Chapter 6: Imperial Japan which has continued to challenge major powers with war

One major reason a newly emerging small nation like Japan to challenge huge Asian nation, China and a powerful global power, Russia, in Sino-Japanese War and Russo-Japanese War is Korea, which it wanted to gain independence; It wanted Korea to gain true independence from China and Russia. (p.157)

Since the end of Tokugawa Shogunate Era (the start of Meiji Era in 1868) Japan has been alarmed and vigilant about the Russia’s expansion into eastern Asia. Russia quickly expanded into Manchuria and Pacific coastal region, and it was just a question of time before they would be occupying Korea.  Clearly Japan would have a catastrophic existential threat if this were to happen, as Russia occupied Korea would be like a dagger ready to stab into the side of Japan’s stomach. Thus, Japan desired a neutral, modern, independent nation with strong military in the Korean peninsula. But for Qing China this was none of their concern, and they only cared about maintaining their dynastic suzerainty over Korea.  After the Opium War the pace of expansion of the Western Powers was becoming faster, but the ancient regime of China remained unalarmed and it was almost a certainty before China, Korea and Japan would become under suzerainty of Western Power.  (p.157)

In 1876 Korea signed the Treaty of Gangwha (Japan-Korea Treaty of Amity) which opened Korea to trade with Japan and end its isolationism from the rest of the world.  The treaty document clearly states “Korea is an independent nation on equal status as Japan and possess equal rights”; Japan was the first nation in history to recognize Korea as an independent nation.  But, this clearly angered the Qing regime as it considered Korea as subject tributary state of China, and for next twenty years until the end of Sino Japanese War Korea became a contentious issue between the two nations. (p.158)

It was this difference between Japan and China-Japan, a nation who was accepting modernization of the nation politically, industrially, and militarily with sensing the urgency to emancipate Asia from the inevitable encroachment and colonization from the Western nations and create a strong federation of three independent nations-Japan, Korea versus China- a nation full of hubris who was trying to dearly holding onto an ancient dynastic regime, who, out of hubris of China-centric condescending world view, especially towards Japan,  could not accept a new emerging world order with a upstart country like Japan at center; this  ultimately became the dynamic that incited the Sino Japanese War.   On August 1st, 1894 fighting began and Imperial Japanese Navy destroyed the far superior equipped Chinese Navy in battles in Yellow Sea on September 17th, 1984 and in February, l985 and China signed a peace treaty in Shimonoseki, Japan in April, 1895 which included stipulation that China will give up the suzerainty of Korea to accept the independence of Korea and give the control of Liaodong Peninsula in northern Korea and Taiwan, to Japan.  Chinese leader Yuen Shikai stated “The weakness of our military is not in its size but in its quality.  It was not the physical strength but the lack of training. Worst of all is the lack of unifying organization and lack of discipline”. For example at the battle of Pyongyang the forces of Japan were 12,000 soldiers versus China 15,000; the results were Japanese loss 80 versus Chinese losses more than 2000.   Also, the difference in the ‘esprit de corps’ was staggeringly different;  Japanese soldiers, as well as every citizen in Japan, fought with Japan’s existential threat and emancipation of Asia in mind, versus the Chinese who lacked any sense of unified national identity or nor any sense of  purpose for the war. This victory of Japan was welcomed in other parts of Asia as a victory of a small nation with strong sense of nationalism versus a large nation without any sense of sprit de corps or national identity; Emilio Aguinaldo, Philippines revolutionary in the late 1800s versus the US occupation, was said to be greatly inspired by Japan’s victory. The war reparations from China included 200 million Taels, which is about 3 times of Japan’s national tax revenue in 1893, which became precious capital base for the industrialization of Japan. (p.166)

6 days after the signing of the Shimonoseki Treaty in April, 1895, Russia, who was seeking a warm water port in the Yellow Sea, colluded with France and Germany to forced Japan to accept “Triple Intervention” which stated Japan must renounce the control of Liaodong Peninsula in North Korea as they deemed it to be a threat to stability in China and independence of Korea.  Japan at the time did not have the military or financial strength to oppose all these nations, thus accepted the “Triple Intervention”, but it became the motivation for further strengthening nationalism, industry and military within Japan.  China on the other hand, fell deeper into an abyss of anarchy after the “Triple Intervention”.  (p.167)

Underlying within the Triple Intervention were the interests of China as well as ulterior motives of the European powers.   Zhang Zhidong, a high ranking minister of late Qing dynasty, out of deep hatred for Japan advocated “giving profits to British, Russians, and Germans is better than trouble from the Japanese”; “if three nations are willing to cooperate then give Chinese territories to them”;”if Russia and Britain are willing to pressure the Japanese to renounce the Shimonoseki Treaty then give Russia the Xianjiang region and Tibet to Britain”.  The Triple Intervention, which was intended to be the foundation for peace in the Far East was nothing but a conspiracy of European nations to gain expansion deeper into China.  The ‘land grab’ of China intensified; China may have prevented a tiger from entering their compounds from the front entrance, but allowed wolves from the back door.   Europeans were outsmarting and outmaneuvering the Chinese; In 1896 Russia gained control of Eastern China Rail Road which connected from Siberia to Vladivostok, as well as Dalian and Port Arthur; Germany gained the control of Tsingtao; British gained Kowloon; French gained Hainan Island,  Guangzi, Hunan.   As the result, it was China that ultimately suffered most from the Triple Intervention.   China simply was not able to escape from its traditional hubris of China-Centric world vision and simply did not have diplomatic skills to maneuver in the modern world of diplomacy, unlike Japan who saw through the true nature of western diplomacy at its early stage of development and deftly avoided catastrophic diplomatic pitfalls.  (p.169)

In 1900 Boxer Rebellion occurred.   In most of Chinese text books, and most of progressive Japanese academics, this incident is described as “Patriotic movement to attempt to oust the imperial foreign powers.  Alliance of 8 imperialistic nations (Russia, Germany, France, Britain, Japan, US, Italy, Belgium, etc.-Austria, Holland, Spain, Swiss, Portugal) started the war of aggression” but, in reality the truth is quite different.  This incident was nothing but a indiscriminate local Chinese terrorism and killing of the Western and Japanese, foreigners and Christians by a band of militia and mystic religious zealots, with Empress Dowager Cixi exploiting such an uprise as a means to force out the imperial and Christian presence in China.  To this terror uprise the 8 country alliance fought for 55 days to protect their respect citizens within their legation inside of walled city of Peking and brought back order.  Some 20,000 foreigners, Christians, Chinese sympathizers were killed during the Boxer Rebellion which started in 1898.

In 1901 Qing regime agreed to pay reparation for the damages incurred but amongst the 8 allied nations demands for reparations by the Japanese, despite the number of casualties experienced, took considerate lenient posture towards the Qing regime and only requested modest sums for the reparation.  Furthermore, after the settlement the Chinese as well as foreign residents of the legation welcomed protection they received the well-disciplined Japanese military who adhered to strict  military codes and spirit of samurai chivalry “Bushido”, unlike the Chinese Boxers, and other imperialists, particularly the Russians and Germans, who committed thefts, aggressions and atrocities; Requests were even made to the Governing Administrator of the Legation, MacDonald from Britain,  by residents of the Russian district to be changed to be placed under the purview of Japanese military.   Only the Japanese opposed the bombardment of the Forbidden Palace, where the Imperial family resided; The Japanese requested the Germany artillery to halt their bombardment while they convinced the Palace Guards to surrender, and prevented from foreign forces to enter the Palace.  Thus, the Forbidden Palace was free from a total destruction and pilferage of Chinese national treasures (p. 174).

Russian expansion into Manchuria was an existential threat for Japan, as Japan perceived it was just a matter of time before they sought warm port access through Manchuria into the Yellow Sea and through Vladivostok on Sea of Japan since 1847.   In 1896 Russian acquired the rights to East China Rail Road  through the “Three Party Intervention”, and was connected to the Siberian Railroad in l903, thus had established a connection to a warm water port of Dalian and Liaodong Peninsula in the Yellow Sea. These access would allow Russia not only transport their army to Manchuria very quickly from western Russia, but to put a strangle hold on Japan from the surrounding seas as well, thus became an existential threat Japan. (p.177)

During the Sino Japanese War in 1894-96 pro-Japan faction within Korea attempted to execute a radical reform, the Gabo Reform, a reform modeled after Meiji Restoration which separated the national governance from the royal dynasty, established financial governance system, eradicated class system, and   established educational system.  After the Sino Japanese War, as the Japanese power presence in Korea weakened with the “Three Party Intervention”, gave rise to the Russian influence in the Korean Government, and with the influence of pro-Russia Queen Min the Gabo Reform ended.   But, pro-Russia Queem Min was allegedly assassinated by the Japanese and pro-Japan Korea military, and it appeared that Gabo Reform would continue, but pro-Russia coup occurred again and the ruling family took refuge in the Russian embassy to conduct the national governance from there, including all of the financial governance of Korea.  Thus, from this point Korea was indirectly controlled by Russia.  The pro-Russia Korea formerly changed its name to Great Korea Empire and the ruling family changed its title from ‘king’ to emperor.   Thus, Korea, which became an independent nation from China in 1895 as a result of Japanese victory in Sino-Japanese War, now relinquished its independence to Russia.  The growing influence of Russia in Korea which ultimately hardened the resolve of the Japanese against Russia. (p.178)

At the time of Russo Japanese War Russia had a land mass 60 times of Japan,  population 2.6 times of Japan, strongest army in the world and one of the top two strongest navy in the world, with steel production 30 times that of Japan. With the completion of Siberian Railroad connection to Korea expected in September of 1904, Japan was destined for a certain annihilation if they passively waited.  When the word reached Japan that Russia was trying to make Mongolia and Manchuria into its tributary state Russo Japanese War began February 9th of l904 with Japanese attacking  Russian fleet near Port Arthur.  The Russo Japanese which lasted until the peace treaty at Portsmouth in September 5th, 1905 included key land and naval battles, both won by the Japanese; The army battle of Mukden, which is regarded to be the largest land battle in the history with 340,000 Russian and 270,000 Japanese soldiers which concluded with Russian retreat to northern Manchuria, and the naval Battle of Tsushima when the smaller Japanese naval fleet with 38 boats  annihilated the largest naval fleet of the world, the Russian Baltic Fleet, with 40 ships, with 4545 Russian casualties versus 116 Japanese casualties. (p.181)

The Japanese victory over Russia with overwhelming numerical advantages in every aspect simply astonished the world, concomitantly began to raise alarms; Sun Yat-sen who was in Europe at the time of Japanese victory stated “ when the news of Admiral Togo’s  Japanese naval annihilated the Russian Fleet the Europeans cried as if their fathers and mothers have died. Even in Britain, an ally of Japan, people frowned their eye brows and deemed the victory by Japan was not for the benefit of the white race.  In another words, blood is thicker than water”.  The Rise of the Japan popularized the notion of “Yellow Peril”, term coined by Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany who already began to propose to Emperor Nikolai   of Russia to jointly establish eastern front base to fight the “Yellow Peril”.  The Western nations began to suspect Japan could eventually take control of China.( P. 185)

But, from Japan’s perspective, by defeating Russia it acquired, thus saved, Manchuria and Korea from Russian control, thus was able to secure its own sovereignty and independence.  The most alarmed nation about the Japan’s rise was the United States on the other side of Pacific.    (p.186)

Edward Harriman invested in the $5 million of Japanese war bonds issued by Government of Japan to finance the Russo Japanese War.  He had assumed that Japanese would sell him the rights to the Manchurian Railroad.  But, given the human sacrifices Japan made during the Russo Japanese War Japan declined to relinquish their control.  This angered Theodore Roosevelt who intervened the Portsmouth Peace Treaty as he construed it as violation of ‘Open Door Policy’, a fundamental challenge of foreign policy of the United States in the Far East.   Some historians, would view it as the event that triggered the American antipathy towards Japan which will ultimately lead to the Greater Asian War, the World War II.  In the “Hull Note” an ultimatum given to Japan on November 26th, l941, 11 days before the attack of Pearl Harbor, included demands regarding renouncement of Japanese acquisition of Liaodong Peninsula, rights to the Manchurian Railroad, rights Japan legally acquired through Portsmouth Peace Treaty in 1905 and from the Chinese regime, but renounced by China after the formation of Chinese Republic in 1911, which led to Manchurian Incident in 1931.  The US and China began to collaborate to oust Japan during this period. (p.186)

It is often said that World War II in Pacific was a reckless war that could have been avoided.  But, there were political, military, economic, and philosophical reasons for this war.  In the backdrop there was a one of the biggest political undercurrents of the 20th century; the resistance against the proliferation of communism.  Since the Meiji Restoration Japan modernized economically and militarily with the Russian expansionary threat in mind, but the victory in the Russo Japanese War brought an end to this threat.   However, after the Russian Communist Revolution in 1914 Japan was endangered by new Russian threat, the proliferation of Communism, and defense against it became the new defense objective of Japan.  In the backdrop of Manchurian Incident or the China Incident were the threats of global expansion of communism by the Communist International. It is evident that there were designs to turn China and Japan into communist states.   What Japan was seeking from China then was not subservience to Japan but mutual defense alliance this.  (p.187)

It was not until after the World War II when the Americans learned of the “anti-communism war” posture of Japan; it was during the Korean War America learned of the sense of responsibility Japan had embraced to defend Asia against the proliferation of communism. In May of l951 Douglas MacArthur testified at the Senate Committee of Foreign Relations “The biggest political error made by the US in respect to the Pacific over the past 100 years was the negligence in allowing the growth of communism within China” and “The motive for Japan to enter the war (World War II) was out of necessity of self-defense”. .  After the Russo Japanese War the national defense policy of Japan was to prepare for the war against Russia. In spite of this, making a strategic shift from defending against the northern aggression (the Russian encroachment) to make advances in the South, and  to enter into the Greater Asian War, clearly points to a conspiratorial strategy by the Communist International under the guidance of Stalin. (P. 188)

The “Hull Note”, the ultimatum presented to Japan by the US in November 26th, 1941 made three stipulations:  1) Japan must unconditionally retreat from China and French occupied Southeast Asia, 2) Japan must renounce all recognition of governing bodies of China except the Chungking Government, 3) Dissolve all alliances with Germany and Italy, the Axis nations.   Joseph Grew, US Ambassador to Japan (1932-1941) stated “the button for war has been pressed” after reading the Hull Note.   The person who composed the Hull Note was a White House staff Harry Dexter White, who later was revealed as a Soviet Spy; White wanted to engineer a conflict between Japan and the US as soon as possible to aid Russia, in order to remove the threat of Japan.  (p.189)

The antipathy between Japan and the US intensified from the Russo-Japanese War and into the Manchurian Incident.  The hostility became clearly evident after the China Incident, Axis membership, and the coup de grace was the Hull Note; As such was the flow of events leading towards the Gerater Asia War. (p. 190)

The US and Britain could not permit the establishment of ‘block economy’ in Asia, and this restrictive posture could be the cause of the World War II.   During the decade preceding the World War II the world was  struggling to come out the Great Depression, and the Britain and US became increasingly isolationist in trade by forming a cliquish ‘block economy’ where by nations within an empire or block will give trade priorities only to nations within their own block.   Japan needed to trade for its own survival, but as the US and UK blocks became restrictive about trades with Japan.  The tariff imposition that was decided at the l932 Ottawa Trade Agreements, which favored home producers first, empire producers second, and foreigners third, called ‘Imperial Preference’ –was another cause for Japan to seek to build a block economy in Asia with China, Korea and Asian nations. But, John Toland in his “The Rising sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945”  questions “While’ Monroe Doctrine’ can be justified in America, why do we demand ‘Open Door Policy’ in Asia?  Are there any difference between Japan entering Manchuria where lawlessness and bandits roam and America entering the Caribbean with military intervention?” . Akira Nakamura in his “Path Towards the Greater Asia War” also writes “America that demanded the “Open Market Policy” in respect to China had concomitantly closed the doors to the Japanese when it came to the markets in America.  It was inevitable for a ‘Have Not’ nation like Japan to challenge and destroy the frame work of international relations to seek a path to its own survival.    The Manchurian Incident occurred under such circumstances, and became the root cause of Greater East Asia War (World War II).  If America and Britain treated Japan as a nation unqualified to build an economic block of its own in Asia, then it was the US and Britain who advocated international cooperation yet cornered Japan into an economic collapse who are the culprits who created the primary causes for Greater Asia War. (p. 191)

In l937 Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe of Japan stated “The instability of the world can be defined by the conflicts between the nation who “Have” and those nations that “Do Not Have”, and voiced antagonism against Britain/America-centric world order and began to build the East Asia- centric Economic order.  The first such order Konoe tried to develop was an economic block with Japan, Manchuria and China at the center.   Although Japan on one hand was aiming to build an economic block, it did not restrict trade with nations in the south under the purview of UK.   Nevertheless, the pressures from UK and America intensified day by day eventually forcing the start of the Greater Asia War.  (p.192)

Although Japan’s military advances to the southern Asia in search of natural resources could be stated as the causes that created the conflict between Japanese imperialism and the US imperialism, Japanese expansion into southern Asia was never for the purpose of colonial expansion.   There never were any strategic design to take over these nations as colonies, but to the contrary, Japan aimed and aided emancipation of these colonies, and one by one actualized their independence.  (P.192)

In January, 1938 the US and Britain imposed export restriction on all airplane and airplane parts to Japan, and in December l939 all airplane fuel were restricted, followed by rare metal, non-ferrous metal, and other strategic materials were restricted step by step.  The intent of the US was well described by Henry Stimson, the Secretary of War in the statement “The best way to threaten Japan is to give nothing to Japan “.  The only remaining item was oil, and restriction of oil meant a declaration of war, implicitly.  Japan tried to seek alternative source of oil from the US by negotiating with the Netherland held Indonesia, but not only did the US oppose this, but sent 80 fighter planes to the region and started to develop bases for its defense in the French held Indochina. As predicted US restricted the exportation of oil to Japan and froze all of Japanese held assets in the US.  Japan offered to leave the Netherland held Indonesia if US would release the Japanese assets and end the oil exportation to Japan, but the US refused and presented Japan with the ultimatum in the form of “Hull Note”. No nation ever chooses to go to a war against a larger, more powerful and invincible opponent by choice.   Japan entered the war against the US not with any calculus of a victory, but out of the existential sense of desperation of survival; it can only be described as an act of desperation, as a cornered mouse will desperately bite back at the marauding cat. (p. 193)

Early Japanese stateman Takamori Saigo stated “Russia will eventually conquer Manchuria and Korea Peninsula, then come to Japan.  This would be the second wave of Mongol Conquest of Japan (first attempt was in 1275), and it will become a life or death predicament for Japan”;   This statement well describes the threat the Meiji Era Japanese felt about the Western encroachment into Asia and possible colonization of Japan.  (p. 195)

In September 6th, 1941, at a meeting of top cabinet meeting, prior to the attack of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the resolve of the Japan to engage in the war of survival was expressed in the statement by Admiral Osamu Nagano; “If we do not fight our nation will be regarded as a declining nation.  To engage in a war may also mean that we are a declining nation. But, a nation that did not fight will be regarded as a nation without a spirit.  As we fight to our last soldier we may find virtue in the realm of almost certain defeat and death.  We may not win the war, but if the spirit of Japan is sustained, then our posterior generation will have chances to reemerge, again and again.” (p.195)

The advocated spirits of Meiji Restoration-to modernize, to develop economically, to develop military, to develop industries, to develop freedom, democracy, individualism, etc.-were all aimed to enhance Japan’s national might and independence, self-defense capabilities, and in no way included any spirits to encroach or colonize other nations.  Japan is a “Have Not” nation, so as such would not challenge a “Have” nation in a war in order to avoid an economic stagnation, or to seek a scapegoat for nation’s internal problems. Japan fought its wars to defend its existential rights, all of its wars were fought with self-defense as the only inherent motive.  Japan always sought a path towards peaceful resolution until the final moments up to the start of the war. It is generally regarded since the Russo Japanese War that Japan replaced the Western nations as the aggressor nation who tried to take over China.   But, in reality it simply is not fair to label post-Meiji Restoration Japan as an aggressor nation.  Even during the China Incident years there was never a single day when Japan refused a peace dialogue with China.  (p.196)

In the l9th Century most of Asia was being colonized by the Western nations. It was Japan at that time who successfully executed the Meiji Restoration to enter the international community.  Needless say, the Meiji Restoration was a self-defense strategy against the encroachment of the Western nations. Furthermore, it was Japan who fought two large wars- the Sino Japanese War and Russo Japanese War- to maintain its independence,  to become a major world power during the period when Asia and Africa was almost completely colonized by Western nations, trying to help its neighboring countries China and Korea who were about to face similar fate. (p. 198)

Fusao Hayashi in his book “Affirmation of the Greater Asia War”, famous for coining a new phrase “100 Years East Asia War” to describe a historical perspective since the Meiji Restoration; Japan fought wars of self-preservation, self-defense amidst the history of world colonization by the Western nations,  or stated otherwise, revolted against the 500 years of history since the beginning of Age of Explorations.   US was keenly alerted by the emergence of this ‘disrupter’ of the ‘white man’s order’; Thus, in the Washington Naval Conference 1921 was a blatant act to suppress and contain the rising power of Japan as if to strike the nail that stood out. From this point, Japan sought to break with subservience to the Britain-America centric order and start a new Asia centric order to establish the framework for new Asiatic peace and stability.  This clearly not only redefines Greater East Asia War  beyond just a war of self-preservation and self-defense, but a fundamental challenge to the prevailing world order. In another words, it was a war of emancipation and independence of Asia.  (p. 199)

In retrospect, Japan who was victorious at the Russo Japanese War, gave courage to Asia, East Asia, Scandinavia, Middle East, who up to that point suffered under Western colonial dominations.  Even though Japan was defeated in the Greater Japanese War (World War II), after the war overwhelming number of nations of Asia and Africa gained their independence.  This was an unthinkable outcome of history before the war.   In another words, even though Japan was defeated in its war of self-preservation, self-defense and Asian emancipation, it did destroy the world order dictated by the Western Powers.   When Singapore, the crown jewel of British Colonies in Asia, fell to Japan, Charles De Gaulle stated “The Age of White Imperialism, Western Colonization had ended”.   The destruction of Western colonial order which lasted for more than 500 years, ended with one strike by Japan.  This astounded the Asians, who up to that point reified white men as demi-gods, when they were ushered out by another Asian, concomitantly gave them an overwhelming rise of courage.   After the defeat of the war the British, Americans, French returned to try to assert the previous order in teir territoriew, but the former colonial subjects have changed.  They have embraced a proud sense of nationalism, and were no longer willing to be subservient to the former colonizers.  Almost all of global colonies have disappeared since. (p.199)

The former Prime Minister of Thailand Kukrit Pramoj stated “Thanks to Japan all of Asian nations have gained their independence.   Mother of Asia, called Japan, died of difficult birth of these babies, but children who were born are now all  healthy and growing.”,” To whom do we credit for nations of Southeast Asia to be able to speak with the nations like the US in equal terms?  We owe it to the sacrificing, ascetic mother nation of Japan. “(p. 200)