A World in Flames: A Short History of the Second World War in Europe and Asia, 1939-1945

By Martin Kitchen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
The War in Asia (September 1931-July 1944)

During the night of 18 September 1931, units of the Japanese army stationed in Kwantung blew up some three feet of line on the railway near Mukden. Claiming that the attack had been launched by the Chinese, the Kwantung army opened fire on Chinese troops and seized Mukden and Changchin.

The Mukden incident was planned by a group of dissident officers who were determined to force the Japanese Government to reject the system of international co-operation established at the Washington conference of 1921-22. They wished to break away from a liberal and capitalist system which seemed to them to be based on a set of alien values which subordinated Japan's traditional interests to the needs of the western powers, and which was designed to frustrate the country's legitimate aspirations in the Asian Pacific.

The action of the Kwantung army was hardly an isolated act of disobedience by a clique of extremists. There was considerable support for the action at home, where anti-Government agitation was growing under the impact of the depression and the stringent deflationary policies of an administration committed to economic orthodoxy and to the preservation of the Washington system.

Prime Minister Wakatsuki was not the man to act forcefully against this unilateral action by the military, and those who were disturbed by the turn of events, particularly in the diplomatic service, found themselves without support. Even critics of the army did not want to go back to the status quo before 18 September. The official version of events was that Japan had acted decisively in punishing Chinese lawlessness and was thus upholding international treaties. But by acting unilaterally the Japanese were soon accused of violating the Nine-Power agreement. The Chinese Government denounced the Japanese for this breach of international law, refused to deal with them bilaterally and called for an emergency meeting of the League of

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