Road to Infamy: Expansion and cusp of 1940.

Posted by Rebekah
Nov 09 2011

Years passed, relatively uneventfully-save for the Great Depression.  Most countries continually scrambled to find ways to keep food, warmth and shelter together.  It’s a bit funny to note that following WWI, most countries agreed to a limitation on the number of people and ships and units in any given country’s military to make sure that no one could be a strong aggressor again, but once the Depression happened, the military was one of the best places in many countries for a young man to get three squares, a roof and work.  Looking through the letters of some of the men who would one day man the submarine USS Flier, you see that theme a lot.  The Chief Radioman of Flier, “Bud” Klock, joined the military to relieve his single mom of his room and board expenses, as well as try to pay off some medical debts he’d accumulated and then help out mom and younger brother. He wasn’t alone in this type of motivation.

Ordering ships, submarines, planes, and other military accoutrements from various governments also put people to work in mines, smelters, factories, shipyards, and shipping companies.  There were some exceptions: ammunition and bombs were still expensive, leading to many war exercises in the 30s being conducted with flour bags rather than blank or live ammo.

Yet, the anti-war sentiment remained strong in many countries as well, leading to the irony of having fully-staffed, fully-updated military always on standby, always practicing, and utterly forbidden to do anything other than keep everyone employed.

Not shockingly, this raised a number of tensions as everyone watched everyone else with a wary eye.

Japan now had Manchuko firmly in its grip, and sadly for the Chinese residents of the area, it was not a pleasant experience. ( It’s at points of history like this that, as a researcher, and artist, I must be very careful.  Atrocities must be explored, documented and remembered, if only to attempt to stop such from happening again, but it’s far too easy to delve so deeply in horrors like this that sleep and peace is destroyed by these images. So, if it sounds like I’m glossing over some things, I am. I’ve learned where my “horror level” is and I try not to violate it, for my mental sake, and my family’s. ) Every year the Japanese Army pushed out further, to the Great Wall, to just outside Beijing, and with each push, people were murdered, raped, tortured,  and mutilated in such ways that are unimaginable. The foreigners in the area documented many things, and those images and accounts are easily available on the web.

In July of 1937, Japan took advantage of the fact China was fragmented, had a weak government and even weaker military which was already trying to fight wars with Russian Communists, (Xinjian War), and nationalist Tibetians, among other small conflicts that slowly bled what little military there was.  This was the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War and the infamous Rape of Nanking.

During this whole conflict, Americans watched. Many American diplomats, ambassadors, military advisors, were in China at this time. Since America was technically a “neutral nation” these people were mostly safe, though in December 1937, a Japanese aircraft destroyed the American gunboat SS Panay, and killed American men. If FDR truly wanted to go to war, this might have started it, but few lives lost so far from home, didn’t resonate enough with the press, especially after the Japanese government, who wanted to avoid a direct confrontation, apologized and paid reparations. (The accounts of what was happening in Nanking and other places were widely reported on and condemned, but that wasn’t enough to overcome the anti-war view either)

While Japan flexed her muscles in the East, the US Navy had their annual War Games. Admiral Ernest King was assigned to take back Pearl from an aggressive force. (Hmmm….that sounds familiar.) Apparently, the defense at Pearl learned exactly nothing from the Navy exercises of 1932, because King followed Yarnell’s plan to a T, then for fun, bombed” the Naval bases in Alameda and Mare Island on his way back to San Diego.  King, like Yarnell was trying to make the point that air attacks would be a major vulnerability, and the Navy should expand in Air Craft Carriers. But when $500 million dollars were appropriated by Congress to beef up the military most of it went to newer, bigger battleships (like the Missouri). Japan watched this buildup with alarm: with most of the British Navy in the Atlantic, the American Navy was the only large threat in the Pacific, and now it was expanding.

Then on September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Europe was plunged into WWII, but the American public were firm.  “We’re not getting entangled in another war OVER THERE.” So the USA remained officially neutral, despite some curious programs that leant help to England.

Japans military was also growing, though the extent was a secret and many began to fear it was as big a threat as Germany, if not bigger.. The American government would soon have to do something, but without the military. What could they do? And would it be enough to stop the expansion without risking American lives and lands in the Pacific?


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