25 million died in Japan-inspired Asia-Pacific Wars between 1931 and 1945

Rowan Callick, in The Weekend Australian, 17-18 September 2011, under different title: “Manchurian ties bind ol’ blue eyes, blue lotus and boy king”

They are all linked with Manchuria in northeast China, which is the site of an important anniversary tomorrow that has prompted numerous films, conferences and speeches. On September 18, 1931, a Japanese army lieutenant, Kawamoto Suemori, laid dynamite near Liutiao Lake, along a line of the South Manchuria Railway owned by the Japanese government, and detonated it at 10.20pm. He did a poor job. Five minutes later, a train from Changchun steamed across the dynamited section of track, and arrived safely in Mukden, present-day Shenyang, at 10.30pm. But the pretext had been established for a war in which 25 million people, mainly civilians, died throughout Asia and the Pacific islands – and in Australia — before it ended in 1945.

Japan feigned outrage, claiming that Chinese troops stationed at the garrison of Beidaying, less than 1km from the detonation, had been responsible. Japan launched an attack on Manchuria, then the rest of China.

This led to the invasion of much of the rest of East Asia, and to the attack on Pearl Harbor, which killed 2402 people.

After Japan’s defeat of tsarist Russia in a naval and land war in 1904-05, in which 53,000 Russians and 47,000 Japanese were killed, Tokyo had taken over the “concessions” China had granted Russia in the 19th century. Japan deployed professional soldiers to act as “railway guards” in the South Manchuria Railway Zone.

The force in Manchuria was known as the Kwantung Army. Two Kwantung colonels had brought to the imperial general headquarters in Tokyo the plan to trigger a war with China. They had to move fast.

Chinese president Chiang Kai-shek had recently held a meeting in the capital, Nanjing, at which national leaders vowed to preserve sovereignty over Manchuria, and Japan’s government was starting to feel concerned about losing control over the impatient Kwantung Army.

The colonels won support at HQ, and on their swift return to Mukden ordered a swimming pool to be built at the officers’ club. This excavation concealed a concrete bunker for two cannons.

On the morning of September 19, following the botched detonation of the tracks, these artillery pieces opened fire on the Chinese garrison, and destroyed its small air contingent.

Five-hundred Japanese troops attacked, and by nightfall had seized the city at the cost of just two Japanese casualties. Within five months, the whole Chinese northeast had been overrun.

Frank Sinatra starred in a 1962 John Frankenheimer film, The Manchurian Candidate, which had its origins in the Korean War that spilled over into this region.

Herge’s classic 1936 comic strip The Blue Lotus takes Tintin to Shanghai where he is befriended by a Chinese boy, Chang, and they work against a global opium cartel. Japanese bad guy Mitsuhirato and his gang blow up the railway line between Shanghai and Nanjing, triggering an invasion of Shanghai by Japanese troops, allegedly to restore order. And the last emperor, whose life was filmed by Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci, was deposed in Beijing in 1911 and became Japan’s puppet emperor in Manchuria, before being seized by the invading Soviet army and given to the Chinese communists.


Web Editor: : Also SEE  Brian D. Victoria, Zen at War,New York: Weatherhill, 1997

Brian D. Victoria, Zen War Stories,London: Routledge, 2003.


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