the greater east asia co-prosperity sphere -- 2/20/18

Today's selection -- from The Illustrated History of World War Two by Donald Sommerville. In the years before World War II, the Japanese used Asian sentiment against European colonial powers that had dominated the region to create the "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere," a thinly veiled pretext for its own subjugation of Asia:

"In 1938 Japan's Prime Minister, Prince Konoye Fumimaro, spoke of Japan's aim to create a 'New Order' in Asia. In 1940, after a period out of office, Konoye returned as pre­mier and announced Japan's plan to establish a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. These ideas, and their slogan 'Asia for the Asiatics' formed part of the backdrop to the cre­ation of Japan's wartime empire. European and American racism and imperialism were to be rejected in favour of a vague commonwealth from which all Asians were to benefit -- ideas that were designed to appeal both at home in Japan and throughout Asia.

"From the later 1920s Japan itself became an ever more militar­istic and rigorously regimented society. The armed services took effective control of the government. As well as expand­ing Japan's war in China, factions within the army had no hesitation in assassinating opponents or planning military coups. The economy was increasingly industrialized and militarized, with businesses and trades unions also brought under government control.

"The education system emphasized military and nation­alistic values: for example, maps in school textbooks showed much of South-east Asia as right­fully forming part of Japan's Empire. And in the background were the Tokko, or Special Higher Police (usually referred to in English as the 'Thought Police'), who used torture and other repressive methods to ensure citizens behaved as the government wished.

"The reality of Japan's rule over­seas belied the intent expressed in Konoye's slogans. Mose obvi­ous to the Western Allies was its treatment of prisoners of war. Japanese troops were taught that it was disgraceful to surren­der and regarded with contempt any enemy who did so. Many American prisoners, captured in the Philippines in 1942, died of ill-treatment on the so-called Bataan Death March and around 12,000 British and Australians were starved, beaten and worked to death on the Siam-Burma railway line, to give only two of numerous notorious examples.

May 1942, Tokyo, Japan, primary and secondary school students receive military training

"However, if only because relatively few Westerners came into Japanese hands, these bru­talities bear little comparison to those inflicted on other Asians -- for example, as many 90,000 Malaysian, Thai and other Asian labourers died on the Burma Railway. Japan's atti­tude to other Asians was more brutal, racist and exploitative than any of the much-despised colonial powers.

"The outside world first came aware of this with the famous 'Rape of Nanking', in December 1937, which was widely reported elsewhere. When Japanese troops captured the town (now usually called Nanjing), they went on an extended rampage of murder, rape, looting and arson, which killed a quarter of a million people (according to some esti­mates). Throughout the war in China, Japanese tactics made no distinction between civilians and military opponents; the watchwords were the 'three alls' -- kill all, burn all, loot all.

"Other Japanese methods were more insidious. In the puppet state of Manchukuo, for example, the Japanese authori­ties encouraged and greatly expanded the production of opium. They also pushed users of opium there and in the rest of China to switch to the more dangerous morphine and heroin compounds, as part of a deliberate strategy to keep the indigenous population docile. The revenues from the scheme were used for the benefit of Japan's Kwantung Army."



Donald Sommerville


The Illustrated History of World War Two


Annes Publishing Ltd.


Anness Publishing Ltd 2011


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