chapter  6
18 Pages

Japan and pan- Asianism


In recent years a number of scholars have emphasized the possibility of cooperation and conciliation between Japan and Britain during the 1930s in order to maintain their mutually beneficial commercial relationship.1 To be sure, a number of pro-British political and financial officials, such as Ikeda Shigeki and Yoshida Shigeru, did advocate compromise with Britain and argued that the Japanese economy was dependent on the stability of an international financial and Asian commercial order in which Britain played a central role.2 But, as we know, reconciliation did not materialize and the two countries went to war. Why? From a Japanese perspective, though it is clear that many efforts were made to avoid war in Japan, contemporary political and economic conditions made the success of those efforts extremely unlikely. This chapter takes a viewpoint entirely different from the one I have taken in the past. Rather than thinking about this period from the perspective of those Anglophiles in political and financial circles who were trying to avoid war, it explains why the two countries went to war from a political and economic historical viewpoint. In particular it focuses on one of the primary reasons that made peace improbable, namely the rise of panAsianism, which brought about significant changes in 1930s Japan, a transformation that led the country towards a southern advance and the so-called ‘Greater East Asia War’. Earlier scholarship has tended to approach the subject of pan-Asianism from the perspective of intellectual history and has often attempted to trace continuities between the Asianism which appeared in the second half of the nineteenth century, and the fascism and militarism of the 1930s and 1940s. Such work has largely ignored the relationship of ideas with the political and economic context of the times. In addition, many empirical studies have described in detail the events that led to the ‘Greater East Asia War’ from the standpoint of diplomatic and military history. Most of these studies are based on pluralistic models or bureaucratic politics and analyse political processes through the decisions of rational actors. However, few of these studies have concretely and empirically examined the meaning and the influence that ideology exercised on contemporary politics and foreign relations. There is almost no research that seriously considers why an illogical ideology that proclaimed a ‘holy war’ against the ‘devilish Americans and British’ gained ascendancy and contributed to its

leaders’ irrational decision to launch a war that Japan had no chance, economically or militarily, of winning. If such studies exist, they are usually only in the form of making an ahistorical connection between the American anti-Japanese immigration restrictions of 1924 and the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. It is well known that the Shōwa emperor claimed in the introduction to his postwar monologues that the remote cause of the ‘Greater East Asia War’ was racial discrimination in the form of the rejection of the Japanese proposal for racial equality at Versailles and American anti-Japanese immigration restrictions.3 Although many Japanese may have shared such sentiments with the emperor, the connection between these attitudes and the invasion of Malaya and the attack on Pearl Harbor requires a huge historical leap. Pan-Asianism bridges this gap. John Dower has pointed out that government authorities deployed panAsianism to mobilize the population during the Pacific War.4 Pan-Asianism, however, was also an ideology that was used to mobilize people well before December 1941. It gradually accumulated in people’s consciousness after the First World War and continued to develop in the 1930s so that it greatly contributed to the formulation of policy. In short, war did not only make pan-Asianism, but pan-Asianism also made war. There were both continuities and ruptures between nineteenth-century Asianism and 1930s pan-Asianism. The former was in many ways a defensive reaction against the Western imperial aggression but the latter is more complex.5 Previous history studies have not sufficiently explicated these connections and discontinuities. During the inter-war period, through changes in international relations, such as anti-Japanese immigration policies, the unification of China by Jiang Jieshi, the Manchurian Incident and creation of Manchukuo, and Japan’s departure from the League of Nations, and changes in the international commercial structure such as the Takahashi financial measures that allowed Japan to escape the Great Depression and the commercial frictions between Japan and Britain brought on by the economic downturn, pan-Asianism underwent a drastic evolution.