THE EARLY U.S.-JAPAN ECONOMIC RELATIONSHIP AND THE RISE OF SHōWA MILITARISM
Kennebeck, Keith Joseph
The notion that the bilateral economic relationship between the United States and Japan played a central role in prompting the Pacific War is not a novel concept. In particular, the number of scholarly and popular works that have identified the United States' escalating use of trade and financial sanctions in the late 1930s and early 1940s as a response to Japan's increasing military advances in Asia are numerous. Such discussions on the Pacific War emphasize that the U.S.-imposed export embargoes on strategic goods and resources and freezes on Japanese financial assets eventually prompted Japan to attack Pearl Harbor in late 1941. More importantly, these discussions are punctuated with the moral argument that the U.S.-imposed embargoes were necessary, and that war was essentially inevitable, given Japan's brutal occupations of China and Southeast Asia. In short, so the standard argument goes, Japan's unjustifiable rise towards militarism prompted an end to the bilateral economic relationship, which in turn prompted the onset of the Pacific War.The analysis presented here will argue that such interpretations are misleading and shortsighted. Specifically, it will argue that Japan's slide towards Shōwa era militarism and war was in itself sparked by the initiation of the long-standing, yet problematic, bilateral economic relationship with the United States - a relationship that exacerbated social, political and economic turmoil in a country that was forced to quickly modernize. This relationship was subsequently characterized by Japan's uncomfortable and growing dependence on U.S. trade and financial capital, a dependence that America cultivated, as it looked to Asian markets after the turn of the twentieth century to fuel its continued domestic economic growth. Contrary to common interpretations that Japan's Shōwa era militarism provoked U.S. sanctions, which led to the attacks on Pearl Harbor, this analysis will argue that Japan's early economic, political and social unrest, stimulated largely by America's forced opening in 1853, and its subsequent lopsided dependence on the American economic relationship, fostered the establishment of the Shōwa militarist state. That militarism in turn led to the United States' devastating termination of the economic link, which finally led to war. In summary, this thesis argues that it is the entire history of the pre-war U.S.-Japan bilateral economic relationship, not just the use of sanctions in - which should be identified as a key cause in determining Japan's motivation to go to war with the United States.
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