the astonishing truth behind the manchurian incident -- 6/22/16

Today's selection -- from Japan 1941 by Eri Hotta. On September 18, 1931 Japanese soldiers staged an explosion along a railway line owned by Japan's South Manchuria Railway and blamed Chinese dissidents. The Japanese army used this event as an excuse to invade China thereby increasing Japan regional dominance and influence with the world. Even though Japanese newspapers were aware that the Japanese army had staged the bombing they did not report it.

"The Manchurian Incident, staged by Colonel Ishiwara Kanji, changed everything. On September 18, 1931, some soldiers of the Kwantung Army stationed in the Japanese-leased railway zone to protect Japan's interests in southern Manchuria exploded a small bomb on the railway and claimed that anti-Japanese Chinese elements were responsible. Using the incident as a pretext to launch a full-scale assault on local Chinese troops, Japanese troops occupied the entire northeastern area over the next five months.

"Ishiwara was a magnetic: and eccentric officer who had formulated an apocalyptic: war theory some years before. His pivotal role in the Manchu­rian takeover would make him a key figure in Japan's military buildup for war in China (though he personally opposed the China War) and eventu­ally in the Pacific. He had long regarded a titanic clash between East and West -- most likely between Japan and the United States but also possi­bly the Soviet Union -- as a matter of historical inevitability. This type of rhetoric, glorifying Japan's heroic destiny, would influence many a middle­-ranking strategist in the army and the navy.

Japanese troops entering Manchuria during Manchurian Incident

"On the eve of the Manchurian Incident, Ishiwara believed that Chiang Kai-shek's brand of assertive Chinese nationalism, supported by many industrialists, and the increasing Western recognition of Chiang's power had become major problems for Japan. ... By 1931, Chiang had succeeded in establishing himself as the nominal leader of a unified China, although he would repeatedly be challenged by his warlord allies as well as by the Communists. From the Japanese per­spective, one thing was sure, that Chiang was increasingly leaning toward cooperation with Western powers (primarily the United States), while distancing himself from Japan and adopting strong anti-Japanese rhetoric.

"To many in Japan, the Western support Chiang garnered in a rela­tively short time represented a betrayal, a turning back from the tacit and time-honored imperialist method of keeping China divided so that foreign powers could benefit from its weakness. ... [This] compelled Ishiwara and his followers to go far beyond the call of duty and invade Manchuria. Their reckless initiative came as a surprise to most leaders in Tokyo, though the plotters may well have had support­ers in the higher ranks of the Army General Staff. At the beginning of the Manchurian campaign, Prime Minister Wakatsuki Reijiro and Foreign Minister Shidehara Kijuro, among others, wanted to contain hostilities. Japanese public opinion, however, fueled by the jingoistic media, keenly supported Ishiwara's adventures. The public was fed reports commend­ing the courage of the field army, swelling national pride. Major newspa­pers competed with one another, issuing extras with exclusive photos of Japan's every strategic move, profiting greatly from their suddenly booming circulation. Correspondents were sent to war zones to report under such dramatic headlines as 'Our Army Heroically Marches from Changchun to Jilin' and 'Our Imperial Army Charges into Qiqihar, Its Great Spirit Piercing Through the Sky!'

"The papers at this time made a conscious political choice that would haunt them in the coming decade: self-censorship. Despite their knowl­edge, passed on to them in private by some army officers, that the suppos­edly Chinese-orchestrated bombing was a sham, all the major newspapers chose to withhold this information. They never divulged to the reading public the false pretext of a Chinese plot, and they fully backed the Kwantung Army's claim, successively featuring bogus reports that professed to reveal 'the truth of the [Manchurian] incident.' These reports were illustrated with photographs of the damaged rail beds and the corpse of a Chinese soldier allegedly responsible for the act. (He was actually killed and placed near the railway by the Japanese.)"


Eri Hotta


Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy


Vintage Books a division of Random House


Copyright 2013 by Eri Hotta


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