war in the Pacific had been brewing for years. During the 1930s, Japanese
influence into China had increased to all-out war in 1937 and domination
of Manchuria. With the fall of France in 1940, Japan stationed troops in
invasion of Russia in 1941 placed Japan in a precarious position: Hitler
pressured them to attack north to the Soviet Union, which would have been
an easy front; French Indochina stood ready for full occupation with Vichy
troops occupied in Europe. Far to the east, the United States rested like
a sleeping giant.
Prime Minister Prince Fumimaro Konoe was desperate to prevent war with
America. Roosevelt routinely demanded removal of Japanese troops from
China, which was an impossible agreement since the army and navy had
suffered too much to give up conquests. On July 28, 1941, Japan commenced
its occupation of French Indochina, and the United States retaliated by
freezing Japanese assets and, more importantly, leading Britain and the
Dutch East Indies in an oil embargo. Without foreign oil, Japan was stuck;
within two years, the entirety of oil stockpiles would be depleted. The
military had not anticipated such a rash move by the Americans, and Konoe
made a last-ditch effort: a personal summit. He sent notice to Roosevelt
that he would soon be arriving in Washington in hope FDR would meet him.
It was a diplomatic gamble, but Konoe's risk-taking paid off. The summit
was rushed in preparation, and, on September 5, the Japanese Prime
Minister was welcomed to the White House. The talks were primarily a
standstill; Roosevelt made demands that Japan leave China and stop its
military expansion to the south, something that Konoe could not do. While
the meeting essentially gained nothing, Konoe did learn one important
point: much of the American public did not want to engage in another
"European" war, so the United States would never be the one to strike
"War delayed or avoided. Japanese Empire ruling in
Asia" - reader's comment
Under the Tripartite Pact signed among
Germany, Italy, and Japan in 1940, the three had agreed to join forces if
an unnamed force (the United States) came into the war against them.
While, militarily, an immediate strike against the small American Pacific
fleet would be advantageous, it could prove costly in the long run. Konoe
reported to the other Tripartite nations that the United States must never
be assaulted. They could not risk a repeat of even the slightest negative
PR move like the sinking of the Lusitania in the first World War.
With pressure from Hitler, the Japanese would begin their plans for war
against the Soviet Union. They assured him that, without oil, they would
be unable to put their armies into the field effectively. Defeat in 1939
at Khalkhin Gol also showed that Japanese ground forces were not adequate
against Soviet heavy tanks, so they focused on devising a defensive war
with long-reaching strikes by aircraft. However, as Operation Barbarossa
became a logistical quagmire, it was obvious that Hitler had bitten off
more than Germany could chew.
The Emperor did not want to be on the losing side of a war with the Soviet
Union, but Konoe and his ministers could not break the Tripartite Pact.
Instead, they bought time, assuring Hitler that their army would be ready
for combat in the summer. On June 28, 1942, Japan launched attacks toward
Soviet oil fields north of Manchuria simultaneous with Germany's operation
Case Blue. Stalin let the east lose ground with only minor defensive
measures, pressing most of his might into the defense of Moscow and the
west. Even with two fronts, by the middle of 1943, Russia halted the tide
of advance and began to push back.
Japan fell to maintaining position and working with its air force
(arguably the best in the world after years of buildup) to spy on troop
movements and pin down Russian reserves before they could reach the front.
Germany's war with Britain had come to a standstill with Hitler giving up
North Africa but holding the Mediterranean. The manpower and materiel did
not seem available for an amphibious invasion of Europe until at least
1945 despite the fact that the Blitz had long passed. Instead, they fought
Germany's navy while Stalin began to eat away at the back of Hitler's
Finally, the end came for Germany with the British landing at Normandy
under Operation Overlord in March of 1945. By that time, Stalin was
pressing into Germany itself, and the Third Reich faced collapse. On
August 14, 1945, the remainders of Hitler's government (Hitler himself had
disappeared, presumed dead in his bunker via suicide) sued for peace.
Stalin then joined with Britain in pressing toward the east where Japan
had stood unquestioned for years. Seeing the vicious defeat of allies,
Emperor Hirohito offered terms for peace, but Stalin would not accept
anything less than what had been declared at Potsdam: disarmament,
reduction of empire, and partial occupation.
Prime Minister Konoe, who had been in and out of power over the course of
the war, approached American President Thomas Dewey for mediation. Dewey
agreed, but Stalin and Prime Minister Clement Attlee did not agree to
ceasefire until concessions had been made. While battles still roared in
Siberia, Mongolia, China, and French Indochina, talks began. When the dust
cleared, Japan would maintain Korea as a protectorate, but they would lose
all other imperial gains and face limitations on armed forces.
The United States, now economically on its feet with its profitable
Lend-Lease program, suddenly faced a world with vaporizing empires and
Soviet dominance over almost all of Europe and Asia. Renewed military
buildup began through the 1950s, and America found itself trailing
distantly behind Russia in missile technology and space development. In
1962, Russia moved ICBMs to its ally Cuba and refused to recognize
American requests that they be removed. The successful invasion at Playa
Giron and subsequent seizing of those missiles began the Soviet-American
War that would last until 1968 with Russian troops marching into Chicago,
where the relocated American government had sat after the Bombing of