World History 2 223 - 13.2.2 East Asia and the Pacific

When the Japanese invaded the Philippines beginning in December 1941, the limited U.S. and Filipino forces put up stiff resistance in jungle fighting. Outnumbered, however, they surrendered their positions on the Bataan Peninsula on April 9, 1942. The command headquarters surrendered at Corregidor Island nearly a month later. The resulting sixty-mile forced march to an internment camp led to the deaths of more than a quarter of the estimated eighty thousand Allied prisoners and became known as the Bataan Death March. Over the course of the war, the Japanese held approximately 140,000 Allied troops under severe conditions at various camps in the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere and on the Japanese home islands. By the end of the war, as many as thirty thousand had perished there.

Five months into 1942, the Japanese had gathered a significant portion of Burma, Malaya and the Straits Settlements, Indonesia, French Indochina, and the Philippines into the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere (Figure 13.12). While deconstructing White colonial rule, the Japanese began to systematically exploit the liberated areas for their resources in support of a greater Japan. However impressive the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere was on paper, however, the Japanese military and civilian administrators were hard-pressed to solve significant problems. The extent of the area under control and the size of the captive population presented governance issues, while geography severely strained communication and transportation networks. Puppet regimes were an attempt to solve some of these problems, such as the collaborationist regime in China under Wang Jingwei in 1940, the Ba Maw government in Burma during the Japanese occupation, and the administration of José P. Laurel in the defeated Philippines.

The figure includes two maps. In the upper right-hand corner, a small partial world map centered on the Pacific Ocean, with Asia on the left and North America on the right is shown. There is a box around the Hawaiian Islands that are in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. There is a close-up view of the Hawaiian Islands. The main map shows Southeast Asia and the northern part of Australia. Australia, the southern half of Papua New Guinea, the majority of China, most of India, Bangladesh, and some of Myanmar and Bhutan are shaded purple indicating Allies. The Korean peninsula, Japan, Taiwan, and the southern half of an island north of Japan are shaded orange. There are stars indicating major battles in Japan, Sri Lanka, two in the Philippines, two in Malaysia, one on the coast of the Java Sea, two in the Pacific Ocean, and one new Papua New Guinea. A dashed orange line indicates the extent of Japanese-controlled areas and runs from the top right of the Pacific Ocean, down cutting the island of Papua New Guinea in half horizontally, around Indonesia, through the Indian Ocean, through Myanmar, going up through the eastern part of China, running along the eastern coast of Asia and ending near the Russian border. Two more orange dashed lines come out of North Korea and extend upward for a short distance.
Figure 13.12 Between 1937 and 1942, Japan launched attacks against and gained control of far-flung territory throughout East Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific. (attribution: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY 4.0 license; credit upper-right: modification of work "Locator map of the Big island of Hawaiʻi" by M. Minderhoud/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Successes were short-lived, however, because in June 1942, the United States decisively won what became the turning point of the war in the Pacific—the Battle of Midway, which stopped Japan’s advance across the Pacific. The Japanese lost four aircraft carriers and a heavy cruiser, and other ships were severely damaged. The balance of power clearly shifted toward the Allies, and the Japanese navy never recovered its momentum.

Pursuing an island-hopping campaign to roll back Japanese seizures of land, the United States frequently had to engage the Japanese in dense jungle terrains. For years, the Japanese army had relied on a doctrine that heroic determination would overcome the technology and other advantages of any foe. Thus, fierce Japanese resistance extended these battles, as in the Battle of Guadalcanal, which raged on the Pacific island for six months between August 1942 and February 1943 before Japan finally retreated.

The Japanese military made many missteps across the Pacific. An early attempt to capture part of the Aleutian Islands failed. The defensive perimeters of Japan’s home islands were constantly redrawn over 1942 and 1943. Without reevaluating its strategies, Japan transferred forces from China to plug holes punched in this perimeter. Its total losses in the China campaign, from its initial invasion in 1937 to its surrender in 1945, approached 500,000. (The Chinese lost as many as ten million. Historians disagree regarding how many millions of people were displaced by the war.) An attempted Japanese invasion of India beginning in March 1944 was called off after massive losses in July 1944. The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere began to evaporate into chaos and confusion. Because Prime Minister Hideki Tojo was the face of the war party both abroad and at home, it seemed clear that no peace settlement with the Allies was conceivable if he were in power. Therefore, in July 1944, having lost the support of the emperor for the failure of his strategies, Tojo was forced to resign.

Though the war proved devastating to China, with a severe loss of population, it was able to continue its fight against the Japanese. The western Allied powers hoped China could play a major role in defeating the Axis powers. To that end, Chiang Kai-shek was invited to a conference in Cairo along with other Allied leaders in 1943. In the last phase of the war, Chinese forces were able to advance through Burma and reopen the major road between China and India. Further offensives took back other Japanese-held territory. By the end of the war, China had reclaimed all the land Japan had occupied and emerged as a significant country in world affairs.

This lesson has no exercises.

The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 2: from 1400 textbook by Openstax