Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Assess the failure of Japan to achieve dominance in South-East Asia and the Pacific By 1945.

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The two largest factors in Japan’s failure to gain dominance of south-east Asia and the Pacific by 145 were their lack of long term “war making potential” and their underestimation of the United States of America as a potential enemy. Although Japan was the dominant military and technological force in Asia prior to the beginning of World War II, its conquest to rule Asia and the Pacific was only short lived. For a period of six months, Japan had accomplished most of its goal. However, Japan’s failure to shut down the United States was its ultimate undoing. From there on in, the war was already lost. It was just a matter of time.

Japan’s rise to world power status was a phenomenon. In just fifty years, Japan had transformed itself from an isolated, medieval society into the most technologically advanced nation in Asia. Japan adopted western practices openly, and learned off its new trading partners. The success of this modernisation was demonstrated with the defeat of China in the Sino-Japanese War, 184-5. The world power status of Japan was then confirmed with the Anglo-Japanese Treaty, 10; an alliance with the world’s largest empire. This was followed by a then even more significant victory over Russia in the Russo-Japanese War, 104-05. This was the first time an Asian nation had defeated a large, modern (by Asian standards), European nation. The victory forced the Russians out of southern Manchuria and established a Japanese sphere of influence. World War I provided Japan with further opportunity for expansion, seizing German territory in China’s Shandong Peninsula and the north Pacific islands of Mariana, Caroline and Marshall. China was forced to make significant concessions to Japanese influence when Japan issued her with the “Twenty-one Demands.”

As can be concluded, much of Japan’s success was due to military victory. This gave rise to a strong feeling of nationalism and militarism at home. However, the international tide began to turn on Japan. At the Versailles Peace Conference, 11, Japan did not achieve the territorial gains it expected. At the Washington Conference, 11-, Japan had to agree to limit the size of its navy, respect the independence of China and faced the humiliation of the non-renewal of the Anglo-Japanese Treaty. There was now bitterness toward liberal internationalism. This feeling was heightened by western nations refusing to trade with Japan, or even agree to consider her a racial equal. Japan was also experiencing worsening crop failures, a collapse in the silk market, perceptions of overpopulation and a shortage of raw materials for industry. Japan had seemed to have lost the high status and dominance it held at the beginning of the century. Expansion was the option supported by the now majority militarist government.

Expansionism re-entered Japanese foreign policy in 11 with the full-scale takeover of Manchuria, declared the Japanese state of Manchuguo (Manchukuo). This signalled the beginning of the breakaway from internationalism, as it was followed by the abandonment of the League of Nations in 1 and the denouncement of the Washington Conference treaties in 14. In 17, Japan launched a full-scale invasion of northern China. Beijing and the Nationalist Chinese capital of Nanking fell to Japan, and the Nationalist Chinese leader, Chiang Kaishek, began his retreat. Much territory fell to Japan, but a “united front” between the Nationalists and Mao Zedong’s Communists and supplies to Kaishek from western nations meant the invasion of China was a drawn out affair, and it was taking its toll on the Japanese budget. The United States strongly opposed Japanese aggression in China and their Asian expansion intentions. This was the starting stages of Japan’s attempted dominance of Asia.

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World War II commenced with Japan as an ally to Germany and Italy. Their victories over the Netherlands and France left the Dutch East Indies and French Indochina vulnerable. Japan’s subsequent occupation of Indochina saw the United States gradually place a total ban on exports of oil, raw materials and scrap metal. The United Kingdom and East Indies adopted similar measures, which resulted in Japan’s oil imports reduced by ninety per cent. Japan’s reserves were certain to run dry. The militarist government decided on a “do or die” advance on Malaya and the East Indies. This would surely result in direct confrontation with the United Kingdom and her Commonwealth, the Netherlands and the United States. Japan was assured that the victory of Germany and Italy would continue in Europe, and therefore the United Kingdom and the Netherlands would soon be contained. Japan’s dominance would depend on its ability to eliminate the United States as a threat.

The United States Navy is divided amongst two oceans. Japan figured that by destroying the Pacific fleet, the United States would be contained for just enough time to conquer all the islands, replenish industry and artillery, and continue to plunge into China. It was thought that by the time the United States did recover, it would not consider reckoning with the new, mighty, Japanese Empire. Therefore, on the 7th of December, 141, Japan bombed the United States Navy Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, sinking two and damaging eight battleships, sinking eleven warships, destroying one hundred and sixty-four and damaging one hundred and fifty-nine aircraft. The attack marked the beginning of World War II in the Pacific.

Simultaneous to the Pearl Harbor attack was the beginning of Japan’s conquest of south-east Asia and the Pacific. First fell the islands of Guam, Wake, Gilbert and Hong Kong, then the invasion of Burma and north Borneo. Japan took Rabaul on New Britain, north-east of Papua New Guinea, and this became her largest south-west Pacific base. The British surrender of Singapore and Malaya was followed by the significant Battle of Java Sea, in which the superiority of the Imperial Navy was highlighted. Salamanua and Lae in New Guinea fell, followed by the very next day of the Dutch surrender of Java. Finally, in May 14, Japan took the Philippines from the United States. Japan was like a steam roller, hopping from island to island, destroying everything in its path. Between December 141 and May 14, Japan had conquered much of Asia and the Pacific, including Indochina and the ongoing struggle in China. However, the tide was about to turn on Japan once again.

Prior to the fall of the Philippines, the United States demonstrated to Japan its potential to fight back with the Doolittle Raid. The Pearl Harbor attack, whilst initially traumatic, failed to have to devastating effect on the United States that Japan hoped it would. Three aircraft carriers, at sea at the time of the attack, escaped damage. The attack failed to destroy oil tanks, repair docks and submarine facilities. The attack failed its goal to keep the United States contained whilst Japan fortified her empire. Immediately after the attack, American shipyards and factories worked to the tune of the war effort. Japan had misjudged the United States’ resourcefulness and willingness to fight. The Japanese had no long-term military strategies. Her war was based on quick, decisive battles. Japan never anticipated an American comeback, which showed the arrogance of the Japanese leaders. Between the years 140-4, the Japanese defence budget was raised to $4.5 billion compared to the American defence budget of $7.5 billion. The Allies, led by the United States, began the counter attack to end Japan’s soon to be short lived dominance in Asia and the Pacific.

In her first real defeat of the War, Japan retreated from the Battle of Coral Sea. Japan then lost the Battle of Midway, where destruction of carriers and aircraft passed naval air superiority to the United States. Japan remained defiant, taking the Alaskan islands of Kiska and Attu. Japan is then forced to withdraw from Milne Bay followed by being pushed back up the Kokoda Track to the New Guinea north coast by Australia. General MacArthur’s push from the south-west Pacific toward the Philippines begins with the capture of Buna and Sananda. The loss of irreplaceable highly trained pilots in the defeat of the Battle for Guadalcanal saw a push against the south-west Pacific Japanese perimeter. Japan then lose Rabaul as a reliable base in the defeat of the Battle of Bismarck Sea. The Allies take back Attu, Lae and Salamaua. Admiral Nimitz’ advance through the central Pacific marked by the capture of Mankin and Tarawa. Japan then lost Tinian and Guam, giving the Allies bases within bomber striking distance from the Japanese mainland. Japan then effectively lose naval air power in the Battle for the Philippines. The last real threat to the Allies was eliminated when Japan lost its Imperial Navy in the Battle of Leyte. And so the Allies moved closer and closer to Japan, before finally attacking the mainland.

Not only did Japan fail to achieve lasting dominance in Asia and the Pacific by 145, but the entire infrastructure of the nation was destroyed. Japan felt the wrath of two atomic bombs. Despite going against Bushido code, Japan finally surrendered on the 14th of August, 145. The mightiest Asian nation had fallen. Japan lost World War II due to their arrogance in their feelings of superiority, their failure to completely destroy the American Pacific naval fleet at Pearl Harbor, their underestimation of the United States and their lack of long-term military strategy. Ironically, it was the failure of Japan’s very first initiative, Pearl Harbor, which was designed to eliminate the United States as a threat, which spelt doomsday for her from day one.

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