Appendices - Hirohito's War
APPENDIX G: COULD JAPAN HAVE WON THE PACIFIC WAR?
Distance, Logistics and Extension of Power: Historically the sea has been a limiting factor in the extension of sovereignty of even the greatest of powers. Caesar may have crossed the channel to conquer Britain, just as Scipio Africanus crossed the Mediterranean to conquer north Africa and Gustavus Adolphus crossed the Baltic to conquer northern Europe but successful overseas expeditions have been relatively rare. Often they have been disastrous. The mighty Persians failed miserably to subdue the Greeks when they were heavily defeated at the Battle of Marathon in 490BC and ten years later their invasion fleet was crushed at the Battle of Salamis. The Athenian Empire collapsed in 415BC after the Great Sicilian Expedition to Sicily to conquer Syracuse ended in the complete annihilation of its army; Great Britain failed to defeat America in spite of the support of almost 30 per cent of the American colonists – the Loyalists; Hitler failed even to get his armies across the 20-mile wide Channel to defeat the British in 1940. In the face of historical precedent it seems clear that the defeat and conquest of Japan almost 5,500 miles away across the vast expanses of the Pacific Ocean should not be dismissed by historians as an inevitability.
Exerting power over long distances is not easy. Both the Korean War and the Vietnam War would underline this difficulty. Because of the need for a country to be able to exert power over long distances and over seas, the only time a country was ever in a position to exert total global power was in the period immediately after the Second World War ended in 1945. As the world’s only atomic power, America could conceivably have ruled the world; but sticking closely to the principles of the Atlantic Charter it chose not to in spite of its increasing suspicions about Soviet intentions. This brief moment of possibility ended when the Soviet Union became the world’s second nuclear power on 29 August 1949.
However America’s ability to extend power on a global scale did not exist when the prospect of a major war developed after the Japanese invasion of China in 1937 and the German invasion of Poland in 1939. Far from being a global military power, America was not even in a position to defend its homeland let alone its Empire – an Empire that stretched from the Caribbean to the frozen wastes of Alaska with tendrils of the Aleutian chain stretching into the north Pacific, the conquered nation of Hawaii in mid-Pacific and countless islands therein, its trading concessions in China and its most important imperial asset, the Philippines.
In 1939 America had an army of little more than 100,000 combat troops, fewer than Spain, Portugal, Belgium or Holland. While Germany had 136 divisions in the field and 70 in reserve, America was not capable in 1939 of putting a single division into the field. The US Army did not have enough bullets for a single day of fighting. It was entirely deficient in rifles let alone tanks and artillery. In spite of America’s lead in the aerospace industries, the US Air Force was threadbare – its planes were far too few and technologically out-dated. Even the Navy fell well short of the levels that were allowed under the terms of the 1930 London Naval Treaty. Furthermore American sentiment, after the experience of World War I was keenly isolationist and hostile to the villainous ‘merchants of death’ (arms dealers) that New Deal liberals conjured up as the enemies of the principal American people. In addition America’s President Roosevelt had sworn to the electorate before winning a second term of office in 1936 and again in 1940 that he would eschew foreign involvements.