by Ray Matsumoto
Commodore Matthew Perry's arrival in 1853 sparked the nearly century-long course of Japan's modernization and militarization. Back then, Japan was an isolationist nation, blocking all international relations except the Dutch and Chinese. But overwhelmed by American navy forces, Japan was pressured into signing the Kanagawa Treaty, ending their 220-year-old isolationist foreign policy. Coupled with the Chinese defeat to Great Britain in the Opium Wars, Japan realized the need for modernization. The aggressive expansionist policy before and during WW2 was fueled by such competition. The Japanese military, and eventually most civilians, saw the West as enemies and Japan as a savior. Japan had to liberate Asia from the Western dominion and establish itself as a world power. This form of nationalism resonated through many, especially after the Great Depression. Let us examine the key factors that caused such sentiments and the aggression of the imperial military.
by Quin Cho
The Battle of Pingxingguan was China’s first victory in its War of Resistance Against Japan. Therefore, it was a propaganda rallying point for both the Communists and the Nationalists alike. In the weeks before the battle, the Japanese had advanced rapidly through North China and routed the Chinese forces there in a humiliating fashion. Many Japanese began to think that China was nothing but a paper tiger and would fall in short order. However, the Battle of Pingxingguan showed that China was to be no pushover and intended to resist the Japanese until they were defeated.
by Emily Winters
The creation of the China-Burma-India Theater was crucial to both the short-term plans and long-term goals of the American Army in South East Asia. The Allies, such as the American, British, and Chinese Armies, attempt to fight the immediate threat of Japanese invasion. Japan was already actively occupying China, but its campaign was expanding in the South East and became a more pressing concern for the Allies. Not only was the Axis of Power expanding its line of battles during World War II, but they were also invading nations that were not previously directly or actively involved in the war, such as the country of Burma.
Born in 1952 in Shanghai, China, Wang Xuan graduated from a university in China and worked as an English teacher for over ten years. In 1993 she received a Master's Degree in Education with distinction from the University of Tsukuba in Japan. In 1995, she discovered by chance what would turn out to be the cause to which she would dedicate her life's work. From a news article in an English newspaper about the First International Symposium on Unit 731 held in Harbin, China, she learned that Japanese peace activists had been reported going to Chongshan Village, Yiwu, Zhejiang Province, China, to investigate the plague epidemic caused by Unit 731's bacterial warfare in World War II (WWll). This cause had been special in Wang Xuan's heart as her family was from Zhejiang. During WWII, Zhejiang was of strategic importance, as several airfields in the area were used as Allied bases. The Zhejiang-Jiangxi Railway also was viewed as an important supply line. The Imperial Japanese Army then launched strategic attacks on the railway from May to September of 1942. This was also directed at the allies in retaliation for the "Doolittle" air raids on Tokyo by the U.S. bombers. Due to the number of ground troops in the area, the Japanese Imperial Army considered it considerably more cost-effective to use biological weapons than any other method.
by Merja Pyykkönen
A short time after the outbreak of World War II, the United States started to reconsider the usage of biological warfare as somewhat of a threat. Before Camp Detrick (later Fort Detrick) was established in the early months of 1943, an increasing amount of attention was remarked towards it. Previous perceptions of the ‘poor effects’ that BW weapons would cause begin to shift quite soon once the war started. At least, the focus turned a bit more into trying to re-evaluate any possible future threats of BW.
The Fox Doctrine of 1933 maintained its strong position in the idea of BW’s lack of ability to reach devastation in the U.S. civilians and military troops almost for ten years since its making. Similar to Major Fox, director of the Medical Corps, G.C. Dunham reported in his September 1939 memorandum about the unsatisfactory, possible enemy use of BW. Despite acknowledging that an enemy could harm the food production animals and a few civilians, he applied that such measures would have to be intensively tied to environmental factors. If such “perfect” conditions were found, the diseases would take a long time to start to prosper. Unlike most of the previous judgments of the use of BW, Dunham nonetheless suggested that preparation against offensive use of biological warfare should be established — and such methodology could be expected from enemies during the war that had just started.
by Emily Winters
During World War II, the Japanese used human experimentation to examine the consequences of biological and bacteriological warfare. An interrogation conducted by the General Headquarters of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (GHQ SCAP) with a Japanese veterinarian conducted in the year 1946 sheds light on what was going on behind the scenes within the Japanese Army during World War II. During this time period, many infamous Nazi doctors conducted medical experiments on prisoners, and this interview helps to expose what was occurring in other Axis Power countries. Japanese military doctors performed an immeasurable amount of medical experimentation on human beings, and the interviewee’s position with the military provided him a unique perspective on this situation.
by Ellie Wong
Under the leadership of Commanding Officer Ishii Shiro, Unit 731 in Harbin, Manchuria functioned as the Imperial Japanese Army’s covert weapons research facility. Here, from 1937-1945, Japanese scientists and researchers experimented with lethal bacteriological agents, using animals, prisoners, and innocent Chinese villagers as guinea pigs. The personnel, funded by and at the consent of Emperor Hirohito, ruthlessly created epidemics and slaughtered humans alive, resulting in hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths and unimaginable suffering. Read more about the background of Unit 731 here & view all blog posts relating to Unit 731 here.
by Isabel Shiao
Unit 731 of the Japanese Imperial Army was established in the context of rapid modernization, the aftermath of WWI, and the global rise of fascism. The Meiji Restoration transformed Japan into a highly industrialized nation, eager to become as powerful as Western states. This process raised concerns about the lack of resources and habitable land, prompting Japan to expand throughout Asia and form colonies. Thus, in 1931, Japanese forces invaded Manchuria and created the puppet state of Manchukuo to obtain the land’s valuable resources and extra living space to solve Japan’s overpopulation problem. However, as Sheldon Harris notes in his book, Factories of Death, Manchuria was turned into “one gigantic biological and chemical warfare laboratory” (Harris 5) to fulfill the nation’s quest for hegemony.
by Quin Cho
Japan’s “Meiji Restoration”—which spelled the end of the country’s isolation from the West during the reign of the Tokugawa Shoguns--allowed it to embark upon a campaign of modernization and westernization. Within the scope of a few decades, Japan modernized and became the most powerful country in East Asia, with that result cemented in blood by the First Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War. Thereafter, Japan decided to emulate the Western Powers that colonized or subdued most of the non-Western world in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; in other words, Japan became an imperial power in East Asia. It annexed Formosa (Taiwan) in 1895, Korea in 1910, and the Caroline and Mariana Islands after World War I.