United States and Japan








In East Asia and in Europe, twentieth-century history unfolded the same way: the uneven distribution of technology, which leads to violent consequences, and uneven development after both world wars. In both regions, a large, tradition bound, nationalistic state with a long history of international control, which lagged in incorporating the practices and teachings of the French and the industrial revolutions (Russia and China), suffered an assault by an upstart nation-state (Germany and Japan) that adopted these innovations at astonishing speed. Germany and Japan launched these assaults as part of their quests to build empires in their regions, and to fight their less advanced neighbors.


Just as Germany attacked Russia in the two world wars, so, at the other end of Eurasia, Japan twice assaulted and defeated China. In the Sino-Japanese War of 1895 the Japanese seized control of Taiwan and in 1931 extended their fight to Manchuria. In 1937 their attack on northern China marked the beginning of World War II in Asia.


Coinciding with the two world wars was another political trend of the twentieth century: the assumption that the United States has a global role. American policies in both Europe and East Asia followed similar pattern. The United States aligned itself, following the balance of power; first she aligned with one side, then the other, depending on which posed the greatest throat to American interests.


In Europe, the United States first sided with Russia (as an ally of Britain and France) against Germany in World War I, then turned against the Communist party that replaced the tsar in 1917; Washington did not establish relations with the Soviet Union until 1933. America then forged another alliance with Russia against Nazi Germany from 1941 to 1945, then shifted its allegiance once again to form an intense anti-Soviet alliance with West Germany and other Western European countries during the Cold War.


The United States pursued a similar course in East Asia. At the beginning of the twentieth century American investors favored the Japanese. The United States was sympathetic to Japan for its successful wars against China in 1895 and against Russia in 1905. The American Open Door Policy of the 1890s sought to achieve privileges for the United States in China, as well as Japan. As Japanese power increased however, America started to gain fear. Washington started to oppose the imperialistic ideals of Japan, which meant the support of the object of their imperialism: China. Tensions with Japan eventually led to Pearl Harbor and World War II in the Pacific. During that conflict the United States tried to assist China by sending arms and other supplies as well as military advice. After World War II, and especially after the Communist victory in the Chinese civil war, the US switched sides yet again, making moves with Japan to oppose Communism in Asia.


East Asia was different from Europe in that most of the modern period a second outside power took part in military and political affairs. Tsarist Russia occasionally cooperated with China, but more often exploited it, in the nineteenth century acquiring more Chinese territory than any other foreign power. For much of the twentieth century Russia’s and then the Soviet Union’s main enemy in East Asia was Japan. Russia fought a losing war with Japan in 1905 and Soviet troops fought with Japanese troops on the border on Siberia and Manchuria in 1939. Russian ignored Western desire to declare war on Japan, however, until the final days of World War II, when Soviet forces entered Manchuria and Korea and seized many islands that were in Japan’s possession.


At the outset of the Cold War the politics of security in the region were simplified by the Communist victory in the Chinese civil war and the Sino-Soviet Friendship Treaty of 1950. This made allies of the two large Communist countries. In response Washington organized a countervailing coalition.


As in Europe, the United States placed a large force in the Asia-Pacific region to stop Communist aggression. In Europe the American military presence took the form of a large group of armed forces in Germany. In East Asia the US deployed largely, although not only, naval forces. IN established a series of bases in the Pacific, a kind of “floating chain-link fence” around eastern