Japanese Foreign Policy WW2

Rethinking Japan - Gordon Daniels

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Rethinking Japan, 193745
Gordon Daniels, 31 December 1989
History TodayJapanVolume: 40 Issue: 1
Irrational chauvinists or fearful protectionists? Gordon Daniels looks at the new research and
arguments reshaping our view of Japan's rulers before and after Pearl Harbour.
At the height of the Second World War a young official in the United States Department of State
analysed Japanese expansion with surprising detachment. In a paper designed to sketch the outlines
of a more peaceful world Robert Fearey attributed Japan's attacks upon China, America, Britain
and Holland to structural economic causes. Among these causes Fearey listed Western
protectionism, which had obstructed Japan's commercial development, and Japan's lack of secure
supplies of food and raw materials. Even more perceptive was Fearey's suggestion that Japan would
soon face Asian competition and needed to develop more varied and sophisticated export products.
Not surprisingly such objectivity and logic had little place in Western historical writing in the
aftermath of four years of total war. Memories of casualties, atrocities and devastation soon
produced a historiography which was preoccupied with issues of conspiracy, guilt and political
delinquency. These moralistic concepts also dominated the allied trials of Japan's wartime leaders,
which in turn shaped the sources and assumptions of many historians. The writings of postwar
scholars were also coloured by the strident messages of Japanese wartime propaganda. These had
proclaimed the uniqueness of Japan's imperial state, the antiquity of her martial tradition and the
divine origins of her ruler and people. Thus the first generation of postwar historians often saw
Japan's guilt as the product of a feudal military tradition which had overcome more modern forces of
internationalism, democracy and cultural pluralism. Early studies of the emperor system, nationalism
and ultranationalism all reflected these basic assumptions as did Robert Scalapino's pioneering study
of prewar political parties which was aptly subtitled 'the failure of the first attempt'.
By the early 1960s a received view of prewar and wartime Japanese history was clearly
established in AngloAmerican academic circles.
This perpetuated the conspiracy theories of the Tokyo trials and depicted ultranationalists,
particularly young army officers, as the decisive actors in recent history. According to this
interpretation junior officers from impoverished rural areas had used threats, plots and assassinations
to gain influence over their superiors. From this position of strength these fanatical patriots had
forced commanders, ministers and industrialists into an expansionist war which had ended in national
By the mid1960s Japan's economic recovery, America's intervention in Vietnam and advances in
historical scholarship had combined to produce a wave of revisionist writing which viewed prewar
Japan in more sympathetic and complex terms. A group of largely American scholars began to study
Japan's 'modernisation' for clues to successful development, and concluded that nineteenthcentury
Japan had been a remarkably advanced society. In fact the final volume of the 'modernisation series'
suggested that Japan's rapid development, rather than her backwardness, had precipitated the

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Development had brought an unprecedented dependence on international markets,
and the Wall Street crash and its aftermath had undermined economic and political stability.
In 1966 James Crowley's Japan's Quest for Autonomy: National Security and Foreign Policy,
19301938 confirmed this shifting trend in Western historiography. This American scholar argued
that the economic and military crises which Japan had faced rendered her attempt to create a
selfsufficient East Asian bloc an understandable strategem, rather than an irrational raid on the
impossible.…read more

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Consequently there was little that was new or orderly
in Japan's wartime regime.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s broader comparative analyses and new lines of research
produced more de tailed reappraisals of Japan's wartime politics. BenAmi Shillony's Politics and
Culture in Wartime Japan confirmed the narrow limits of the Emperor's political power and
demonstrated that Prime Minister Tojo had possessed far less authority than Hitler, Stalin or
Maotse Tung.…read more

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Berger, highlighted the squabbles, inadequacies and rivalries which
plagued major attempts at coordinating armaments production.
Japan's ministry of munitions was not established until 1945, and even then failed to integrate
production as effectively as its British equivalent. Time after time industrialists resisted government
and army intervention, and a shortage of technically qualified officials left ministers dependent on the
goodwill or otherwise of private businessmen.…read more

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Distinguished scholars have clarified the Emperor's role as a
constitutional monarch and his known preference for peaceful rather than aggressive policies. But the
context of wartime Japan the Emperor's greatest importance was as a symbol of modernity ­ who
visited universities, research institutes or scenes of bomb damage ­ or of tradition who participated
in Shinto ceremonies. The emotional and social power of this symbol is impossible to estimate but it
was a crucial element in Japan's conduct of total war.…read more

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United States. In short, the alliance of Western powers which Japan sought to destroy was not
simply a coalition which represented democracy, pluralism and international law. lt was an alliance
which was permeated by a variety of racial prejudices which were slowly undermined by the
pressures of war.
Following four years of total war both Washington and Tokyo ultimately abandoned the excesses of
economic nationalism.…read more


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