On the Contemporary Relevance of the Manchurian Incident

by Gary Leupp

On September 18, 1931 (70 years before the Sept. 11 attacks), the opening salvoes of World War II were fired in Manchuria. As I have been reading Bush’s comments comparing Saddam to Hitler, and German justice minister Herta Da?bler-Gmelin’s remarks comparing Bush to Hitler, in this season of tortured analogies, the following comes to mind. Manchuria as of 1931 was internationally regarded as part of China, a sovereign country, although like most of China it was governed by a warlord rather than an effective central government. Japan’s incipiently fascist government had acquired treaty rights to station forces in Manchuria, protecting its railroad, port and other interests. Japan was a major imperialist power, having wrenched Taiwan from China in 1895, established its rule over Korea in 1905, and acquired a slough of Pacific islands during World War I. (The “international community” had endorsed such colonizing activity, the U.S. exchanging its nod for Japan’s acceptance of its imperial dominion over the Philippines and Guam, the French trading their recognition for Japan’s acceptance of French colonialism in Indochina, etc.)

From Sept. 18 Japan’s Kwantung Army in Manchuria, having provoked an “incident” with local military forces, fanned out from Mukden and in short order conquered the whole Chinese province. The action was not authorized by the Prime Minister, Diet, or even the High Command in Tokyo, but undertaken after careful conspiratorial planning by a small cabal of field-rank officers who had a vision of a Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. Tokyo had to go along with it, insisting, on the global diplomatic stage, that its forces had been provoked.

But this attack of the regional superpower on the weak nation of China met with international indignation, particularly as Japan established an imaginary state called Manchukuo. The Japanese sought League of Nations approval for the fait accompli, but the Lytton commission, in a carefully balanced statement (prepared by a British lord not at all disposed to oppose imperialism in principle), condemned it. So the Japanese delegation walked out, helping seal the fate of the League. What did Japan need, after all, from a body inherently suspicious of it, unsympathetic to its national security interests, unable to comprehend its racial destiny? Why should the League’s condemnation prevent Japan from bringing its superior way of life to the benighted Manchurian people, and from taking advantage of its mineral resources and the Lebensraum it could provide Japan’s expanding population? Japan’s act of war was in fact an act intended to secure the peace in a troubled region.

One thing let to another, and six years later Japanese forces got into a full-scale war with China which resulted in such unpleasantries as the Rape of Nanking. To prosecute the war effectively, Japan required oil that the U.S. refused to supply, which meant Japan needed to attack and conquer the Dutch Indies, which meant having to take out Pearl Harbor, bases in the Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong. All hell broke loose, and ultimately, the Japanese people paid the price in the form of Nagasaki, Hiroshima, and conventional bombing of Tokyo and other cities that was equally destructive.

Just goes to show: stage an unprovoked attack; lie about it; ignore the world’s sentiments; let policy be set by a cabal of fanatics with visions of grandeur; encourage racist, condescending views of other peoples; and things can spin out of control. The world today is a far cry from the world of Herbert Hoover, Chiang Kai-shek, and Wakatsuki Reijir?, men at the helm in their nations as of Sept. 1931; there is only one superpower whose leaders’ provocations, ignorance, fanaticism and racist condescension can trigger another world war. Not a war between evenly-matched blocs, this time, but one nation’s war against the world, defined at the outset as endless.

Gary Leupp is an an associate professor, Department of History, Tufts University and coordinator, Asian Studies Program. He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 27, 2015
Sam Husseini
Foreign Policy, Sanders-Style: Backing Saudi Intervention
Brad Evans – Henry A. Giroux
Self-Plagiarism and the Politics of Character Assassination: the Case of Zygmunt Bauman
Peter Lee
Making Sense of China’s Stock Market Meltdown
Paul Craig Roberts
Wall Street and the Matrix: Where is Neo When We Need Him?
Kerry Emanuel
The Real Lesson of Katrina: the Worst is Yet to Come
Dave Lindorff
Why Wall Street Reporting is a Joke
Pepe Escobar
Brave (Miserable) New Normal World
Ramzy Baroud
‘Islamic State’ Pretence and the Upcoming Wars in Libya
Paul Edwards
Capitalism Delenda Est
Norman Pollack
The Political Culture of Rape in America: Further Thoughts on the St. Paul’s School Case
Stephen Lendman
The Monied Interests That Run America
Pedro Aibéo
Democratizing Finance (With Bitcoin?)
Alfredo Acedo
Climate Change and Capitalism: Challenges of the COP21 Paris and Climate Movements
August 26, 2015
Paul Street
Overworked and Out of Time: a Democracy Issue
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Behind the Market Crash: the Smoke and Mirrors of Corporate Buybacks
David Mihalyfy
Reform Higher Ed? Treat Badmin Like Bankers
Ruth Hopkins
Police Shootings in Indian Country: Justice or Else!
Gary Leupp
ISIL Advances While Its Foes Cannot Unite
Fred Gardner
The Psychiatrist’s Bible: Defining ‘Marijuana Use Disorder’
Yorgos Mitralias
The Catastrophic International Consequences of the Capitulation of Syriza and the Criminal Responsibility of Mr. Tsipras
Walter Brasch
Katrina: a 10-Year Review
Jim Connolly
Seven Questions and Seven Answers: a Sandernista Makes Reasonable Predictions About the 2016 Contest for the Democratic Presidential Nomination
Pedro Aibéo
Selling Austerity to Finland
Franklin Lamb
Heritage Destruction in Syria is a War Crime
Binoy Kampmark
Tourism’s Disaster Temptation: the Case of Nepal
Jeffrey D. Pugh
Trial by Fire for Ecuador’s President Correa
Vacy Vlanza
A Palestinian Novel Par Excellence
Alvaro Huerta
Confessions of an ‘Anchor Baby’: Open Letter to President Donald Trump
August 25, 2015
Gary Leupp
Why Donald Trump is So Scary
Jonathan Cook
Israel’s Thug at the UN
Steve Early
How “Brother” Bernie is Making Labor’s Day
Carl Finamore
An Affordable Housing Victory: High-End San Francisco Development Implodes
Henry Giroux – Chuck Mertz
The Spectacle of American Violence and the Cure for Donald Trump
Robert Eisinger
Trivializing Anti-Semitism
Brian Platt
It is Time We Discussed Abolishing the Police
Alexander Reid Ross
Trump the Fascist
Nicola Perugini - Neve Gordon
Mohammed Allan at the Door of the Israeli Supreme Court
Ted Rall
The United States of Stupidity
Heather Gray
A Message to American Mothers About Sex in the Military
Jo Leinen – Andreas Bummel
How to Democratize the UN
Lawrence Davidson
The Iran Agreement and Israel’s Claim to Speak for the Jews
Mark Hand
A Well Pad Next to Every 3-Car Garage: Suburban Sprawl Collides with Texas Frack Jobs
John Laforge
U.S. Bows Out After Plowshares Conviction is Vacated: Appeals Court Ill-Informed on Nuclear Overkill
Norman Pollack
Gender Freedom and Sexual Liberation: The St. Paul’s School Case
Kathy Kelly
Let It Shine