“Frivolous thinking is due to foreign thought. Japan must no longer let the impudence of the white peoples to go unpunished. It is the duty of Japan to fufill her natural destiny, to cause China to respect the Japanese, to expel the Chinese from Manchuria, and to follow the way of imperial destiny.” - General Araki Sadao Source: Robert Goralski, World War II Almanac. (1981) p. 9.
“Killing Japanese didn't bother me very much at that time... I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal.... Every soldier thinks something of the moral aspects of what he is doing. But all war is immoral and if you let that bother you, you're not a good soldier.” - General Curtis LeMay, USAF Source: www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/bomb/peopleevents/pandeAMEX61.html
The Lead Up to War • 1930s – Saw a rise in the power of the militarists. The central government slowly lost control over the Kwangtung Army. The Japanese public became caught up in the success of the military in Manchuria. • Massive economic stimulus was provided by investing in the production of arms. This caused Japan to emerge out of the Depression sooner than the USA. • Japanese adventurism in Manchuria (Manchukuo) in the early 1930s leads them to withdraw from the League of Nations in 1933.
Japanese troops in Manchuria circa 1932.
The Last Emperor In March of 1932, Pu-yi, the last emperor of Qing Dynasty China, was installed as the puppet ruler of his ancestral homeland of Manchuria, which was renamed Manchukuo by Imperial Japan. After the war, Pu-yi was captured by the Soviets and held as a political prisoner. He was turned over to the Chinese Communists in 1949. Under the Communists, he worked as a gardener and editor. He died during the height of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, in 1967. Pu-yi as the puppet ruler of Manchukuo.
Why Invade Manchuria? • This region of Northeast China is rich in natural resources. • By securing Manchuria, the Japanese would also limit Soviet expansion in the Far East, cutting them off from key railways and warm water ports. • The Manchurian Incident of 1931 was wholly manufactured by the Kwangtung Armywhen they blew up a section of railway track near Mukden and blamed its destruction on Chinese terrorists. • By 1932, Japanese marines had landed in Shanghai. Its air force proceeded to bomb the city for organizing boycotts against Japanese goods and harassing Japanese citizens.
Chinese-Americans react to Japanese aggression. NYC - 1932.
The Race War • It must be noted that Japanese aggression in East Asia closely resembled the way the Nazis fought against the Slavic populations of Eastern Europe. • In 1937, Japanese forces entered the city of Nanking and proceeded to slaughter over 250,000 Chinese civilians, many of them women and children. Tens of thousands of sexual crimes were also committed by Japanese soldiers during this six-week period. This event has been well documented and is referred to as The Rape of Nanking. • Later in the war, many American forces would refuse to take Japanese POWs, further escalating the cycle of violence, culminating in the atomic attacks of 1945.
A Japanese newspaper article from 1937 covering a gruesome competition between two Japanese officers in the city of Nanking. Much more graphic images of the atrocity exist, as its horrors are well documented, but I had no desire to show them here.
Why Attack America? • In 1935, Japan refused to accept caps to her naval power and left the London Conference triggering a naval arms race between England, America and Japan. • In 1937, the Marco Polo Bridge Incident opened up a war, on Japanese terms, against both the Nationalist and Communist forces across much of China. • The Japanese Navy formulated its “defending in the north and advancing to the south” policy to secure raw materials. • It was determined that US forces would have to be engaged at some point in the future. An attack on the American fleet moored at Pearl Harbor might catch the US off guard and allow the Japanese to negotiate from a position of strength.
The USS Shaw explodes during the Pearl Harbor attacks of December 7, 1941.
“A Date Which Will Live in Infamy.” • On December 7, 1941 the Japanese military attacked the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawai’i. At first glance the attack seemed to be successful, at second glance it should be seen as a hubristic act of awesome proportions. • Simultaneous attacks were carried out across the Pacific theater. Including attacks in Malaya, Hong Kong, the Philippines and the US held Guam and Wake islands. • By 1942, Japan was firmly in control of much of East and Southeast Asia. Japanese forces were also threatening to invade Australia and wrest India away from the British.
The USS Arizona following the attack on Pearl Harbor.
“The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor…was a strategic imbecility. One can search military history in vain for an operation more fatal to the aggressor. On a tactical level, the Pearl Harbor attack was wrongly concentrated on ships rather than permanent installations and oil tanks. On a strategic level it was idiotic. On the high political level it was disastrous.” - Samuel Eliot Morison, History of the United States Naval Operations in WWII. Vol. 3. p. 132.
The American Response • Following the attack on Pearl Harbor the full force of the US economy was retooled to fight the Axis Powers. • The US had broken Japanese naval codes by 1942. • On June 4, 1942 the Battle of Midway commenced. Japan lost four aircraft carriers the Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu. 332 planes had also been lost during the battle, as had a great number of skilled pilots. • In August 1942, the USMC landed at Guadalcanal,within six months America had taken control of the territory. The tide of the war had now begun to turn.
Competing Strategies • The US Military adopted a two-pronged strategy to defeat the Japanese. • One offensive would be largely land based and drive through New Guinea, up to the Philippines and onwards towards the home islands. This was the route preferred by General MacArthur of the USMC. • Admiral Nimitz, of the US Navy, supported an ‘island hopping’ drive through the Central Pacific. The idea here was to gain forward island bases at Saipan, Tinian and Guam that could be used to bomb Japanese cities with the newly designed B-29 bombers.
The Economic War • Senior Japanese leadership greatly underestimated the forces the Americans would be able to muster once they mobilized for total war. For example, from 1941-1945 the Americans produced five times as many aircraft as Japan. • Japan’s economy was simply too small and poorly supplied to compete with the Americans over the long haul. • In 1941, the United States had 78 times the amount of raw materials at her disposal than did the Japanese. • Japanese GDP increased by 2% from 1940 to 1942, while the GDP of the United States increased by 36% over the same period of time. The Japanese simply never stood a chance against the American economic juggernaut.
The Air War • Sustained US bombing of Japan began in late 1944. • At first, American bombers flew at high altitudes and chose targets for their military value. • USAF General Curtis LeMayreevaluated this strategy and decided to enact ‘saturation bombing’ campaigns against major population centers. • Planes designed to fly at high altitudes were ordered to fly low. Incendiary bombs were used to burn Japanese cities to the ground. • In one raid on Tokyo, 100,000 civilians were killed in a single evening. The firebombing of Tokyo was to be the deadliest bombing raid of the entire war.
Atomic War • One of the most controversial decisions of the entire war was the decision of Harry Truman to use nuclear weapons on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in an attempt to force the Japanese to surrender. • Even many of the scientists who had helped to design these weapons advised against their use in combat. • Over 200,000 Japanese died within a few months of the initial attacks. • Historians have made strong arguments on both sides of this debate. One side argues that the American forces would have suffered hundreds of thousands of casualties trying to take the Japanese home islands. The other camp argues that the war was all but won at this point in time.
Urakami Cathedral in Nagasaki following the second atomic attack of 1945.
Surrender • On August 14, 1945 the Japanese government convened an imperial conference, it was at this meeting that Emperor Hirohito finally spoke out and convinced his military advisors to ‘endure the unendurable’ and surrender to the Americans. • On August 15, the Japanese people heard the voice of their emperor for the first time when he broadcast his intention to bring the war to a close. • More than 500 high ranking military officers committed ritual suicide (seppuku) immediately following the surrender. • On September 2, the Japanese surrender was made official aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo harbor. • General Douglas MacArthur would oversee the running of Japan for the next five years. The only time that a foreign power has held that much influence in the running of Japan’s affairs.
Check for Understanding What were some factors that allowed the militarists to come to power in Japan? Why did the Japanese believe that an invasion of Manchuria was beneficial? Why did the Japanese think it would be a good idea to attack Pearl Harbor? How did racial attitudes help to shape the way the war was fought in the Pacific theater? What competing strategies were adopted by the US Navy and USMC? What factor made the defeat of Japan almost inevitable from the outset of the war? Do you believe the US was justified in its bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Why do you think the US allowed Hirohito to remain the Japanese sovereign?