1. Who fought the war?
2. Why was it fought?
3. How is it related to WW2?
4. What difference did China make?
5. Who won?
6. Does it affect us today?
Japan chose the term Greater East Asia War (大東亜戦争 Dai To-A Senso) on 10 December 1941 to refer to the war it waged:
- from 1937 to 1945 in China to seize control of China
- from 1941 to 1945 outside China to support its war in China
The Greater East Asia War theater – East Asia, South-East Asia & Pacific – was one of the two principal theaters of the Second World War. The other principal theater being Europe, North Africa & Atlantic.
The Greater East Asia War was fought over a vast expanse of the globe spanning 70 degrees of latitude and 122 degrees of longitude.
The Battle of the Komandorski Islands
(fought about 1° south of the Komandorski Islands)
March 1943, was fought at about latitude 54°North
The Battle of the Coral Sea
May 1942, was fought to about latitude 16°South
The air-raid upon Colombo
April 1942, occurred at longitude 80°East
The attack upon Pearl Harbor
7 December 1941, occurred at longitude 158°West
The attacks listed below – lack the significance to warrant inclusion in the list above.
In the attacks on Sydney and Newcastle (both at about latitude 34°South), Australia, in May-June 1942 – Japan used only 5 submarines and 3 midget submarines, fired only 44 shells in total (of which only 2 exploded) – damage was insignificant and the attacks were inconsequential.
The attacks on the US Pacific coast, between longitudes 120° (Goleta, California, February 1942) and 127° West, between December 1941 and September 1942 – were isolated and sporadic, typically very brief and minor shelling from submarines – damage was insignificant and the attacks were inconsequential.
The attacks at Diego Suarez (at 49°East and now called Antsiranana) Madagascar, May-June 1942, by Japan’s midget submarines which damaged an old British battleship and sank a British tanker – were inconsequential.
Including Sydney, Goleta and Diego Suarez would mean the Greater East Asia War spanned 88 degrees of latitude and 191 degrees of longitude.
1. Who fought the war?
The original belligerents were Japan and China. Subsequently, the British, the US and the Netherlands became belligerents when Japan attacked their territories in Asia.
Japan had been invading China since September 1931 and waging a full scale war upon China since July 1937 – the Second Sino-Japanese War (also known as War of resistance against Japanese aggression in China). Many in Japan recognize that the war started in 1931 and ended with Japan’s surrender in August-September 1945 and use the term “Fifteen Year War” to refer to it.
Japan invades China, 1937
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On 7/8 December 1941 Japan attacked the British in Malaya, and the US at Pearl Harbor, and then in January 1942 Japan attacked the Netherlands East Indies – waging war upon the British, the US, and the Netherlands. China, the British, the US, and the Netherlands, were all Allied Powers.
Japan was an Axis Power and its attacks on the Allied Powers in December 1941 brought the British, the US and the Netherlands into the war in Asia. The wars in Europe between Europeans and the war in Asia between China and Japan now merged into a war of Axis Powers versus Allied Powers being fought worldwide; it had become a world war – the Second World War.
Japan surrendered to the Allied Powers in August-September 1945 and the term Greater East Asia War was prohibited, by the US occupation authorities, and superseded by the term Pacific War, or War with Japan, or Asia-Pacific War.
2. Why was it fought?
According to Japan's hallowed earliest records – the Kojiki (古事記, "Record of Ancient Matters"):
- Amaterasu – the Sun Goddess – gave her grandson Ninigi the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan
- the Sun Goddess commanded Ninigi to descend from heaven above to rule the earth below
- Jimmu Tenno – the Great-grandson of Ninigi – was the founding Emperor of Japan
Therefore, the Sun Goddess had – through Ninigi – commanded the Emperor of Japan to rule the earth. This became the rationale for Japan to invade and achieve domination over China (“all under heaven”) – its proponents declared invasion of China to be “seisen” (Holy War) because it was a divine commandment.
Jimmu Tenno was reputed to have declared at the founding of Japan in 660 BC the concepts of “Hakko Ichiu” (all eight corners of the world under one roof) and “Imperial Way” (united under the rule of the Emperor of Japan). All succeeding emperors were direct descendents of Jimmu Tenno.
The population of Japan had more than doubled from 33 million in 1872 to 69 million in 1935 and Japan looked upon China as the source of resources (raw materials & cheap labor) and the market that it needed.
The idea of “All the world united under the rule of the Emperor of Japan” was made the justification for Japan to conquer by military force, in a Holy War, the spaces it felt entitled to by divine commandment.
In April 1934, Japan's Foreign Office spokesman Amau, a proponent of Holy War, declared what came to be known as the "Amau Doctrine" – which, in effect, made China a protectorate of Japan; with Japan being the sole, final and exclusive arbiter over China.
The proponents of “All the world united under the rule of the Emperor of Japan” and Holy War were dominant in Japan. In 1940, Japanese Prime Minister Konoye led 450 members of the Diet (Japanese Parliament) to form the 'League of Diet Members Believing the Objectives of the Holy War'.
3. How is it related to WW2?
Japan had contrived the "Manchurian Incident" in September 1931 to seize territory from China.
In April 1934, Japan declared what came to be known as the "Amau Doctrine" – which, in effect, made China a protectorate of Japan; with Japan being the sole, final and exclusive arbiter over China.
Japan then launched a full-scale war on China with the "Marco Polo Bridge Incident" in July 1937 – to dominate and control China by conquering it and then creating puppet states. This was the implementation of the "Amau Doctrine".
In waging war, the Holy Warriors made no distinction between civilians and the military – both were attacked. Terror was an integral part of the modus operandi of the Holy Warrior. Terror was used as a principal weapon against civilians, for example, the Nanjing Massacre (December 1937 – January 1938), and then the “Kill All, Burn All & Loot All" (三光作戦) policy (1940 onwards). One Japanese regimental commander declared: “Our policy has been to burn every enemy house along the way we advance. You can tell at a glance where our forward units are.” In October 1944, to stave off defeat, the Holy Warriors resorted – in vain – to “kamikaze” (suicide bombing) attacks.
In 1938 it became clear that Japan’s invasion of China had become stalemated. Japan could win battles in China and occupy territory but could not pacify the territory it occupied.
The very first intact Japanese Zero fighter plane (serial number 3372) captured as a prize of war was captured by China – when its disoriented pilot landed on what was thought to be territory controlled by Japan – on 26 November 1941 (the US captured the "Akutan Zero" on 11 July 1942).
Fifteen of the 16 Doolittle Raid (18 April 1942) bombers made individual crash-landings scattered over an area of 500 square kilometers in Anhui, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces (of China) – all of which were either occupied by Japan or in which Japan's military moved at will. Yet, of the 72 aircrew-men who survived the crash-landings, Japan could capture only 8 (11%) – China's civilians and military rescued all of the 64 (89%) others.
These events show just how tenuous Japan's control of the territory it occupied in China was.
Chinese Nationalists fight pitched battles against the invading Japanese
China's troops fought at a severe disadvantage against invasion by Japan
Japan had the most modern weapons while China's troops were still armed with swords
Hand-held machine-gun versus warplane -- China's NRA troops using a hand-held machine-gun against Japan's invading warplanes in the late 1930's
A better armed Chinese unit in 1937
Meanwhile, in Europe, Germany and Italy had signed a treaty of friendship on 25 October 1936. On 1 November 1936, Mussolini the dictator of Italy proclaimed that the treaty formed a Berlin-Rome line that was not a partition but "an AXIS around which all European states can collaborate". Hence, the term “Axis Powers”. The treaty was made into an Alliance in May 1939. Hence, the term “Axis Alliance”.
Japan’s "Amau Doctrine" – declared in April 1934 – threatened the vested interests that the European powers (especially the British) and the US had in China. For example, for the US this meant the prospect of losing its special privileges such as concessions and extraterritoriality (Treaty of Wangsia – or Wangxia, or Wang Hia, or Wang Hiya – 1844), in China; for the British it meant the prospect of similar losses and the loss of immensely profitable banking houses in Shanghai and treaty ports (Treaty of Nanking, 1842; Treaty of the Bogue, 1843) in China; for both it meant the prospect of exclusion from China’s commerce, industry and markets.
Consequently, in 1939 the US, the British, China, and the Netherlands agreed among themselves to refuse to sell to Japan anything that it could use to wage war upon China – Japan called this the ABCD (American British Chinese Dutch) encirclement. If Japan could not continue to invade China – Japan could not win the war to conquer China.
Japan realized that to continue waging war upon China it needed the oil, rubber and other war material available from European-controlled territories to the south of China.
That meant attacking and conquering the Netherlands East Indies to secure the supply of oil – which was of paramount importance to Japan. Oil was vital to Japan’s industry and Japan’s ability to wage war upon China. At that time, the Netherlands East Indies were the fourth-largest producer of oil worldwide. Hence, the Netherlands East Indies were a prime target.
Japan joined the Axis Alliance by making it a Tripartite Pact in September 1940.
The Tripartite Pact 1940 stated "...Japan, Germany, and Italy consider it the prerequisite of a lasting peace that every nation in the world shall receive the space to which it is entitled. They have, therefore, decided to stand by and cooperate with one another in their efforts in the regions of Europe and Greater East Asia..."
Article 2 of the Pact stated that Germany and Italy "recognize and respect the leadership of Japan in the establishment of a new order in Greater East Asia."
Between Japan and the oil of the Netherlands East Indies lay Malaya (source of rubber and tin) and northern Borneo (also a source of oil) which were British territories with strong British military forces, e.g., “Fortress Singapore” – these had to be attacked first to prevent them from interfering when Japan attacked the Netherlands East Indies.
There were important British and US military bases in the region, the British in Hong Kong and the US in the Philippines (which was controlled by the US), on Guam, Midway and Wake – which Japan needed to attack, too, to destroy British and US power in the region.
Japan planned simultaneous attacks first on both Kota Bharu (Malaya, British territory) and Pearl Harbor (Hawaii, US territory), to be followed by attacks on Hong Kong, the Philippines, Guam, Wake and Midway (at 177°W – in the Western Hemisphere, like Pearl harbor) some hours later. The Netherlands East Indies were next.
Kota Bharu is in Kelantan which had been a vassal state paying tribute to Siam (Thailand since 1939), its suzerain, until the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909 made it British territory.
Pearl Harbor is in Hawaii which had been the sovereign Republic of Hawaii until it was annexed by the US and made a US territory – not a state of the US – in 1898 (Hawaii became a state of the US in 1959).
The decision "...advance into the Southern Regions...no matter what obstacles may be encountered...we will not be deterred by...a war with England and America" (the Southern Regions meant British, US and Netherlands territories to the south of China) – was made in the Gozen Kaigi (御前会議 meaning: Imperial Conference) on 2 July 1941.
The decision on the timing – if Japan's demands via diplomacy/negotiations were not satisfied by 10 October 1941, Japan would "immediately decide to commence hostilities against the United States, Britain and the Netherlands" – was made in the Imperial Conference on 6 September 1941.
In late September 1941, a German journalist (Richard Sorge) spying in Japan for the USSR – informed the USSR that Japan would not attack the USSR in the east (because Japan had decided to strike south). This enabled the USSR to rush 40 Siberian divisions from its East-Asian borders to defend the USSR in Europe instead. These Siberian divisions entered the war in Europe on 5 December 1941 – just in time to repulse Germany's military from the outskirts of Moscow. At this juncture, the front-line between Germany and the USSR was less than 30 km from the Kremlin. This was a pivotal event of WW2.
The decision to attack Pearl Harbor – was made in the Imperial Conference on 5 November 1941.
Japan attacks British Malaya, January 1942
Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941
As Kota Bharu – in the Eastern Hemisphere – is in a time zone 18 hours ahead of Pearl Harbor – in the Western Hemisphere – the simultaneous attacks were scheduled to occur when it was 8 December 1941 at Kota Bharu, but still 7 December 1941 at Pearl Harbor – and so it came to be. Japan was waging war on both Britain and the USA.
In Europe, Britain had been at war against Germany, an Axis Power, since 1939; Germany had invaded the USSR in June 1941. Britain and the USSR became Allied Powers on 1 January 1942.
The Japanese attacks on Kota Bharu and Pearl Harbor brought Britain (a country in Europe), and the USA (a country in the Americas) – into the war in Asia. The USA – a country in the Western Hemisphere – was now battling in combat in the Eastern Hemisphere. The Axis were fighting the Allies – soon to be Allies by declaration on 1 January 1942 – in both the eastern and western hemispheres now; it had become a world war – the Second World War.
Japan was now waging a war outside China to support its war inside China.
The area of this wider war both inside and outside China was referred to, by Japan, as "Greater East Asia".
The war that Japan was waging both inside and outside China was referred to, by Japan, as the “Greater East Asia War".
4. What difference did China make?
This is best answered by comparing Japan’s deployment of its military in China versus Japan’s deployment of its military outside China.
The answer has been difficult to ascertain because of many factors.
One factor was the prohibition – by the US authorities which occupied Japan – of the term Greater East Asia War. Consequently, other terms were used instead, e.g., Pacific War (Are China, Burma, India, in the Pacific?).
Another factor is the complex and confusing terminology of the Pacific War. Comparing the Allied Powers terminology to the US terminology one sees differing systems of terminology and over-lapping terms.
In the terminology of the Allied Powers – East Asia, South-East Asia & the Pacific (or Greater East Asia), the principal theater, was divided into 4 main theaters:
2. Pacific Ocean
3. South East Asia
4. South West Pacific
In US terminology – East Asia, South-East Asia & the Pacific (or Greater East Asia), the principal theater, was divided into 2 main theaters:
1. Pacific Theater of Operations (PTO)
2. China Burma India Theater (CBI)
The Pacific Theater of Operations (PTO) was divided into 2 Commands:
1. Pacific Ocean Areas (see: a, b & c below)
2. Southwest Pacific Area
There were 3 Pacific Ocean Areas:
a) North Pacific Area
b) Central Pacific Area (CENPAC)
c) South Pacific Area
The China Burma India Theater (CBI) was split in October 1944 into:
1. China Theater
2. India Burma Theater (IBT)
By the Allied Powers terminology – China was only one of four theaters. By US terminology China was only a part of CBI. By both terminologies it seems China was a sideshow.
Japan’s military had an army and a navy, and each had its own airforce of both land-based and carrier-based aircraft, e.g., the army had escort aircraft-carriers (capacity 8 to 38 aircraft), and the navy had fleet aircraft-carriers (capacity 70 to 90 aircraft) as well as smaller aircraft-carriers. Both army and navy, each, had its own amphibious assault forces (naval infantry or marines).
All branches of Japan’s military were heavily deployed in the invasion of China. For example, between February 1938 and August 1943, the navy’s land-based and carrier-based aircraft conducted 5,000 strategic bombing raids on China’s cities – e.g., Chongqing (600 miles inland) – often targetting civilians. Navy veterans who had invaded China formed the combined fleet (which included all six of the navy’s fleet aircraft-carriers) that attacked Pearl Harbor.
In the 5 months from the attack on Pearl Harbor until the inconclusive Battle of Coral Sea (early May 1942) Japan won every battle against the Allied Powers in South-East Asia & the Pacific. In those 5 months China was the only Allied Power to win a decisive victory in battle against Japan – the Third Battle of Changsha (24 December 1941 – 15 January 1942) in which Japan deployed 120,000 troops (47.3% were killed), 600 artillery pieces & 200 aircraft versus 300,000 Chinese troops (9.4% were killed).
The AVG (1st American Volunteer Group/the "Flying Tigers") from the US took no part in the battle and China won this victory before:
- any appreciable lend-lease supplies from the US reached China via the Burma Road
- "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell was assigned on 23 January 1942 to establish American Army Forces – the only US ground combat forces ever here were "Merrill’s Marauders" which were never more than 3,000 men – in the CBI (China-Burma-India) Theater
- the first airlift "over the hump" (which on 8 April 1942 carried 8,000 US gallons of aviation fuel intended to resupply the Doolittle Raiders)
This Chinese victory was the only boost to Allied morale in the East Asia, South-East Asia & Pacific theater at this juncture of World War 2.
Japan’s attack upon Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 devastated the US Pacific Fleet and demoralized the US. US morale needed a boost – desperately. Roosevelt repeatedly exhorted the chiefs of the US military to find a way to bomb Japan as soon as possible to shore up US public morale. The only feasible way for the US to do so was what became known as the legendary ‘Doolittle Raid’ (18 April 1942) by sixteen B-25 bombers manned by 80 aircrew-men – this was the utmost that the US was capable of against Japan at this juncture. The raid shocked Japan and deflated its morale but gave a tremendous boost to US morale.
The B-25 was the only feasible aircraft for the task capable of taking-off from an aircraft carrier. However, the B-25 was incapable of landing on an aircraft carrier. The US alliance with China made it possible for the raiders to bomb Japan and then fly onto China for safety. China paid a horrendous price for rescuing the Doolittle Raiders. Japan was enraged and retaliated by launching the Zhejiang-Jiangxi Campaign (May – September 1942) which killed 250,000 Chinese civilians who had rescued, or were suspected of helping, the Doolittle Raiders.
China’s Nationalists sent 100,000 troops into Burma, in early 1942, to support British and US forces fighting Japan’s invasion of British Burma. The initial defeat of the Allied Powers in Burma split this Expeditionary Force into X-Force and Y-Force which managed to rejoin in January 1945, and together with British and US forces, to ultimately defeat Japan’s invading force in Burma.
Let us now compare Japan’s deployment of its military – by the number of troops it committed to some significant battles – inside China versus outside China.
Battle of Shanghai (August – November 1937), Japan deployed 300,000 troops versus 600,000 Chinese troops.
Battle of Malaya (December 1941 – January 1942), Japan deployed 70,000 troops versus 140,000 British troops.
Zhejiang-Jiangxi Campaign (May – September 1942), Japan deployed 180,000 troops versus 300,000 Chinese troops.
Battle of Guadalcanal (August 1942 – February 1943), Japan deployed 37,000 troops versus 60,000 US troops.
Battle of Henan-Hunan-Guangxi (Japanese – Operation Ichi-Go; April to December 1944), Japan deployed 400,000 (510,00 by another account) troops versus 390,000 Chinese troops.
Battle of Iwo Jima (February – March 1945), Japan deployed 19,000 troops versus 110,000 US troops.
Second Guangxi Campaign (April – August 1945), Japan deployed 660,000 troops versus 600,000 Chinese troops.
Battle of Okinawa (April – June 1945), Japan deployed 110,000 troops versus 183,000 US troops.
Let us now compare Japan’s deployment of its military from another perspective – by the percentage of its military deployed inside China versus outside China.
In October 1938, 94% Japan’s army, 66% of Japan’s navy, and 60% of Japan’s military aircraft – deployed in China.
In 1940, 87% of Japan’s army – 27 of Japan’s 31 divisions – deployed in China.
In late 1941, 95% of Japan’s army – 39 of Japan’s 41 divisions – deployed in China.
On 7 December 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Japan had an army of 51 divisions and 39 independent brigades, of which:
- 35 divisions and 38 independent brigades were in China – this meant 80% of Japan’s army was deployed in China
- only 11 divisions – less than 14% of Japan’s army – were deployed for ALL of the attacks on the “Day of Infamy” against the British and the US
It must be noted that Japan's Combined Fleet, which included all 6 of Japan’s fleet aircraft-carriers, attacked Pearl Harbor. Navy veterans who had invaded China formed the combined fleet. Their combat experience gained in invading China – was employed to devastate the US Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor.
In August 1945, 57.5% of Japan’s military – 2.05 million of 3.56 million men were in China:
- 27.4% of Japan’s navy – 112,000 of 407,000 men – deployed in China
- 61.4% of Japan’s army – 1.94 million of 3.16 million men – deployed in China
From 18 September 1931 until 29 July 1938 China was the sole target of Japan's attacks.
The Battles at Changkufeng in 1938 and Nomonhan in 1939 were Japan's attempts to secure (against what Japan believed were encroachments by the USSR) the border of north-eastern China which Japan occupied.
Japan invaded French Indo-China in 1940 to cut-off supplies to China's military and position Japan's military to seize the resources to the south of China that Japan needed to continue its invasion of China.
From 18 September 1931 until 9 September 1945 (when Japan's military in China surrendered to China) China was – at all times – the prime target of Japan's attacks consuming the major portion of Japan's military might.
Had Japan deployed, or been able to deploy, the major portion of its military outside China instead of in China – WW2 would have progressed on a different timeline and developed different results.
The First World War had been called a world war only because there had been fighting in locations scattered worldwide; however, there was clearly one principal theater of war – Europe – with relatively little fighting outside it.
In contrast, in the Second World War there were clearly two principal theaters of war quite equal in scale and intensity of combat – one being: Europe, North Africa & Atlantic; the other being: East Asia, South-East Asia & Pacific.
Had Japan not invaded China there would have been no war between China and Japan. And therefore no Sino-Japanese War in Asia to merge with the war in Europe to make the Second World War a war with clearly two principal theaters of war; WW2 would have been like WW1 – with clearly only one principal theater of war (Europe, North Africa & Atlantic) and relatively little fighting outside it.
5. Who won?
Japan surrendered to the Allied Powers in August-September 1945.
6. Does it affect us today?
The Greater East Asia War merged with the war in Europe, North Africa & Atlantic to form the Second World War and this question is answered in 4. Does it affect us today? of World War 2 -- understand it within the hour
Today, there are national and international entities that feel compelled to acquire, or impose upon others – by force of arms, or any other means (e.g., stealth, infiltration, deception, etc), what they feel entitled to by race or – by belief. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it!
World War 2 – understand it within the hour
- World War 2 -- understand it within the hour
1.Who fought the war? 2.Why was it fought? 3.Who won? 4.Does it affect us today? You need to know the answers to these questions within the hour to properly complete an assignment, an article, a webpage, or to win an argument
World War 2 – When and where did it begin?
- World War 2 -- Did it begin at Pearl Harbor?
Strangely, almost no one is aware of the answer that has the strongest claim to validity -- 8 December 1941, Kota Bharu, British Malaya.
Are the similarities just coincidence or was Taierzhuang the model for Stalingrad?
- Taierzhuang 1938 -- Stalingrad 1942-1943
Taierzhuang 1938 -- Stalingrad 1942-1943 A militarily powerful country invades a very much larger country to seize territory. The invader has had an almost unbroken string of impressive victories...
Lance Olsen (author) on June 15, 2010:
Thanks for your comment.
Glad you liked my article.
This article is 1 of 3 related articles -- and every one of my articles point out that WW2 did NOT begin with Japan's attack on the US Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor.
On 7/8 December 1941 separate wars in Asia and Europe merged to become World War 2. The merging of the saparate wars began with Japan's attack on British Malaya; then, 85 minutes AFTER that -- Japan dropped its first bomb on the US at Pearl Harbor. Japan's attack upon British Malaya was the PRIMARY operation -- Japan's attack upon Pearl Harbor was a SECONDARY operation to SUPPORT the attack on British Malaya. This is clearly detailed in my article -- https://hubpages.com/education/WWIIDiditbeginatPea...
The war in Europe is most often recognized as starting in 1939 -- but full-scale war had already started in Asia when Japan invaded China in 1937.
The sequence of events that made WW2:
First -- war began in Asia when Japan invaded China in 1931 and then launched a full-scale war upon China in 1937.
Second -- war began in Europe when Germany invaded Poland in a full-scale war in 1939.
Third -- the separate wars in Asia and Europe MERGED to BECOME World War 2 when Japan attacked, first British Malaya, and then -- Pearl Harbor (US territory); on 7/8 December 1941.
alphonsians93 from Cebu Philippines on June 15, 2010:
wow! you did a good job man! I like it, but World War II in the Pacific should not be blamed on Pearl Harbour, because if we said that way then it like the WW2 started when US declared War. But actually there were Wars going on in asia even before the US declared War with Japan.