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|“||The hardships and sufferings to which our nation is to be subjected hereafter will be certainly great. We are keenly aware of the inmost feelings of all of you, our subjects. However, it is according to the dictates of time and fate that We have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is insufferable.||„|
|~ Emperor Hirohito|
Imperial Japan was the regime that led Japan during the dark chapters of World War II as a member of the Axis Powers. The most infamous period of this regime happened during the Showa Era, which is when the Imperial Japanese brutally invaded China and other territories of Asia and the Pacific, and continued to hold these territories until their sound defeat by the Allied Powers.
Japan's rapid industrialization and militarization under the slogan Fukoku Kyōhei (富國強兵, "Enrich the Country, Strengthen the Armed Forces") and Shokusan Kōgyō (殖産興業, "Promote Industry") led to its emergence as a world power and the establishment of a colonial empire following the First Sino-Japanese War, the Boxer Rebellion, the Russo-Japanese War, and World War I. Economic and political turmoil in the 1920s led to the rise of militarism, eventually culminating in Japan's membership in the Axis alliance and the conquest of a large part of the Asia-Pacific in World War II.
Japan's armed forces initially achieved large-scale military successes during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) and the Pacific War. However, after many Allied victories and following the Soviet Union's declaration of war against Japan on August 9, 1945, and subsequent invasion of Manchuria and other territories, and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Empire surrendered to the Allies on August 15, 1945. A period of occupation by the Allies followed, and a new constitution was created with American involvement in 1947, officially bringing the Empire of Japan to an end. Occupation and reconstruction continued until 1952, eventually forming the current nation-state whose full title is the "State of Japan" in Japanese (simply rendered "Japan" in English).
In 1931, Japan invaded and conquered Northeast China (Manchuria) with little resistance. Japan claimed that this invasion was a liberation of the local Manchus from the Chinese, although the majority of the population were Han Chinese as a result of the large scale settlement of Chinese in Manchuria in the 19th century. Japan then established a puppet regime called Manchukuo (Chinese: 滿洲國), and installed the last Manchu Emperor of China, Puyi, as the official head of state. Jehol, a Chinese territory bordering Manchukuo, was later also taken in 1933. This puppet regime had to carry on a protracted pacification campaign against the Anti-Japanese Volunteer Armies in Manchuria. In 1936, Japan created a similar Mongolian puppet state in Inner Mongolia named Mengjiang (Chinese: 蒙疆), which was also predominantly Chinese as a result of recent Han immigration to the area. At that time, East Asians were banned from immigration to North America and Australia, but the newly established Manchukuo was open to immigration of Asians. Japan had an emigration plan to encourage colonization; the Japanese population in Manchuria subsequently grew to 850,000. With rich natural resources and labor force in Manchuria, army-owned corporations turned Manchuria into a solid material support machine of the Japanese Army.
Japan invaded China proper in 1937, creating what was essentially a three-way war between Japan, Mao Zedong's communists, and Chiang Kai-shek's nationalists. On December 13 of that same year, the Nationalist capital of Nanjing surrendered to Japanese troops. In the event known as the Rape of Nanking, Japanese troops massacred a large number of the defending garrison. It is estimated that as many as 200,000 to 300,000 including civilians, may have been killed, although the actual numbers are uncertain and possibly inflated coupled with the fact that the government of the People's Republic of China has never undertaken a full accounting of the massacre. In total, an estimated 20 million Chinese, mostly civilians, were killed during World War II. A puppet state was also set up in China quickly afterwards, headed by Wang Jingwei. The Second Sino-Japanese War continued into World War II with the Communists and Nationalists in a temporary and uneasy nominal alliance against the Japanese.
In 1938, the Japanese 19th Division entered territory claimed by the Soviet Union, leading to the Battle of Lake Khasan. This incursion was founded in the Japanese belief that the Soviet Union misinterpreted the demarcation of the boundary, as stipulated in the Treaty of Peking, between Imperial Russia and Manchu China (and subsequent supplementary agreements on demarcation), and furthermore, that the demarcation markers were tampered with. On May 11, 1939, in the Nomonhan Incident (Battle of Khalkhin Gol), a Mongolian cavalry unit of some 70 to 90 men entered the disputed area in search of grazing for their horses, and encountered Manchukuoan cavalry, who drove them out. Two days later the Mongolian force returned and the Manchukoans were unable to evict them.
The IJA 23rd Division and other units of the Kwantung Army then became involved. Joseph Stalin ordered Stavka, the Red Army's high command, to develop a plan for a counterstrike against the Japanese. In late August, Georgy Zhukov employed encircling tactics that made skillful use of superior artillery, armor, and air forces; this offensive nearly annihilated the 23rd Division and decimated the IJA 7th Division. On September 15 an armistice was arranged. Nearly two years later, on April 13, 1941, the parties signed a Neutrality Pact, in which the Soviet Union pledged to respect the territorial integrity and inviolability of Manchukuo, while Japan agreed similarly for the Mongolian People's Republic.
The Second Sino-Japanese War had seen tensions rise between Imperial Japan and the United States; events such as the Panay incident and the Nanjing Massacre turned American public opinion against Japan. With the occupation of French Indochina in the years of 1940–41, and with the continuing war in China, the United States and its allies placed embargoes on Japan of strategic materials such as scrap metal and oil, which were vitally needed for the war effort. The Japanese were faced with the option of either withdrawing from China and losing face or seizing and securing new sources of raw materials in the resource-rich, European-controlled colonies of Southeast Asia—specifically British Malaya and the Dutch East Indies (modern-day Indonesia).
On September 27, 1940, Japan signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy. Their objectives were to "establish and maintain a new order of things" in their respective world regions and spheres of influence, with Germany and Italy in Europe, and Japan in Asia. The signatories of this alliance became known as the Axis Powers. The pact also called for mutual protection—if any one of the member powers was attacked by a country not already at war, excluding the Soviet Union—and for technological and economic cooperation between the signatories.
Facing an oil embargo by the United States as well as dwindling domestic reserves, the Japanese government decided to execute a plan developed by Isoroku Yamamoto to attack the United States Pacific Fleet in Hawaii. While the United States was neutral and continued negotiating with Japan for possible peace in Asia, the Imperial Japanese Navy at the same time made its surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in Honolulu on December 7, 1941. As a result, the U.S. battleship fleet was decimated and almost 2,500 people died in the attack that day. The primary objective of the attack was to incapacitate the United States long enough for Japan to establish its long-planned South East Asian empire and defensible buffer zones. The American public saw the attack as barbaric and treacherous and rallied against the Japanese. Four days later, Adolf Hitler of Germany, and Benito Mussolini of Italy declared war on the United States, merging the separate conflicts. The United States entered the European Theatre and Pacific Theater in full force, thereby bringing the United States to World War II on the side of the Allies.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese launched offensives against Allied forces in East and Southeast Asia, with simultaneous attacks in British Hong Kong, British Malaya and the Philippines. Hong Kong surrendered to the Japanese on December 25. In Malaya the Japanese overwhelmed an Allied army composed of British, Indian, Australian and Malay forces. The Japanese were quickly able to advance down the Malayan Peninsula, forcing the Allied forces to retreat towards Singapore. The Allies lacked aircover and tanks; the Japanese had complete air superiority. The sinking of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse on December 10, 1941, led to the east coast of Malaya being exposed to Japanese landings and the elimination of British naval power in the area. By the end of January 1942, the last Allied forces crossed the strait of Johore and into Singapore.
In the Philippines, the Japanese pushed the combined American-Filipino force towards the Bataan Peninsula and later the island of Corregidor. By January 1942, General Douglas MacArthur and President Manuel L. Quezon were forced to flee in the face of Japanese advance. This marked one of the worst defeats suffered by the Americans, leaving over 70,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war in the custody of the Japanese. On February 15, 1942, Singapore, due to the overwhelming superiority of Japanese forces and encirclement tactics, fell to the Japanese, causing the largest surrender of British-led military personnel in history. An estimated 80,000 Australian, British and Indian troops were taken as prisoners of war, joining 50,000 taken in the Japanese invasion of Malaya (modern day Malaysia). The Japanese then seized the key oil production zones of Borneo, Central Java, Malang, Cebu, Sumatra, and Dutch New Guinea of the late Dutch East Indies, defeating the Dutch forces. However, Allied sabotage had made it difficult for the Japanese to restore oil production to its pre-war peak. The Japanese then consolidated their lines of supply through capturing key islands of the Pacific, including Guadalcanal.
Japanese military strategists were keenly aware of the unfavorable discrepancy between the industrial potential of Japan and the United States. Because of this they reasoned that Japanese success hinged on their ability to extend the strategic advantage gained at Pearl Harbor with additional rapid strategic victories. The Japanese Command reasoned that only decisive destruction of the United States' Pacific Fleet and conquest of its remote outposts would ensure that the Japanese Empire would not be overwhelmed by America's industrial might.
In April 1942, Japan was bombed for the first time in the Doolittle Raid. During the same month, after the Japanese victory in the Battle of Bataan, the Bataan Death March was conducted, where 5,650 to 18,000 Filipinos died under the rule of the imperial army. In May 1942, failure to decisively defeat the Allies at the Battle of the Coral Sea, in spite of Japanese numerical superiority, equated to a strategic defeat for the Japanese. This setback was followed in June 1942 by the catastrophic loss of four fleet carriers at the Battle of Midway, the first decisive defeat for the Imperial Japanese Navy. It proved to be the turning point of the war as the Navy lost its offensive strategic capability and never managed to reconstruct the "'critical mass' of both large numbers of carriers and well-trained air groups". Australian land forces defeated Japanese Marines in New Guinea at the Battle of Milne Bay in September 1942, which was the first land defeat suffered by the Japanese in the Pacific. Further victories by the Allies at Guadalcanal in September 1942 and New Guinea in 1943 put the Empire of Japan on the defensive for the remainder of the war, with Guadalcanal in particular sapping their already-limited oil supplies. During 1943 and 1944, Allied forces, backed by the industrial might and vast raw material resources of the United States, advanced steadily towards Japan. The Sixth United States Army, led by General MacArthur, landed on Leyte on October 20, 1944. The Palawan massacre was committed by the imperial army against Filipinos in December 1944. In the subsequent months, during the Philippines campaign (1944–45), the Allies, including the combined United States forces together with the native guerrilla units, recaptured the Philippines.
By 1944, the Allies had seized or bypassed and neutralized many of Japan's strategic bases through amphibious landings and bombardment. This, coupled with the losses inflicted by Allied submarines on Japanese shipping routes, began to strangle Japan's economy and undermine its ability to supply its army. By early 1945, the US Marines had wrested control of the Ogasawara Islands in several hard-fought battles such as the Battle of Iwo Jima, marking the beginning of the fall of the islands of Japan. After securing airfields in Saipan and Guam in the summer of 1944, the United States Army Air Forces conducted an intense strategic bombing campaign by having B-29 Superfortress bombers in nighttime low altitude incendiary raids, burning Japanese cities in an effort to pulverize Japan's war industry and shatter its morale. The Operation Meetinghouse raid on Tokyo on the night of March 9–10, 1945, led to the deaths of approximately 120,000 civilians. Approximately 350,000–500,000 civilians died in 67 Japanese cities as a result of the incendiary bombing campaign on Japan. Concurrent with these attacks, Japan's vital coastal shipping operations were severely hampered with extensive aerial mining by the US's Operation Starvation. Regardless, these efforts did not succeed in persuading the Japanese military to surrender. In mid-August 1945, the United States dropped nuclear weapons on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These bombings were the first and only combat use of nuclear weaponry. These two bombs killed approximately 120,000 people in a matter of minutes, and as many as a result of nuclear radiation in the following weeks, months and years. The bombs killed as many as 140,000 people in Hiroshima and 80,000 in Nagasaki by the end of 1945.
At the Yalta agreement, the US, the UK, and the USSR had agreed that the USSR would enter the war on Japan within three months of the defeat of Germany in Europe. This Soviet–Japanese War led to the fall of Japan's Manchurian occupation, Soviet occupation of South Sakhalin island, and a real, imminent threat of Soviet invasion of the home islands of Japan. This was a significant factor for some internal parties in the Japanese decision to surrender to the US and gain some protection, rather than face simultaneous Soviet invasion as well as defeat by the US and its allies. Likewise, the superior numbers of the armies of the Soviet Union in Europe was a factor in the US decision to demonstrate the use of atomic weapons to the USSR, just as the Allied victory in Europe was evolving into the division of Germany and Berlin, the division of Europe with the Iron Curtain and the subsequent Cold War.
Having ignored the Potsdam Declaration, the Empire of Japan surrendered and ended World War II after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the declaration of war by the Soviet Union and subsequent invasion of Manchuria and other territories. In a national radio address on August 15, Emperor Hirohito announced the surrender to the Japanese people by Gyokuon-hōsō.
They were considered to be especially vicious towards conquered civilians as well as their prisoners of war - stemming from a fanatical belief in Imperial Japan that to be captured by one's enemies was a disgrace and thus prisoners were to be treated as cruelly as possible. They claimed to be liberating Asia from previous imperialists, though their actual intentions were to create their own Japanese-dominated empire in Asia. For much of the late 1930's and 1940's, they controlled large portions of Eastern Asia, including modern-day Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, parts of China (including the puppet state of Manchukuo), modern-day Malaysia, and Borneo.
Imperial Japan were also infamous for their fanatical willingness to die and their reliance on fierce ambush tactics, such as in the raid that devastated Pearl Harbor. They were responsible for massive destruction and the brutal murdering of tens of millions across East Asia during the Second World War, such as in the horrific Nanking Massacre, the Bataan Death March, the experiments conducted by Unit 731, the Kalagong massacre, the Manila Massacre, etc. They also showed an incredibly racist attitude towards non-Japanese Asians, which served as the primary reason behind why they killed so many of them. They also began showing persecution of Jews, much like Nazi Germany did. They were also responsible for the origin of the famous "kamikaze" pilots.
They were also supportive allies with Nazi Germany (under the leadership of Adolf Hitler) and the Italian Social Republic (under the leadership of Benito Mussolini) during World War II. However, their cooperation was limited due to their extensively distant geographical locations.