Translated from http://www.geocities.jp/machi0822jp/daitoa.htm
The other day, I watched the rerun of “At That Time, History Moved” on NHK. According to the show, right before the Great East Asia War started, the Japanese government had deciphered America’s secret codes! In other words, the Japanese government had a clear understanding of the international situation at the time. Nonetheless they were unable to prevent the submission of the Hull Note…. (Note: The Hull Note signified America’s readiness to immediately enter into war with Japan. Prior to that America had predicted the need for three months to prepare for war with Japan, and had presented Japan with generous offers in an ploy to buy time. If this proposal had been presented to Japan instead of the Hull Note, Japan would not have chosen to go to war with America, and America’s calculation to draw Japan into World War Two would not have become a reality.)
At the time, British Prime Minister Churchill had no choice but to draw America into the war. If America had not entered the war at an early stage, Britain would surely have been defeated by Germany, and the Nazi’s would have taken complete control of Europe. That would have meant the defeat of democracy itself.
Therefore, from the larger perspective of history, at that time (right around the outbreak of World War II), Japan already had no way of avoiding a war with the United States, and in a way, Japan became a scapegoat in the attempt to preserve democracy throughout the world.
So, at what point in time would Japan have been able to take action to avoid war with the United States?
If Japan had not joined the axis by entering into the Tripartite Defense Pact with Germany and Italy, perhaps it would have been able to avoid war with the United States. If Japan had made clear its desire to cooperate with the Anglo-Saxon powers, there would be no reason for them to go to war with the United States.
Furthermore, it’s commonly held that after that, the navy’s Big Three, Yonai Mitsumasa, Yamamoto Isoroku, and Inoue Shigeyoshi, prevented the conclusion of the Tripartite Military Pact with Germany and Italy, but after they left the navy, their successors accepted it. However, at the time, the Tripartite Pact had overwhelming popular support among people of all political persuasions. (Widespread popular support for the war began when the Asahi Newspaper, which had previously been anti-war, changed their stance and supported the Manchurian Incident in the sixth year of Showa.)
So why did the Japanese people want to join the axis powers? Looking back now, it’s clear that it was because they saw no other choice for Japan.
At the time, Japanese diplomacy could have gone in one of four directions:
1) Throw away their pride, cozying up to the Anglo-Saxon powers.
2) Maintain their pride, cutting ties with the Anglo-Saxon powers, and joining forces with the rising nation of Germany
3) Risk being isolated on the world stage, exerting power throughout East Asia and attempting to become self-sufficient and independent (the Big Japan doctrine)
4) Relinquishing all concessions in East Asia and returning to Japan’s original borders (the land belonging to Japan before the Russo-Japanese war) (the Small Japan doctrine)
Looking back after the fact, option 1 would have been most rational, but at the time Japan could simply not tolerate the despotic and tyrannical ways of the Anglo-Saxons. After World War I the Anglo-Saxons engaged in managed trade, and practically shut Japan, which had almost no colonies, out of the global market. Furthermore at the time (1920’s onward), Japan’s relationship with America was already worsening, and it would have been extremely difficult to try to repair that relationship.
3 is the option that Ishihara Kanji ended up turning into a reality. He did this by building Manchukuo. According to Ishihara’s thinking, Japan could build a country for the five Asian races to live in harmony in Manchuria, which was not under Chinese influence, creating a barrier against the Soviet Union. Japan and Manchukuo could carry out peaceful trade, and the countries of Asia which had been shut out of the world market by the managed trade policies could live in symbiotic cooperation.
Ishihara’s idea came from the same thinking as Matsuoka Yosuke’s statement that Manchuria and Mongolia were Japan’s lifeline. Proponents of option 4, the Small Japan doctrine, have been harshly critical of this way of thinking (especially the left wing, with their talk of Japan’s “aggression” in East Asia), but are only able to be so now, after the war, when Japan has become economically prosperous. However, when considering the global situation at the time, Ishihara’s ideas were quite logical. (For more, read Reassessing Ishihara Kanji.)
According to Ishihara’s thought, rather than joining forces with the West, which could not be trusted, it would be better to create an independent economy within Asia. If Manchukuo had only been accepted by the League of Nations (this was the greatest flaw in Ishihara’s thinking), I think that would have been possible.
The only reason Japan was able to become economically prosperous after the war was because free trade was guaranteed by GATT, they were able to import natural resources cheaply, and they had a market to which they could export goods freely. Isn’t it a bit extreme, from our current position, to criticize the actions of the Japanese people, who were suffering under the harsh global trade realities of the time, as mere “aggression”?(1)
Of course, Japan’s errors during the second Sino-Japanese war deserve to be denoucned. It was a huge mistake to move beyond Manchukuo and attempt to infringe on Chinese sovereignty.(2) In the end, that actually completely contradicted Ishihara’s original idea. (However, as MacArthur, who experienced the Korean War, said, when Japan attempted to take control of Korea for purposes of self-defense, they needed to have some sort of strategy for dealing with China, which would inevitably attempt to intervene. In that case, it was perhaps impossible for Japan to extend military influence into Manchuria without being forced to go even further.)
In the end, Japan was like a young girl caught between option 1: to marry the apparently vile, showy, selfish Anglo-Saxons; option 2: to marry the attractive bad-boy underdog Germany; option 3: to share the fortune of the nearby patron Manchuria (or to steal it, depending on your perspective); and option 4: to stay single despite economic hardships (the Small Japan doctrine). Japan attempted to choose option 3, but this incurred the ire of the Anglo-Saxons, so they were left with no choice but to pick option 2.
Thus, I think that no matter how hard the government or Yonai Mitsumasa had tried, they wouldn’t have been able to prevent the conclusion of the Tripartite Pact. The Japanese people implicitly understood the global situation in which they were stuck, and had no choice but to decide to join forces with Germany through a process of elimination.
History has shown that it was a mistake for Japan to join forces with Germany and Italy. The Anglo-Saxon powers, which they mistook for a showy, vile, selfish man, would have served it better. The people’s choice was wrong. But there was no way the Japanese people could have predicted that their choice would lead to horrors like the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Battle of Okinawa. (The same is true of Japan’s leaders as well…. In 1925 Japan had a regular election, so it’s fair to say that the Japanese government’s choice of option 3 was supported by at least all of the young men of Japan. After the war, it’s generally assumed that a select group of government and military leaders were to blame for the war with the U.S. and the Japanese people were victims, but that’s based on the Marxist and Mito Komon doctrines claiming that the workers and the people are all inherently good and innocent. Since there were such vast civilian casualties in the Great East Asia War, it’s understandable to argue, from an emotional perspective, that the people were victims of the war. But from a cool-headed, rational perspective, Japan was a democratic country before the start of the war, and the rise of the military too was the choice of a population sick of the superficial democracy of the time. Ergo, Shiba’s view of history that the Great East Asia War was the responsibility of the entire Japanese population is accurate.(3) In fact, I think it’s strange that Germany places all the blame for the war on the Nazis and claims that the people were innocent with no compunction.)
The theory that Japan’s only chance to join forces with the Anglo-Saxons was when the American Railroad Baron Harriman entered into the management of the Manchurian Railway after the Russo-Japanese war. At that time Inoue Kaoru and the other Senior Statesmen accepted Harriman’s proposal. Inoue and the others said that with Japan’s inferior capital power, management of the Manchurian Railway would be impossible, so it would be best to sell it to the Americans, who, upon entering into Manchuria, would also provide a barrier against the Soviet Union.
However, Komura Jutaro crushed Inoue’s proposal. Jutaro had a good idea of the finances needed to manage the Manchurian Railway, and he thought it would be a terrible thing to sell Manchuria, which Japan had finally acquired after sacrificing tens of thousands of heroic spirits in the war, to the Americans. Komura’s thinking was common sense at the time, and the vast majority of Japanese people at the time felt the same way. (It was the people who had set fire to the conditions of the Portsmouth Treaty. If they heard that the rights to their hard-won prize of Manchuria had been sold over to the Americans, they would have been outraged, especially the Communist Party.)
If Japan had accepted Harriman’s proposal and handed control of the Manchurian Railway over to the Americans, history most likely would have taken a very different course. History textbooks tell how after the Russo-Japanese war, anti-Japanese movements were carried out in the United States. However, if American had taken over the Manchurian Railway and Japan had devoted itself to peaceful relations with Manchuria without attempting to invade the Chinese mainland (Manchuria was “no-man’s land” at the time, and no country had political rule over it, so it’s possible that America itself would have built its own peaceable Manchukuo), there would be no threat from the Soviet Union, and Japan could have become a member of the League of Nations.
If Japan had maintained a good relationship with America, there’s a high chance that the Security Treaty Between The United States And Japan would have been signed then. (At the time, Britain was actually seeking a way to form a tripartite alliance between Britain, the United States, and Japan.) Before the first world war it was thought that alliances and ententes could be a key to international peace, and the Britain-Japan alliance was still intact. That may have drawn Japan into World War I, but at least there would likely have been no fighting on Japanese soil.
Thinking about it this way, I ultimately agree with the theory that refusal of Harriman’s proposal after the Russo-Japanese war was the main culprit which worsened Japanese-American relations, encouraged Japan’s incursion onto the continent, and brought about the onset of the Great East Asia War. It puzzles me to no end that Komura Jutaro, who rejected Harriman’s proposal, is praised as a historical figure. Judging from a historical perspective, it was the Senior Statesmen, the ones who had avoided a shower of bullets and carried out the Meiji Restoration, who could see what was going on.
(1) What he says about post-war Japan is very true. Basically, by controlling trade, the winners of the World Wars had complete say in whether countries prospered or, um, languished in misery. Japan wasn’t successful just because they are a hard-working and industrious race, but also because Amerika gave them all the necessary tools and finances. Likewise, countries that have issues aren’t just racially inferior. But I’m pretty sure everyone knows that, right?
(2) The word I translated as “error” also has connotations of “fault” or “blame”; the word I translated as “mistake” could also be translated as “failure”. I hate it when people talk about “mistakes” in war. I mean, I understand that war is about strategy, and making a prediction that turns out to be wrong or using unsuccessful strategies could be referred to as “making mistakes,” but that’s not ALL war is. Calling something a “mistake” only looks at the negative consequences for the person who made the mistake, not the person they harmed by doing so. I mean, if I punched someone in the face, that might be a bad idea, because they would punch me back, and it would hurt, in which case I would say, “punching that person in the face was a mistake.” But ignoring the consequences for me, one could say that punching someone in the face is a bad thing to do anyway, because it hurts the person I punched, whether or not they punch me back. See, I’m not a moral relativist!
(3) Actually, I’m pretty sure women weren’t allowed to vote, so maybe the war wasn’t their fault. I’m kidding, of course. They could have just punched their husbands in the face and said “vote for who I tell you to, bitch!” Because everyone knows women are all-powerful. I’m being facetious, of course.
Random: Apparently calling it the “Great East Asia War” is very controversial, because there was supposedly no Great East Asia War, just the China war and the Pacific war, or something? I don’t really understand why, but anyway, you’re not supposed to call it the Great East Asia War. Anyway, now I feel really bad for Komura Jutaro, along with Matsuoka Yosuke, because I always feel bad for people who accidentally do stupid things and wreck everything without meaning to, because I do stupid things and wreck everything all the time, and now I’m feeling really shitty about that, so no more about wars today, I have my much more trivial problems to worry about.