East its purpose first and last was to resist the Japanese penetration of northern Manchuria and Siberia.” The US military were suspicious of Japan’s reason for joining the expedition. They did not aid the Japanese military in their battles with Bolsheviks. While the Japanese advancing into Siberia were certain that Russian communism was a dangerous ideology and believed the Bolsheviks were evil, the Americans did not share that view. It even seemed to them as though by participating in expedition in the expedition of Siberia, the Japanese would be violating the Open Door Policy.
In January 1920 the US expeditionary force suddenly withdrew without notifying the Japanese government, so as to isolate the Japanese in front of world public opinion.
Not all US government officials were blind to the danger posed by communism to the Far East. On November 30, 1919, Secretary Lansing wrote the following in his diary; “Certainly, in the circumstance we ought not to raise any objection to Japan sending a sufficient force to check the Bolshevik advance, for the spread of Bolshevism in the far East would be a dreadful menace to civilization.”
MOTEKI Hiromichi, Chairman
Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact