2005 Annual Meeting: Border-Crossing Sessions


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Session 70: Culture and Identity in International Relations: Japan’s Diplomatic Path to Pearl Harbor

Organizers: Cemil Aydin, University of North Carolina, Charlotte; Rustin B. Gates, Harvard University

Chair: Michael A. Schneider, Knox College

Discussant: Barbara J. Brooks, City University of New York

Keywords: Japanese diplomacy, Pearl Harbor, Manchurian Incident, the 1930s, cultural internationalism.

The literature on the diplomatic history of prewar Japan continues to grapple with one major question: Why did the Japanese political elite, who had a long history of collaboration and cooperation with the U.S. and the European powers, enter into a path that led to a military confrontation with the U.S., the British Empire and the Chinese nationalists? This panel presents the results of recent multiarchival research that tries to tackle this question through the biography of three key Japanese diplomats: Uchida Kōsai, Matsuoka Y˘suke and Togo Shigenori. It also discusses the question of internationalism in an era when the Japanese government tried to create an alternative to the existing world order during WWII.

Utilizing diplomatic documents, memoirs and secret correspondence, panelists discuss the implications of each diplomat’s biography for the shared critical issues and themes of the Japan’s international relations during the 1930s. How can we explain the open embrace of militarism by those diplomats who represented liberal internationalism during the 1920s? Did the personal experiences of Japanese diplomats during their education or travel in the U.S., Europe or China influence their decisions? Why did advocates for peace with the United States in the Japanese cabinet have a sudden and complete reversal in their position and decide to support the Pearl Harbor attack? How can we understand the continuing appeal of cultural internationalism during wartime Japan?

While answering these questions, the panelists invite us to revise our understanding of the transition from the "liberal 1920s" to the "dark valley of the 1930s." They will also raise questions about the impact of secret intelligence reports and the role of racial identity as well as perceptions and emotions in key foreign policy decisions of the period. Beyond the field of Japan’s diplomatic and political history, the panel will be of great interest to the social scientists who are interested in conceptualizing and theorizing the significance of identity in international politics.

Scorched Earth Diplomacy: Uchida Kōsai, Manchukuo, and Japan’s Withdrawal from the League of Nations

Rustin Gates, Harvard University

In August, 1932, Japanese Foreign Minister Uchida Kōsai defied the West and declared that Japan would recognize the new state of Manchukuo, even if it meant reducing the country to "scorched earth." Seven months later, Uchida’s uncooperative stance intensified drastically as he guided Japan’s withdrawal from the League of Nations. By embarking on this path of international isolationism, the Japanese Empire ultimately gave way to Uchida’s vision of scorched earth in its destruction during the Pacific War.

While the "path" story is well documented, Japan’s initial decision to abandon the West in the early 1930s remains unclear. The circumstances are particularly intriguing given the fact that Uchida, a hard-liner and "accomplice of the military" in 1932–33, was in part responsible for the policies of Japanese international cooperation in the 1920s. As Foreign Minister during the Paris Peace Conference and the Washington Conference, and as Japan’s signatory to the Kellogg-Briand (No-War) Pact, Uchida was widely regarded as a liberal internationalist in the era of "Taisho Democracy."

This paper examines Uchida’s apparent shift from cooperative to unilateralist diplomacy by focusing on the Manchurian Incident and its aftermath. Uchida’s motivations and rationale for his hard-line stance affords an understanding of the impetus behind the open embrace of militarism by Japanese liberals in the 1930s. The case of Uchida and like-minded, erstwhile Japanese internationalists must be considered when attempting to make sense of the "dark valley of militarism" in Japanese history.

Rethinking Matsuoka Diplomacy

Satoshi Hattori, Suntori Foundation

This paper offers a revision of the historiography on Matsuoka diplomacy from 1940 to 1941. By accepted theory about Matsuoka diplomacy, Matsuoka had a plan that was a completion of quadripartite entente by Japan, Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union. He also envisioned a U.S.-Japan negotiation under the support of the entente in order to improve the deterioration of U.S.-Japan relations over the China problem and to prevent a U.S.-Japan war. So the conclusion of the Tripartite pact was the first step for the Matsuoka plan. However, though Matsuoka concluded the Tripartite pact and Russo-Japan neutrality treaty, Matsuoka opposed U.S.-Japan negotiations and Matsuoka diplomacy became a long-term cause of the U.S.-Japan war.

This paper challenges the existing theories about the Matsuoka diplomacy and revises them through an examination of the primary documents and archival materials. Against the earlier theory, the paper will argue that the Matsuoka plan was based on opportunism. Moreover, it will suggest that, behind this opportunism, the only policy of Matsuoka diplomacy was the prevention of the U.S.-Japan war. Contrary to accepted theory Matsuoka had sufficient information about external affairs and very accurate and severe realizations about world conditions. In short, this paper will offer a new image of Matsuoka diplomacy with new primary sources from NARA archives.

Point of No Return: Foreign Minister Togo, Sigint, and the Decision for War

Toshi Minohara, Kobe University

"I was shocked to the point that I was blinded by sheer disbelief. . . . In the end, [the U.S.] completely disregarded the years of sacrifice made by Japan, forcing us to forgo the great nation status that we had striven so hard to establish in the Far East. But to do so for Japan was none other than committing suicide. We now had no choice but to rise . . . (Jidai no Ichimen [An Aspect of Time], 2 vols., Tokyo: Hara Shobo, 1985).

If there did exist a point of no return in the road to Pearl Harbor, it was certainly on this day of November 26, 1941, when Togo—the leading advocate for peace in the cabinet—decided on war. Togo felt strongly that war with the U.S. was futile, and that in the end it would only spell disaster for Japan. If so, then what pushed Togo to the brink was that he felt Japan "had no choice but to rise." Was it, as most Japanese historians claim, because the State Department’s so-called Hull Note was so uncompromising that it basically amounted to an ultimatum? However, this argument is not so convincing when one considers that the staunch U.S. attitude was clearly expected. Then why was Togo so utterly dismayed? The emotional outburst revealed in his memoirs shows that the foreign minister was so taken aback by the note that he felt a strong sense of betrayal. Had Togo, for one reason or another, been expecting a completely different reply from the U.S.?

In light of the new evidence dealing with Sigint recently discovered at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, and the Diplomatic Record Office (DRO) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo, the purpose of this paper will be to present a more logical explanation for Togo’s sudden and complete position reversal. In conclusion, the paper will seek to refute the current understanding that the Hull Note was the final event that forced Japan into war with the U.S. and in its place provide a new motive as to why Togo in the end decided to support Japan’s fatal decision, which effectively removed the final obstacle in the decision for war.

Cultural Internationalism and Japan’s Wartime Empire

Jessamyn Abel, Columbia University

The Society for International Cultural Relations, or Kokusai Bunka Shinkō kai (KBS), was founded in April 1934 with the aim of developing "mutual understanding" with the other nations of the world through cultural exchange. Emerging just after Japan’s withdrawal from the League of Nations, the KBS was part of a quest for alternative ways and methods of international cooperation, which brought about a shift toward cultural internationalism.

The KBS concentrated on international activities founded on a solid base of nationalist sentiment and pride in Japanese culture. Such cultural pride may well have characterized what one contemporary Westerner in Japan called "enlightened" nationalism, which seeks to attract rather than repel the foreigner. But this nationalist core, however enlightened, made the organization susceptible to appropriation in the name of "national" interests, as defined by a government bent on imperialist expansion in the late 1930s and early 1940s. As the war expanded and intensified after 1937, the exigencies of the day and the combination of people interested in international cultural cooperation led the KBS to shift the emphasis of its activities. It turned from international public relations—the promotion of mutual knowledge and understanding on a global scale—to propagandistic support of Japanese military advances in the Greater East Asia region. As total mobilization for war permeated Japanese society, the internationalism of the KBS gradually shifted from an effort to improve Japan’s foreign relations through the promotion of its culture abroad to the malign internationalism of a cog in the imperialist machine.