THE Japanese fighting services constitute an imperium in imperio. They have their special objectives in foreign and domestic policy which no Cabinet can ignore with impunity. Their position is trebly buttressed by tradition, by constitutional privilege, and by the present balance of political forces.

The Japanese officer is the heir of the mediæval knight, the samurai, in popular respect and esteem. The Chiefs of the Army and Navy General Staffs enjoy the important right of direct access to the Emperor; and service theoreticians interpret this as freeing the Army and Navy from any parliamentary control of their activities. The requirement that the War and Navy Ministers must always be respectively a General and an Admiral in active service makes for strong military and naval influence on every Cabinet, since the corporate spirit of the services is so strong that no senior officer could be prevailed on to assume office in a Cabinet with a personnel or a policy that seemed inconsistent with the realization of military and naval aims and objectives. Moreover, the whole trend of events since the occupation of Manchuria, still more since the incident of February 26, has been in the direction of consolidating the predominant position of the Army and the Navy. The February outbreak was a dramatic and spectacular move in the complicated struggle between extremists and moderates that is always going on in Japan.

In one camp are the fighting services. The Army, especially in the middle and lower ranks of its officers' corps, is deeply affected by a ferment of vague but strong anti-capitalism and social radicalism. The Navy, less concerned with social questions, makes a united front with the Army on such points as insisting on industrial policies with a strategic turn, asserting freedom from civilian control, and demanding larger appropriations. With the fighting services may be reckoned the small but active societies and groups that advocate various brands of extreme nationalism. The Army and Navy, especially the former, exert much influence on the nationwide Reservists' and Young Men's Associations.

So much for the extremists. The moderates would include Japan's influential senior statesmen, men like Prince Saionji and Count Makino and the victims of February 26, Viscount Saito and Finance Minister Takahashi. It is a curious but unmistakable fact that the older a Japanese statesman is the more likely his political outlook is to be tinged with liberalism and moderation. No doubt this is largely attributable to the fact that most of Japan's older leaders visited Europe and America during the formative years of their lives at a time when the liberal philosophy in politics and economics was not so generally flouted as it is today. The big business and financial interests, the larger part of the civilian bureaucracy, and the majority of the oldline politicians in the Diet may also be regarded as on the side of relative moderation in foreign policy and maintenance, in essential points, of the economic status quo.

Militarism, with its accompanying "navalism" and "big business," are the strongest articulate forces in Japan today. There are individual Japanese liberals, but there is no liberal party. A very mild socialist party, the Shakai Taishuto, substantially increased its vote in the Diet election which immediately preceded the February 26 outbreak. But the political influence of this organization is very limited. Communism is a proscribed faith in Japan. Apart from the constant watchfulness of the police -- which finds expression in periodic round-ups of young people, especially students suspected of cherishing "dangerous thoughts" -- there is little indication that communism is a serious force in Japan today. Some of the active communist and left-wing agitators of a few years ago have now become extreme nationalists.

There are several points at issue between the fighting services, on one side, and the business interests and civilian bureaucrats, on the other. First comes the ever pressing problem of how much Japan can afford to spend on armaments. Army and Navy estimates are naturally more generous than those of business men and financiers. Furthermore, the services favor certain industrial policies more defensible on military than on economic grounds.

The Navy's desire for an assured supply of oil looms large in the framing of some of these measures. From the standpoint of national self-sufficiency, Japan's oil position has been steadily deteriorating during the last decade. The use of oil products increased more than fourfold between 1923 and 1934, while domestic production remained practically stationary. As a result, the proportion of home-produced oil to the country's consumption declined from 34.2 percent to 8.4 percent. In the event of a wartime emergency, Japan, by peaceful means or otherwise, would doubtless have the use of the oil of Northern Sakhalin, which the Soviet Union has no means of defending. But even this acquisition would, on the basis of present production, only raise the proportion of self-supplied oil to about 20 percent; and war would, of course, greatly increase the need.

Various measures have been adopted and proposed with a view to coping with this oil shortage. Foreign and Japanese oil companies are required to keep in storage a constant six months' reserve supply. The American and British oil companies for a long time opposed the application of this law, on the ground that it would put them to unreasonable expense in providing additional storage facilities. But a compromise has just been arranged, under which the companies will comply with the law, while the powerful Mitsui interests will provide the storage facilities. Other measures that are being pushed with strong support from the Navy are experiments in mixing gasoline with alcohol, intensive exploration of even the least promising oil-bearing land in the Japanese Empire, and state subsidies for the erection of plants devoted to the manufacture of oil from coal. Three such plants are definitely planned, two in Manchukuo, at Fushun and Ssupingkai, the other at the naval base of Tokuyama. The Navy's desire for assured oil supplies is also a powerful factor in strengthening its interest in the southward route of advance, to be discussed shortly. The Dutch East Indies, owned by a small and distant European power, contains the richest oilfields in East Asia. The projection of Japanese naval strength into the South Pacific might reasonably be expected to increase Japan's chances of access to this most important petroleum source in time of war.

Many Army and Navy officers, especially of the younger generation, regard themselves as champions of the debt-ridden, poverty-stricken peasants against exploitation by urban industry and finance. They see in the peasant the best human material for military service and also the representative of the old Japanese virtues, unspoiled by contact with the corrupting and unsettling influences of the towns. Consequently there is a strong demand in military and naval circles for more liberal agrarian relief regardless of the expense to the city taxpayer and mortgage-holder.

Without directly opposing the demands for strengthened national defense, more liberal agrarian relief and the shaping of economic policies to meet strategic ends, the business interests and the civilian statesmen, so far as they dare, offer a kind of passive resistance to the full-blown military program, emphasizing especially the financial obstacles to its realization.

This struggle between extremists and moderates, to give convenient terms to the two tendencies, is the axis around which revolves Japan's real political life, as distinguished from the shadow-boxing of the parties in the Diet. Sometimes the struggle proceeds imperceptibly, behind closed doors. Sometimes it takes extremely violent forms of expression, as in the terrorist acts of May 15, 1932, and the still more formidable military revolt of February 26, 1936. But finality is not to be expected in this struggle, because neither militarism nor big business, despite their quarrels and differences of opinion, can get on without the other. This is why crises which, viewed from a Western standpoint, seem to demand a "showdown," a decisive solution of some kind, end in Japan in compromise and a new groping for a working basis of equilibrium.

There is interdependence, as well as antagonism, between the two most powerful forces in contemporary Japan. Some industries, especially munitions, engineering and shipbuilding, are drawing substantial profits from the execution of Army and Navy orders. Individual Japanese firms, if not Japanese economy as a whole, stand to gain from the expansive development of Manchukuo. Japanese business men, like those of other countries, are not inclined to underrate the value of a strong Army and Navy as a trade protection and promotion agency, even if they sometimes grumble at the bills which are presented in this connection. At the same time, Army and Navy senior officers, if not the more impetuous juniors, believe that the capitalist, while he may be a disagreeable necessity, is still a necessity. They realize that any sudden disturbance of Japan's delicately adjusted mechanism of production, trade and currency would react unfavorably on the country's military capacity.

The outlines of the unwritten compromise that was the sequel to February 26 are fairly clear. The higher Army leaders, whose mouthpiece is the new War Minister, General Count Terauchi, have agreed to make every effort to curb the extremists among the younger officers on condition that the Army's views receive more consideration in state policies. The seventeen death sentences meted out to the more active participants in the February 26 revolt indicate a determination on the part of the Army leadership to maintain discipline by sterner means than were formerly considered possible or expedient. The Navy is a more silent partner in this arrangement. In view of these circumstances the aims of the two services are of greater significance than ever.

Military and naval influence has never been negligible in directing the course of Japanese policy, especially in recent years. For a long time a curious kind of dual diplomacy has prevailed in Japan's dealings with China. Conciliatory gestures of diplomats have repeatedly been counteracted by high-handed and quite independent actions of soldiers and sailors. A Japanese publicist recently defended this practice on the following grounds: [i]

We cannot believe that a single line of diplomacy necessarily represents the best method of readjusting existing difficulties. A certain amount of dual practice is more likely to achieve better results where the Chinese are concerned than any single line of policy, if one considers the present conditions in China, the peculiar nature of the Nanking Government and the character of the Chinese.

The Chinese are gifted with a talent for frustrating the intentions of others when they foresee the methods of their opponents. In diplomatic astuteness the Japanese are no match for the Chinese. Unfortunate as it may be, China is a country that must be handled from all directions by all tactics, if it is to be aroused from the folly of its ways.

There have been several indications of the Army's intention to hold a tight checkrein on the new Cabinet. Several of Mr. Hirota's original nominees for ministerial posts were dropped as a result of peremptory vetoes from the Army. The Cabinet accepted the four points which the Army laid down as the prerequisites of its coöperation. These are: strengthening of national defense, clarification of national polity, adoption of a positive and independent foreign policy, and stabilization of the people's livelihood.

The last of these points may mean almost anything, from very slight measures of social reform to drastic extension of state control over industrial and economic life. "Positive and independent foreign policy" is also a very elastic phrase. "Clarification of national polity" is an accepted euphemism for the suppression of liberal constitutional theories, like those of Dr. Tatsukichi Minobe, who horrified conservative retired officers by describing the Emperor as "an organ of state." There will probably be a revision of teaching in the schools and universities along still more nationalist and orthodox lines.

Of all the four points the most concrete and the most inescapable is the increase in military and naval appropriations. Japan's financial resources have already been severely strained. The budget of 1932 assigned the Army 227,480,000 yen, the Navy 227,120,000 yen. A succession of steady increases raised the Army appropriation to 508,000,000 yen, the Navy allotment to 551,000,000 yen for the fiscal year, 1936-1937.[ii] About 47 percent of the revenue is devoted to military and naval purposes.

Even this proportion is considered inadequate; the aged Finance Minister, Korekiyo Takahashi, paid with his life for his opposition to the demands of the services for still higher appropriations. Various devices are suggested for raising additional funds. Some savings are possible through refunding state loans at lower rates of interest. But it seems that, for the bulk of the supplementary revenue which will be required, the new Minister of Finance, Dr. Eiichi Baba, will be obliged to resort to two methods which are fraught with economic risk: higher taxes and increased flotation of deficit-covering bonds. Higher taxes will almost inevitably tend to raise the cost of living. This, in turn, may well initiate an upward spiral in wages and costs, disturbing the internal economic equilibrium which has been a main factor in Japan's remarkable gains in foreign trade. As for issuing more bonds, many financial observers believe that Mr. Takahashi had already done this up to, if not beyond, the limit of safety.

But the demands of the fighting services are insistent, and there is every prospect that by one means or another they will be satisfied. The Army lays special stress on strengthening its aviation and mechanized branches; and the heavy Soviet troop concentrations in the Far East are used as an argument for increasing the Japanese forces in Manchukuo, possibly to the extent of the four divisions which were disbanded during Japan's pacific interlude in the twenties. The prospective state of no-treaty relations in the Pacific serves the Navy as a talking point much as the alleged Russian menace reinforces the demands of the Army.

In their stand for increased appropriations, the suppression of liberals, the curbing of capitalists, and the subordination of the national economic life to the exigencies of defense, the Army and the Navy constitute on the whole a fairly united bloc, although the younger officers in the Army have been more unruly, more permeated with ideas of social radicalism than their colleagues in the Navy. The two services are also in agreement as to the desirability of a stiff and assertive foreign policy.

But there is a definite and significant cleavage of viewpoint between Army and Navy as to the immediate objectives which should be pursued. The former favors a westward, the latter a southward trend of expansion.

The Japanese Army was the real creator of Manchukuo. At a reception held on the occasion of the anniversary of Manchukuo's declaration of independence in Tokyo, I was struck by the number of prominent Japanese Generals who were present. From a subsequent trip in Manchukuo I carried away the impression that the Army was likely to have the last word on matters of administrative and economic policy, although in Manchukuo, as in Japan, there is a struggle between militarism and finance, with a cross-current of antagonism between Japanese traders who are primarily interested in profits and Japanese technical advisers who sincerely wish to promote the interests of the new state. Closely linked up with Manchukuo are the problems of North China and Inner Mongolia. Here again the Army naturally plays the leading rôle. It is Generals, not Admirals, who flit about between Hsinking, Peiping and Mukden, who pull the strings that move the curious little "autonomous" marionettes in Inner Mongolia and in the Demilitarized Zone.

Japan's determination to play the predominant rôle in North China has recently been reëmphasized by the increase in its garrison in the Tientsin-Peiping area to a figure in the neighborhood of 10,000. This is an important move in the Army game of westward, continental expansion. It means that Japanese troops will henceforward outnumber those which all other Powers maintain under the terms of the Boxer Protocol. Japanese "face" will be correspondingly enhanced. In the Orient, perhaps even more than in other parts of the world, it is often sufficient to show power without actually using it.

The geographical and professional considerations that attract the Army to the westward route of expansion dictate to the Navy a southward course of Empire. While the Army points to the timber, soya beans, coal and gold of Manchukuo, to the iron of Chahar, the coal of Shansi, the cotton of Hopei, Navy spokesmen not infrequently call the attention of Japanese business men to the wealth of tropical foodstuffs and raw materials in the South Pacific: oil, cotton, iron, tin, hemp and copra, to mention only a few of the most important minerals and raw materials. Admiral Sankichi Takahashi, Commander of the Combined Fleet of the Japanese Navy, recently told a gathering of Osaka industrialists, according to the report of the leading Japanese news agency: "Japan's economic advance must be directed southward, with either Formosa or the South Sea Island mandates as a foothold. In this case the cruising radius of the Japanese Navy must be expanded suddenly as far as New Guinea, Borneo and Celebes."

Admiral Takahashi, who after Japan's withdrawal from the London naval talks told a reporter of the Tokyo newspaper Yomiuri that Japan could defeat Great Britain and the United States together, is supported in his advocacy of a southward economic advance by Mr. Koichiro Ishihara, shipping magnate and financial patron of the Meirinkai, one of the more respectable and less violent nationalist associations with a large membership among retired military and naval officers. Ishihara, whose shipping and trading interests are in the South Pacific, published an article in a recent issue of the magazine Diamond recommending that Japan conclude a treaty of alliance with Germany and the Soviet Union "in order to make the European Powers keep their hands off the Orient." He characterized as "unnatural" policies which prevented Japanese settlement in Australia and the East Indies, declared the latter country was pursuing a self-destructive policy in restricting imports of Japanese goods, and confidently predicted that "Japan's southward policy will solve the political, economic and social problems confronting the country."

Economically there is much to be said for the idea that Japan's manifest destiny lies to the south. The share of Japan's foreign trade carried on with South Seas countries (British India, the Dutch East Indies, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Malaya and Siam) rose from 18.7 percent in 1929 to 28.4 percent in 1934. With the exception of Australia and New Zealand, all these countries are inhabited by peoples of low purchasing power who have been eager buyers of the cheap Japanese textiles, bicycles, rubber goods, and miscellaneous exports. Moreover, experience has shown that Japanese emigrants prefer a warmer, not a colder climate than that of their native islands. Japanese agricultural settlement in Manchukuo up to the present time has yielded the most negligible results. A few thousand colonists have been settled in North Manchuria, where they have been compelled to carry on a running fight with the numerous political bandits of that region. On the other hand, thirty or forty thousand Japanese have migrated to the very limited area of the South Seas mandated islands during the last few years; at the present rates of population increase they will soon far outnumber the natives. Japanese have also adapted themselves very well to Philippine living conditions in Davao, where their predominance in the hemp industry has created an internal and international problem for the Commonwealth Government.

Politically, however, the continental route of expansion is less risky. Manchukuo is a fait accompli, little affected by the general withholding of diplomatic recognition. And it does not seem likely that a further extension of Japanese hegemony in North China and Inner Mongolia will encounter serious opposition, either from China or from foreign Powers. There is little prospect that Chiang Kai-shek will play his desperate last card of armed resistance to Japan before the Japanese advance has crossed the Yellow River, especially in view of recent complications with the southwest. As for the Western powers, a prominent British expert who was recently in the Far East voiced a general impression when he expressed the opinion that they are fighting a "rearguard action" in defense of their interests in China. In the South Pacific, on the other hand, while Japan has large commercial opportunities, any step of outright political aggression would risk war. The rich Dutch colonial empire is perhaps the weakest link in the chain of Eastern tropical and semi-tropical lands. But it is generally believed that an attack on Borneo or Java would be equivalent to an attack on the British Empire.

The competing expansionist pulls of the fighting services, one to the west, the other to the south, is a main reason for the apparent lack of adroitness and flexibility of Japanese diplomacy in manœuvring against the Powers with which it has competing interests in the Far East. The three main Powers which fall under this classification are, of course, the Soviet Union, Great Britain and the United States. It might have been imagined that a main objective of Japanese foreign policy would have been to drive a wedge between the Soviet Union and the Anglo-Saxon powers. This objective might have been achieved in two ways.

The conclusion of a Soviet-Japanese non-aggression pact, combined with the establishment of a clear line of demarcation between Japanese and Soviet spheres of influence in East Asia, might have produced an understanding with the Soviet Union which would have freed Japan's hands for a southward advance. By the same token, a more conciliatory Japanese attitude on such questions as naval limitation and the Manchukuo oil monopoly would have strengthened Japan's position vis-à-vis the Soviet Union by taking off the sharper edges of antagonism with Great Britain and America.

Japan has chosen neither of these alternatives. The continuance of strain and tension in the border relations with the Soviet Union, reflected in repeated clashes between frontier patrols, has not been accompanied by any gesture of conciliation toward the Anglo-Saxon Powers. Several factors account for this apparent failure of diplomacy. Of these, Japan's desire to acquire a position of absolute hegemony in China is not the least. But another consideration is the professional rivalry between the two services and the unwillingness of either to acquiesce in a line of policy that would give the other a predominant rôle.

Do the Japanese Army and Navy want war? This question, put in such blunt and crude form, can certainly be answered in the negative. Modern war is a gigantic risk not only for the individuals who take part in it but for the whole political and social order of the belligerent country. Japanese military and naval leaders are certainly not blind to the grave dangers of internal unrest that would be involved in defeat, even in stalemate.

Despite its remarkable industrial progress Japan is economically and financially ill-prepared to stand the strain of a prolonged large-scale war. The country's gold reserve is slightly in excess of 500,000,000 pre-devaluation yen (about 250,000,000 gold dollars). In addition the Island Empire possesses about a billion and a half yen in foreign deposits and securities and owes between 700,000,000 and 750,000,000 yen in foreign debts. Only part of the foreign holdings are liquid. All this represents no very adequate war-chest for a land that is notably deficient in such vital military raw materials as oil, rubber and cotton. Captain M. G. Kennedy, a sympathetic student of Japan's military position, expresses the opinion in his latest book[iii] that "Japan's one chance of success in the event of hostilities would lie in her ability to strike hard and strike rapidly, so as to ensure a war of short duration and to ensure, too, that the enemy was kept out of bombing distance of her own shores." Now the only major wars in which Japan could well become involved are with Soviet Russia, Great Britain and the United States. And it is a question whether any of these hypothetical opponents, barring some unpredictable factor, such as internal disintegration or extreme preoccupation elsewhere, would be susceptible to the swift knock-out blow which Captain Kennedy sees as "Japan's one chance of success."

Take first the case of Russia. Suppose that all the Japanese military calculations worked out smoothly, that the Soviet air force failed to wreak havoc on Japan's inflammable cities, that the Japanese armies were as successful as in the war of 1904-05. A defeat, a series of defeats in the Far East, would leave Russia's main centers of industry and population untouched. Provided there were no violent widespread upsurge of internal disaffection (a contingency which seems less probable today than in 1932 or 1933), and no intervention from Europe, Russia could establish a new front around Lake Baikal and look to time, climate and Siberian guerrilla warfare as allies in carrying on the struggle.[iv]

A naval conflict with Great Britain, the United States or both combined might bring Japan spectacular successes in its first stages. Japanese warships and expeditionary forces could perhaps seize Hong Kong, Borneo, the Philippines by means of a series of swift, sudden blows, delivered before effective succor could arrive. But such successes would affect very little the military and economic power of the British Empire or of the United States. Their fruits would be poor compensation for the costs of a protracted war which would almost certainly assume the character of an economic duel of endurance, with Japan the weaker party.

One factor that has at times made for war in other countries should not indeed be left out of consideration. It is quite clearly indicated in the following citation from an article which General Nobuyuki Abe, who recently resigned as a member of the Supreme War Council, contributed to the magazine Gaiko Jiho on the subject of the occupation of Manchuria:

[After the World War] individualism and liberalism, which were introduced from the West, began to gain strength rapidly in the nation. Coupled with the striking prevalence of materialism, due to the boom brought about by the war, these Western "isms" wrought serious moral havoc in Japan by blighting the nation's traditional virtues. In fact it was sometimes feared that the nation might lose the national spirit which characterizes the Empire. . . . Capitalism began to gain ground, followed by the introduction of socialism and communism.

All persons who were concerned about the country were at their wits' ends as to how to control this deplorable state of spiritual disorder. At this moment the Manchurian Incident occurred to sound a note of warning to the nation. From this standpoint also the domestic significance of the Manchurian Incident may be said to be inestimable.

General Abe here expresses a widespread view in Japanese conservative and nationalist circles: that the seizure of Manchuria, apart from its material significance, fulfilled a valuable moral function by counteracting disintegrating foreign ideas and arousing the martial and patriotic spirit of the nation.

But a remedy that is effective in small doses may be fatal in large ones. From a purely military standpoint Japan's success in Manchuria was a foregone conclusion. This could not be said with certainty in advance of a clash with a Great Power. So, while there is more than one danger-spot on the farflung Japanese military and naval front, the real likelihood of war is less than sensational publicists are apt to estimate. One thing might alter or modify this proposition. If any large Power with Far Eastern possessions became so absorbed in Europe or elsewhere as to be quite incapable of defending them, then we could not rule out aggressive action by Japan, which has seen the Anglo-Japanese Alliance thrown over and has itself renounced the League of Nations, as being beyond the bounds of possibility.

Meanwhile the aims of the Japanese Army and Navy may be briefly summarized as follows. First and foremost, along with all other armies and navies, they stand for bigger and better armaments. The rumor that a retired Admiral may be appointed governor of Japan's tropical island, Formosa, is significant in this connection, especially as treaty limitations on fortifications in the Pacific will soon lapse. In domestic policy, the fighting services favor changes in the direction of a more militarized, regimented, "totalitarian" social and economic order. They want to see national defense and agrarian relief take precedence over considerations of profit and expense. They want a vigorous affirmation of traditional Japanese beliefs and ideas throughout the educational system, together with the suppression of unsettling Western "isms." Finally, the Army sees as its special function the maintenance of the Watch on the Amur, while the Navy conceives as its mission the vindication of Japan's commercial and other interests in the South Pacific.

[i] See the article by Mr. Bunroku Yoshioka, a member of the staff of Nichi Nichi, one of Tokyo's leading newspapers, in Gaiko Jiho for November 1, 1935.

[ii] While the external value of the yen depreciated by more than 60 percent during this period there was little change in its internal purchasing power.

[iii] "The Problem of Japan," p. 235.

[iv] Cf. T. J. Betts, "The Strategy of Another Russo-Japanese War," FOREIGN AFFAIRS, July 1934.

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  • WILLIAM HENRY CHAMBERLIN, former Moscow correspondent of the Christian Science Monitor, now stationed in Tokyo; author of "Russia's Iron Age" and "The Russian Revolution: 1917-1921."
  • More By William Henry Chamberlin