Was Japan in recent conflicts

Reasons for Japan's entry into World War II

Table of Contents

cover sheet


Consequences of the First World War
Social reasons
Economic reasons
Political reasons

Conclusion / summary


Declaration of independence


This technical paper is dedicated to the reasons that may have prompted the Japanese Empire to enter World War II. This issue is dealt with along the lines of the question of whether it was solely political or economic considerations that led to the Pacific War, or whether the causes of this conflict were more complex, or whether aspects played a role that only played a role on closer examination and analysis become apparent.

How did the Japanese rulers come to believe that war with the Americans and the attack on Pearl Harbor were necessary? Was Japan really in a military position to stand up to the United States at the time? Why was the Japanese Empire allied with the Axis powers when it entered the war? Was there also an inexorable ideology or fascism in Japan that led the country purposefully into war?

These and similar questions had occupied me for a long time, so I decided to write my thesis in the field of history in order to be able to deal more closely with what interests me anyway. Japan and its history have always been very appealing to me and depictions of all kinds on television, radio or the Internet have been very interesting to me. I realized, however, that history lessons across all secondary levels are very much focused on Europe. Other continents such as South America, Africa or the Far East could only be touched on, if at all, in the form of excursions or short student presentations, which I always found a shame.

So it was all the more exciting for me to be able to deal with such a topic in more detail. In the process, my perspective on world history changed noticeably between 1900 and 1945, as the German and, in some cases, American perspective on the history of the two world wars and the associated events was also joined by the perspective of Asia, especially Japan.

As already mentioned at the beginning, I was particularly interested in why Japan dragged the USA into World War II in 1941 and whether there were understandable reasons for this undertaking on the part of the German Empire. In order to get to the bottom of this matter, I began my research at the time of the First World War, which is why the consequences of this conflict for Japan are presented first.

German specialist literature from the last few years served as the source for my research.


Consequences of the First World War

When war broke out in June 1914, the Japanese Empire was an ally of Great Britain. Therefore, due to the threat to Anglo-Saxon freight traffic, the Allies were involved in this conflict (cf. Zöllner 2009: 330). From the British point of view, the Far Eastern partner should only fight the German auxiliary cruisers, which posed potential threats to British merchant ships.

In Japan itself, however, the war was considered to be a “good opportunity to further expand regional supremacy in East Asia (cf. Zöllner 2009: 330)”. For this reason, everything was done to conquer the German possessions in China and the South Sea islands, which were also under the administration of the empire. Furthermore, efforts were made in Tokyo to enormously expand its influence on China, while the other great powers in Europe were distracted (cf. Zöllner 2009: 331).

Due to the forced approval of an unfavorable agreement for China, Japan exposed itself to clear criticism in the West, especially from the USA (cf. Zöllner 2009: 332).

Otherwise, the First World War did not bring any major political changes for Japan, if one disregards the establishment of a communist Soviet Union, which had to be a thorn in the side of all capitalist states except Germany.

Much more important, however, was the economic upswing that the Empire experienced during the war. Since it was hardly involved in armed conflicts itself, but the European nations urgently needed loans and armaments, Japan achieved enormous trade surpluses. Alone "from 1915 to 1918 Japanese exports tripled (cf. Zöllner 2009: 333)".

While the state budget of the Empire was still characterized by debts after the Russo-Japanese War, after the First World War it became an important creditor on an international level (cf. Zöllner 2009: 333). Due to the enormous amount of foreign currency, it was possible to make large investments within Japan in terms of modernization. In 1917, for example, the proportion of machines that ran on electricity instead of steam was higher for the first time. In addition, the majority of Japanese factories were equipped with electric light and the number of power plants doubled (cf. Zöllner 2009: 334).

This enormous economic upswing also led, among other things, to the very strong connection between economy and state in Japan (cf. Zöllner 2009: 334), the influence of which was to remain until a few years before the Second World War.

The peace negotiations after Germany's surrender also had a significant impact on Japanese development.

A decisive experience, especially for the Japanese public, was the rejection of the anti-racism provisions proposed by Japan for the statute of the League of Nations. The desired formula failed mainly because of the USA and Great Britain, which caused bitterness in Japan (cf. Zöllner 2009: 342/343).

Furthermore, the former German South Sea islands and the acquired possessions in China were granted to the Far Eastern state, which, however, led to a further deterioration in Sino-Japanese relations (cf. Zöllner 2009: 343). As a result, there were mass rallies against Japan and boycotts of Japanese goods in China, which was ruled by political unrest (cf. Krebs 2009: 41). A process that was to be repeated several times in the following years and was not insignificant for the Japanese economy.

In addition, in the course of a joint Allied operation in the Far Eastern part of the Soviet Union, the grip of the Japanese army on northern Manchuria strengthened, which increased the possibilities for the Empire to exert influence in East Asia (cf. Krebs 2009: 42).

Another observation is that the experience gained with the Allies during and after the war, for example in the League of Nations or in the negotiations on the Versailles Treaty, in the Empire of Japan, at least in certain circles, led to the emergence of a certain "Pan-Asianism “(Cf. Krebs 2009: 45).

Although the League of Nations "was a permanent member of the leadership council alongside Great Britain, France and Italy (cf. Zöllner 2009: 343)", there was disillusionment in Japan about the lack of political weight (cf. Zöllner 2009: 344).

In my opinion, this is where the roots of the later aversion of the Japanese elites to anything western and their striving for a Greater East Asia that should be free of western or “white” influences lie. This tendency can be read quite well from the ideas of the later Prime Minister Konoe Fumimaro, who, as an observer of the Versailles Conference, came to the conclusion that “World War I [...] should not be seen as a victory for democracy and law, but [. ..] was decided by the purely economic superiority of the Allies [was] (cf. Krebs 2009: 45) ”.

Social reasons

Although modernization started late in Japan, once started development went very quickly.

The changes on the social level led to Japan being called an educational society as early as the 1920s (cf. Zöllner 2009: 303). The new universities and other elite educational institutions from now on provided the basis for socialist, nationalist, or anti-communist ideologies that all existed in parallel in Japan in the 1920s and 1930s.

An important aspect with regard to the Japanese propaganda in World War II and the Japanese self-image is certainly the partial mixing of East Asian peoples with the Japanese themselves. Zöllner writes in his work, regarding this aspect, that in Korea up to 1939 at least 650,000 Japanese lived , and vice versa up to 800,000 Koreans emigrated to the Japanese islands. It is also known that up to 300,000 Japanese settled on the island of Taiwan during the colonial period (cf. Zöllner 2009: 310/311/313). Reinforced by the fact that Japanese was introduced as the official language of instruction in Korean schools as early as 1911 (cf.Zöllner 2009: 310), it can be seen that the Japanese governments were interested in promoting Japanese culture in East and Southeast Asia as a species Introduce the guiding culture. This thesis can be confirmed by the slogan “Motherland and Korea are one body” (Naisen ittai) (cf. Zöllner 2009: 312), which was taught in schools at the time.

The "successes" achieved with this policy, however, had to reinforce the Japanese in their efforts to a certain extent. For example, three quarters of all Koreans reported themselves when the Japanese authorities demanded that Korean families have a common surname. Likewise, almost eighty percent chose a Japanese name on the recommendation of the Japanese administration (cf. Zöllner 2009: 312). Whether this was done voluntarily due to effective propaganda and the generally somewhat improved quality of life under Japanese rule, or under pressure and threats of repression, remains to be seen.


End of the excerpt from 19 pages