Geopolitics in WWII

Monday, 24 July 2017

Dear friends, the manuscript has now been sent to an editor for 'structural edit' which will ensure that it makes sense, flows well and is structured to create the most interesting possible read. I quake in my boots awating its return at the end of August!

Meanwhile, here is an extract summarising what was going on in China in the early stages of WWII - well, early stages for us - Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931 and war was declared in 1937, so the war had been grinding on for five years by the time the West joined in.

When war started in Europe in September 1939, China’s predicament fell even further down the agenda of the Western powers. Japan continued to make inroads and in July 1940, when the Battle of Britain was in full flight, Japan asked Britain to close the Burma Road, to cut off China’s last international supply route. Churchill agreed, having just witnessed the fall of France and with invasion of Britain imminent, he reasoned that opening up another front was suicidal. So, the Nationalist government was now dealing with a civil war with the Chinese Communist Party, international war with Japan, no accessible trade routes into the country and, to make matters worse, agricultural harvests were poor in 1940 and 1941. On top of all that, between May 1938 and August 1941 Chongqing suffered 218 bombing raids, resulting in 11,885 deaths[1], mostly civilians. Chongqing was almost defenceless against this aerial bombing. In 1940 the Chinese only had 37 fighter planes left while the Japanese had almost one thousand planes in China, mostly “Zero” long-range fighters.[2] The Americans eventually came to the rescue with 100 P-40 Warhawk fighter planes, but much damage had already been done.

China’s economic situation at the time was paradoxically described by a British analyst as “hopeless but not serious”[3]. At a macro-economic level China was too big to fail, but at local level the story was very different. One of the BAAG agents in Guangdong province reported the horrifying realities of life (in June 1943):

“The death rate from starvation is steadily rising. Newspaper reports say that thousands are dying daily, but although this is an exaggeration, the truth is bad enough. From informant’s own personal observations he knows that in Toishan district the number is at least one hundred on an average. In a short journey from Toishan to an outlying village, he saw eight unburied corpses. The worst feature is cannibalism. Human flesh sells at $5 a plate. Parents leave their children at certain recognised points, where they are seized and butchered by the human flesh vendors”.[4]

In late 1941 there was increasing tension between the US and Japan over Japan’s expansion ambitions in South-East Asia. With the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, China suddenly became of interest to the West and support was at last forthcoming, a small rent for using China as an Allied base. China was regarded as a weak and subordinate power, but given that the Chinese had successfully held back the might of the Japanese military under extremely difficult circumstances and with precious little help, their resolve and bravery seem to me unquestionable. The Allied powers, though, saw China mainly as a useful pawn to divide the attention of the Japanese. Almost half of the Japanese army was kept busy in China right up until 1945, to the Allies great benefit. They also had to admit that China’s obstinate resistance against the Japanese was the only thing preventing Japan from creating a bloc consisting of Japan, China and Indo-China, which would have been a serious threat to the Allies interests in the Far East.

 

[1] Rana Mitter China’s War With Japan 1937-1945, the struggle for survival, (London: Allen Lane, 2013), 4.

[2] JD Spence The Search for Modern China, 3rd Edition (London: Norton, 2013), 417.

[3] quoted in Edwin Ride BAAG, Hong Kong Resistance 1942-45, (Oxford: OUP, 1981), 113.

[4] Ride BAAG, 113-114.

 

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