Imperial Japan was EVIL – as bad or worse than the Nazis.
Imperial Japan was not, as often claimed, forced into a corner by a U.S. oil embargo, which came only after years of horrific Japanese atrocities in China and Southeast Asia. Instead, an opportunistic and aggressive fascist Japan gambled that the geostrategy of late 1941 had made America uniquely vulnerable to a surprise attack.
By December 1, 1941, Nazi Germany, Japan’s Axis partner, had reached the suburbs of Moscow. Japan believed that the German army would soon knock the Soviet Union out of the war.
Japan had also hedged its bets by signing a nonaggression pact with the Soviets. Japanese leaders assumed that even if communist Russia survived, Japan could avoid a costly land war on its rear flank. The U.S., not Japan, would likely have a two-front war.
By 1941, the Netherlands, France, and Belgium had all been defeated and occupied by the Third Reich. Only the British remained of the original European anti-Axis allies, and London had been under constant aerial assault by the German Luftwaffe during the Blitz. Japan figured that Germany and Italy might soon win the war and wished to pile on before it ended.
Japan had calculated that all of Europe’s resource-rich Pacific and Asian colonies were now orphaned and up for grabs. By starting a Pacific war and knocking out the U.S., Japan could get its hands on the resources necessary to fuel its war machine.
British-held Singapore and the American bases in the Philippines were isolated and poorly defended. And they would be completely cut off once the U.S. Seventh Fleet and air arm were neutralized at Pearl Harbor.
Starting a war in the Pacific meant the Japanese would have easy access to huge supplies of oil, rubber, rice, and strategic metals for their newfound mercantile empire, the Great East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.
The U.S. also had lost military deterrence. The Japanese had watched carefully as America did little to help its two closest allies: France and Great Britain. The former was easily overrun by the Nazis, the latter bombed unmercifully.
While the United States had belatedly built up its fleet and started rearming by 1941, its military was still woefully ill-equipped to fight a two-front global war. Japan logically figured that Germany and Italy would tie down the United States in Europe, while Japan systematically finished off any American warships that had escaped the Pearl Harbor wreckage.
In key categories such as fighter aircraft, torpedoes, night gunnery, and destroyers, the Japanese were more formidable than the U.S. military in 1941.
Finally, a number of Japan’s most accomplished officers and diplomats had visited or studied in the U.S. in the pre-Depression boom years — among them Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka, Admirals Isoroku Yamamoto and Tamon Yamaguchi, and General Tadamichi Kuribayashi. While they all had been impressed with U.S. industrial power, they nevertheless had developed contempt for American popular culture, finding it frivolous and fueled by Roaring Twenties affluence and leisure.
Many Japanese strategists had assumed that the U.S. never again would wish to endure a world war, and would prefer to negotiate rather than fight to the finish. Such assumptions proved false.
If the Japanese had succeeded they would have controlled all of East and Southeast Asia. History shows that aggressive empires stay aggressive. Imperial Japan was not benign. They were rapacious and cruel.
Americans have short memories, and to the extent they think about World War II, they tend to think of Hitler and the Holocaust — and justifiably so. His attempt to exterminate an entire race of people was among the worst crimes in world history. But in remembering Hitler, we cannot forget Japan. It killed an estimated 14 million Chinese citizens in its invasion of China. And during the course of that invasion, its forces acted much like Hitler’s SS, conducting mass-scale rapes, grotesque human experimentation, and enslaving countless men, women, and children.
Japan’s rank-and-file military fought with a ferocity matched on the European Theater of Operations only by Hitler’s most dedicated fanatics. Japan’s troops fought to the last man, and when its military plight grew increasingly desperate, it launched a suicide-bombing campaign that dwarfs anything ISIS or al-Qaeda have ever imagined, much less attempted. Even many Japanese civilians demonstrated that they’d rather die than surrender — throwing themselves off cliffs to escape American forces.
As American forces approached the Japanese mainland, the blood flow became a hemorrhage — with the Battle of Okinawa demonstrating the scale of the carnage to come. In slightly less than three months of combat, more than 20,000 Americans died, over 70,000 Japanese troops lost their lives, and up to one-third of Japanese civilians perished. In other words, that one battle was deadlier than the Hiroshima bombing.
Americans today simply can’t imagine the horror that an invasion of Japan would have unleashed. Our country had already lost more than 400,000 men, with hundreds of thousands more grievously injured, and we stood to perhaps match or exceed that total in the great battle for the mainland. Japanese losses would have numbered in the millions. Could we have withstood suffering on that scale? Would the carnage have caused us to relent?
Yes, it is true that the Japanese leadership was willing to discuss a peace treaty that would end the war. But their terms would have meant that mainland Japan remained undefeated and unoccupied and that the Imperial Japanese government would remain in power. In other words, not a surrender.
Pacific War put together this list of a few of the Worst Imperial Army and Navy War Crimes during World War II.
INDEX TO SELECTED IMPERIAL JAPANESE ARMY WAR CRIMES
Both Japan and Germany are our friends and allies now, and that’s a good thing. We don’t need to keep rubbing their noses in the crimes of their grandparents. But neither should we forget those crimes.