Appendices - Hirohito's War
D: THE JAPANESE EMPIRE - FROM CO-PROSPERITY TO TYRANNY
Conclusion: In looking at the management of Japan’s Empire, it is clear that extreme variance was the norm. The Phase I conquests, the Ryuku Islands and Hokkaido, were simply absorbed into Japan’s body politic and it must be assumed that they were net beneficiaries of Japan’s economic rise.
Phase II acquisitions also fared well. Although Korea suffered a brutal annexation and suppression of indigenous culture, it is clear that its economy benefited from the Japanese connection and many elements of its society were bought into the Imperial project. On Formosa, hitherto only loosely connected to China, resistance to Japanese suzerainty was limited. Absorbed some fifteen years before Korea, it became the most integrated of Japan’s imperial assets and was perhaps a marker for how other colonies may have developed.
The Phase III annexation of Manchuria and northern China was a quantum extension of Japanese power but very quickly a colonial model of development was apparent. It seems likely that economically it was a preferable model to the previous warlord state. Again resistance to Japan was sporadic.
Phase IV expansion was entirely different. The Japanese Empire created under the exigencies of war meant that occupation and control was far more important than development. Given Japan’s logistical limitations, its armies could not be supplied from overseas and therefore became axiomatic that the occupying armies would have to live off the land.
In spite of the pretences of Japan’s government that it was both liberating Asia and creating a Co-Prosperity Sphere in the Pacific War phase of imperial expansion, the reality was that throughout Asia, the Japanese Army imposed the brutal tyranny of an occupying army. Frequently natives were treated with even more brutality than Allied POWs, whose treatment by Japan was almost universally cruel in the extreme. Indeed it is clear that in some areas conquered locals and POWs were treated as part of the same control system. In effect Japan’s Phase IV Empire became a gigantic prison camp – its citizens little more than indentured people. Its unpopularity is evident in the residual hatred of Japan in the post-war period – a hatred that lingers still. Although collaborators were found in mainland China, Burma, the Dutch East Indies and the Philippines and elsewhere, the local governments that were created were little more than a fig leaf to military dictatorship. Ultimately as soon as Japan’s defeat loomed, the conquered turned on their new masters.
Finally the failure of the Tokyo War Crimes trial to bring to book the leading figures around the Emperor and his family has contributed in turn to Japan’s failure to honestly face its wartime record. It is still the taught mantra in Japan that the Pacific War was a war of liberation for Asia. This it was clearly not. However it can be argued as Pankraj Mishra has done in From the Ruins of Empire  that ‘many Japanese officials brought sincerity and determination to the liberation of Asia…’83 Nevertheless for the most part it was an Imperial project of a political elite in Tokyo, which believed in a Darwinian sense that Japan had to grow larger and stronger to survive the expansion of the West and particularly the United States. As Soho Tokutomi, an apologist for Japan’s wartime government bitterly noted, Western powers in Asia had behaved like cormorants which ‘dived into the water and caught fishes big and small’; Japan had merely followed suit ‘but failed to catch any fish and drowned herself.’84 To be more accurate Japan had caught fish, Formosa, Korea and Manchuria to name three, but had been forced to cough them up.
Today it is still argued in Japan that the defeat of the western powers in the early months of 1942 brought about the post-war liberation of Asia even if they themselves lost the war to the West. It is a largely spurious argument. The United States and Great Britain were already well on their way to grant self-determination and independence to their Empires in the Philippines and India respectively. Given the independence movements already extant in the Dutch East Indies and Indochina, it seems highly likely that the liberation of Asia from the West would have come organically and indigenously. Japan’s attempt to build an Empire may have hastened independence in some instances but at a cost that was unconscionable.
Finally it is interesting to note that in a final report produced by the feared Tokko (Tokubetsu Koto Keisatsu: Special Higher Police), it was concluded, ‘In summation… the people (Japanese) should continue to have the same national ideas they held during the war.’85 With regard to justifications of their actions leading up to the Pacific War, it was an exhortation that has been unswervingly followed by Japan’s post-war governments.