2020: Planning for War

The Asia-Pacific Journal | Japan Focus Volume 18 | Issue 21 | Number 3 | Article ID 5506 | Nov 01, 2020
Mit freundlicher Erlaubnis von Japan Focus.

Planning for War:
Elite Staff Officers in the Imperial Japanese 
Army and the Road to World War II

Richard J. Smethurst

The Japanese military was led throughout its history from the 1880s until the end of World War II in 1945 by a small group of elite officers who graduated from the Army War College and then served as staff officers and/or commanders in the Army Ministry, the General Staff headquarters, and in field armies in Manchuria, China proper, and elsewhere. These officers were trained to do careful research into the comparative militaries, economies and logistics of their own, their allies, and their potential enemies’ strength for war. The point of this essay is to explore why highly-trained officers, who learned from their own observations and research about Japan’s and its wartime allies’ weaknesses vis-à-vis the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and China, ignored what they learned and went to war between 1931 and 1945 with these larger and economically more advanced nations. That is, why did the brains of the Japanese army, with help from many staff officers in Japan’s navy and civil bureaucracy, lead Japan into a war it could not win? Did they really believe, as they often said they did, that superior spirit could overcome superior technology and production, or were they motivated by the desire for advancement—wars brought promotions. Or what else may have motivated them? I believe that they knew they could not win the war, but went to war anyway.

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