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Japanese Imperial Ambitions

Since 1931 bellicose Japanese imperialism set about changing the map of the world by armed force. After the military seizure of Manchuria, Japanese imperialism proceeded to occupy Northern China; it openly showed its intention of establishing its protectorate over all China, and is now preparing to continue its further advance towards the center of China. The aim pursued by imperialist Japan, and openly avowed by its statesmen, was the establishment of Japanese hegemony not merely in the Far East, but in all Eastern Asia and along the western shores of the Pacific Ocean.

Japan started the war in Asia and in the Pacific to establish and protect a "New Order" in Asia.2 In "Phase I" of the war, the "operational objective" of the Imperial Fleet, n the words of Combined Fleet Secret Order Number One, issued on 1 November 1941, was expressed as follows: ". . . by ejecting British and American strength from the Netherlands Indies and the Philippines, to establish a policy of autonomous self-sufficiency and economic independence."

Willmott, in the same vein, asserts that ". . . of all the major combatants Japan alone did not aspire to a final victory. . . . Japan's goal was to secure a negotiated peace by limiting and winning the conflict she began . . . in 1941. She aimed to force her enemies to come to terms with the gains she intended to make in the opening months of the war."

Asia was defined by those Japanese who shared this vision of the immediate future as including India and Indonesia, as well as China, Manchuria, and all of Southeast Asia, including the Philippines. Australia was on the periphery of Asia, in danger of being swept into its definition at the next favorable turn of events.

Phase I of the Japanese master plan for the conquest of this vast area actually ended in the central and western Pacific in march 1942, with the unexpectedly quick and easy defeat of Australian, British, Dutch, and American forces and the fall of Java. Heroic American naval, ground, and air forces on Corregidor did not capitulate until 6 May 1942. The fall of Java, however, marked the end of effective naval resistance in the entire region from Singapore to New Guinea.

Flush with their uninterrupted string of victories, Japanese army and navy planners agreed, probably in late December 1941 or early January 1942, that the United States and Great Britain must be prevented from developing Australia as a base from which to launch a counteroffensive.

A controversy developed between the army and navy over the "propriety" of actually invading Australia and India. The navy reasoned that, to keep the U.S. and Great Britain on the defensive, all Japanese military arms should be constantly on the offensive. Accordingly, naval strategists recommended a far-reaching but vastly unpopular menu of joint army/navy amphibious offensives throughout the central and western Pacific and in the Indian Ocean to be accomplished in the first six months of 1942.

The navy wanted the army to invade India and Australia. Always mindful of its heavy troop commitments in China, Manchuria, and Southeast Asia, and never an enthusiastic supporter of naval strategy, the army managed to convince the navy that the strategy was beyond its capabilities.

Instead, it agreed to a policy also conceived in the navy, but much more economical of army resources, to help the navy sever communications between the U.S. and Australia and the U.K. and India. The Japanese planned to launch their campaigns against New Caledonia, Fiji, and Samoa, all of which lie east of Australia, thus effectively encircling the northern half of eastern Australia and cutting off communications with her U.S. allies. If successful, such a policy would complete the isolation of Australia, prevent an Anglo-American counteroffensive in the Pacific, reduce western aid to China, and place India, Australia, and New Zealand well within the sphere of Japanese influence without resorting to a serious expenditure of army resources.

By 1942 Japan had nearly completed her ejection of the white races from the Far East. A few Americans were holding a small spot in the Philippines; British were yet fighting in Burma; and a mixed American, British, and Dutch force was fighting a last ditch battle in Java. In none of these places did the white races have much hope of remaining. The Japanese had moved in this war with extraordinary rapidity from one operation to another.

From Burma as a base, Japan could strike against India. India had a large number of troops of her own - about amillion. A large part of these was away in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, and Iran. If these Indian troops were left where they were, there might not have been enough to defend India, or to preserve order should sections of that country rise in revolt and invite Japan to intervene. If the Indian troops were withdrawn from their stations and returned to India, the British forces in the Near East might be so weakened as to constitute an invitation to the Axis to go ahead with its attack on Egypt and the Suez Canal or to advance eastwards through Turkey, which country might decide in this case to join the Axis. This danger could be avoided by replacing the Indian troops by Americans. This in turn would involve a difficult transportation problem, for the journey would be around the Cape of Good Hope, a long and tedious voyage requiring some three months for a round trip, or only four voyages per ship a year.

Instead of moving against India, the Japanese could have moved south or southeast. Australia is practically as large as the continental United States. It would have taken a great number of troops to occupy it, regardless of opposition, and it did not seem likely that the Japanese would try it. Destruction of bases along the north Australian coast was probable, and had in fact commenced. This could be continued as necessary from the islands just north of Australia, which the Japanese had already seized.

Another possible and more probable move would have been to attack New Zealand. This country is small enough to form a fair target for the available Japanese force. The Japanese would have a problem in a long line of communications to New Zealand, which would be open to attack by the United States fleet. Japanese statesmen have said that Japan would attack New Zealand in time, after having been given an opportunity to abandon with Australia their connection with the British Empire and their alliance with the United States, after assuring themselves that these two nations had no chance of gaining the war. An attack on New Zealand might not occur at once.

Easier objectives for Japan would be the Fiji or Samoan Islands. Both these groups of islands were on the line of supply from the United States to Australia. They were nearer Japanese bases, and presumably could be more easily taken than New Zealand. Should the Japanese succeed in this it would be most difficult for the United States to continue to supply Australia and New Zealand, and would be a most powerful argument to these two Dominions to reconsider their role in the war. Japanese advances into the Solomon and Gilbert Islands pointed directly towards the Fiji Islands and Samoa as a future objective.

The Japanese had the initiative; they had the Allies guessing. Japan might attack India, with or without Indian help; or New Zealand, Samoa, or the Fiji Islands. They might attack more than one of these places at the same time. This required the United Nations to watch over and protect several widely separated areas, with large forces everywhere, each sufficient to meet the available Japanes earmy, air, and naval forces. It was an uncomfortable positionto be in. It could be avoided when the Allies took the offensive, and brought the war straight towards Japan.

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Page last modified: 06-09-2021 15:33:42 ZULU