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The Currents of War

A New History of American-Japanese Relations, 1899-1941

Sidney Pash

Publication Year: 2014

From 1899 until the American entry into World War II, U.S. presidents sought to preserve China's territorial integrity in order to guarantee American businesses access to Chinese markets -- a policy famously known as the "open door." Before the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, Americans saw Japan as the open door's champion; but by the end of 1905, Tokyo had replaced St. Petersburg as its greatest threat. For the next thirty-six years, successive U.S. administrations worked to safeguard China and contain Japanese expansion on the mainland.

The Currents of War reexamines the relationship between the United States and Japan and the casus belli in the Pacific through a fresh analysis of America's central foreign policy strategy in Asia. In this ambitious and compelling work, Sidney Pash offers a cautionary tale of oft-repeated mistakes and miscalculations. He demonstrates how continuous economic competition in the Asia-Pacific region heightened tensions between Japan and the United States for decades, eventually leading to the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Pash's study is the first full reassessment of pre--World War II American-Japanese diplomatic relations in nearly three decades. It examines not only the ways in which U.S. policies led to war in the Pacific but also how this conflict gave rise to later confrontations, particularly in Korea and Vietnam. Wide-ranging and meticulously researched, this book offers a new perspective on a significant international relationship and its enduring consequences.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Series: Studies in Conflict, Diplomacy and Peace

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xvi

Admiral Yamamoto knew that the Japanese Empire’s future rested on the opening battle of the war. His task force had to sail undetected over a vast sea and destroy the enemy fleet in port. If Japan’s opponent detected his ships or set a trap, all would be lost. A smashing victory in the war’s early hours could...

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pp. 1-12

Commodore Matthew Perry was not a superstitious man. If he were, he would not have decided to follow the course to Edo Bay charted by earlier, failed US expeditions to Japan. Since 1790, some two dozen American vessels and countless others from Europe had visited the secluded islands. The...

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1: The Foundations of Containment

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pp. 13-48

George Bronson Rea made a living off the Open Door. First, in 1905, as the founder of the Far Eastern Review, he championed American access to the China market. Later, as an adviser to the government of the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo, he championed Tokyo’s dominance in Northeast...

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2: The Rise and Fall of the Washington Conference System

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pp. 49-84

Warren G. Harding is not remembered as a particularly brave or daring man. But, at the outset of his presidency, the United States embarked on a bold plan to contain Japanese expansion and protect the Open Door. The 1921– 1922 Washington Conference brought representatives of the major powers...

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3: Into the Abyss

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pp. 85-110

For the better part of a decade, the Washington Conference order governed Japanese-American relations, but by 1933 the system lay in ruins. The death of the order signaled far more than the triumph of Japanese militarism over Shidehara diplomacy or the intensification of the now institutionalized...

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4: Containment at High Tide

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pp. 111-142

From the conclusion of the Brussels Conference in the autumn of 1937 to the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Japan challenged American containment as never before. Fighting in China and the spread of war to Europe, however, also provided the architects of American containment with...

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5: Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Department

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pp. 143-170

For three decades, diplomatic engagement remained an integral part of America’s containment of Japan. With the exception of Calvin Coolidge, every president from Theodore Roosevelt to Herbert Hoover achieved at least one major agreement with Tokyo designed to protect the Open Door and limit...

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6: The Revolutionary Summer

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pp. 171-192

In late July 1941, Japanese forces began their occupation of southern French Indochina. The previous September, when Tokyo sent troops into the northern half of the colony and joined the Axis, Washington responded with increased aid to China and embargoes on scrap iron and steel shipments...

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7: Rollback

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pp. 193-216

During the summer of 1941, American containment succeeded beyond its creators’ grandest hopes. Japan, still mired in China after four grueling years of war, faced a formidable and growing Western military buildup in Southeast Asia. Stiffening Soviet resistance in Europe, meanwhile, increased the...

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8. All or Nothing

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pp. 217-250

The final six weeks of peace offered the United States and Japan repeated chances to spare Asia and the Pacific a cataclysmic war. That these chances came through the ascension to power of a career military officer who years later swung from the gallows might come as something of a surprise. But, in...

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pp. 251-256

In the autumn of 1941, America’s carefully crafted containment strategy brought on the war its creators sought to avoid. In Washington, the dream of achieving long-term objectives and short-term imperatives, safeguarding the Open Door and breaking the Axis Alliance, led senior military and civilian...

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pp. 257-258

I first became interested in American-Japanese diplomacy almost twenty-five years ago. After graduating from college I took a job teaching English in Gifu, a small and lovely city in central Japan. I did not give much thought to the war, although it sometimes came up in conversations with students...


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pp. 259-310


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pp. 311-332


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pp. 333-346

Series Page

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pp. 347-348


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pp. 349-356

E-ISBN-13: 9780813144252
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813144238

Page Count: 372
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Studies in Conflict, Diplomacy and Peace