Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Military history books: The Sino-Japan War of the 1930s and the involvement of the European and North American powers

It’s not often enough that one learns new military history from a book review.  The October 2013 American Historical Review presents a review of Clash of Empires in South China: The Allied Nations’ Proxy War with Japan, 1935-1941 by Franco David Macri which does just that.

The book looks at WWII from an Asian perspective whereby World War II begins with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in September 1931.  Japan ultimately wanted China and a much expanded role in East Asia and eventually the world.  While China under Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek was under threat of Japanese invasion, both the Soviet Union and Britain felt the pressure of this Japanese advance as well.  The Soviet Union felt a threat to its East Asia holdings and Britain was worried for its Asian colonies and nearby Commonwealth powers.

The author discusses the various diplomatic wrangling conducted between Japan, the Soviet Union, Britain, the US, Canada and others.  He points out that the British colony of Hong Kong was particularly troublesome for Japan since Hong Kong was the main entry point of weapons bought by Chiang Kai-shek.  Britain was not selling the weapons but allowed its colony to act as a conduit for them.  Japan was overly aggressive in its talks with the other nations, becoming more and more anxious as its war against China was stalemated.  British officials were overly confident that Japan would not be tempted to attack British interests directly.  The Chinese, though militarily weak, successfully manipulated the other powers opposing Japan to maintain the stalemate.  China even offered to sell Hong Kong and other territories to Britain but Britain found the price to be too steep.

Also interesting is that it was in this period that Canada moved farther from the British sphere of influence and more under the American sphere of influence.  Though the reviewer does not agree with all of the author’s conclusions about the war, the book is strongly recommended for its analysis of the Sino-Japanese conflict in the 1930s.  Other reviewers have strongly endorsed this book as an important history of China and the war there before 1941.  I strongly recommend this book to anyone wanting a more nuanced history of WWII, with the diplomacy that was involved, or someone interested in military history during the 1930s.       
Sept-Oct 1931, Japanese infantry advances in Manchuria after Mukden Incident

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