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Remembered Today:

The Great War . . . Pathway To The Pacific War


Jack Marquardt

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At the onset of World War I, the Japanese Army was opposed to Japan entering the conflict on the Allied side, as its leaders felt the Central Powers would be victorious.  Many members of the Japanese cabinet also felt they owed a debt to Germany for the vital role it played in Japan’s rapid modernization and wished to remain neutral.  On the other hand, Foreign Minister Takaaki Kato and the leaders of the Imperial Navy saw the war as a means of expansion in China and the Pacific at Germany’s expense and urged that Japan join the Allies, using the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1902 as their rationale.  Kato and the Navy won out and on August 23, 1914, Japan declared war on Germany.

 

During the War, Japan was a major factor in clearing the German fleet from the Pacific and Indian Oceans and capturing German bases in China and the Pacific area, as well as sending a flotilla of destroyers to Europe to protect Allied shipping in the Mediterranean.  In spite of this, after the War Australia was awarded the largest share of Germany’s Asian colonies, including Kaiser-Wilhelmland and the Bismarck Archipelago in New Guinea, the Solomon Island group and the islands of Bougainville and Nauru.  Japan was given only a mandate over three small island chains, the Marshalls, Carolines and Marianas, as well as the German holdings on the Shantung Peninsula in China which included the naval base at Tsingtau. A few  years later, however, the United States forced Japan to return the Shantung territories to China.

 

Aside from some diplomatic and trade disputes with the United States during the early Meiji Era, Japan’s relations with America had been fairly amicable.  Unlike Germany, Great Britain and France, however, the United States had very little to do with Japan’s rapid modernization.  Even so, at the end of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, Japan had called upon American President Theodore Roosevelt to mediate the peace treaty with Russia.  Behind the scenes at that treaty session in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, American Secretary of State Taft and Prime Minister Taro of Japan signed an accord recognizing Japanese suzerainty in Korea and America’s in the Philippines, as well as approving the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1902.

 

Within a year, however, Japanese-American relations rapidly began to deteriorate, starting with the segregation of Japanese children in California schools in 1906 and the Alien Land Act seven years later that barred Japanese from owning land in that state or leasing land for more than three years.  Anti-Japanese feelings and the cry of “yellow peril” soon spread to other parts of the United States and continued throughout the early 20th Century.  One of the leading figures in this movement was Thomas Millard, a journalist and politician whose numerous anti-Japanese articles appeared in many American publications.  Millard covered the Russo-Japanese War as a reporter traveling with the Russian Army and during the First World War he ran a newspaper in Shanghai, the “China Press.”  Following the War, Millard served as secretary to Charles Crane of the American delegation at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 and was an unofficial advisor to the Chinese delegation.  In Paris, he lobbied successfully against Japan’s effort to include a racial equality clause in the peace treaty and urged the return of the Shantung area to China.  He further claimed that Britain, France and Japan had made a secret pact to allow Japan’s control over both the Shantung Peninsula and Manchuria.  Millard was also an advisor to the Chinese delegation at the nine-power arms limitation conference in Washington, D. C. during 1921 and 1922.  There his efforts regarding Shantung succeeded and Japan was forced to withdraw its troops from that area and return all the Shantung Peninsula to China.

 

The real slap in the face to Japan at that conference, however, was during the negotiations on the Naval Treaty in 1922 regarding the tonnage limitations to be imposed on the leading naval powers, particularly Great Britain, the United States and Japan.  While England and America were each allowed a total of 525,000 tons for battleships and 135,000 tons for aircraft carriers, Japan was only to have 315,000 and 81,000 tons in those categories.  There was also a provision in the treaty that Japan felt was aimed primarily at that nation . . . the section which called for no new naval bases in the Pacific, or the expansion of existing ones.  Even though all the nations finally signed the treaty, France, Italy and the United States all soon violated its limitations.  In 1934, Japan announced it would not renew its participation when the treaty expired in 1936 and would began a large-scale naval program that included several new aircraft carriers and the massive “Yamato-class” battleships . . . the largest warships in the world.  A year after the treaty expired, Japan invaded China and began strengthening its bases throughout the Pacific, all of which led to the United States, Great Britain and the Netherlands joining China (the "ABCD" powers) in an effort to block any further expansion in Asia on the part of Japan, with the U. S. imposing serious embargoes on goods to Japan . . . particularly oil and scrap metal.  It was, of course, obvious that the real force behind the ABCD threats was the large American fleet at Pearl Harbor, and it was there that the chain of events which began in 1918 would ultimately come to its fateful conclusion.     

        

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Fascinating Jack, thank you for posting this.

 

Pete.

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Yes, thanks. As one who is almost entirely ignorant of WW1 Japanese activity, I find your posts interesting and informative. And thought-provoking, too: I can't say I've ever really considered the background to Japan's engagement in WW2 beyond a general feeling of "they were ultra-militaristic and short of raw materials". I hadn't realised there had been so much antipathy so early in the US, for starters, though I'd always assumed the WW1 alliance was a bit of a paper agreement. 

 

Cheers, Pat

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Great post Jack.

 

Some insights into the '22 treaty touched on in your last post. Many thanks.

 

Regards

Dave

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