The Path to War – Japan in January 1921

The Path to War Began in the Ashes of the Aftermath of the World War

In 1921, the world was still reeling from the war that had consumed so much of its young men and resources. The European landscape had changed from all of the brutal fighting and the League of Nations proposed by Wilson was fast becoming marginalized. Wilson had failed to get his own countrymen on board which ultimately sealed it to doom.

Russia was also convulsing as the Bolsheviks consolidated their grip on the former Czarist state. Democracies around the world were concerned that further spread of this sinister form of government would sweep into their own countries. It was obvious that the movement was growing out of control and the costs to individuals as well as states was enormous.

Another large issue was looming and that was the growth of the navies of some of the world’s remaining powers. The ships were becoming bigger and more powerful. National treasuries were already straining under the costs of the last war and transition to the hoped for peace. America and Britain were already discussing how to limit that growth which would result in the Washington Naval Treaty.

Japan was not so sure about the movement.

Count Uchida Kōsai (内田 康哉, 17 November 1865 – 12 March 1936) was a statesman, diplomat and interim prime minister, active in Meiji, Taishō and Shōwa period Japan. He was also known as Uchida Yasuya.

In a revealing article from the Washington Evening Star on January 25 1921, the struggle for the future direction of Japan’s growth was played out in their Diet. Uchida was clear that he was not certain that the reduction of arms was in Japan’s self interest.

Other Powers Must Make Proposal, Japanese Minister Asserts.
By the Associated Press.

TOKYO, January 24. Restriction of armaments will be considered by the Japanese government should it be proposed by another nation, but little hope is held out by Viscount Uchida. Foreign minister, that there will be any immediate movement toward disarmament. The foreign minister was interpolated in the lower house of parliament by members of the opposition, and admitted that the limiting of armaments was being discussed by the powers.

“Some practical men abroad, however,” he declared, “do not approve of immediate disarmament although they agree in principle. The existing German situation is one factor which prevents a complete agreement on the subject. Some people believe Japan has no intention to restrict armaments because Viscount Ishii. Japanese ambassador to France, favored the opinion of practical men who object’ to reduction.

Japan’s naval policy is not one of expansion, but is one that cannot be avoided in the interests of self-protection. Japan, however, is ready to consider the subject of curtailment, in order to assure world peace, in case any power should make such a proposal. “

Hope for an early beginning of direct negotiations with China, in regard to the restoration of Shantung was expressed by the foreign minister. He declared the inauguration of trade with Russia might be considered after a stable government bad been established by the far eastern republic at Chita.

Wants Japanese Out of Russia

Viscount Takaaki Kato, the opposition leader, in a speech in the diet attacked the government for keeping troops in Siberia. He declared there was no justification for maintaining Japanese forces there and that their presence would never result in a settlement of the Russian problem. Premier Hara in reply said that he would like to withdraw these troops, but that he believed their maintenance in Siberia was necessary in the interest of Japan’s national defense.

The house was packed in anticipation of Viscount Kato’s speech. Prior to the address, Kiyoshi Nakashoji, former minister of agriculture and commerce, continued his interpellation concerning the failure of Japanese to obtain benefits from the war which her participation merited and also concerning the situation in China and Siberia. He declared that various questions were causing the country
grave anxiety, but that the most important question was Siberia.

“The whole province,” he said, “is fast being bolshevized. What will the government do?”

Powers Not to Act at Present.

Premier Hara answered that it was impossible to prevent the bolshevization of an alien land. He said the bolshevization of Siberia was undesirable, but that it could not be effectively checked.  Again taking the rostrum. Mr. Nakashoji asked: “Does not the government intend to take steps against the Bolshevik menace even if the peace of the Far East is seriously jeopardized?”

Premier Hara responded that whatever the result of the bolshevik predominance there was no likelihood of the powers acting so long as the movement was confined to Russian territory. If Japan had withdrawn her troops from Siberia when the United States did she would not have been open to the charge that her ambitions were militaristic, declared Viscount Kato, attacking the government’s Siberian policy.

When Premier Hara in his reply repeated his belief that the maintenance of troops in Siberia was necessary to Japan’s national defense. Viscount Kato rejoined with the declaration that the premier’s explanation was not at all satisfactory.

Should Have Followed U.S.

In opening his address. Viscount Kato said that when America proposed joint action in Siberia he had hoped that Japan would determine the strength of her force after taking the powers into her confidence, but instead of living up to the international agreement she had dispatched the disproportionately large number of 45.000 men, creating a misapprehension abroad as to Japan’s aims. Then, contrary to general expectations, Japan had withdrawn only partially when the repatriation of the Czechoslovaks in Siberia had been effected.

“When America withdrew,” the opposition leader declared, “Japan should have followed suit if she really desired to respect the spirit of joint action and really had in view at the time. It was decided to send an expeditionary force, the facilitation of the Czechoslovak withdrawal. The American withdrawal virtually deprived Japan of justification for the further maintenance of troops in Siberia.”

Viscount Kato asked why, if Japan had stationed troops at Khabarovsk and Chita for the maintenance of political stability, as had been explained, she
withdrew from these points at a time when the political conditions were equally menacing.

“Everything.” he said, “points to the conclusion that the stationing of troops in Siberia had nothing to do with political conditions there.”

“Japan,” concluded Viscount Kato, “May well be advised to leave the affairs of foreign nations to the foreigners, unless her own interests are seriously menaced.”

Who was Uchida?

Uchida was appointed as ambassador to the Empire of Russia just before the Bolshevik Revolution, Uchida returned to Japan to serve as Foreign Minister again from 1918 to 1923 under the Hara, Takahashi, and Katō administrations. He served as acting Prime Minister of Japan twice – once after the assassination of Prime Minister Hara, and again after the sudden death of Prime Minister Katō, immediately before the Great Kantō earthquake. (It is interesting to note that both Hara and Kato were quoted in the newspaper article on January 1921)

He was appointed to the House of Peers in the Diet of Japan in 1930, and became President of the South Manchuria Railway company in 1931.

Under his third term as Foreign Minister, from 1932 to 1933, during the Saitō Makoto administration, he called for the formal diplomatic recognition of Manchukuo, and later called for Japan’s withdrawal from the League of Nations. He was featured on the cover of Time, 5 September 1932 edition, which also contained an article on his stance vis-à-vis the League of Nations.

He died of illness 15 days after the 26 February Incident.

The February 26th Incident

The February 26 Incident, also known as the 2-26 Incident) was an attempted coup d’état in the Empire of Japan on 26 February 1936. It was organized by a group of young Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) officers with the goal of purging the government and military leadership of their factional rivals and ideological opponents.

Although the rebels succeeded in assassinating several leading officials (including two former prime ministers) and in occupying the government center of Tokyo, they failed to assassinate Prime Minister Keisuke Okada or secure control of the Imperial Palace. Their supporters in the army made attempts to capitalize on their actions, but divisions within the military, combined with Imperial anger at the coup, meant they were unable to achieve a change of government. Facing overwhelming opposition as the army moved against them, the rebels surrendered on 29 February.

Nearly all of the leaders that were either assassinated or were targeted for assassination were supporters of the London Naval Treaty. The London Naval Treaty (officially the Treaty for the Limitation and Reduction of Naval Armament) was an agreement between the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Italy and the United States, signed on 22 April 1930. Seeking to address a loophole in the formidable 1922 Washington Naval Treaty (that created tonnage limits for each nation’s surface warships), it regulated submarine warfare and limited naval shipbuilding. Ratifications were exchanged in London on 27 October 1930, and the treaty went into effect on the same day. It was largely ineffective.

Unlike earlier examples of political violence by young officers, the coup attempt had severe consequences. After a series of closed trials, 19 of the uprising’s leaders were executed for mutiny and another 40 imprisoned. The radical Kōdō-ha faction lost its influence within the army, the period of “government by assassination” came to a close, and the military increased its control over the civilian government.

Even though Uchida died in 1936, he was certainly someone who paved the way for Japanese expansionism and the growth of the fleets that would someday attack the American fleet in Pearl Harbor.

Mister Mac

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