FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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

 

Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu

More articles by:
June 29, 2016
Diana Johnstone
European Unification Divides Europeans: How Forcing People Together Tears Them Apart
Andrew Smolski
To My Less-Evilism Haters: A Rejoinder to Halle and Chomsky
David Rosen
Birth-Control Wars: Two Centuries of Struggle
Sheldon Richman
Brexit: What Kind of Dependence Now?
Yves Engler
“Canadian” Corporate Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
Return to the Gilded Age: Paul Ryan’s Deregulated Dystopia
Priti Gulati Cox
All That Glitters is Fearsome: Whatever Happens, Don’t Blame Jill Stein
Franklin Lamb
About the Accusation that Syrian and Russian Troops are Looting Palmyra
Binoy Kampmark
Texas, Abortion and the US Supreme Court
Anhvinh Doanvo
Justice Thomas’s Abortion Dissent Tolerates Discrimination
Victor Grossman
Brexit Pro and Con: the View From Germany
Manuel E. Yepe
Brazil: the Southern Giant Will Have to Fight
Rivera Sun
The Nonviolent History of American Independence
Adjoa Agyeiwaa
Is Western Aid Destroying Nigeria’s Future?
Jesse Jackson
What Clinton Should Learn From Brexit
Mel Gurtov
Is Brexit the End of the World?
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
Binoy Kampmark
Headaches of Empire: Brexit’s Effect on the United States
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail