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Japan at War in the Pacific

The Rise and Fall of the Japanese Empire in Asia: 1868 - 1945


Jonathan Clements

Rutland VT, US: Tuttle Publishing, 2022

Hardcover    320pp  RRP: $39.99


Reviewer: Roger Buxton, November 2023


Subtitled “The Rise and Fall of the Japanese Empire in Asia 1868-1945”, Jonathan Clements has written an admittedly populist history describing the revolutionary development of Japan after the Meiji Restoration of 1868. The new leaders wished Japan to become a modern society accepted as an equal by the West and able to avoid the unequal treaties forced on them by China. This was a period of the rapid modernisation and the militarisation of society.

Short of natural resources and with a large population, Japan was determined to establish colonies and annexed Korea, colonized Formosa (Taiwan) and successfully attacked the Russians at Port Arthur. On the side of the Allies during World War I, Japanese cruisers served in the Mediterranean, and Japan captured German Islands in the Pacific that would be important to the defence of the home islands in World War II.

New Western anti-Asian immigration laws, especially the American law of 1924, were deeply resented in Japan, which turned increasingly to intervention in China. Manchuria was considered important to Japan, which felt it had to intervene if China could not administer it in the interests of Japan. In 1931 “Henry” Puyi, “The Last Emperor” was brought to Port Arthur, proclaimed as the new president of Manchukuo in 1932 and emperor in 1934. Japan’s war with Chiang Kai-shek’s China was ruinously expensive and led to austerity when the important silk industry was almost destroyed by the invention of nylon.

Events moved steadily towards a crisis. Japan walked out from the League of Nations, any criticism of militarism in the government was purged, the Emperor successfully resisted an attempted coup d’état but accepted that the Army and Navy ministers would be serving officers, and the lead up to war with the United States and the British and Netherland Empires continued. The chapter ‘Running Wild’ covers the Pacific War from 1941 to 1945.

There is a useful timeline of important incidents, suggestions for further reading and several maps. The omission of campaign maps is a failing of many books, but here there are good maps including for the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-5 and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5. The book also explains the Japanese view of themselves as a nation and as individuals, which is important as it affects the commonly held view of Japanese wartime brutality. This is recommended reading for anyone who would like a better understanding of Japan in the 70 years before the Second World War. My only criticism is that the editor did not correct the description of USS Missouri (page 280) from ‘aircraft carrier’ to ‘battleship’.



The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.

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