By Adam Corson-Finnerty Submitted
NOTE: THIS IS POSTED IN ORDER TO ASSERT COPYRIGHT. SECTIONS WILL BE POSTED IN WIKIPEDIA SOON.
NOTE: THIS IS POSTED IN ORDER TO ASSERT COPYRIGHT. SECTIONS WILL BE POSTED IN WIKIPEDIA SOON.
Why Did the
Being a curious person, I decided to tackle this question for myself. The object was to fill one of the many holes in my understanding of modern history, and not because I thought the question had any particular relevance to the twenty-first century.
It came as a surprise, then, to come across historian Bruce Kuklick’s new book, Blind Oracles, and discover in his introduction this passage:
The [foreign policy] specialists of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s discounted the context that formed the background to
Kuklick argues that this was a fundamental misconception of the intellectuals who framed the terms of the Cold War. Ignoring
This historical period may seem quite ancient to modern Americans, but the Pacific Conflict is very much alive in the minds of current leaders in
It is with some trepidation that I introduce a paper on the background to the Pacific conflict that evolved into WWII. I can state at the outset that I have not undertaken the research to answer fully the question that I posed in my first sentence. My research focus has been on the Japanese view of the conflict, as seen through the eyes of some of the players. I have only taken a cursory look at what US players—like Woodrow Wilson and the two Presidents Roosevelt—thought was going on.
Since I do not read Japanese, I perhaps should have stayed close to home. Yet there are enough primary and secondary sources, especially biographies, to be able to scratch the surface. Even a little scratch takes off a lot of dead varnish.
Two People, Two Dates
Every year, when Americans wake up on December 7, they are reminded by broadcasters that this is “Pearl Harbor Day,” the day when
If the Japanese wished to pick a day to remember American aggression, they would likely choose
If we were to reduce the history of US-Japanese conflict from the contemporary Japanese viewpoint, we would start with Perry. Perry was unwelcome and unwanted. Had he arrived in anything less daunting, he would have been repulsed or taken prisoner. He knew that.
So here is the thumbnail version of the story: After Perry’s assault the Japanese modernized their country, assembled a strong army and navy, and attacked
During the 88 year period between Perry’s assault on Japan and the Japanese assault on the U.S. fleet, Japanese-American relations transmuted from mutual ignorance to mutual curiosity, then to mutual admiration, then estrangement, and finally to mutual hostility. As we explore the reasons for this trajectory it will be helpful to keep in mind the opening act in the drama: Perry’s aggressive entrance into Japanese territory.
Commodore Perry had already decided that a lofty and threatening tone should be taken with the Japanese. He signaled this by sending white flags to the Japanese negotiators, along with a personal letter. If his demands were not met, he told them that war would result, a war which they would certainly lose. Thus the flags might come in handy.
To the Western observer, Perry’s officially-sanctioned demands seem quite modest: the provision of aid for ships in distress, succor (rather than imprisonment) for shipwrecked sailors, the right to stop at selected Japanese ports to obtain supplies. Perry also pushed for permission to set up a coaling station, and to allow trading through one or more ports.
To the Japanese, these demands were a direct attack on a 200 year old policy that they felt had served them well. Since the Seclusion decrees of the 1630s,
In 1825 Aizawa Seishisai, an advisor to the Shogun, summarized
…[T]he West, where every country upholds the law of Jesus and attempts therewith to subdue other countries. Everywhere they go they set fire to shrines and temples, deceive and delude the people and then invade and seize the country. Their purpose is not realized until the ruler of the land is made a subject and the people of the land subservient. As they have gained momentum they have attempted to foist themselves on our
One should not go too far into this tale without mentioning Japanese arrogance. (Later we will discuss American arrogance.) I use the term arrogance rather than pride, because for many centuries the Japanese had seen themselves as the center of the world. The Japanese were aware that they had drawn from the more ancient traditions of the Chinese, and had at times even admired Korean scholars, whose learning was closer to the Chinese source, but when the Japanese compared themselves with the West the gap was insurmountable. It is very important to keep Japanese self-pride and arrogance in mind as we explore the period from 1853-1941. This attitude never quite goes away, and in some hearts quietly smolders, leaping to flame at the first opportunity.
To cite Aizawa on this subject:
From this widely-held view, Western acts of intrusion were not just annoying—they were arrogant, insulting, and ultimately humiliating. Humiliation was not something to be borne.
The Japanese were particularly offended—and threatened—by Christian evangelism. In the 16th and 17th centuries the proselytizers were Catholic—Jesuits, Franciscans, Augustinians—and they made earnest attempts to convert the local people, high and low. They achieved early success in
This gave a business opportunity to the Dutch, for whom evangelization was not a priority. The Dutch concentrated on trade—were, in fact, the leading trading nation of
This arrangement continued right up to the time of Perry. Under this policy, direct contact between Westerners and Japanese was almost non-existent. In fact, if any Dutch trader seemed to be developing too much knowledge of Japanese ways, he was sent packing. The Japanese would have closed even the Dutch trading enclave but for one thing: visiting captains were required to provide a written account of what had happened in the wider world since their last visit. This modest amount of “foreign intelligence” was considered useful and sufficient by the ruling authorities.
“Like Flies on a Bowl of Rice”
The Western nations were persistent in their effort to open “normal” relations with
In 1808, a British ship arrived in
Foreigners were becoming so annoying that the government issued orders to fire immediately upon any Western ship attempting to enter Japanese ports. In 1838, the American merchant ship Morrison arrived with seven Japanese sailors who had been rescued from a shipwreck. The captain thought that this act of mercy would earn a hearing. The Morrison tried to enter two different ports, but got the same response, a cannonade.
Then came shocking news from
The handwriting was on the wall. Western nations were buzzing around
That “someone” was supposed to be the Shogun. After all, shogun was the shortened form of Sei-I tai shogun, or barbarian-fighting generalissimo. For two centuries the Tokugawa line of shoguns had maintained peace and order in
In the 16th and 17th centuries, Japanese arms were the equal of others. Early firearms had been purchased and deployed by Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugowa line, in the civil war battle of Sekigahara (1600). His predecessor, Hideyoshi, had felt so powerful that he decided to invade
By 1840 many things had changed. The shogunal state was too weak to fight the barbarians. The historian Marius B. Jansen puts it well:
The long interval of peace in
If Commodore Perry had not forced the issue, some other Western power would have. The British certainly had the strength to undertake such a mission, but were quite content to allow the
Before the Perry mission, the
Perry decided not to make that mistake. He sailed into Edo harbor, demanded that negotiations take place there and then, arrogantly stated his demands and then sailed away, saying that he would return for a reply--with an even larger fleet. When he came back in February, 1854, the Japanese had decided to placate the Americans. American ships would be allowed to stop for supplies and coal in two harbors, shipwreck survivors would be treated humanely, and a slight opening was made for trade. The Commodore sailed away happy. The Japanese were furious.
Tokugawa Nariaki, the lord of
[T]he Americans who arrived recently… were arrogant and discourteous, their actions an outrage. Indeed, this was the greatest disgrace we have suffered since the dawn of our history.
In 1853, Nariaki and all of the 260 daimyo were consulted by the central government about what
What to Do?
For several decades prior to Perry, a critical question had been debated at the highest levels of Japanese government as well as among regional lords and their advisors: what to do about the militarily more powerful West? When Perry arrived, the Japanese still had not figured out the answer.
We have already heard from one school of thought, as exemplified by Nariaki’s advocacy of armed struggle. This school rallied around the slogan “revere the emperor, repel the foreigners” (sonno-joi). It was characterized by a violent rejection of all things Western.
A second school advocated a temporary compromise while studying Western methods to build
This group recommended that the central government be strengthened so that it could lead the drive toward modernization. They further held that “eastern ethics and western science” should be combined.
A third school of thought was far more embracing of the West. The “opening” of
It is worth noting these three schools of thought. Variations on them will be played over the next 90 years. In this paper I will focus on several key leaders who embody these differing opinions. One of them, Ishiwara Kanji, can be seen as heir to the combative Tokugawa Nariaki, lord of Mito. Two others, Yamagata Arimoto and Prince Konoe Fumimaro, can be characterized as followers of the middle road advocated by Ii Naosuke. The final figure, Prince Saionji Kinmochi, is the most liberal and “pro-Western” of the group, in the mold of Fukuzawa.
One might characterize the three views as Fight the West, Compete with the West, Join the West. All three views had their day in
The Meiji Revolution
In the 1860s,
The revolution was a complex affair, played out over more than a decade, and can be shown to have a multitude of personal, clan, and social ingredients. However, Perry’s “invasion” was a key factor in the instigation of this upheaval.
Commodore Perry was followed by the American diplomat Townsend Harris in 1856. Harris was there, he thought, to negotiate the details of the treaty that Perry had proposed. Foremost on his agenda was trade; indeed, the United States wanted to forge a treaty that would give it all the privileges that the Western powers had won through force in China: limited tariffs, removal of trade restrictions, extraterritoriality for U.S. citizens—the whole nine yards. The Shogunal state was in no rush to make such agreements and left Harris to cool his heels like many a previous envoy. Harris lamented that “no negotiations could be carried on with them unless the plenipotentiary was backed by a fleet, and offered them cannonballs for arguments.” 
Harris soon got his cannonballs.
The slogan “revere the emperor, expel the barbarians” can be thought of as the motto for the entire Meiji Revolution. The Meiji rebels wanted was to destroy the power of the Shogun and establish a stronger government under the leadership of the emperor. Then they would abrogate the treaties and repel the foreigners. They succeeded in their first goal, but
We will soon trace this evolution through the career of Yamagata Arimoto, the foremost military figure of the Meiji era. But here let us pause to cite the Charter Oath. This document was issued by the newly “restored” and heavily “advised” young Meiji emperor in April 1868. It was intended to be a statement of direction, and an appeal to hostile daimyo to join the new system:
- Deliberative councils shall be widely established and all matters decided by public discussion.
- All classes, high and low, shall unite in vigorously carrying out the administration of affairs of state.
- The common people, no less than the civil and military officials, shall each be allowed to pursue his own calling so that there may be no discontent.
- Evil customs of the past shall be broken off and everything based on the just laws of Nature.
- Knowledge shall be sought throughout the world so as to strengthen the foundations of imperial rule. 
The Charter Oath points toward the reforms that followed. These reforms will be covered in the section on
Yukichi Fukuzawa’s life (1835-1901) spanned the period when
Fukuzawa was an iconoclast in a time of conformity. In his autobiography, he tells of his early challenges to conventional thought. Told that divine retribution would follow any sign of disrespect to the gods, he pilfered a small paper charm on which a sacred name was written, and stepped on it when no one was looking. Nothing happened. So then, to put superstition to a stronger test, he dropped a charm into the privy! Again, no divine punishment followed. These two attitudes—independence of thought, and the willingness to experiment—were to become the hallmarks of his teaching.
Fukuzawa left his village at an early age to study Dutch in one of the few schools that were allowed to teach it. Soon after, he learned English. When the shogunal leaders decided to send a study mission to
Its immense success was due to the fact that it gave the Japanese public exactly the information about the West that it needed. … Seiyo Jijo described Western hospitals, schools and newspapers, museums, the taxation system, and other ordinary social institutions. It gave the Japanese public for the first time a picture of what the Western countries were like to live in.
While writing about the West proved profitable, it also was a very dangerous occupation. Many Japanese thought that scholars of the West were traitors, and as a result Fukuzawa lived most of his life in fear of assassination. Anti-Western feeling was so high that on his return voyage from America, when the Japanese captain of the ship showed his countrymen an umbrella that he had purchased in San Francisco, all agreed that he could never take it out in public for fear of being cut down in the street.
Due to his financial independence, Fukuzawa did not need to rely upon a wealthy patron or a government position. He opened his own school to teach Western knowledge and philosophy and started his own newspaper. Throughout the remainder of his life he continued to advocate acceptance—even embrace—of Western ideas and institutions. Yet his goal was always the same, to strengthen
The purpose of my entire [life’s] work has not only been to gather young men together, and give them the benefit of foreign books, but to open this “closed” country of ours and bring it wholly into the light of Western Civilization. For only thus may
Fukuzawa is certainly one of
The people of those two countries do not know how to go about reforming and making progress…. …[T]heir emotional attachment to ancient manners and customs has changed little for the past hundreds and thousands of years. …[O]
This comment seems all the more chilling in light of subsequent developments.
As Fukuzawa was Meiji
Yamagata’s father had inherited the rank of chugen, the lowest of twenty-three ranks among the lower category of direct vassals of the daimyo. … Although in the military organization of the han to which all ranks and duties were theoretically geared the chugen were trained to bear arms and serve as common soldiers, generations of unbroken peace had accorded them the role of handymen, minor clerks, or even janitors in the various offices of the han government. … Economically then members of the chugen were poor, often poorer than land-owing peasants. 
The peace of this era was thanks to the 200-year reign of the Tokugawa shoguns. Their method of control had been honed over time. Every daimyo—and there were 260 of them—was required to live every other year in their capital of
At age twenty
With many warriors with their bows and arrows
we will defeat
the impudent, ugly barbarians.
When we unsheathe our swords and kill them
they will suffer the force
of the divine wind from Isuzu shrine
and will be thrown into the deep sea
like bits of seaweed.
But arrows and swords were no match for the rifles and cannon of the westerners.
In the meantime, the lord of Choshu had taken a dramatic step. He empowered one of his vassals, Takasugi Shinsaku, to organize a new fighting force. This force would utilize both Western and Eastern arms and strategies, and would enlist any willing volunteer—regardless of rank or standing.
In the meantime, these new forces helped the Choshu during their open rebellion against the bakufu. By 1868 the combined Choshu-Satsuma forces had routed all major resistance, and
Within a year,
After a year abroad,
If boys enter grammar school at six, high school at thirteen and graduate at nineteen, after which, from their twentieth year, they spend a few years as soldiers, in the end all will become soldiers and no one will be without education. In due course, the nation will become a great civil and military university. 
One of the members of his faction was Katsura Taro, a young Choshu soldier who spent six years in
Two years later the government issued a regulation forbidding active or reserve soldiers from joining any political party or attending “any meeting where politics form the subject of address or deliberation.” Remarkably, this order also applied to police officers, teachers in public or private schools, all students, and apprentices! I cite this, not to begin a discussion of civil liberties in Meiji
The expectation of proper behavior was sanctified in an imperial edict of 1882, the “Precepts to Soldiers and Sailors.” This document was issued at
Yamagata and the other Meiji leaders recognized that the “secret” of western power did not lie in its advanced weaponry. Rather, it was the combination of economic development, education, centralized and efficient government, and a patriotic citizenry prepared to fight and die for the country. They learned from
To these men of high purpose, the emperor’s position as both head of state and as embodiment of the Japanese nation was of paramount importance. Their ideal government was to be top-down, not bottom-up. As Hackett observes, “He [Yamagata] conceived of government as master, not as servant, of the people; of bureaucracy as a servant of the state, not as representative of the people.” 
In 1888 and 1890, new laws were promulgated which structured government from the village level to the prefectural. At the top of this pyramid stood the Home Minister, who reported to the emperor. In this new system, the Home Minister could overrule the prefectural governor and prefectural assembly; the governor could overrule the town and village assemblies. This authoritarian system was designed to transmit orders down the line, not to transmit the wishes of the people up to the leaders. To
In 1889 a new constitution was proclaimed for
This arrangement may sound familiar to students of early English government. Actually, the new constitution was based upon the model that
Ito and Yamagata were the two leading figures of the Meiji era. While they differed on a variety of issues, they were both united in their vision of a nation led by the emperor, and a polity that carried out his will—without being subject to the whims of the masses.
Given these sentiments, it is surprising that the new constitution gave any power to the assembly. Indeed, some Meiji figures had argued that the assembly should be purely advisory, but Ito and the majority felt that the people needed some sense of participation, or they would not go along with the new system.
There is another part of the new system that needs to be mentioned. This was an extra-constitutional body that came to be called the genro. The term genro might be thought of as being something like a “council of elders.” It reflected a practice that began in the Meiji era and continued until the early 1930s. The Meiji emperor had been restored to power because of the actions of certain men. Not surprisingly, he came to rely upon these men for guidance. Ito and Yamagata were two such figures, and scholars generally agree that nine individuals can be counted as full members of this group. The last person to be invited by the emperor to serve as genro was Saionji Kinmochi, an important figure who will be discussed in the next section.
The genro had two important functions. First, they were asked to recommend who the emperor should appoint as prime minister. Second, they were to advise on foreign policy. All recommendations were to be made by consensus, and from the 1880s until the death of
The net effect was that an un-elected, un-appointed, and secretive group of men held enormous sway in the new government. The ability to designate the prime minister became the ability to directly influence the composition of the entire cabinet. This “informal” authority placed tremendous power in their hands. 
The cabinet also presided over the first election for the House of Representatives. On
Conflict over the budget began immediately. Not surprisingly, the House contained many figures who were not part of the Choshu-Satsuma group. Members of this “opposition” had promised the voters that they would reduce taxes.
It is easy to see how a “line of advantage” could in time become a new line of imperial sovereignty—which would call for a further line of advantage for its protection. Thus when
As we consider Japanese foreign policy, and the progression to the attack on
One more point should be made. Over time, the positions of Army Minister and Navy Minister came to depend upon the agreement of the ruling clique in each of the respective military services. If the Army or Navy wanted to, it could bring down the government by having its minister resign. This political power, plus the power of assassination and armed coup, gave the military increasing sway in the new system. By 1931, that power had become paramount.
Expansion and War, Part I
We can stop right here and give a simple explanation of how
All true enough, as far as simple explanations go. Yet if “expansionism” can explain wars, then why didn’t the
Ian Nish has written extensively on Japanese history and foreign policy. In his book, The Origins of the Russo-Japanese War, he notes that the Russians were considered the most skilled at plying the waters of Chinese diplomacy. In the late nineteenth century, Russian diplomats had “succeeded in convincing at least some of the potentates of the Middle Kingdom that
Yamagata and the other Meiji leaders watched
In the meantime, divisions within the Korean ruling family gave both
The Japanese achieved rapid victories over Chinese troops, driving them out of
When the Japanese and Chinese sat down to negotiate,
To the Japanese leaders, a gain in prestige was every bit as valuable as territory. The Meiji leaders had come to realize that there was an international pecking order. At the lowest end were outright colonies; slightly above them were countries like
Anyone who is the least bit Japanese must try to advance Japan from the third rank, where she now stands, to the second; and when she achieves the second rank, then to the first; and finally to the foremost position in the entire world. 
Japan’s emotions had gone full cycle: from cool determination before taking on the Chinese in war; through euphoria over victories in all aspects of the war combined with concealment of reverses; to a sense of humiliation that she could not withstand pressure from the three world bullies.
Army officers were also upset, enough so that
Japanese leaders and the Japanese public seemed to draw several lessons from the war and its conclusion. First, that investments in the army and navy were worthwhile, and even paid a handsome dividend. Second, that the West did not intend to “play fair” in the great imperialist game. After all,
A fourth lesson was that
John King Fairbank recounts a telling exchange between Chinese regional military leader Li Hung-chang and
Ito: Ten years ago I talked with you about reform. Why is it that up to now not a single thing has been changed or reformed?
Li: Affairs in my country have been so confined by tradition that I could not accomplish what I desired. … I am ashamed of having excessive wishes and lacking the power to fulfill them. 
In the war of 1905
Most historians, as well as contemporary observers, believe that
As a result of the negotiations,
The Japanese press and the Japanese people had not been made aware of
Despite the public’s immediate reaction, the gain in
“What wonderful people these Japanese are!” exclaimed President Roosevelt after the 1905 war. “They are quite as remarkable industrially as in warfare.” 
Expansion and War Part II
The Samoan islands were considered useful, located as they were in the south Pacific. But the
Queen Liliuokalani was not happy with some of the terms of the treaties made by her predecessors, nor was she comfortable with the political and economic dominance of the American sugar barons who controlled vast tracts of valuable Hawaiian land. In January, 1893, she attempted to create a new constitution by royal decree. The American elite conspired with the
Blood on the roadsides, blood in the fields, blood on the doorsteps, blood, blood, blood! The old, the weak, the young, the crippled—all are butchered without mercy…. Is there no nation wise enough, brave enough, and strong enough to restore peace in this bloodsmitten land?
President McKinley was no fan of war, nor of imperialism, and was not a great admirer of the Cuban insurgents, who were quite capable of their own atrocities. He resisted pressure from both the press and from Congress to declare war on
In short order, an American squadron sank the Spanish fleet in
There seemed to be general agreement that the Filipinos could not govern themselves, despite the existence of an organized rebel movement in the islands. Republicans and the yellow press called for annexation, Democrats railed against "imperialism," and President McKinley decided to pray. As he later told a group of fellow Methodists, "…I am not ashamed to tell you, gentlemen, that I went down on my knees and prayed Almighty God for light and guidance…." God answered his prayers by revealing to him that "there was nothing left to do but for us to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and to uplift and civilize and Christianize them…. And then I went to bed … and slept soundly."
Warren Zimmerman's popular book, First Great Triumph, chronicles this heady period of American expansionism through portraits of five contemporary leaders: Theodore Roosevelt, John Hay, naval strategist Captain Alfred T. Mahan, Elihu Root, and Senator Henry Cabot Lodge. If I were to parallel my approach to Japanese history but could pick only one figure for this period, it would have to be
As Assistant Secretary of the Navy,
One naval historian sums up the naval situation in 1901 as follows: A rising
By 1905, the President reported his satisfaction. He now had twenty-eight battleships at sea or under construction, along with twelve armored cruisers. Not only that, Roosevelt had supported a 1903 revolt in Panama (then part of Colombia) and got an agreement from the new government to build a canal that would link the two oceans. One day American ships would easily transfer from the
In 1896 the Filipinos had begun a major insurrection against the Spanish. By the time Commodore George Dewey had destroyed the Spanish fleet, the insurrectos had gained control of most of the country. Under their leader, Emilio Aguinaldo y Famy, brought from exile to the
By 1905, both
One year earlier, a British observer, Alfred Stead, had been so taken by
In the History of the world there has been no such wonderful development in so short a space of time as that of
Unfortunately many of his countrymen were not so diplomatically inclined, particularly the white population of
Japanese immigrants were far fewer in number, only 275,000 for the entire country in the period from the Civil War to 1924—as contrasted with over 30,000,000 European immigrants.
Japanese immigrants had been welcomed in
The series of insults began in 1905 with a unanimous resolution by both houses of the California Legislature that asked Congress to limit Japanese immigration. The resolution asserted that Japanese laborers "by reason of race habits… are undesirable," that the Japanese added nothing to the prosperity of the state, and that:
Now not less than five hundred [Japanese] each month [are] landed at the port of San Francisco [and] we cannot but regard with the greatest sense of danger and disaster, the prospect that the close of the war between Japan and Russia will surely bring to our shores hordes, to be counted only in thousands, of the discharged soldiers of the Japanese Army, who will crowd the State with immoral, intemperate, quarrelsome men, bound to labor for a pittance, and to subsist on a supply with which a white man can hardly sustain life.
The most blatant racism surrounded the agitation in
In 1906 the San Francisco School Board announced that Japanese school children would be removed from the white schools and transferred to the schools for Oriental children. The news quickly spread to
There had indeed been acts of lawless violence against Japanese in
Through the next several years agitation against the Japanese continued in
While this public stance may have helped candidate Wilson, it was not an area where President Wilson wished to be compromised. Like
It all starts with Kaiser Wilhelm II. In 1895 he had a vision, and he commissioned his court painter fill out his hasty sketch. He called it Die gelbe Gefahr!, the Yellow Peril! In the picture a Buddha figure rides upon a dragon, leaving devastation in its wake. Seven fair maidens in armor, representing the nations of
Then again, perhaps the Japanese menace could be used diplomatically. He wrote to his cousin Nicky, Czar of all the
This lively tale is well told in Barbara Tuchman's The Zimmerman Telegram. One hates to spoil the plot, but the Zimmerman Telegram was secretly sent in January, 1917. It was intercepted and decoded by the British. The telegram was sent by German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmerman to the German Ambassador to
To make Tuchman's long story short, the British released the telegram to the Americans just after the Germans began their U-boat offensive.
At least, that's how Tuchman relates the story, and she has done her research. What is most interesting in her tale—for our purposes—is her coverage of the growing fear of
In December 1906, just as the School Board crisis was blooming, Hearst's
In 1907, Spanish-American war hero Admiral Richmond Pearson Hobson wrote a two part article for the Hearst press, assuring his fellow Americans that Japan was "rushing forward with feverish haste stupendous preparations for war" and that once Japan conquered China, it would "command the military resources of the whole yellow race." It would then turn its attention to the seizure of the Pacific Slope.
In 1908, Kaiser Wilhelm gave several interviews in which he predicted war between the
Rumors, press speculation, and wild alarms only fed a mood of distrust on both sides. When to this was added actual government action, such as the School Board decision, and the Alien Land Act, harmonious relations with
One might have thought that the advent of WWI, with
The culmination of Anti-Japanese agitation came in 1924, when Congress passed a law that effectively excluded all Japanese immigration to the
Saionji Kinmochi (1849–1940)
As we consider Japanese responses to American expansionism and American racism, it will be useful to introduce Saionji Kinmochi, the foremost liberal of this era. Saionji came from one of the great noble families in
We should recall that the court had no real power at this time, so his court titles were honorific. The Tokugawa Shogun was in real command, and his officials in the bakufu made all decisions. When the Satsuma and Choshu clans rebelled against the Shogun, Saionji sided with the rebels, and urged the court to support their drive to “restore” the power of the Emperor.
The other half of the sonno joi slogan was, of course, to “expel the barbarians,” and presumably reject all things Western. Saionji had other ideas. In 1867, at age 18, he read Fukuzawa’s Seiyo Jijo and became fascinated with European culture. In 1870, at age 21, he obtained permission to study in
Saionji returned to
Thus by the time Saionji was 41, he had spent the majority of his adult life abroad. He was well-traveled, worldly, liberal, and his political future seemed assured. Even in “revolutionary”
Saionji was adept at court diplomacy as well as international diplomacy. He became active in politics, even heading a political party, the Seiyukai; served twice as Prime Minister; and in 1913 he was asked by the Emperor to join the genro. He was the last to be so recognized, and he continued as a key advisor to the Emperor until his death.
The reader may recall that Ito Hirobumi and Yamagata Aritomo were the leading figures in the Meiji government. Saionji was Ito’s protégé, and when Ito was assassinated in
Having established this admittedly simplistic contrast, I would like to now turn to the aftermath of the Sino-Japanese war and follow Saionji’s involvement in foreign policy, on through to 1905 and the Treaty of Portsmouth.
In 1895 he was appointed Foreign Minister, and was involved with the return of the
There is great insistence on ‘Japanism’ and ‘an aggressive fighting spirit’, but behind these are lies and greed. There will be no end to the misery which arose without warning from victory in the war, unless we develop adequate countermeasures. 
By 1903, as
It is obvious from history that a country whose politics develop in accordance with these [democratic] principles prosper whilst those who do not, decay. … All the civilized nations have followed the same difficult path…. I am sure that
...[T]o reach the ranks of the advanced nations, the people too must be composed and discreet. We will not win the respect and sympathy of other nations if we are hot headed and discourteous. … I am not worried about any general lack of patriotism, but am afraid of where an abundance of patriotism might lead us.
Our people have a big fight coming. … This war is a total war, but it is also a peaceful war where guns are not heard, a war of civilization, an economic war. 
Interestingly, the thrust of both the pamphlet and the speech are that the Japanese people needed to calm down and allow the government to manage foreign affairs. Ever the diplomat, and aware of the need for secrecy in negotiations, Saionji—like
Even so, after the very successful campaigns against
This is very different from the situation where a defeated nation sues for peace from a victor … and we must recognize the dangers in ignoring the wishes of the powers … [T]he slightest error of direction could bring
As it happened, many Seiyukai leaders had opposed the publication of this statement, and after the public riots in
2. If war broke out, the Army would attack in
5. If war with
Naturally, such a policy meant that more money would be needed for the Army and the Navy.
The Saionji cabinet made real progress in the field of diplomacy. The pact with
The rivalry between Saionji and Yamagata took on a new tone when Ito was assassinated.
Added to the mix was the 1911 revolution in China, dividing that land into warring factions and stirring the Japanese Army to dream of new opportunities for advance. Saionji was determined to resist both military expansion and military expansionism. He wanted to cut the military budget. However,
This conflict came to a head in the fall of 1912. Saionji’s Army Minister--with
Enraged mobs stormed the residences of Cabinet ministers, demolished pro-government newspaper plants, overturned and burned police boxes. After several people had been killed and widespread damage had been caused, military reinforcements were called out to quell the disturbances. 
The immediate crisis was resolved by Katsura’s resignation and the appointment of Admiral Yamamoto Gombei to head the cabinet. In
World War I
The outbreak of World War I provided a unique opportunity for Japanese expansionists. With
When the war ended,
With the European nations tied up in a war, the Japanese had the luxury of considering what policy to adopt with regard to
According to Hackett,
The advantages of
Meanwhile, Mongolia declared itself independent (1911) and with Russia’s backing negotiated a deal with the weakened Chinese that left Mongolia under nominal Chinese suzerainty but de facto Russian control.
The Japanese leadership group was in agreement on the desire to extend its concessions in
The list of demands was worked out in the Foreign Ministry, and not specifically vetted with the genro. In the end, Kato overreached himself by adding a set of “requests” that included a set of exclusive rights: China was to agree to take on Japanese “advisors” in government ministries; China was to allow joint Japanese-Chinese administration of the police force; Japanese churches and schools should be allowed to own land in China, and to proselytize; new railway construction rights were to be granted; China was to agree to purchase at least half of her armaments from Japan; and finally, China was not to make any further grants of rights to third powers. If these “requests” appear to the reader to add up to Japanese hegemony over
The Americans became even more convinced of
World War I had diverted the attention of the European powers, but that was not the case with the United States, still at peace, and inclined to welcome the developments of “young China,” which was, many thought, the product of American missionary and education work. This was particularly true of President Woodrow Wilson and his secretary of state William
Unfortunately, Saionji’s biographer has little to say about his subject’s views on the twenty-one demands. From 1912 until 1919, Saionji lived in a self-imposed exile in
For all of his wisdom,
The struggle to control
The Manchus took strong steps to make sure that
In order to preserve their identity as a racial group they closed their homeland to Chinese immigration and maintained
The struggle for control of
The Russians wanted back into
The Japanese military effort in WWI was very modest. In August 1914 the British had requested Japanese aid in defending its ships from German attack. The Japanese readily complied, providing escort service in the
Economically, the war proved a great boon.
If these factors were not enough to win
The November 1917 revolution in
January, 1919: the beginning of the Peace negotiations at
The Japanese were divided on the extent to which they could expect real gains from the Versailles Conference. Indeed, Baron Makino was convinced that
MacMillan says that the Japanese had three goals: to keep the
During the war,
The Chinese delegation to the conference was balanced between two competing governments, one based in
And then there was the racial equality clause.
The Racial Equality Clause
The Japanese government instructed its delegates “to go along with the general trend of the Conference” in most matters, following the lead of
To put it simply, the Japanese feared that the formation of a
The Japanese proposed the following language:
The equality of nations being a basic principle of the League of Nations, the High Contracting Parties agree that concerning the treatment and rights to be accorded to aliens in their territories, they will not discriminate, either in law or in fact, against any person or persons on account of his or their race or nationality.
Colonel House thought that this went a bit far, so the delegates brought out a second draft. This one concluded with “…they will accord them, as far as it lies in their legitimate powers, equal treatment and rights….”
House thought this was just fine. He felt certain that
However, the British quickly backed away from their initial acceptance, and the primary reason was the adamant objection of Prime Minister Billy Hughes of
Japanese representative Makino proposed that a racial equality clause be added to Article 21 of the draft, a Wilson-inspired article on freedom of religion. The new draft read as follows:
Equality of nations being a basic principle of the League of Nations, the High Contracting Parties agree to accord, as soon as possible, to all alien nationals of States members of the League, equal and just treatment in every respect, making no distinction, either in law or in fact, on account of their race or nationality.
Makino’s remarks are well worth noting here, if only because they seem so logical, mild, and fair to the modern ear. If we find ourselves resonating with his remarks, perhaps we can then stand in the shoes of the Japanese people in 1919, and imagine their reaction to the eventual rejection of this clause.
It is not necessary to dwell on the fact that racial and religious animosities have constituted a fruitful source of trouble and warfare among different peoples throughout history, often leading to deplorable excesses. … [T]he question of race prejudice is a very delicate and complicated matter, involving play of deep human passion and therefore requiring careful management. … This clause enunciates the principle of equality, and leaves the working out of it in the hands of the responsible leaders of the States members of the League…. This clause, in a way, may be regarded as an invitation to the governments and peoples concerned to examine the question more closely and seriously, and to devise some acceptable means to meet a deadlock which at present confronts different peoples.
… The future States members of the League, comprising all kinds of races, constitute a great family of nations. It is in a sense a world organization of insurance against aggression and war. If one member’s independence and political integrity is menaced by a third Power, a nation or nations suitably placed must be prepared to take up arms against the aggressor…. This means that a citizen of one nation must be ready to share the military expenditure for the common cause and, if need be, defend other peoples by his own person. Seeing these new duties arise before him as the result of his country’s entering the League, each national would like to feel and in fact demand that he should be placed on an equal footing with people he undertakes to defend even with his life. 
During March the Japanese made the rounds with British and American diplomats to push for their proposal. They found that their ostensible allies were quickly backpedaling. Prime Minister Hughes of
On April 11, the drafting commission met in plenary session. Woodrow Wilson chaired the meeting. The draft articles of the Covenant were approved, leaving only the preamble to review. Makino proposed, as a last-ditch effort, that this phrase be added to the preamble: “by the endorsement of the principle of equality of nations and just treatment of their nationals.”
Equality of nations being a basic principle of the League of Nations, the High Contracting Parties agree to accord, as soon as possible, to all alien nationals of States members of the League, equal and just treatment in every respect, making no distinction, either in law or in fact, on account of their race or nationality.
Makino spoke again about the principle of mutual defense, and that racial discrimination was incompatible with such an undertaking. He said that
If just and equal treatment is denied to certain nationals, it would have the significance of a certain reflection on their quality and status. Their faith in the justice and righteousness which are to be the guiding spirit of the future international intercourse between the Members of the League may be shaken, and such frame of mind, I am afraid, would be most detrimental to that harmony and cooperation, upon which foundation alone can the League now contemplated surely be built. 
I have dwelt upon this incident because the very details of the negotiations are rife with prejudice, disdain, and racial humiliation.
The period of the 1920s in
The smooth functioning of the Meiji system depended in part on the determination and political acumen of the emperor himself. His death laid bare the incipient weakness of the governing system, since whoever controlled the emperor ostensibly controlled
One reason that the period appears so liberal is that a very strong liberal clique surrounded the Emperor. The head of this group was Saionji Kinmochi. It included Admiral Kato Tomosaburo, Prime Minister Hara Takashi (1918-1921), diplomat Shidehara Kijuro, Versailles plenipotentiary Makino Nobuaki, and fellow genro Matsukata Masayoshi. With
Saionji might be described as a true Wilsonian. He was very much in favor of the vision that President laid out in his Fourteen Points. He believed in the idea of Progress, and felt that
When Saionji arrived in
…[I]l est du devoir des homes des toutes classes et de toutes races d’apporter leurs concours a la destruction de tous les elements—tel le militarism Prussien—qui sont susceptibles d’arreter ou seulement de suspender le progress de la civilization…. 
[Roughly: It is the duty of the people of all classes and all races to focus their energy on the destruction of all the elements, like Prussian-style militarism, which could halt or suspend the progress of civilization.]
Despite the rejection of the racial equality clause, and despite several subsequent insults to Japanese pride, Saionji held to the view that
In the past, when Ito and myself and others thought about
The Saionji group held complete control of the government from 1922 to 1928, and continued to influence policies and dominate the
Konoe Fumimaro (1891-1945)
While the Saionji group held sway, there was another trend in the 20s that is revealed in the early career of Prince Konoe Fumimaro. Kanoe had been born into a highly prestigious Japanese family, so lofty that Saionji addressed the young student as “your excellency” when he first met him. The Prince received a broad education, acquiring both German and English. He was particularly drawn to Socialist writings, and at age 23 translated and published Oscar Wilde’s The Soul of Man Under Socialism.
Kanoe’s father had been politically active, having organized the Anti-Russia Society in 1903. The father had been considered a potential candidate for Prime Minister, but unfortunately died in 1904. That left Kanoe with the title of Prince, plenty of social standing but not much money, and plenty of room for a mentor/father-figure. That mentor was Saionji. Even so, Konoe never fully embraced his mentor’s pro-Western attitudes.
Prince Konoe convinced Saionji to include him in the Japanese delegation to the
The peace that the Anglo-American leaders are urging on us amounts to no more than maintaining a status quo that suits their interests. … The true nature of the present conflict [WWI] is a struggle between the established powers and powers not yet established…. At an early stage,
Konoe asserted that the proposed
Should their policy prevail,
Apparently, Saionji had not seen the article, or had not taken it seriously. However, when the press picked up on it, he reprimanded Konoe. Saionji felt very strongly that
Once the conference was concluded, Konoe left the delegation and visited
It is interesting that Kanoe as traveler was very taken with Western society. He liked the informality of manners, the food, even the fact that one didn’t have to wear a kimono for a formal dinner and could leave shoes on all day. He thought the manners of the British aristocracy were very democratic in comparison to the Japanese nobility, where “…everything is bound by tradition, imperfection, and artificiality. I think they [the nobility] need reform from top to bottom.” 
Despite his outspokenness, Prince Konoe was destined to achieve the very heights of political life in
Prince Konoe went on to serve three times as
e Most Americans think of the period from
On the surface, it might appear that a new world order was now in place. The
As in all agreements, many underlying issues had not been addressed. Nevertheless, the system held together for ten years. The leadership of the
In 1930, the United States Congress passed the Hawley-Smoot Tariff bill. This raised tariffs even higher against all imports. Over 1,000 academic economists appealed to President Hoover to veto the bill. As one historian relates:
With prophetic vision, critics pointed out that the measure would reap a harvest of ill will, end a promising worldwide trend toward reasonable tariffs, stimulate retaliation, impede governmental debt collections, and worsen the depression. 
Historian Mark R. Peattie, whose biography of Ishiwara Kanji informs this study, notes the impact of the Depression on rural areas—the very areas from which the bulk of common soldiers and junior officers were drawn. Crop failures added to the misery. When famine struck in the Tohoku, the result was terrible:
Subjected to grinding poverty in the best of times, the life of the average rural family in Tohoku now became desperate. Whole families were driven to stripping bark from trees for food; children were forced to beg food in public places; and farmers were reduced to selling their daughters to
Peattie describes a "sense of outrage" among young officers. Those in power seemed to be doing nothing to help the common people—which in many cases meant their own families and their neighbors. As in
Ishiwara Kanji (1889-1949)
Ishiwara Kanji was an extremely bright, idealistic and iconoclastic officer in the Japanese Army. His father was a policeman, and the family was part of the Shonai samurai clan. Mark Peattie, who has written about Ishiwara’s career, feels that the Shonai link may be important in understanding Ishiwara’s radical perspective. This clan had backed the Shogun during the Meiji upheaval, and its members were subsequently shut out of government positions. A dissident spirit was said to have arisen among them, “restless, headstrong and uncompromising; generally against the ruling establishment, yet obsessively concerned with imperial loyalism in order to live down the stigma” of having backed the losing side. 
At age thirteen he was enrolled in a military prep school. He was subsequently accepted at the
Modern Americans might do well to think of the
The Japanese victories of 1894 and 1905 engendered great public respect for the Army, and within the Army it engendered a high self-regard as the keepers of the Japanese spirit. Japanese military theorists came to believe that officers and soldiers must be imbued with an attitude of reverence for the Emperor and the nation, and must be willing to sacrifice themselves for this high purpose. So far, this may not sound too radical. After all, patriotism is supposed to be the ideal motivator for all soldiers.
But the Japanese took this to an extreme level--to literally a suicidal level. Japanese soldiers were never to surrender. While dying in the battle was glorious, surrender, capture, withdrawal, or defeat were shameful. Army leaders believed that modern warfare demanded a supreme spirit of dedication on the part of the soldiers, since artillery could break massive troop movements into small units who still needed to carry the battle forward independently.
Military officers were supposed to embody and convey this spirit to the enlisted men. Therefore, officer training had to address both technical skills and spiritual formation. They were taught that they were uniquely qualified to embody and transmit the Yamato damashii, the Japanese spirit. The ideal officer must have the samurai spirit of bushido, and must believe that it was his duty to uphold and preserve the kokutai. Peattie takes a stab at defining kokutai, a slippery term that has enormous importance in understanding this period in Japanese history:
[Kokutai means] that collection of basic national characteristics which were seen as making Japan unique, if not superior, to all other nations. Chief among these were the sanctity and inviolability of the Imperial House, the moral virtues that bound the nation to the emperor, and the view of the nation as one family. 
It may seem that the concept of kokutai can be paralleled with a concept like “Americanism,” and therefore could be just as vague and bland as that term is in American parlance. However, it is possible for a broad term to become reified—made into something specific—and used as a political platform or a political weapon. Think of the use of the term “un-American” in the hands of Senator Joseph McCarthy.
In 1925 the Japanese legislature passed the Peace Preservation Law. This law was aimed at Communists and others on the left. It stipulated that that anyone who formed an organization “with the objective of altering the kokutai or the form of government or denying the system of private property” could be imprisoned for as much as ten years. Three years later it was amended to provide the death penalty for violators.
Ishiwara spent several years in various staff assignments and then was selected to study in
We may remember that
In 1919 Ishiwara had become converted to Nichiren Buddhism. Nichiren taught that a period of massive conflict would precede a golden era in which the truth of Buddhism would prevail.
Ishiwara thought that the period of world conflict was fast approaching. The chief antagonists in this conflict would be
It is difficult to understand such a hostile remark without recalling that the U.S. Congress had just passed an immigration law that excluded the Japanese. While the main impetus for the law was to restrict immigration from southern
Historian Izumi Hirobe views this incident as a turning point in Japan-U.S. relations:
Japan reacted vehemently to the bill because, in their eyes, the ban was a betrayal of trust. … Japan, which had chosen to cooperate with the Western Powers at the Washington Conference, was not given the immigration quota allowed all European countries. In
Ishiwara, like many Japanese officers, initially regarded the Chinese revolution with enthusiasm. His biographer recounts that when he heard of the upheaval in a remote Korean outpost, he took his small band of men to a nearby mountaintop and led them in three rounds of banzai for the Revolution. But he became disillusioned by the subsequent disarray in Chinese affairs, and developed the belief that
Ishiwara's apocalyptic understanding of history found a ready audience among fellow officers. He was assigned to the
The Kwantung Army in
Ishiwara was to play a crucial role in cementing the Kwantung Army’s role in
As the Army saw it, the “cowardly” Japanese government did not have the nerve to follow up on Komoto’s bold action. Instead it decided to cover up this rebellious act, forcing Komoto to retire. The Kwantung Army leadership seethed with resentment.
Ishiwara arrived at
Kwantung Army units moved to seize control of other Manchurian cities. Under Ishiwara, a true believer in the power of the airplane, seventy-five bombs were dropped on the city of
Ishiwara thought it most likely that he would be executed or at least dishonorably discharged for his role in the military takeover of
Ishiwara and his co-conspirators should have been arrested and court-martialed for violating the principle of Imperial government control of the military. The fact that they received medals, and a parade of honor to the palace, was not because the emperor and his government secretly supported this plot—but because Japanese politicians were deeply afraid of the military. Japan was a society in crisis, due in large part to the government’s inability to respond to the Depression, and while the government had suppressed left-wing movements responding to the crisis—it had done nothing to suppress the right wing. Fanatical right-wing cells in the Army and Navy were joined by nationalist civilians in a violent campaign to destroy the liberal, capitalist governing structure. The vision of a “Showa Restoration” was widely held in right wing circles. That is, an army-led revolution against the existing power structure, with the “restoration” of correct government under the symbolic leadership of the emperor.
Not the true leadership of the emperor—since Hirohito gave every evidence of opposing militarism, extreme nationalism, and military adventurism. In what might be called a violent game of “capture the flag,” various factions competed for seizure of the Imperial standard and control of the society.
Shortly after the “Manchurian Incident,” it was discovered that a young officer in the
Ishiwara is a very interesting figure through which to carry our story into the 1930s. In Western eyes he seems not only radical, not only fanatical, but practically delusional in his view of the world. Yet many of his views became the backbone of Japanese propaganda and public self-justification.
Ishiwara believed that
This glorious future included the military defeat of the Western powers and the supremacy of
Ishiwara had already figured it out.
The Navy had a different idea. Their leaders thought that the Army should simply hold
As Chief of Operations, Ishiwara’s task was to not only set out a strategy, but to figure out how to get there. The reality of
However, should the Chinese be so narrow-minded as to object to this scheme, “then
The Chinese people proved to be very narrow-minded. Both Nationalist and Communist Chinese refused to cooperate with
Saionji Loses Control
It will be remembered that Saionji had become the sole genro in 1924. A firm believer in the idea of a constitutional monarchy, he felt that the institution of the genro should die with him, and that the future appointment of Prime Minister should be a pro forma decision based upon election results. In foreign policy, he believed that
When the party of Tanaka Giichi won election in 1927, Saionji automatically recommended him for appointment, even though he worried about Tanaka’s nationalist foreign policy ideas. Tanaka put his ideas into play by beefing up the troop level in
Saionji immediately suspected Army involvement in the bombing that demolished Chang’s train car. He told Tanaka that “discipline must be enforced through strict punishment.” He also instructed Tanaka to inform the Emperor of the plot. Tanaka promised the Emperor that he would act promptly to punish the perpetrators, but when a full report on the matter was delivered to him, because of popular sentiment and Army pressure he took no action and had the report suppressed. Saionji and the Emperor brought down the Tanaka government, and appointed a new Prime Minister, Hamaguchi Yuko.
Hamaguchi pursued foreign policies more to Saionji’s liking, but did not feel strong enough to purge the Kwantung Army of its insubordinate officers. This failure to discipline the Army marks the beginning of the rapid demise of civilian control in the affairs of
Under Hamaguchi’s leadership, and with strong backing by Saionji and the Emperor, the Japanese government successfully concluded a new round of naval limitation agreements with the
Ishiwara and his co-conspirators were lionized by the public and awarded medals. Even so, when Kwantung Army commander, General Honjo, appeared before the Emperor at the end of his parade, the Emperor pointedly noted that there were rumors that the train track incident was the result of a plot by Army personnel. Was this true, he asked the embarrassed General? He was assured that it was not. The Emperor knew better, but there was little that he or Saionji could do about it.
The radical assault on the government continued. In 1935, General Nagata Tetsuzan, who had taken steps to foil a variety of plots, was hacked to death by Colonel Aizawa Saburo. Aizawa’s public trial became a circus of right-wing fulmination. This was followed by a major rebellion on
The plotters intended to force the Emperor to appoint a military government that would carry out a Showa Restoration. My readers will be surprised to learn that Ishiwara Kanji, instigator of the 1931 Manchurian Incident, leapt into action to defend the Emperor. Upon hearing of the rebellion, he headed for military headquarters:
Meeting War Minister Kawashima Yoshiyuki early on the morning of the 26th Ishiwara demanded proclamation of martial law to cope with the rebellion. To Vice Chief of Staff Sugiyama he urged that units be immediately pulled in from garrisons around
As the result of Ishiwara’s efforts, and the grim determination of the Emperor to resist the rebels, and the fact that the public did not rise up in their defense, the plotters surrendered. The Emperor was adamant that the perpetrators be punished, and in secret trials seventeen of the ringleaders were convicted and executed. Fifty received lesser sentences.
The February Incident was the culmination of a systematic attack on the liberal "Saionji group." Saionji and the men he placed around the Emperor—and the Emperor himself—were seen as out of step with a public opinion that increasingly supported the military. Saionji, now age 87, had repeatedly tried to withdraw from politics and cabinet formation. Members of his group, as well as the Emperor, urged him to stay involved.
When the February rebellion began, he was outside of
He was dissuaded from such an action, but his adamant stance, plus support from Ishiwara and other military leaders, finally won the day. The rebel troops returned to their barracks; their officers comforted by the hope for a public trail that would demonstrate their sincerity and vindicate their actions. The Emperor made sure such a trail never took place. The leaders were jailed and tried in secret.
The rebellion had been quashed, but the lesson was clear: the Japanese polity was hostage to the military. Saionji now believed that it would be impossible to purge the Army, and impossible to appoint as Prime Minister any figure who did not have the Army's backing. With this in mind, he brought forward the name of someone who both he and the Emperor had earlier rejected as being too close to the Army, and too right-wing in sympathies—Konoe Fumimaro.
Konoe, however, refused to serve. He felt that Saionji wanted to use him to control the Army, halt any attempts at reform, and continue a foreign policy with which he strongly disagreed. Saionji then turned to Hirota Koki, the Foreign Minister. Hirota was close to the military, close to Konoe, and was acceptable to the Army and Navy chiefs. It is interesting to cite U.S. Ambassador Joseph Grew on the appointment of Hirota. He cabled
Within a month, the new cabinet presented the Emperor with a drastically revised Imperial Defense Policy. To Saionji and the Emperor's dismay,
Thus, despite having a civilian at the front of the government, the Japanese military had taken control of the country. Saionji's biographer describes this denouement in terms that will be by now familiar:
Saionji, the enduring bastion of the theories of civilization and enlightenment, had changed little from the days when he… acted as
Saionji had stood still and history had moved around him. If Saionji had personified bunmei kaika (civilization through enlightenment), then the new bureaucrats and the military were the heirs to the philosophy of fukoku kyohei (rich country, strong military).
In June 1937, Prince Konoe Fumimaro became Prime Minister of Japan. This move was welcomed by the Army, the beleaguered Emperor, and the general populace. Saionji had recommended Konoe despite his hesitations, because he felt that the Prince might be able to keep the Army in check and protect the position of the Emperor. One month after he came into office, Japanese troops clashed with Chinese troops near
Prime Minister Konoe began to realize that he was riding the tiger's back. Much as he wished to contain the conflict, even considering personal diplomacy with Chiang, he and his cabinet feared that Japanese troops would not respect any peace agreement. He was also unsure that Chiang could control his own forces. In August, Chinese soldiers murdered two Japanese marines in
In this matter, the Chinese have contemptuously inflicted every sort of awful outrage upon Imperial
These incidents became the basis for a full-scale war against
Army commanders acted on their own initiative. Even the supreme Army command thought it had the right to take actions and inform the Prime Minister afterward. In December, 1937, the Shanghai Army decided to drive toward
Konoe's biographer reports that the seizure of Chiang's capital left "the entire nation… lightheaded over the victory." This was the apex of Japanese military success in
would recognize the Japanese puppet regime of China . Manchukuo
- Chiang would cease cooperating with the communist forces, and join
in combating communism. Japan would agree to continued Japanese occupation in certain critical areas. China would allow local government in China North Chinathat would facilitate "co-prosperity" between , Japan , and Manchukuo . China would pay reparations. China
And on and on, basically asking Chiang to accept
Frustrated, Konoe's government announced that it would no longer deal with Chiang, but would await the development of a new regime. Meanwhile, the Army and its right-wing allies pushed a national "mobilization" bill through the Diet. This allowed the central government to control all manpower and material, and to ignore the Diet in times of war. Konoe was in despair, and asked the Emperor to allow him to resign.
Army victories continued: Hsuchow, Hankow,
Adolph Hitler's Asian policy had first been based upon cooperation with the Chinese Nationalists. German experts advised the Chinese, German airplanes and arms were sent to bolster the government. However, tensions with the
As Hitler's plans for European conquest began to form, he decided that he should strengthen his ties with the true military power in
Stalin had his own plans for
Throughout the 1930s, the Japanese menace remained probably the dominant foreign-political reality on the
Kennan says that Stalin's foreign policy was to encourage Chinese, British, and American resistance to Japanese aggression, while also seeking alliances to protect himself against Hitler. But his most important aim was to make sure that he, Stalin, stayed in power. His paranoia about rivals was so severe that he practically destroyed the Army's officer corps through massive purges during the late 30s, at the very time that he faced enemies on both his eastern and western fronts.
Despite his purges, Stalin's army won a significant battle against the Japanese in 1939, a battle that may have changed the course of the war. Since 1931, the Japanese and the Soviets had engaged in more than 180 armed clashes in the northwest Manchuria-Mongolia region. These clashes culminated in a full-scale battle of Khalkin Gol (also known as Nomonhan), in which hundreds of tanks, airplanes, and nearly 100,000 soldiers were involved. This conflict started with small engagements in May, 1939, and culminated with Japanese withdrawal in mid-September. In the end, the Soviet Army under Marshal Zhukov forced the Japanese across the border, inflicting 17,000 casualties. Several Japanese battlefield officers committed suicide, and higher-ups were transferred or retired. This was a stunning loss for the Japanese Army. It dampened Army enthusiasm for "attacking north," (full-scale war with
The dangerous Asian situation was an important factor in Stalin's decision to agree to
The End Game
Within eight days of the Hitler-Stalin Pact,
Their mood quickly lifted. Hitler's stunning blitzkrieg had made him master of
It is fascinating to observe the diplomatic and military jockeying that occurred between August, 1939, and December, 1941. Four nations eyed each other warily: the
It will be recalled that Prince Konoe had resigned in 1939, discouraged by the
Konoe and Matsuoka based their foreign policy on a document that had been drawn up by the Army. Army theorists saw
With the fall of the French government, and the creation of the
The Germans followed through on their promise. In October, Ribbentrop proposed to Stalin the idea of a conference to reach a complete understanding about spheres of influence. The German Foreign Minister suggested that Foreign Minister Molotov come to
Kennan says that the Russians overplayed their hand. Believing that Hitler needed Russian neutrality in order to defeat
- German troops should be removed from
(Germans had obtained right of transit on their way to occupied Finland ) Norway should be regarded as within the Soviet sphere Bulgaria should allow Soviet naval bases near the Germany Bosporusand the Dardanelles should accept the idea of Soviet expansion to the south, all the way to the Germany Persian Gulf
These conditions were presented by Molotov, and later reinforced by communiqué from
The Japanese were informed that the German-Soviet talks had failed—but they were not told that their ally Hitler had decided to invade the
Matsuoka did not find this proposition very attractive. On his journey back through
Matsuoka knew that the Germans would not be pleased with this development; but then
But let us return to April, 1941. A triumphant Matsuoka returns to
There is only one problem with document. Each side believes that it represents the starting position of the other side, but in fact it has been drawn up by two American Maryknoll priests and two mid-level Japanese officials. Ambassador Nomura knows this, but he manages to give each government the idea that the other has already agreed to the draft as the basis for negotiation. Konoe is elated by this development, and begins to line up support for the idea of a summit conference in
Opposition to Konoe's diplomatic initiative begins at home. Matsuoka is furious that Konoe has offered concessions behind his back. He bitterly opposes this line, believing that
In the end, the formal leadership group, called the Imperial Headquarters-Cabinet Liaison Conference, agrees on the "southern" strategy. Nevertheless, it also agrees that German progress should be closely monitored. If Hitler is successful, then
The Japanese military machine is running on American oil. Over 80% of
Konoe made one more desperate attempt to avert war. He proposed a personal summit with
On September 6, the Imperial Conference adopted the policy that would result in the attack on
The minimum demands included a halt to the economic and oil embargoes, withdrawal of political and economic support for the Chinese Nationalist government, agreement to keep Western military forces in the Pacific at their current level, and non-interference in Japan's attempts to bring" peace" to China. In other words, to accept Japanese hegemony over
As with all Japanese policy, these tenants had been painstakingly worked through both the Army and Navy labyrinth of decision-makers and factional groups. The Imperial Conference meeting of September 6 would simply be the place where all parties, including Konoe, would nod their heads. The Emperor would "preside," perhaps ask a few questions, and largely remain silent as the "system of irresponsibility" led the Japanese people over a cliff.
Prior to the meeting, Konoe had briefed the Emperor on the policy. Alarmed, the Emperor asked what happened to the negotiations with
The next day the policy was formally proposed at the Imperial Conference. Hara Yoshimichi, the Privy Council President, observed that the plan seemed to put military action ahead of diplomacy. Standing in for the Emperor, he asked if that was the case. The Navy Minister made a reply along the lines that Konoe had stated in his private conference. Then there was silence. No other figure, including Konoe, attempted to answer the question.
The Emperor then stunned the gathering by speaking out. He stated that Hara's question was an important one, and that it was "regrettable" that none of the senior leaders had addressed it. He then read a verse that had been composed by the Emperor Meiji:
Throughout the world
Everywhere we are all brothers
Why then do the winds and waves rage so turbulently?
He stated that he had often reflected on this verse, which represented the Emperor Meiji's desire for peace, a desire that he shared. Stung by this unexpected rebuke, Navy Chief of Staff Nagano rose to defend the policy, continuing to pretend that this consensus document was not a decision to go to war.
Prime Minister Konoe made one last desperate attempt to avoid war. That very evening, he arranged a secret dinner conference with US Ambassador Joseph Grew. He told Grew that he was prepared to travel to meet
Ambassador Grew was impressed with Konoe's sincerity. He cabled back, urging his superiors to advise
Throughout September the Army and Navy continued to prepare for war. Konoe had hoped that the October deadline would not be observed. The Army and Navy leaders disabused him of this notion.
To yield to the American demand and withdraw their troops, he exploded, would wipe out all the fruits of the
At the close of this meeting, Konoe realized that he had lost the struggle with the military. He knew that many in the Navy were convinced that war with the
Konoe resigned on
It seems remarkable that the Japanese could summon the collective will to undertake such a bold move. Yet it is possible to see
In their hearts and their minds, both the Army and Navy leaders "knew" that this strategy would not work. Learning the lesson of World War I, the military had accepted that modern warfare was "total war," and that in total war the entire resources of each combatant would be thrown against the other, until one side was utterly defeated. They "knew" this, and yet they went into a war that pitted Japanese resources against those of the
Any account of the 1937-1941 "endgame" that solidified allies and opponents in World War II will of necessity reduce a very complex process to a set of vignettes about surprises and decisions, moves and counter-moves, at the elite level. After all, that is where "decisions" are made! Even so, it can also appear that many decisions are pre-ordained—whether by decisions already made, or the overwhelming weight of large social forces. Thus historian Marius Jansen observes that:
Japan had worked its way into a corner, and Japanese leaders were determined that war and possible defeat were preferable to accepting the role of a second-class power. It made no difference that they had worked themselves into this problem; retreat would be weakness, and that was unthinkable. 
Let me return to my original question: Why Did the
This paper has suggested many factors that contributed to the eventual conflict:
· A deep racism among Americans and their English-speaking allies which created an insurmountable barrier against the acceptance of the Japanese people as equals on both a personal level and on a political level;
· The imperial aggressiveness of the Western nations, including
· The Japanese decision to build an Army and Navy that were suitable for offensive operations, and then used to further
· The Meiji creation of a top-down state that depended for stability on a non-elected elite which surrounded the Emperor. This system was not able to adjust as old leaders died, and it was not finally able to control its own military;
There are other factors that can be seen as "surprises" on the world stage. The choices that
One of the biggest surprises of this era is that
History seems to be full of such surprises, often proceeding in directions that the most wisened observers could not have predicted. Even so, it is hard for me not to agree with Akira Iriye's observation at the conclusion of his excellent study, The Origins of the Second World War in Asia and the Pacific. He observes that Japanese leaders reacted to the
… [A]ll agreed that the continuation of the existing situation was intolerable. It would, as Tojo declared, relegate
There is every reason to believe that
My readers will want to know what happened to each of the main characters who I have used to tell this story.
Saionji Kinmochi died in November, 1940. For the last three years of his life, he had absented himself from decision-making. But until his death he continued to express in private his dismay at the military's hold on the country, and its subsequent turn from a pro-Anglo-American foreign policy. He despaired at seeing his protégé, Konoe, made into "a puppet of the right wing."  His only hope was that the institution of the Emperor would be retained, so that some vestige of authority would be present when
Prince Konoe Fumimaro took his own life in 1945, after learning that he would be tried as a war criminal.
Ishiwara Kanji died in 1949. His maverick idealism, and his penchant for being blunt had earned him a following among young officers, but a deep enmity from the Army leadership. In 1937 he had been transferred back to
Ishiwara was not tried as a war criminal. His biographer suggests that his opposition to Tojo, his public statements that Japan should quit
Haven't you ever heard of Perry? Don't you know anything about your country's history? … Tokugawa
 Blind Oracles: Intellectuals and War from Kennan to Kissinger, by Bruce Kuklick, Princeton University Press, 2006, page 13.
 My account of Perry’s expedition is taken from The Making of Modern Japan, by Marius B. Jansen, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press,
 “The New Proposals,” by Aizawa Seishisai, cited in Sources of Japanese Tradition, compiled by Ryusaku Tsunoda, Wm. Theodore de Bary, Donald Keane, Columbia University Press, New York, 1958. Page 601
 Ibid, pages 595-596
 The Clash: A History of
 The making of Modern Japan, op cit, page 68
 Ibid, page 270
 Ibid, page 93
 Cited in Ibid, page 281
 The making of Modern Japan, op cit, page 282
 “On De-Asianization,” by Fukuzawa Yukichi, March 16, 1885, in Meiji Japan Through Contemporary Sources, Volume Three, 1869-1894, compiled and published by the Centre For East Asian Cultural Studies, Tokyo, 1972. Page 129.
 Cited in The making of Modern
 Ibid, page 338
 The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa, revised translation by Eiichi Kiyooka, Schocken Books,
, 1972 (first published in 1899). Foreword, page x. New York
 Ibid, page 122
 Ibid, pages 246-247
 “on De-Asianization” op cit, pages 131-133
 Yamagata Arimoto in the Rise of Modern Japan, 1838-1922, by Roger F. Hackett, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1971. Page 3
 Poem cited in Yamagata Aritomo, ibid, page 19
 Ibid, page 30
 Ibid, page 43
 Ibid, pages 65-66
 Ibid, page 65
 Ibid, page 67
 Ibid, page 85
 Ibid, page 87
 The Making of Modern Japan, op cit, page 327
 Yamagata Aritomo, op cit, page 95
 The Making of Modern Japan, op cit, page 394
 Yamagata Aritomo, op cit, page 117
 I found the best description of the institution of the genro to be in The Emperor’s Adviser: Saionji Kinmochi and Pre-War Japanese Politics, by Lesley Connors, Croom Helm,
 Yamagata Aritomo, op cit, pages 132-133
 The Origins of the Russo-Japanese War, by Ian Nish, Longman,
 Ibid, page 8
 Yamagata Aritomo, op cit, page 161
 The making of Modern Japan, op cit, page 407
 Origins of the Russo-Japanese War, op cit, page 28
 Yamagata Aritomo, op cit, page 169
 The making of Modern Japan, op cit, page 442
 The Great Chinese Revolution, 1800-1895, by John King Fairbank, Harper & Row,
 Origins of the Russo-Japanese War, op cit, page 31
 Yamagata Aritomo, op cit, page 216
 The Making of Modern Japan, op cit, pages 448-449
 The Clash: A History of
 Ibid, page 50
 A Diplomatic History of the American People, Ninth Edition, by Thomas A. Bailey,
 Ibid, pages 428-435
 United States Public Law 103-150, passed
 Cited in Diplomatic History of the American People, op cit, page 454.
 Ibid, page 474
 Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of the Modern Navy, by Gordon Carpenter O'Gara,
 The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power, by Max Boot, Basic Books, 2002. His chapter on the Philippine War runs from 99-128. The casualty figures are given on page 125
 Japan By The Japanese: A Survey by its Highest Authorities, edited by Alfred Stead, Dodd, Mead, and Company,
, 1904. Pages vii-viii New York
 The First Great Triumph, op cit, page 470
 This account is taken from The Politics of Prejudice, by Roger Daniels,
 Ibid, page 27
 Ibid, page 28
 Cited in ibid, pages 38-39
 Cited in ibid, page 55
 The Zimmerman Telegram, by Barbara W. Tuchman, Ballantine Books,
 Ibid, page 5
 The Politics of Prejudice, op cit, page 69 Henry George was later to change his views on this subject.
 Ibid, page 70
 Ibid, page 71
 Ibid, page 61
 Ibid, page 76
 Ibid, page 111
 The Emperor’s Advisor: Saionji Kinmochi and Pre-War Japanese Politics, by Lesley Connors, Croom Helm,
 cited in Ibid, page 9
 Cited in Ibid, pages 14-16
 Ibid, page 22
 Yamagata Aritomo, op cit, page 235
 Ibid, page 236
 The Emperor’s Advisor, op cit, page 26
 Yamagata Aritomo, op cit, page 263
 The Clash: A History of
 Cited in Yamagata Aritomo, op cit, page 273-274
 This summary is drawn from The Great Chinese Revolution, op cit, pages 155-174
 The story of the twenty-one demands, and
 The Making of Modern China, op cit, page 516
 The Emperor’s Advisor, op cit, pages 54-56
 Cited in Yamagata Aritomo, op cit, page 284
 The Great Chinese Revolution, 1800-1985, op cit, pages 15-20.
 The United States and China, by John King Fairbank, Harvard University Press, revised edition, 1967, page 80.
 Ibid, page 306
 The Emperor’s Advisor, op cit, page 66
 Cited in
 The Diplomacy of Japan, 1894-1922, Volume III, First World War, Paris Peace Conference, Washington Conference, compiled by Dr. Morinosuke Kajima, Kajima Institute of International Peace, Tokyo, 1980, page 349
 Ibid, page 349
 Ibid, page 396
 Ibid, pages 396-397
 Ibid, pages 398-399
 Ibid, page 418
 “Taisho Democracy as the Pre-Stage for Japanese Militarism,” by Kato Shuichi, in Japan in Crisis: Essays on Taisho Democracy, Edited by Bernard S. Silberman and H.D. Harootunian, Princeton University Press, 1974, page 225
 The Emperor’s Adviser, op cit, page 69.
 Ibid, page 132
 This background on Prince Konoe is taken from Konoe Fumimaro: A Political Biography, by Yoshitake Oka, Translated by Shumpei Okamoto and Patricia Murray,
 Ibid, pages 11-12
 Ibid, page 13
 Ibid, page 15
 Ibid, page 17
 International Relations Between the Two World Wars, 1919-1939, by E.H. Carr, Harper
 Ibid, page 139
 A Diplomatic History of the American People, Ninth Edition, by Thomas A. Bailey, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1974, page 665
 The Clash: A History of
 Ishiwara Kanji and Japan's confrontation with the West, by
Mark R. Peattie. Princeton University Press,
 Ibid, page 24
 Ibid, page 5
 Making of Modern Japan, op cit, page 507
 Cited in Ishiwara Kanji, op cit, page 80
 Japanese Pride, American Prejudice: Modifying the Exclusion Clause of the 1924 Immigration Act, by Izumi Hirobe, Stanford University Press,
 Ibid, page 29-30
 Ibid, page 9-10
 Ishiwara Kanji, op cit, page 69
 The Making of Modern
 Ishiwara Kanji, op cit, page 128
 Ibid, page 139
 The Making of Modern
 Ishiwara Kanji, op cit, page 177
 Ibid, page 198
 Ibid, page 166
 Ibid, page 167
 The Making of Modern
 Ibid, page 597-599
 Ishiwara Kanji, op cit, page 234
 Cited in The Emperor’s Adviser, op cit, page 168
 Ibid, page 175
 Ibid, page 179
 Konoe Fumimaro, op cit, page 58
 Ibid, page 60
 Ibid, pages 67-68
 Soviet Foreign Policy, 1917-1941, by George F. Kennan, D. Van Nostrand Company,
 The Making of Modern Japan, op cit, pages 627-628. See also Nomonhan, by John Colvin, Quartet Books,
 Ibid, page 90
 Masao Maruyama, cited in Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan, by Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press,
 This account is taken from Konoe Fumimaro, op cit, pages 98-118
 Soviet Foreign Policy, op cit, pages 110-111
 Konoe Fumimaro, op cit, pages 119-123
 Racing the Enemy, op cit, pages 16-17
 Konoe Fumimaro, op cit, pages 139-140
 Cited in Ibid, page 156
 Making of Modern Japan, op cit, page 639
 Ibid, page 639
 The Rise and Fall of the Caucasian Race, A Political History of Racial Identity, by Bruce Baum, New York University Press, New York, 2006, page 166
 Origins of the Second World War in
 The Emperor's Advisor, op cit, page 201
 Ishiwara Kanji, op cit, pages 352-353