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Blood Red Sun: From Revolution To Ruin

August 23, 2015

Japan Nagasaki after A-bomb

This is an overture to a series about Imperial Japan in World War Two.

It’s never wise for a country to isolate itself from the unrelenting march of time. In 1853, when an American fleet led by Commodore Matthew Perry forced Japan’s ports open under threat of war it disrupted a 200-year-old status quo and the Japanese ruling class’ xenophobic complacency.

The better part of the next 100 years was spent overcompensating for this humiliation. With the Tokugawa Shogunate gradually overthrown from 1866 to 1869, replaced by the young Emperor Mutsuhito and an administration of reformists, Japan’s new government embraced modernity and a unique vision for its place in the world.

The rise of Imperial Japan presents an interesting model for anyone eager to learn how backward countries develop and become powerful. It’s a painful and violent trajectory without exceptions.

By 1895, Japan used its Western trained and equipped army to subdue China in the First Sino-Japanese War, acquiring the island of Formosa and dominating Korea in the process. In 1899 Japan adopted a new constitution modeled after Prussia’s, the leading state of Imperial Germany, and laid plans for acquiring the latest warships and armaments from Britain, a most accommodating trade partner.

This was grand strategy at play. Japan’s social and economic planners knew that further industrialization couldn’t take place in a resource poor homeland with a growing population. Hence, like the Europeans, foreign possessions were needed.

By 1904 an even more capable Imperial Japanese Army and Navy forced the Russians from Korea and Manchuria. 13 years later a Japanese expeditionary force was deployed in Siberia to counter the Bolsheviks. This was simply a pretext for consolidating Japan’s grip on its newfound colonies in Northeast Asia.

A little more than a decade passed before Japan was carving China anew, creating a puppet state called Manchukuo and laying the groundwork for an overseas agricultural-industrial colony.

In 1937, two years before World War Two began in Europe, Japan’s militarists controlled its government and set it on the path of conquest. The Second Sino-Japanese War was a potent test for the Imperial Japanese Army against determined Chinese resistance. This is when the brutality and ruthlessness of the aggressor became manifest.

Five years after pillaging Nanking, Japan settled its scores with the United States and Great Britain, seizing most of Southeast Asia in the process. But this was the point of no return and a moment of veiled weakness.

From 1942 until 1945 the US and its allies launched 53 amphibious invasions on Japanese strongholds, rolling back the cruel tide. Japan’s merchant fleet was annihilated, its vaunted Navy destroyed, its manufacturing base crumbled, and soon its largest cities were devoured by fire.

Mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki together with preparations for an invasion of Honshu ended Imperial Japan. The victors made sure the might and menace of a country captivated by its own warrior heritage would never return.

And it may never, truly return.

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