FROM the victories over China in 1894-95 to the downfall of 1945, the Army was both the engine and the steering wheel of Japanese imperialism. Allied with rightist ideologues and parties, and occa- sionally with the Navy, it helped make Japan authoritarian and expansionist.
First in Korea, then in Manchuria, north China, and eastern Siberia; and then in all of China after 1937, and all of Southeast Asia and the Pacific after 1941, the Japanese Army conspired, subverted, and attacked anyone in its path. And it spread terror by its ferocity, particularly in China.
This lightly researched but smooth-flowing book makes it all clear, suggesting why so many Asians still fear Japan, and why Chinese in particular remain furious at Japanese blindness to the China "incident." (A forthcoming account of the Chinese side of the story is "China's Bitter Victory: The War with Japan, 1937-1945," edited by James Hstung and Steven Levine, M. E. Sharpe Inc.)
Reading this book brings to mind the fears a generation once had of the fanaticism and rapacity the Japanese Army represented: officers with swords, leading long columns of infantry along dusty Chinese roads or Malayan jungle tracks; small, stocky men with long rifles, the fixed bayonets hampering marksmanship; some bicycles, plenty of requisitioned carts, but very few trucks or staff cars, let alone heavy artillery or tanks; at best, some scrawny "tankettes," a weapon Europeans had long since discarded;
and Japanese flags everywhere - small, individual ones, and impressive Rising Sun banners flowing from the head of the military column.
More recollections: the Army victorious after Pearl Harbor; the obsession with attack over defense, bayonets over bullets, individual courage over Western firepower and industry, exploding throughout the Pacific; masses of infantry charging forward, hurling grenades, following up with the bayonet; officers waving swords, those symbols of a still-lively samurai tradition.
There were remarkably easy triumphs over the badly led British at Hong Kong and Singapore, but greater difficulties with the Americans.
Finally, defeat and disaster came, beginning with the Guadalcanal campaign in autumn 1942. Not having experienced World War I, Japanese military thinkers had no idea of what massive firepower might mean; the American Marines taught them. But a tactical doctrine keyed only to the attack could not be revamped overnight. The sole alternative seemed to be an entrenched, fight-to-the-death defense, such as that of Iwo Jima, which inflicted heavy casualties but could not achieve a Japanese victory.
Nor, the Harrieses point out, could Japanese supply lines, geared to overland campaigns by rail in China and Manchuria, cope with the vast Pacific distances, particularly when American submarines got to work. Illness and starvation helped undercut Japanese fighting power. So did industrial weakness. The outcome was inevitable in this conflict between a powerful United States and a Japan whose superficial modernity cloaked its traditional essence.
That traditionalism upheld the superiority in battle of spiritual over material forces, the Harrieses indicate. Population figures, steel production, and American fighting qualities were dismissed.
Everything was made to hinge on the spiritual qualities in which every Japanese had been trained from childhood: courage, self-sacrifice, determination, etc.
The military system exploited these to the fullest. The Japanese soldier was expected to counterbalance the output of Detroit and Pittsburgh. His leaders demanded more and more - until nothing remained to be given. This book is blunt about Japanese atrocities, particularly the rape of Nanking in 1937. Such horrors extended a system that deprecated the life and dignity even of its own members, treating a glorious death in battle as life's highest achievement.