Ishihara, Itagaki mastermind Manchurian Incident
Those mainly responsible
The starting point of the Showa War was the Manchurian Incident that took place in September 1931. Who should be held responsible for having caused the incident? The main instigators of the incident were Kanji Ishihara and Seishiro Itagaki, staff officers of the Kwantung Army, a unit of the Imperial Japanese Army. Determined to conspire together to grab power and lead the country, they became the masterminds of acts of aggression in Manchuria (currently northeastern China) and literally dragged the nation into a series of wars.
At the core of Lieutenant Colonel Ishihara’s militarist thinking was the pursuit of the “Final World War Theory” to determine the “Number One” country in the world in a war between Japan and the United States, which he considered to be the greatest nations of the Eastern and Western civilizations, respectively. In January 1928, at a meeting of the Mokuyo-kai (Thursday Society) group of elite officers who graduated from the Imperial Japanese Army’s General Staff College, Ishihara said, “The nation could be in a state of war for even 20 years or 30 years if we have footholds all over China and fully use them.” In June of that year, Daisaku Komoto, Itagaki’s predecessor, assassinated Chang Tso-lin (Zhang Zuolin), a Chinese warlord who had strong influence in Manchuria, by blowing up the train in which he was traveling. This incident would become a model for the Manchurian Incident.
The Manchurian Incident took place as members of the Kwantung Army blew up a section of the South Manchurian Railway in Liutiaohu (Lake Liutiao), outside Mukden (presently Shenyang). The Army then took control of Mukden in a single day. The temporary mayor’s post of Mukden was taken up by Kenji Dohihara, then chief of the Mukden Special Service Agency. The Kwantung Army began advancing into Jilin Province beyond its original garrison area. Shigeru Honjo, Commander of the Kwantung Army, initially opposed sending troops to Jilin. But he eventually yielded to Itagaki’s persistence and decided to give the go-ahead to the deployment.
Senjuro Hayashi, Commander of the Korea Army which were the Japanese forces in Korea, also decided to dispatch his troops to Manchuria without an order. He followed advice from staff officers of his own forces, who had ties with Ishihara and Itagaki. Kingoro Hashimoto, chief of the Russia Group of the Army General Staff’s Second Bureau, also had close contacts with them. Hashimoto formed the Sakura-kai (Cherry Society) group made up of young reformist officers and used the group as a foothold to lead two failed coup attempts, the March Incident and the October Incident, in 1931. The March Incident was aimed at installing War Minister Kazushige Ugaki as prime minister. Others involved in the incidents included chief of the War Ministry’s Military Affairs Bureau Kuniaki Koiso.
Although it was poorly planned, the October Incident was linked to the Manchurian Incident. However, it would be the forerunner for a series of coup attempts and terrorist acts, such as the May 15 Incident of 1932 and the February 26 Incident of 1936. Before the Manchurian Incident, War Minister Jiro Minami strongly advocated taking a hard-line stance on Manchuria and Inner Mongolia.
Without complaint, Prime Minister Reijiro Wakatsuki readily approved the dispatch of Japanese troops from Korea to Manchuria at their leaders’discretion after talking with Minami. The helplessness of politicians in preventing military officers stationed outside the country from spinning out of control surfaced for the first time at this point.
The establishment of the state of Manchukuo was declared on March 1, 1932, less than six months after the Manchurian Incident. Dohihara arranged for Aixinjueluo Puyi, the last Emperor of the Qing Dynasty, to serve as the sovereign head of Manchukuo under the title of Chief Executive and later Emperor. Meanwhile, the battlefield temporarily spread to Shanghai. This development, called the First Shanghai Incident of 1932, was plotted by Assistant Army Attach Ryukichi Tanaka at the Japanese Legation in Shanghai. Tanaka had been instructed by Itagaki to carry out a plot in Shanghai in an attempt to divert the world powers’ attention from the establishment of Japan’s puppet state in Manchuria.
Shortly after this, Prime Minister Tsuyoshi Inukai was assassinated in the May 15 Incident. The Cabinet of Makoto Saito succeeded Inukai’s and approved the establishment of Manchukuo. Prior to this, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution to recognize Manchukuo as a nation. At a plenary session of the Diet’s House of Representatives, Foreign Minister Yasuya Uchida said Japan would not hand over its rights and interests in Manchuria even if its territory was turned into “scorched earth.” Uchida responded to an interpellation by Tsutomu Mori, a member of the Rikken Seiyukai party, also known as Seiyukai. Mori was a leading figure representing the politicians who were vocal in calling for the maintenance of rights and interests in Manchuria and Inner Mongolia.
A report by the Lytton Commission, an investigation team led by Victor Alexander George Robert (V.A.G.R.) Bulwer-Lytton appointed by the League of Nations concerning Japan’s activities in Manchuria, was submitted in October 1932. War Minister Sadao Araki harshly criticized the report and called for Japan to withdraw from the League. Araki, who served as War Minister in the Cabinets of Inukai and Saito, thus openly endorsed the actions of the Kwantung Army. The Lytton Report did not condemn Japan in a one-sided manner. Indeed, it included a proposal to establish a province-wide, autonomous government in Manchuria. But when a recommendation based on the Lytton Report was adopted at the General Assembly of the League of Nations, only Japan opposed it. Yosuke Matsuoka, head of the Japanese delegation, walked out of the meeting, signifying Japan’s withdrawal from the League.