The entrance of the Japanese to Mukden
This scenario presented a familiar pattern to the world. Western weakness and ineffective sanctions and moral protests with a powerless League of nations to prevent the invasion whereby the Japanese civilian government could no longer control her own military and their aggression. The same old argument of the hunger for resources which Manchuria afforded and the need for more space to relocate her overflowing population (Lebensraum) were the same arguments Germany used to justify her aggression and "secret " rearmament of the Ruhr. Japan andf Germany regarded ceratin races as inferior,also. The west as usual lost mopral nerve and equivocated with their pious morality only in talk, and the weak League could not enforce it sanctions. This scenario would be repeated ad nauseum in giving Hitler the green light to puverlize Europe.
Manchuria, on China’s eastern seaboard, was attacked by Japan in 1931. The League
effectively did nothing.
What was the background behind this attack and the League’s
Just one week before Japan invaded Manchuria, Viscount Cecil,
Britain’s chief representative at the League of
Nations, said in a speech to the League :
"I do not think there is the
slightest prospect of any war."
Japan, the League’s
strongest member in the Far East, proved him wrong.
Why did Japan
invade Manchuria ?
Japan was becoming increasingly crowded due to its
limited size as a nation and its rapidly increasing population. Manchuria
offered nearly 200,000 square kilometres which, as part of a Japanese empire,
would easily accommodate any over-spilling population. The Japanese people had a
very low opinion of the Chinese - a Japanese form of "untermenschen" - and,
therefore, would have given no thought to the Manchurian people whatsoever. It
was also believed in Japan that Manchuria was rich in minerals, forestry and
rich agricultural land. With the problems that Japan was experiencing at home,
Manchuria seemed an obvious solution to these problems.
By 1931, Japan had
invested vast sums of money into the economy of Manchuria effectively controlled
by the South Manchuria Railway Company. To guard all of its investments, Japan
kept a large army in southern Manchuria.
The 1929 Depression hit Japan hard.
The civilian government found that it had no solutions to the problems presented
by the world-wide depression and to the army the civilian government looked
weak. Many people admired the more robust response of the army. The unemployed
of Japan looked to the strength of the army to assist their plight rather than
to what weak politicians were doing. The voices of senior army generals were
heard and they argued for a campaign to win new colonies abroad so that the
industries there could be exploited for Japan. The most obvious target was a
full-scale invasion of Manchuria.
An explosion on a section of the South
Manchuria Railway, gave the army the excuse it needed to blame the local
population of sabotage and to occupy the nearest Manchurian town of Shenyang.
The League at
China’s request immediately ordered the Japanese army to withdraw. Japan’s
delegates at the League’s
headquarters in Geneva, agreed to this demand and blamed the event on army
The Japanese government in Tokyo also agreed to this
demand. However, the army did not listen and it launched a full-scale invasion
of Manchuria and by the end of 1931, it had occupied the whole of the province.
The civilian government had clearly lost control of the army, and the League’s
position was that it would deal with the government of the aggressor nation. But
how could this succeed when the government had no control over the army which
was the cause of the problem ?
The League could
introduce three sanctions. Verbal warnings clearly did not work. However, the
impact of the Depression meant that those nations that traded with Japan did not
want to risk losing this trade. If a nation did give up trading with Japan, as
Britain pointed out, their place would quickly be taken by another country
willing to get trade started with the Far East’s most powerful
Britain was also concerned about her colonies in the Far East,
particularly Hong Kong and Singapore. Would Japan attack them if Britain sided
with those who wanted to carry out economic sanctions on Japan ?
How did the League
deal with this problem of aggression ?
It established a Commission of Enquiry
lead by Lord Lytton of Great Britain. This Commission, after a lengthy visit to
the Far East including Manchuria, reported in October 1932. Lytton concluded
that Japan should leave Manchuria but that Manchuria itself should be run as a
semi-independent country instead of returning to Chinese rule. The report was
accepted and approved by the League in
1933. In response to the report and the League
accepting it, Japan resigned from the League and
occupied a region around Manchuria called Jehol, which it claimed gave the
Japanese army the ability to defend Manchuria.
What did this affair prove
?The League could
not enforce its authority. A major power could get away with using force An
issue so far from Europe was not likely to attract the whole-hearted support of
the major European powers in the League - Britain and France. The affair had
indicated that Britain was more concerned with her territories in the Far East
than in the maintenance of law and order. Other powers would almost certainly
see this episode as a sign that they too could get away with the use of force
The League also
lost its most powerful member in the Far East and ultimately Japan was to unite
with the two other nations that broke League rules - Germany and Italy.