Sunday 18 September 2022

The Mukden Incident: Roots of Japanese Expansionism and the Asian Prelude to World War 2

Baron Giichi Tanaka. (Scan from The American Century: People, Power and Politics - An Illustrated History, Chapter on Japanese Imperialism 1931-1938, page 266).

September 18th, 1931, 10:20 PM.

An explosion of 42 charges of dynamite on a railroad ceded by China first to Russia and then to Japan caused the Imperial Japanese Army to begin seizing key positions in South Manchuria because of the "provocation" committed by Chinese Nationalist forces.

But the incident at Mukden was not the work of Chinese Nationalists. The explosion was caused by an agent of the intelligence service of the Japanese Army.

This incident, as would be the case 8 years later at the border between Nazi Germany and Poland (the Gleiwitz Incident), was a "False Flag" operation.

The Mukden Incident can be seen as part of the Asian prelude to World War 2 (the Sino-Japanese War of 1937 being the second part), just as the German invasion of Poland was the European prelude, and Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 was the African prelude.

Japanese imperial expansion, which had already begun at the time of the annexation of Korea in 1910, would come to be fuelled by expansionist ideologies held by officers within the Japanese military. These ultranationalists were influenced by theorists such as Ikki Kita and Okawa Shumei.

One example was the formation in 1921 of the Futaba-kai (or "Double Leaf Society") by three young Japanese military intelligence officers in a Turkish bath in Baden-Baden, Germany. They were Major Tetsuzan Nagata, Major Yasuji Okamura and Major Toshishiro Obata. In concert with Lieutenant Colonel Hideki Tojo, who as a General would become the war time Prime Minister, they aimed to secure power at home and extend the empire by conspiracy, assassination, and war.

The Futaba-kai and a counterpart association of officers named the Mokuyo-kai (or “Thursday Society”), which was headed by Lieutenant Colonel Teiichi Suzuki, merged in 1929 to form a new informal association of army officers named the Isseki-kai (or “One Evening Society”). At a meeting of the Mokuya-kai the previous year, Lieutenant Colonel Kanij Ishiwara, who would be one of the masterminds of the Mukden Incident, spoke of his “Final World War Theory,” which would involve a decisive conflict with the United States of America.

During the era of "Government by Assassination" in the 1930s, the Japanese military was divided between two competing ideological factions: the Kodo-ha and the Tosei-ha. Both factions had the same goal of expanding Japanese power abroad but differed as to the means of attaining this.

The Kodo-ha (or “Imperial Way” faction) aimed to overthrow what they claimed were the "evil" politicians and techocrats who were influencing government policy. To them, Japan had deviated from the Kokutai or national polity, a metaphysical expression representing the perfect relationship between the Emperor, his People, and the State. The Emperor would be restored to power and a totalitarian, nationalist system would replace what they considered as a corrupt capitalist system.

Officers of the Kodo-ha were behind the Niniroku Jiken (or "February 26th Incident"), a failed military coup which ended the influence of the group, and which also ended the era of “Government by Assassination”.

Another key influence on Japan's military expansion was the role played by Baron Giichi Tanaka (1864-1929), an army officer and politician who dreamed of a Japanese empire extending to Siberia and China. Tanaka policies while Foreign Minister such as Man-Mō bunri seisaku ("separation of Manchuria and Inner Mongolia policy") which aimed to balkanise China, created the conditions for future Japanese expansion in the Far East. For instance, between 1927 and 1928 he blocked the efforts of Marshal Chiang Kai-Shek (the Chinese nationalist general) to unify China by sending Japanese troops to Shandong Province on three separate occasions.

Tanaka was claimed to have been the author of the Tanaka Jōsōbun (or Tanaka Memorial) in 1927. This was a strategic document created for Emperor Hirohito which contained detailed plans for Japanese conquest.

Most scholars dispute its authenticity - even though much of what it contained did come to pass. 

© Adeyinka Makinde (2022).

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

No comments:

Post a Comment