Japan: Rising Sun Notes

for The U.S. War Against Asia
by William P. Meyers

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Notes from The Rising Sun, The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945 by John Toland

Book Club Edition, Random House, New York, copyright 1970

After the failed coup attempt, called the 2/26 (1936) Incident, martial law was invoked and 17 Imperial Way rebels were executed. But at the same time to conciliate the military it was agreed that all war minister selections must have the prior approval of the heads of the arm. Under the Japanese cabinet system this meant that if the army leaders did not like a decision, the war minister could resign, the cabinet would fall, and a new cabinet could be formed only if the army approved of it. “It meant the voluntary abandonment of one of the last civilian controls over the affairs of state.” [43-44]

Kanji Ishihara now led the anti-expansionists in the military. “He had dreamed of a democratic Manchuria comprised of five nationalities, all living in harmony as well as providing a bulwark against Russian aggression. But this idealistic goal had degenerated into a determination by the Army leadership to use Manchuria as a base for a takeover of North China.” [44]

Ishihara argued that Japan should avoid war, and in particular simultaneous wars with China and Russia, instead focusing on industrial development of Japan and Manchuria. He knew that “influential radicals in the Kwantung Army were already organizing unauthorized forays into North China,” led by General Kenji Doihara, the “Lawrence of Manchuria.” He had encouraged Chinese warlords in five north China provinces to set up an autonomous government, then brought in 5000 Japanese troops. [45]

Ishihara feared war between Japan and China would result in a pro-Russian communist takeover of China. [46]

The Control Clique feared communism, and shared that fear with many top Japanese. China was in a state of near-anarchy, and they believed without Japanese intervention China would go communist. [47-48]

In July 1937 the Chinese communists agreed to stop revolutionary activities against Chiang’s government so that both armies could fight the Japanese. [51]

Prince Fumimaro Konoye was appointed Prime Minister in mid-1937.

The Marco Polo Bridge incident occurred on July 7, 1937. Chinese soldiers fired shots at Japanese troops near Peking. The Japanese counterattacked; a truce was arranged and broken. Toland suggests it was a communist plot, although no communist troops were known to be in the area. Tokyo officials ordered the Japanese commander to settle the affair locally, and explicitly forbid “expansionism.” But the Japanese Army General Staff argued that Chiang Kai-shek needed to be punished, and that ill-disciplined Chinese troops were a danger to stability in the area. So troop reinforcements were approved even by anti-expansionists like Ishihara and Konoye on July 11.  The Chinese general at the Marco Polo Bridge, Sung Chi-Yuen, meanwhile had “apologized for the entire incident. He promised “to punish the officers responsible, rigidly control any Red elements in his forces and withdraw troops from the area” [53-56]

On July 17 the Japanese government demanded China recognize the autonomous government of North China that Doihara had set up in 1936. This infuriated Chiang Kai-shek, who proclaimed “China’s sovereign rights cannot be sacrificed, even at the expense of war, and once war has begun there is no looking back.” At this point the Japanese government learned that general Sung was keeping the peace, and decided not to send more troops. But on July 25 at Langfang a skirmish began between Japanese and Chinese troops, then turned into a major confrontation. The Japanese then thought use of force would make Chiang negotiate, but instead it escalated into a full scale war.  On the whole it seems that the Chinese thought they could drive the Japanese out of north China, so they provoked the war. The Japanese considered it, at first, a punitive expedition, similar to the one against the Boxers that the U.S and Japan participated in together. [56-58]

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