Germany and Japan, 1919-1945

1919-1945, GERMANY AND JAPAN

 

Versailles Treaty

Having surrendered and changed its government, Germany expected a negotiated peace rather than the harsh terms imposed by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.

 But the Allies were determined to receive reparation for their losses and to see that their enemy was never again in a position to endanger them. Accordingly, Germany lost Alsace-Lorraine to France and West Prussia to Poland, creating a Polish Corridor between Germany and East Prussia.

 It also lost its colonies and had to give up most of its coal, trains, and merchant ships, as well as its navy. Germany had to limit its army and submit to Allied occupation of the Rhineland for 15 years.

 Worst of all, the Germans had to accept full responsibility for causing the war and, consequently, pay its total cost. These last provisions particularly rankled; Germans did not consider themselves more guilty than anyone else and could not possibly pay all that was demanded.

The Versailles treaty, understandable from the Allies' immediate point of view, did not ensure lasting peace. Germany was neither crushed completely nor encouraged to return to the European community.

 

Instead, by accepting the treaty, Germany gained a bad name among its citizens, crippling its chances of success.

The Weimar Republic

 

In Weimar in 1919, a national assembly, dominated by Social Democrats, wrote a democratic constitution for the new German Reich. But the prospects of the Weimar Republic, as it was familiarly known, were dim.

 

For most Germans it bore the stigma of military defeat and the Versailles treaty, which they regarded as only temporary. In addition, as parliamentary government, it was opposed on principle by both conservative militarists and revolutionary socialists.

 

Both sides, using private armies, frequently tried to overthrow the government, as in the military Kapp Putsch (1920) and the uprising of the Communist Spartacists (1919) under Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg.

The economic situation made matters worse. Because Germany could not meet reparations requirements, France invaded the Ruhr in 1923 to take over the coal mines.

 

The government encouraged the workers to resist passively, printing vast amounts of money to pay them.

 

The resulting inflation wiped out savings, pensions, insurance, and other forms of fixed income, creating a social revolution that destroyed the most stable elements in Germany.

 

Aided by the Dawes Plan (1924), which set reasonable annual amounts of reparations and provided for foreign loans, the brilliant German minister Gustav Stresemann reorganized the monetary system and encouraged industry.

 

For five years Germany enjoyed relative peace and prosperity; in 1926 it joined the League of Nations. The worldwide depression of 1929, however, plunged the country once more into disaster.

 

Millions of unemployed, disillusioned by capitalist democracy, turned to communism or to the National Socialist (Nazi) German Workers' party led by Adolf Hitler.

Hitler and the Third Reich

A former army corporal, Hitler hated aristocrats, capitalists, Communists, liberals, Jews, and other so-called non-Aryans.

 

He had already tried to topple the government in the beer hall Putsch in Munich in 1923. After six months in prison, he continued to build up the Nazi party.

 

A gifted public speaker, he rapidly won supporters by denouncing the Weimar government as weak and treacherous.

 

He proposed giving the jobs of Jews, whom he painted as villainous, to deserving Germans, and he promised to recover Germany's strength and honor. In return, he demanded complete loyalty and obedience of people to himself as their Führer (leader).

 

To reinforce his message, brown-shirted storm troopers attacked Communists, Jews, and other party targets.

In the depths of the depression of 1932, the Nazis were the largest party in the Reichstag. In 1933 the National party, made up chiefly of aristocrats and industrialists, had Hitler appointed chancellor in the hope that they could use him to control the Communists.

 

To secure supreme power for himself, Hitler called new elections. Blaming a fire in the Reichstag house, set by the Nazis, on the Communists, he banned the Communist party.

 

In the new Reichstag the Nazis, Nationals, and Catholic Center passed the revolutionary Enabling Act allowing the government to dictate all aspects of German life.

Armed with this power, Hitler set out to make the Third Reich, as he called the new totalitarian Germany. The groundwork had been laid in World War I, when the military ran the government.

 

From that foundation, Hitler proceeded with frightening efficiency. Consolidating legislative, executive, judicial, and military authority in himself, he remained chancellor, became head of state after the death of Paul von Hindenburg, headed a new court system, and commanded the armed forces.

All political parties except the Nazis were banned. People with one or more Jewish grandparents were deprived of citizenship, barred from civil service and professions, and heavily fined.

 

Churches had to cooperate with the government. Strikes were forbidden, and the unemployed were enrolled in labor camps or the army as Germany strove to be economically self-sufficient.

 

An elite, professional army, enlarged by conscription, was established to carry out Hitler's plan for conquest. Publishing and teaching became means of propaganda. Children were also indoctrinated through the Hitler Youth movement.

 

Gigantic rallies with blown-up posters, marching ranks, and frenzied speeches whipped up enthusiasm. Backing up the propaganda were the Gestapo (secret police), the SS (an elite guard), and an elaborate system of concentration camps.

 

Some Germans did not take Hitler seriously, but others accepted his emphasis on race and violence. Outspoken dissenters left the country or took the consequences.

World War II

 

Many of Europe's problems were left unresolved by World War I. Germany's willingness to seek a solution by force, while other countries wanted to avoid violence at all costs, led to World War II (1939-45).

Steps Toward War

 

Hitler planned to threaten and bluff the European powers into allowing him gradually to revise Germany's boundaries.

 

His goal, to unite all Germans and give them Lebensraum ("living space"), did not seem unreasonable to some statesmen, who realized that the Versailles treaty had been unjust.

 

At the time, no single demand of Hitler's seemed worth risking war to protest. Germany left the League of Nations in 1933 and, virtually unopposed, began to rearm in 1935; it then reoccupied the Rhineland in 1936. Germany signed an anti-Communist pact with Japan and made an alliance with Fascist Italy, creating the Rome-Berlin Axis.

 

In 1938 it declared an Anschluss (union) with Austria. At Munich that year, Britain, France, and Italy timorously acceded to Hitler's demand for the German-populated Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia, on his promise that Germany would then be satisfied.

In March 1939, breaking his word, Hitler occupied the remainder of Czechoslovakia.

 

In August, dramatically reversing his anti-Communist policy, he made a nonaggression pact with the USSR containing a secret clause on the partition of Poland. His repeated demands for Danzig in the Polish Corridor led to a Polish British pact and Polish mobilization.

 

On September 1, Germany invaded Poland. Britain and France promptly declared war on Germany. World War II had begun.

Course of War

In a few weeks of blitzkrieg (literally, lightning war), mechanized German divisions overwhelmed the ill-equipped Poles, taking western Poland.

 

The Soviets, not to be outdone, seized the eastern part. Encouraged by success, in 1940 Germany swallowed Denmark, Norway, and the Low Countries and invaded France, which rapidly collapsed. British and French forces were hastily evacuated from Dunkirk to England.

 

Hitler then blockaded Britain with submarines and bombed the country with his new air force. He made a 10-year military pact with the other Axis powers–Italy and Japan.

 

In 1941, to aid faltering Italian forces, he sent troops to North Africa, Greece, and Yugoslavia.

 

To block Soviet ambitions in agricultural eastern Europe, which industrial Germany needed, he suddenly invaded the USSR. As the Soviets retreated eastward, German armies engulfed the rich Ukraine.

At this point, Hitler was master of continental Europe. In 1942, however, Britain was still resisting, and the United States, which had entered the war after an attack by Japan, was sending supplies to Britain and the USSR.

 

Hitler then ordered total mobilization of men and resources. Throughout Europe, conquered peoples, especially Slavs and Jews, were executed or enslaved in German war factories, while their countries were drained of food and raw materials.

 

In 1943 the tide began to turn. Supply lines in the USSR were overextended, and the Germans were gradually driven west. Axis forces in North Africa were defeated, and Italy was invaded.

 

Germany itself, from 1942 on, was being systematically bombed. Although defeat was inevitable, a deranged Hitler refused to surrender.

 

The war dragged on as British and U.S. forces invaded Normandy in 1944 and swept inexorably east while the Soviets marched west. Hitler committed suicide just before Soviet tanks rolled into Berlin in April 1945.

Occupation

Germany's unconditional surrender ended the Third Reich. The Allies reduced Germany to its prewar western boundaries and assigned a large portion on the east to Poland.

 

Setting up four occupation zones, they tried war criminals and dismantled factories. But as their policies diverged, Germany was split into two parts.

 

Britain, the United States, and, eventually, France wanted to rebuild Germany into a major Western European power capable of countering the expansionist tendencies of the USSR.

 

In 1948 they merged their zones into one region, supplied with U.S. aid, and encouraged the Germans to form a democratic government. The USSR, on the other hand, imposed a Communist German government, under Soviet domination, on East Germany.

 

In 1949 this practical polarization of Germany was legalized by the creation of two German states: the Federal Republic of Germany, or West Germany, and the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany. For the history of the two separate German states, see Germany, East and Germany, West.

 

Japan's Occupation of Manchuria

 

In the late 1920s Japan, in effect, gained domination of the administrative and economic affairs of Manchuria.

 

The Chinese, however, increasingly resented Japanese interference in what was, technically, part of China.

 

On September 18, 1931, the Japanese army in Guangdong, claiming that an explosion on the Japanese-owned South Manchuria Railroad had been caused by Chinese saboteurs, seized the arsenals of Shenyang (Mukden) and of several neighboring cities.

 

Chinese troops were forced to withdraw from the area. Entirely without official sanction by the Japanese government, the Guangdong army extended its operations into all Manchuria and, in about five months, was in possession of the entire region.

 

Manchuria was then established as the puppet state of Manchukuo; Henry Pu-Yi (Hsüan T'ung as last emperor of China) was crowned emperor of Manachukuo in 1934 as K'ang Te.

All pretense of party government in Japan was abandoned as a result of the occupation of Manchuria. Viscount Saito Makoto (1858-1936) formed a so-called national cabinet composed chiefly of men who belonged to no party. The international repercussions of the Manchurian incident resulted in an inquiry by a League of Nations commission, acting by authority of the Kellogg-Briand Pact. In 1933, when the League Assembly requested that Japan cease hostilities in China, Japan instead announced its withdrawal from the league, to take effect in 1935.

 

To consolidate its gains in China, Japan landed troops in Shanghai to quell an effective Chinese boycott of Japanese goods. Unable to resist the superior Japanese forces, China, in May 1933, recognized the Japanese conquest by signing a truce.

The independent action of the army indicated the power of the military leaders in Japanese politics. In 1936 the empire signed an anti-Communist agreement with Germany and, one year later, a similar pact with Italy.

 

The establishment of almost complete military rule, with the cooperation of the Zaibatzu, or family trusts, made aggression and expansion the avowed policy of the empire.

War With China

On July 7, 1937, a Chinese patrol clashed with Japanese troops on the Marco Polo Bridge near Beijing. Using the incident as a pretext to begin hostilities, the Japanese army in Manchuria moved troops into the area, precipitating another Sino-Japanese war, although it was never actually declared. A Japanese force quickly overran northern China.

 

By the end of 1937 the Japanese navy had completed a blockade of almost the entire Chinese coast. The army advanced into eastern and southern China throughout 1937 and 1938,

 

A Japanese force occupied the island of Hainan. Protests by foreign governments concerning property owned by their nationals and mistreatment by Japanese troops of foreigners resident in China, were, in effect, ignored by the empire. By the end of 1938 the war reached a virtual stalemate.

 

The Japanese army was checked by the mountains of central China, behind which the Chinese waged guerrilla warfare against the invaders.

Japan, meanwhile, was subjected to a controlled war economy. In 1937 a cabinet headed by Prince Konoye Fumimaro relegated the entire conduct of the war, without government interference, to military and naval leaders.

World War II

 

The beginning of World War II in Europe, in September 1939, gave Japan new opportunity for aggression in Southeast Asia. These aggressive acts were prefaced by a series of diplomatic arrangements.

 

In September 1940 the empire concluded a tripartite alliance with Germany and Italy, the so-called Rome-Berlin Axis, pledging mutual and total aid for a period of ten years.

 

Japan considered, however, that a 1939 neutrality pact between Germany and the Soviet Union had released the empire from any obligation incurred by the 1936 anti-Communist alliance.

 

In September 1941, therefore, Japan signed a neutrality pact with the Soviet Union, thus protecting the northern border of Manchuria. A year before, with the consent of the German-sponsored Vichy government of France, Japanese forces occupied French Indochina.

 

At the same time Japan tried to obtain economic and political footholds in the Netherlands East Indies.

These acts in Indochina and the East Indies contributed to increasing hostility between Japan and the U.S. The protection of American property in eastern Asia had been a source of friction since the Japanese invasion of China in 1937.

 

Continued protests from Joseph Clark Grew (1880-1965), then U.S. ambassador to Japan, were fruitless.

 

In October 1941, General Tojo Hideki, who was militantly anti-American, became the Japanese premier and minister of war.

 

Negotiations aimed at settling the differences between the two countries continued in Washington throughout November, even after the decision for war had been made in Tokyo.

Attack on Pearl Harbor

 

On December 7, 1941, without warning and while negotiations between American and Japanese diplomats were still in progress, Japanese carrier-based airplanes attacked Pearl Harbor, the main U.S. naval base in the Pacific.

 

Simultaneous attacks were launched by the Japanese army, navy, and air force against the Philippines, Guam, Wake Island, Midway Island, Hong Kong, British Malaya, and Thailand. On December 8 the U.S. Congress declared war on Japan, as did all Allied powers except the USSR.

For about a year following the successful surprise attacks, Japan maintained the offensive in Southeast Asia and the islands of the South Pacific.

 

The empire designated eastern Asia and its environs as the "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" and made effective propaganda of the slogan "Asia for the Asians."

 

Moreover, nationalistic elements in many of the countries of eastern Asia gave tacit and, in some cases, active support to the Japanese, because they saw an apparent way to free themselves from Western imperialism. In December 1941, Japan invaded Thailand, forcing the government to conclude a treaty of alliance. Japanese troops occupied Burma, British Malaya, Borneo, Hong Kong, and the Netherlands East Indies.

 

By May 1942 the Philippines were in Japanese hands. Striking toward Australia and New Zealand, Japanese forces landed in New Guinea, New Britain (now part of Papua New Guinea), and the Solomon Islands. A Japanese task force also invaded and occupied Attu, Agattu, and Kiska in the Aleutian Islands off the Alaskan coast of North America. Ultimately, however, the war became a naval struggle for control of the vast expanses of the Pacific Ocean.

The Tide Turns

 

The tide of battle began to change in 1942, when an Allied naval and air force contained a Japanese invasion fleet in the Battle of the Coral Sea between New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

 

A month later a larger Japanese fleet was defeated in the Battle of Midway. Using combined operations of ground, naval, and air units under command of the American general Douglas MacArthur, Allied forces fought northward from island to island in the South Pacific, invading and driving out the Japanese.

 

In July 1944, after the fall of Saipan, a major Japanese base in the Mariana Islands, the Japanese leaders realized that Japan had lost the war. Tojo was forced to resign, weakening the hold of the military oligarchy.

 

In November 1944 the U.S. began a series of major air raids over Japan by B-29 Superfortress bombers based on Saipan. In early 1945 an air base even closer to Japan (about 1200 km/750 mi) was acquired with the conquest, after a fierce battle, of Iwo Jima. During the same period Allied forces under the British admiral Louis Mountbatten, 1st earl Mountbatten of Burma, defeated the Japanese armies in Southeast Asia.

 

In the next four months, from May through August, bombing attacks devastated Japanese communications, industry, and what was left of the navy. These attacks were climaxed on August 6, 1945, by the dropping of the first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima.

 

Two days later, on August 8, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, and on August 9 a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Soviet forces invaded Manchuria, northern Korea, and Karafuto. The Allied powers had agreed during the Potsdam Conference that only unconditional surrender would be acceptable from the Japanese government. On August 14 Japan accepted the Allied terms, signing the formal surrender aboard the American battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2.