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Blood Red Sun: Empires Rise And Fall

September 12, 2015
US Marines Tarawa flamethrower

A US Marine uses a flamethrower to soften a Japanese fortification in the island of Peleliu. Fought in the waning months of 1944, the invasion and battle for Peleliu was a brutal one where 11,000 fanatical IJA defenders held out against overwhelming numbers and firepower. Their preparation and discipline allowed them to inflict severe casualties on US forces during 75 days of non-stop combat. Japanese resistance ended when the entire garrison was almost killed to a man. More than 2,000 US soldiers and Marines perished in the fighting.

Last month the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) commemorated the end of World War Two in the Pacific 70 years ago. To educate readers they provided a series of maps that illustrate the struggle against Japan as it rampaged across Asia.

The AMTI, launched by the think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), is an online resource examining the problems bedeviling East Asia. Revisiting the last war in the Pacific becomes relevant today when China and Japan’s rivalry is heating up again.

Rather than a long-winded essay, the AMTI’s 15 maps “explain the end of World War Two in Maritime Asia” accompanied by short insights. The sequence stretches from 1937 until 1951.

It’s a rewarding trip down the 20th century’s worst bloodbath for the overlooked details it scrutinizes. Here are choice morsels.

Imperial Japan’s Grand Strategy

Japanese War Objectives 1941

From December 1941 until mid-1942, the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy (IJA/N) blitzed Southeast Asia and Oceania. They defeated the US, the British Empire, and the Netherlands in the span of months and established impregnable garrisons from Singapore to Wake Island.

Until the disaster at Midway on June 7, 1942, Japan had the best navy and the best air force in the Pacific.

Japanese American Carrier Operations

Carriers Won The War

Japan might have built and launched the world’s largest aircraft carrier (to no avail) but it was the US Navy who innovated their use in combined operations. According to AMTI carriers made it possible to retake islands that were used for strategic bombing missions on Japan.

Soviet Union attacks Manchuria

The Soviets Made A Difference Too

By attacking Manchuria in August, 1945, the Soviets rid Japan of its largest foreign possession and settled an old score. Doing so also put a lid on the one-million-man Kwantung Army.

Half a century prior, Japan seized Korea, Manchuria, and Imperial Russia’s only warm water port in Asia during the savage Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905).

Japan Operation Downfall 1946

There Was A Plan To Invade Japan

The Allies called it Operation Downfall. They expected it to be larger in scale than the assault on Normandy. It would have prolonged the war for untold years.

China map Nationalist Era

China Was A Basket Case

Even before the war. It was a divided country where a corrupt central government shared power with provincial warlords and Communist rebels. Unfailing US material support to Chiang Kai-shek’s government never resulted in credible gains over the Japanese.

China’s long decline–a century of humiliation–spanning the Manchu Dynasty and the Republican era was irresistible for Japan’s politicians and industrialists. Since 1894 Japanese forces were carving up the Chinese mainland, sowing the seeds of historic animosity.

Japanese WW2 strength August 1945

Demobilization Was Hard

While the Allies managed to beat the Japanese in New Guinea, Burma, the Philippines, and scores of small islands, the almost five-million strong IJA was still intact–albeit dispersed–and scattered across Asia at war’s end.

What Japan calls the Great Pacific War is an incredible narrative that can inform the present. One of its terrible lessons is modern states are ill-served when a hawkish and delusional military clique hijacks a government. This is what happened to Japan from 1937 until 1945 and it suffered near-total destruction as a result.