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Japan and the League of Nations

Empire and World Order, 1914–1938

Thomas W. Burkman

Publication Year: 2008

Japan joined the League of Nations in 1920 as a charter member and one of four permanent members of the League Council. Until conflict arose between Japan and the organization over the 1931 Manchurian Incident, the League was a centerpiece of Japan’s policy to maintain accommodation with the Western powers. The picture of Japan as a positive contributor to international comity, however, is not the conventional view of the country in the early and mid-twentieth century. Rather, this period is usually depicted in Japan and abroad as a history of incremental imperialism and intensifying militarism, culminating in war in China and the Pacific. Even the empire’s interface with the League of Nations is typically addressed only at nodes of confrontation: the 1919 debates over racial equality as the Covenant was drafted and the 1931–1933 League challenge to Japan’s seizure of northeast China. This volume fills in the space before, between, and after these nodes and gives the League relationship the legitimate place it deserves in Japanese international history of the 1920s and 1930s. It also argues that the Japanese cooperative international stance in the decades since the Pacific War bears noteworthy continuity with the mainstream international accommodationism of the League years. Thomas Burkman sheds new light on the meaning and content of internationalism in an era typically seen as a showcase for diplomatic autonomy and isolation. Well into the 1930s, the vestiges of international accommodationism among diplomats and intellectuals are clearly evident. The League project ushered those it affected into world citizenship and inspired them to build bridges across boundaries and cultures. Burkman’s cogent analysis of Japan’s international role is enhanced and enlivened by his descriptions of the personalities and initiatives of Makino Nobuaki, Ishii Kikujirô, Nitobe Inazô, Matsuoka Yôsuke, and others in their Geneva roles.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

The guidance and assistance of others in this project on Japan and the League of Nations extends over a career in Japanese history. For help in the early stages during graduate school, I owe deep gratitude to Roger Hackett, Roger Dingman, Ernest Young, Bradford Perkins, Naomi Fukuda, William Hoover, Warren Cohen, and Jerry Voris Burkman. In the first stints of research and consultation in Japan, Hosoya Chihiro opened to me his Hitotsubashi...

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pp. xi-xiv

The peace settlement following World War I gave birth to the League of Nations. Japanese diplomats labored with those of other victorious powers to fashion the constitution of the League, and the Empire of Japan joined the organization in 1920 as one of forty-two charter members and one of four permanent members of the League of Nations Council. Japan was active in League political, humanitarian,...

Note on Japanese and Chinese Names

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pp. xv

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1. The World War I Experience

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pp. 1-28

“Heaven’s help in the new Taishō era for the fulfillment of Japan’s destiny.” With these words the Ōkuma Shigenobu cabinet welcomed the outbreak of hostilities in Europe in August 1914.1 The First World War had profound consequences for Japan. It created the unanticipated opportunity for the Empire to assert its claims to regional leadership and international equality. At the postwar peace conference in 1919, Japan for the...

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2. The Idea of a League

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pp. 29-42

The League of Nations movement in the West was spawned by the dream of lasting peace and the realization that international law was unenforceable by any mechanism then in existence. The League idea entered Anglo-American diplomatic correspondence as early as September 1914. Within a year the term “League of Nations” was in general use by the newly founded League to Enforce Peace (LEP)...

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3. The Great Debate

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pp. 43-59

The prospect of the Armistice brought the Foreign Ministry to the disconcerting realization that Japan’s preparation for the peace had ignored the Fourteen Points and formulated no position on President Wilson’s diplomatic program. The bureaucracy had narrowly focused its planning on concrete considerations of territorial expansion and economic rights. Ministry offi cials later recounted the rude...

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4. Making the Covenant Palatable at Paris

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pp. 60-103

Four of the five Big Power delegations arrived in Paris in January 1919 with their own draft versions of a League of Nations constitution in hand. The lone exception was Japan. While the establishment of the League of Nations led the peace conference agenda, it was a matter of low policy priority for the Empire. The projections of such internationalist diplomats as Komura and Makino notwithstanding, Japan’s ...

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5. The Geneva Years

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pp. 104-141

The League of Nations officially began its life when the Treaty of Versailles came into force on 10 January 1920. Acting from afar, the president of the United States — in accordance with the terms of the Covenant — summoned the first meetings of the Council and the Assembly. The Council was called fi rst and convened on 16 January in Paris, for facilities in Geneva would not be ready until the first...

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6. The Japanese Face at Geneva: Nitobe Inazō and Ishii Kikujirō

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pp. 142-164

Everyone who worked in the League of Nations Secretariat knew well what was meant by the “Geneva spirit.” The full poignancy of this ethos was apprehended by those who lived by the shores of Lac Léman. Sir Eric Drummond, Sugimura Yōtarō, Harada Ken, and William Rappard understood the ease with which nationals of diverse countries interfaced in their routine professional and social...

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7. Crisis over Manchuria

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pp. 165-193

When the 1930s opened, Japan had been a charter member of the League of Nations and a permanent member of the League Council for a full decade. Japan had served conscientiously and effectively, and its diplomats and lay members of the Secretariat had carried out their tasks with distinction. Carping could be heard at home that the League was a European club and too distant to be a reliable mechanism...

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8. Japan as an Outsider

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pp. 194-209

When he wrote his memoirs during the grim years of the Pacific War he had sought to avert, Ambassador Joseph C. Grew chose the date of 20 February 1933 as the end of one chapter and the beginning of another, with these words: Nobody could miss the political significance of Japan’s decision to quit the League of Nations. It marked a clear break with the Western powers and pre-...

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Epilogue: Internationalism and International Organization in Interwar Japan

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pp. 210-221

In the context of the World War I settlement, Japan joined the League of Nations. Japan remained connected until two surges of aggressive war with China, from 1931 and 1937, brought about a phased withdrawal from Geneva. To enter the League was not an easy decision in view of two general Japanese misgivings. One concerned the hegemonic proclivities of the powers that brought...


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pp. 223-259


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pp. 261-280

Index and About the Author

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pp. 281-291

E-ISBN-13: 9780824863036
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824829827

Publication Year: 2008