Guide The Pacific War and Contingent Victory: Why Japanese Defeat Was Not Inevitable (Modern War Studies)

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View PDF. The English historian Frederick Maitland pointed out that it is sometimes difficult to remember that events in the past were once in the future. Most accounts of the Second World War in Asia focus on four short years, from the attack on Pearl Harbor in December to the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in August , and treat it as an episode in the inevitable rise of the United States as a global power.

It is instead the Meiji Revolution of , the restoration of imperial rule that has always been seen a major turning point in Japanese history but also must be seen as a watershed date in the history of Asia. But those reforms did not operate in a vacuum. As Dr. The first trend was the decline of China, as that once-mighty empire imploded, spreading instability and chaos across East Asia. The second trend, closely related to the first, was the rise of European colonial empires in Asia—not only Britain, France, and Germany, but particularly Russia.

But growing friction over the fate of the Korean Peninsula, as Chinese rule decayed and Japan stepped in to protect its own interests in Korea, led to the first Sino-Japanese War — But then three European powers intervened—France, Germany, and Russia—and Japan was forced to hand the territory back to China. This was seen as a great humiliation for Japan, the first of several that were to come at the hands of Western powers. Russia also began fortifying the town and harbor at Port Arthur, turning it into a major Russian naval base. All in all, it was a hard lesson in international geopolitics that Japan would not soon forget.

In , Russia unilaterally occupied all of the northern Chinese province of Manchuria—in order to consolidate its empire in East Asia, but also to contain Japan. This was a direct challenge to Japanese interests that Tokyo felt it could not ignore, and so war ensued. First came the war with a surprise attack on the Russian fleet at Port Arthur in —the precursor of another surprise attack on an American fleet in —and then a round of devastating defeats for Russia, including the naval battle in the Tsuchima Straits and the Battle of Mukden, at that time the largest single land engagement by modern armies in history.

The defeat of Russia thrust Japan into the international spotlight for the first time. Activists as diverse as Mohandas Gandhi and W.

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Dubois were inspired by what they saw as the rise of the first non-white, non-European great power, and Great Britain saw Japan as a desirable ally for protecting India and Singapore, as well as for halting further Russian expansion in East Asia. In the end, Paine points out, the forces arguing for Japan becoming a land power won out, and set a fateful course for empire—which centered more and more on China. Japan proved itself a useful ally to the Entente Powers. It provided supplies and military aid to Britain and France, including loaning money when those financially strapped nations were at their most desperate.

It is worth noting, however, that it was not just Britain and France that agreed to let the Japanese take over.

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The government of Chinese prime minister General Duan in Peking also signed on, in a deal to allow Japan to maintain a garrison in Shantung in exchange for Japanese support for revising the entire structure of unfair treaties with China. Although Japan was allowed to keep control of the Shantung Peninsula, that control poisoned relations with China and inspired a growing anti-Japanese Chinese nationalist movement.

The first step came in with the assassination of the Chinese nationalist warlord in Manchuria, followed in by Japanese occupation of the entire province. China appealed to the League of Nations for redress. As historian A. Japanese trading interests had suffered greatly. Affronted, Japan walked out of the League of Nations—at first temporarily, but then permanently, as Tokyo found itself regrouping to deal with a new, or rather revived, threat: Russia, now the Soviet Union.

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For a decade and a half after the Bolshevik Revolution, Russia had been a non-factor in international relations, including in Asia. In July , fighting broke out between Soviet and Japanese troops on the Manchukuo border and soon flared into a full-scale war.

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Japan suffered a humiliating defeat, losing more than 20, troops before a peace agreement was signed. The fundamental premise was that Japan would fight a short war highlighted by decisive battles on land and at sea, which would quickly end the conflict.

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In order to engage the United States, no fewer than three Japanese fleets would be needed. One would engage and destroy the U. Navy operating in Asian waters, while another would convoy Japanese army forces to occupy the Philippines. The third would confront the U. Given the mismatch between U. In the end, Japan had adopted a grand strategy for the Second World War it could never carry out.

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The pre-war order had collapsed, ushering in a tumultuous interwar period characterized by dramatic and continual global shifts in national security policies, international relations, military affairs, ideologies, and weapons development. Certainly Japan was not the only great power to experience incoherence in policy and imperial overstretch, especially in Asia. France, Great Britain, and even the United States—given its exposed weakness in the Philippines even as President Roosevelt moved its main battle fleet to Pearl Harbor on the eve of war with insufficient protection and an unclear mission—all provided an opening for Japan to consider all-out war in December , with considerable hope for victory.

Indeed, by the second week in April , Tokyo had accomplished virtually every major objective it had set out to achieve, including capturing Malaya, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Dutch East Indies, Burma, and the Philippines. According to Dr. Shoji, the search for a negotiated settlement began in the summer of , as did the effort to overthrow the hardline cabinet led by General Tojo. If Japan had to surrender but could keep these two institutions intact, that would constitute, in Japanese eyes, an acceptable end to the war. It would be overstating the case to suggest that the emperor and other politicians were waiting for atomic bombs to be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki as an excuse to avoid a U.

After , a new pattern would emerge in Asia, one that has lasted until today. Yet perhaps this new pattern is not so strange after all. One would be ruthless and autocratic, driven by the thirst for military power, wealth, and territory at any cost. The other would be based on democratic self-government and the rule of law, embodying a future based on commerce rather than conquest and military might.

Which does ultimately prevail depends on many factors, not least the United States. In addition to my gratitude to our conference speakers and sponsors, special thanks go to Lewis Libby, my co-organizer and co-convener of the conference for his invaluable advice and assistance in making our enterprise a success, and to Ms.

Asian Shadows: The Hidden History of World War Two in the Pacific

Idalia Friedson for her indispensable help in editing this collection of essays. Paine, William S. Department of Defense, the U. Navy Department, or the U. Naval War College. How did Japan, the model developing country of the early twentieth century, become the pariah state of Asia by ? The Industrial Revolution imposed a choice on Japan: modernization or Westernization.

It chose the latter and then fought two sensationally successful wars, the First Sino-Japanese War — and the Russo-Japanese War — , but its leaders drew incorrect lessons. World War I and the Great Depression then destroyed the global political and economic order. The tragedy occurred not simply because of the more treacherous international environment, but also because the brilliant leaders of the Meiji period — left incomplete institutions and their successors forsook grand strategy to rely on a single instrument of national power, the military.

The following terminology will be used here: Joint operations entail army-navy coordination. Operational strategy, or the operational level of war, means what takes place on the battlefield. Grand strategy, or the strategic level of war, requires integration of all elements of national power and focuses on achieving national objectives.

Military objectives are a means to reach national objectives, never an end in themselves. The Industrial Revolution overturned the global balance of power. Its technological and institutional innovations—such as the development of steam power, iron smelting, textiles, insurance, banking, railways, telegraphs, steamships, and general staffs—together produced economic growth, something virtually unknown in traditional societies. Over several generations, the differences in wealth between those who industrialized and those who did not became enormous.

A new and truly global world order arose, focused on setting the rules for international trade. This was catastrophic for traditional societies.


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Changes made far away suddenly put traditional societies on an unequal footing with industrialized countries. When the West started playing gunboat diplomacy in Asia, the Japanese sent numerous fact-finding missions abroad to study the nature of the threat. They concluded that the origin of Western power was not simply military and technological modernization but also civilian and institutional Westernization. The Japanese proposed a strategy based on a thorough net assessment of themselves, their region, and their threats.

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Since all great powers had large territories, often in the form of empires, they saw no reason why Japan should differ. Geography dictated that its empire would be on the Asian mainland, starting in Korea and encompassing Manchuria. They saw China, beset by internal rebellions and dysfunctional rule, as an emerging power vacuum that Russia appeared likely to fill.

In , Russia announced plans to build a Trans-Siberian Railway, which would overturn the regional balance of power when Russia could efficiently deploy troops where no one else could. Therefore, the Japanese concluded, they must preempt Russia in Korea before Russia dashed their plans for empire.

Japan implemented a two-phased grand strategy to become a great power capable of protecting its national security. Phase 1 focused on the Westernization of domestic institutions, while Phase 2 focused on a foreign policy to stake out an empire. Phase 1 included the elimination of feudal domains ; the introduction of compulsory elementary education and universal military conscription ; the creation of the army general staff , the Bank of Japan , Imperial Tokyo University , and the Diet ; the introduction of a new criminal code , a Western cabinet system under a prime minister , a modern civil service examination , a code of civil procedure , and a reorganized court system ; and the promulgation of the Constitution The reforms eliminated any pretext for Westerners to treat Japan differently from a European power.

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  6. Treaty revision with the reigning superpower, Britain, followed in , and the other powers followed suit. Phase 2 began within ten days of treaty revision, with Japan firing the opening shots of the First Sino-Japanese War. When the Tonghak Rebellion, the largest peasant rebellion in modern Korean history, erupted, Korea called on China for help, and China happily reasserted its traditional suzerain role. Japan, however, used this as a pretext to intervene massively and begin empire building.