World War Zero? Re-assessing the Global Impact of the Russo-Japanese War 1904-05  第0次世界大戦?1904−1905年日露戦争の世界的影響を再評価する


May 19, 2012

World War Zero? Re-assessing the Global Impact of the Russo-Japanese War 1904-05  第0次世界大戦?1904−1905年日露戦争の世界的影響を再評価する
World War Zero? Re-assessing the Global Impact of the Russo-Japanese War 1904-05  第0次世界大戦?1904−1905年日露戦争の世界的影響を再評価する

Volume 10 | Issue 21 | Number 2

Article ID 3755

World War Zero? Re-assessing the Global Impact of the Russo-Japanese War 1904-05 

Gerhard Krebs


On the occasion of its centennial, the Russo-Japanese War drew great attention among historians who organized many symposia and published numerous studies. What have been the recent perspectives, debates and insights on the historical impact of the Russo-Japanese War on the imperial world order, evolution of international society, and global intellectual history? Gerhard Krebs provides a comprehensive historiographical essay introducing the major works published in the last ten years on the world-historical impact of the Russo-Japanese War, including works in Japanese, Russian, English and German.

The Russo-Japanese War, 1904-5: A Collection of Eight Volumes. Compiled & Introduced by Ian Nish. Folkstone: Global Oriental 2003 (hereafter: Nish).

Rotem Kowner, Historical Dictionary of the Russo-Japanese War. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press 2006 (hereafter: Kowner/Dictionary).

Josef Kreiner, ed., Der Russisch-Japanische Krieg (1904/05). Bonn: Bonn University Press 2005 (hereafter: Kreiner).

John W. Steinberg, Bruce M. Menning, David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, David Wolff and Yokote Shinji, eds., The Russo-Japanese War in Global Perspective: World War Zero. Bd,1, Leiden: Brill 2005. (History of Warfare, Vol. 29) (hereafter: Steinberg).

David Wolff, Steven B. Marks, Bruce W. Menning, David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, John W. Steinberg and Yokote Shinji, eds., The Russo-Japanese War in Global Perspective: World War Zero. Vol. 2, Ibid. 2007. (History of Warfare, Vol. 40) (hereafter: Wolff).

Maik Hendrik Sprotte, Wolfgang Seifert and Heinz-Dietrich Löwe, ed., Der Russisch-Japanische Krieg 1904/ 05. Anbruch einer neuen Zeit? Wiesbaden, Harassowitz Verlag 2007. (hereafter: Sprotte).

Rotem Kowner, ed., The Impact of the Russo-Japanese War. London and New York: Routledge 2007. (Routledge Studies in the Modern History of Asia, Vol. 43) (hereafter: Kowner/Impact).

Rotem Kowner., ed., Rethinking the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-05. Vol. I: Centennial Perspectives. Folkstone: Global Oriental 2007 (hereafter: Kowner/Rethinking).

John Chapman and Inaba Chiharu, eds., Rethinking the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-05. Vol. II: The Nichinan Papers. Folkestone: Global Oriental Ltd 2007 (hereafter: Chapman/Inaba).

Cemil Aydin, The Politics of Anti-Westernism in Asia: Visions of World Order in Pan-Islamic and Pan-Asian Thought. New York: Columbia University Press 2007 (hereafter: Aydin, Politics).

Cemil Aydin, “A Global Anti-Western Moment? The Russo-Japanese War, Decolonization and Asian Modernity”, Sebastian Conrad and Dominic Sachsenmaier, eds., Competing Views of World Order: Global Moments and Movements, 1880s-1930s. New York: Palgrave Macmillan 2007 (hereafter: Aydin, Global).

Hirama Yōichi, Nichi-Ro sensō ga kaeta sekaishi. “Samurai” Nihon no isseiki [The World History, Changed by the Russo-Japanese War. One Century of the “Samurai”-Nation Japan]. Tōkyō: Fuyō Shobō 2004 (hereafter: Hirama).

Gunjishigakkai hen [Study Society for Military History, ed.], Nichi-Ro sensō [The Russo-Japanese War], Vol. I: Kokusaiteki bunmyaku [The international Context]. Tōkyō: Kinseisha 2004 (also Vol. 40, 2/3, = Nos. 158/159 of the Journal Gunjishigaku) (hereafter: Gunjishigakkai I).

Ibid., Vol. II: Tatakai no shisō to isan [Comprehensive Aspects and the Heritage of the Fight]. Ibid. 2005 (= Gunjishigaku Vol. 41, 1/2, = Nos. 161/162) (hereafter: Gunjishigakkai II).

Nichi-Ro sensō kenkyūkai hen [Research Society on the Russo-Japanese War, ed.], Nichi-Ro sensō no shin-shiten [New Aspects of the Russo-Japanese War]. Yokohama: Seibunsha 2005. (hereafter: Nichi-Ro sensō).

Alex Marshall, The Russian General Staff and Asia, 1800-1917. London and New York: Routledge 2006. (Routledge Studies in the History of Russia and Eastern Europe, 4) (hereafter: Marshall, Staff).

Felix Patrikeeff and Harold Shukman, Railways and the Russo-Japanese War: Transporting War. London and New York: Routledge 2007 (hereafter: Patrikeeff/Shukman).

Martin Aust and Ludwig Steindorff, eds., Russland 1905. Perspektiven auf die erste Russische Revolution. Frankfurt/M.: Peter Lang 2007 (hereafter: Aust/Steindorff).

Renée Worringer, ed., The Islamic Middle East and Japan: Perceptions, Aspirations, and the Birth of Intra-Asia Modernity. Princeton: NJ, Markus Wiener 2007 (= Princeton Papers: Interdisciplinary Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 14, 2007) (hereafter: Worringer).

Shimazu Naoko, Japanese Society at War: Death, Memory and the Russo-Japanese War. Cambridge University Press 2009 (hereafter Shimazu).

Steven Ericson and Allen Hockley, eds., The Treaty of Portsmouth and its Legacies. Hanover, New Hampshire: Dartmouth College Press 2008 (hereafter: Ericson/Hockley).

Matsumura Masayoshi, Baron Kaneko and the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-5: A Study in the Public Diplomacy of Japan. Morrisville, North Carolina: Lulu Press 2009 (hereafter Matsumura).

Turning Points and Historiography

At the beginning of the Russo-Japanese War, no one outside Japan had envisaged a Russian defeat. Indeed, the very existence of the Tennō’s empire appeared endangered. The Japanese victory, however, was immediately recognized as a turning point in world history. For the first time in modern history an Asian nation had defeated a European great power. Japan immediately became an important actor in world politics. The impact of the war took on a regional and global character, opening the way to a new constellation of powers and becoming a prelude to World War I. In their co-edited volumes, Steinberg and Wolff refer to “World War Zero.” The Russo-Japanese War was a forerunner of the trench and fortification warfare on the Western Front in 1914-18 (K. Hildebrand in Kreiner) and of the sacrifice of mass armies in offensive as well as defensive warfare (J. W. Steinberg et al. in Steinberg pp. xix-xxi): For example, Port Arthur may be seen as a test ground for Verdun. Likewise the Russian revolution of 1905, which grew out of the war, in important ways anticipated the October Revolution of 1917 (J. W. Steinberg et al. in Steinberg pp. xix-xxi) – and the end of monarchies in the defeated nations.  Japanese authors use such titles as “The Russo-Japanese War as World History” and “The Century of the Russo-Japanese War,” a war that was followed by a chain reaction. Shillony/Kowner in Kowner Rethinking (p. 4) and Kowner in Chapman/Inaba also interpret the conflict of 1904-05 as a path to World War I, since it changed the balance of power in Europe by leading to the Entente and finally the Triple-Entente, thereby isolating Germany and leading to a large-scale arms race. In contrast to later wars, however, no other countries were drawn into the Russo-Japanese conflict. Therefore, the war did not assume the character of total war, as R. Kowner in Kowner/Impact (p. 4) stresses.

J. W. Steinberg et al. (in Steinberg pp. xix-xxi) also conclude that global conflicts started, not in 1914, but with the Russo-Japanese War, which was fought on foreign territory, financed to a large extent by foreign money, and for which other countries provided most of the ships and weapons. Peace was also concluded on foreign territory. Furthermore, despite several declarations of neutrality, the various alliance systems made themselves felt, and the war stirred up national passions in colonial territories and among the population under Russian rule in Eastern Europe.

R. Kowner (Dictionary p. XIII) complains that the Russo-Japanese War was largely forgotten after the first boom years following the peace treaty. At the centenary, however, historians promoted a second boom, with Kowner as one of the main instigators.

The War’s Impact on Revolutionary and Democratic Currents

Japan was more democratic than Russia, having a constitution and an elected parliament, political parties and a legal opposition, greater freedom of the press and a population with a broad education (Shillony/Kowner in Kowner/Rethinking p. 8). Therefore, for Russian society, defeat in the war was compelling proof of the bankruptcy of rule by police and a reactionary bureaucracy. Lenin in exile rejoiced at the fall of Port Arthur, not only as weakening the  regime of Tsar Nicholas II, but also as the triumph of progressive Asia over reactionary Europe and as the victory of the oppressed against the oppressors (F. R. Dickinson in Steinberg pp. 523-24). Strangely, after World War I, Japanese Marxists criticised Japan’s war as “imperialist” in Lenin’s sense (I. Chiba in Wolff p. 369). The coincidence of war and revolution prevented Russia from fighting at full strength against  both Japan and internal social strata. The long war, which ended in defeat and imposed heavy hardships on the Russian people, led to the first Russian revolution, which in the Western imagination is symbolized by the story of the armored cruiser Potemkin. J. Kusber in Kowner/Rethinking deals with the unrest among the demobilized soldiers, many of whom mutinied and implanted a revolutionary spirit in the population, particularly the farmers, with implications that extended to 1917. In an earlier monograph Kowner demonstrated the interrelationship of the Russo-Japanese War and the first revolution in the Tsar’s empire.

The Russo-Japanese War was closely followed by a globalized media. Depicted in countless cartoons such as this.

The Russo-Japanese War was closely followed by a globalized media. Depicted in countless cartoons such as this.

J. Bushnell, in Steinberg, views the revolution and the mass strikes as the beginning of the road to the October manifesto of 1905, when the Tsar felt compelled to guarantee civil rights and a parliament (Duma) with legislative authority. Even before that date Nicholas II had appointed the relatively liberal Sergei Witte as president of the ministers’ council, thereby strengthening his position as head of the Russian delegation at the Portsmouth Conference to resolve the issues of the Russo-Japanese War (see also Schimmelpenninck in Kowner/Rethinking p. 41). Before that time Russia had been the only European power without a constitution; one was finally enacted in 1906 with the Basic Law of the State granting voting rights, a parliament (Duma) and a Council of Ministers (Binder-Iijima in Sprotte pp. 10-11). Within months, however, the reforms were restricted, and Witte lost his position (D. Dahlmann in Kreiner; D. McDonald in Steinberg; J. Frankel in Kowner/Impact). H.D. Löwe in Sprotte (pp. 41-42) sees a parallel between the changes of 1905-06 and the first reform movement resulting from the defeat in the Crimean War of 1863-66. That movement, too, lost some of its vigor later.

The victory of Japan, a constitutional monarchy, over autocratic Russia also strengthened movements for a constitutional policy in such countries as Iran. Russia was so busy with her internal conflicts and the war that she could no longer back the Shah’s autocratic regime and could not continue its centuries-long meddling in the affairs of the neighboring country. This new situation strengthened the position of Iranian revolutionaries, who interpreted Japan’s victory as a triumph of democracy and now, following the model of the Russian revolution, viewed as a mass uprising against a tyranny, demanded a constitution and a parliament. The shah, facing growing unrest, agreed on August 5, 1906, but limited the right to vote to a small minority (see Bieganiec in Kowner/Rethinking; Hirama pp. 134-35). Developments in Russia and in Iran were jealously watched by reform-minded officials in Turkey, who perceived them as a provocation to their own superiority and pride, since the Ottoman Empire had enacted a constitution as early as 1876 and established a parliament one year later, though the sultan had suspended these reforms in 1878. Turkey had observed the war with great interest, since Russia was seen as the greatest enemy of the Ottoman Empire; officially, Turkey remained neutral, at times even adopting an attitude of benevolent neutrality towards Russia in order not to provoke St. Petersburg; any news of the war was censored,. This policy is described by D. Akarca in Kowner/Rethinking, but the author demonstrates that in Turkish public opinion and in intellectual circles there was great enthusiasm for Japan, and not only because Japan was defeating the enemy, Russia, but also because of Japan’s rise against the West. The revolutionary Young Turks’ press in exile also rejoiced at “progressive” Japan’s victory over ”reactionary” Russia; thus they indirectly attacked their own government. The sultan found himself in a precarious situation. Though he also welcomed the military defeat of his arch enemy, Russia, he is said to have regretted the setback to the autocratic form of government, the more so as he feared the spread of revolutionary currents (see also H. Nezi-Akmeşe in Worringer pp. 67-70). That circumstance Turkey, too, as in 1908 the Young Turks enforced the reinstallation of the constitution.

In Politics, Aydin offers a rare global perspective on the various ways religious tradition and the experience of European colonialism interacted with Muslim and non-Muslim discontent concerning Western-dominated globalization, the international order and modernization. With a comparative focus on Ottoman pan-Islamic and Japanese pan-Asian visions of world order from the middle of the nineteenth century to the end of World War II, he offers a global-historical perspective on modern anti-Western critiques, Aydin gives full treatment to the Russo-Japanese War, but he concludes that the anti-Western movement in both countries started much earlier, with Christian-Islamic tensions in the case of Turkey and racial antagonisms in the case of Japan. In this strained atmosphere the Russo-Japanese War delivered a blow leading to the liberation of both societies. It empowered the claims of non-Western intellectuals in the debates about race, the Orient, and progress and provided the strongest evidence against the discourse of permanent and eternal superiority of the white rice over the colored races.

A contemporary Russian cartoon of the war

A contemporary Russian cartoon of the war.

This led to an increase of pan-Islamic thought in Turkey and pan-Asian ideology in Japan, and to growing self-confidence in other regions of Asia, where underdevelopment came to be viewed as merely a temporary delay in progress that could be altered by reforms, such as those Meiji Japan had implemented in just three decades (Aydin, Politics pp. 9-10). Though Japanese pan-Asianists were mainly in opposition to their government until the late 1920s, they gained influence in the 1930s with their claim that, given the superiority of Asian civilization against the declining West, it was better for Japan to be the leader of a future free Asia than to be simply a yellow-race partner discriminated against in the club of white great powers. Eventually the pan-Asian idea would be used to achieve the aims of Japanese imperialism under the slogan invented in Tōkyō: “Return to Asia” (ibid. pp. 11, 160-89).

Aydin proves that even before the Russo-Japanese War contacts and cooperation existed between such pan-Islamists as Abdurresid Ibrahim and anti-Western Japanese pan-Asianists, such as Tōyama Mitsuru, Uchida Ryōhei and Inukai Tsuyoshi; these only intensified thereafter (Politics pp. 83-89). The Russians, who had fought the war under the banner of Christianity and had been encouraged in that stance by Wilhelm II and other German propagandists, had to recognize that, together with nationalism, three major non-Western world religions—Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism—experienced a reawakening and revival in the aftermath of the Russo-Japanese War (Aydin, Politics p. 78).

Similarly, Turkish enthusiasm for Japan for racial reasons is dealt with by Bieganiec in Kowner/Rethinking. Intellectuals were sympathetic to the victory of an Asian nation over a European one, since they accused the Western countries of treating the Turks, together with the “yellow” Japanese, as being at the bottom of the racial hierarchy. Now the Turks would also recover their pride. There seemed to be clear evidence that modernization need not necessarily mean Westernization (so also Hirama pp. 126-30).

In Worringer, the author maintains that provincial Arab elites under Ottoman rule viewed Japanese ancestral rites as a pattern for Muslims to emulate in revering their Arab forefathers. Their admiration for Japan, however, had a negative effect on Turkey: the Arabs gained neither cultural recognition as a special group within the empire nor a share in real political power. As a result, they deepened their identity as Arabs, and the discourse on Japanese modernity in the pages of the Arabic press shifted to a politicized critique of Ottoman failures in comparison with Japanese successes, particularly in the area of education.

D. Akarca, in Kowner/Rethinking, mentions that Turkey dispatched an officer as military observer, Colonel Pertev Demirhan, to the Japanese, while Russia refused to consent to such an endeavor. For this episode the reader would have welcomed a more detailed narrative. Since Japan and Turkey had no diplomatic relations, German intervention became necessary. Pertev was lucky to be able to count on an influential mediator, General Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz, who in 1883-96 had been in the service of the Ottoman government for the modernization of the Turkish army. Not only was Goltz Pertev’s former superior, a deep friendship also existed between them. The German general succeeded in convincing the sultan to dispatch Pertev to the Far Eastern war theatre. He further provided letters of recommendation to the Japanese army in favor of Pertev, who was attached to the staff of General Nogi Maresuke. Remaining near the front, he was even wounded once. From there he carried on an extensive correspondence with Goltz, writing in German, and visited him in Königsberg on his way back to Turkey. In this way the German military obtained first-hand reports about the course of war. Goltz, as impressed by the Japanese military achievements as was his former student, recommended the Tennō’s empire as a model for Turkey, since it had demonstrated that the necessary fighting spirit could enable a weaker nation to defeat a stronger one. It is therefore small wonder that an enthusiastic Pertev prophesied that the Ottoman Empire would in the near future rise with the same brilliance as Japan.

H. Nezir-Akmeşe, in Worringer, stresses the obvious cultural significance of military traditions in both countries—the samurai code in Japan and the warrior ethos in Ottoman society. It is therefore no surprise that the Ottoman armed forces looked to Japan for ideas on how to integrate the military into the modern state. Seeing developments in the Tennō’s empire, they believed it possible that in Turkey the army could also function as an elite guard to protect the country, educate the masses and guide the state polity into modernity. Many of the figures influenced by the Japanese example in their earlier days at the military War College, including Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and Ismet Inönü, were among the leaders who, after the First World War, founded and nurtured the Turkish Republic, In contrast, before 1908, as the author stresses, the army had been kept under firm political control by the ruling sultan, and any political activity on the part of officers or men had been severely repressed. The turning point came with the constitutional monarchy, in which the reigning sultan and his ministers would be controlled by an elected parliament. The Young Turks believed that traditional Turkish moral values, and in particular Turkish martial values, such as courage and readiness for self-sacrifice, were the bedrock of a powerful army and nation. Western science, technology and methods of organization must be adopted, but Eastern moral values must be maintained alongside them. Japan’s success over the Russians was invoked as justification for this view. The Young Turks argued that the Japanese had combined their indigenous moral values with an imitation of Western technical improvements and had thereby achieved their current power and status. This perfect combination of old and new, manifested in the Japanese army, was worthy of emulation (Nezir-Akmeşe in Worringer pp. 65-66).

Emperor of Japan and his British and American well-wishers according to a Russian cartoon.

Emperor of Japan and his British and American well-wishers according to a Russian cartoon.

The contribution of E. Binder-Iijima in Sprotte on the “oriental question,” centering on the Balkans, also covers Turkey. The author attributes to the Russian defeat in 1905 the Bosnian Annexation Crisis of 1908/09, which anticipated the July Crisis of 1914 in many respects and can be viewed as the road to the First Word War. At this time, the Tsar’s navy had its main base in the Black Sea, where it controlled its only fleet that still deserved the name. To reach the open sea, however, it had to pass though the Turkish straits. Meanwhile, Russia was defending the interests of Serbia on the issue of Bosnia-Herzegovina, controlled by Austria-Hungary. According to the treaty of Berlin, signed in 1878, Bosnia Herzegovina was still under Ottoman jurisdiction and the Young Turks’ revolution of 1908 reinforced the old constitution, which included this Austria-Hungarian controlled area. Russian aims concerning the straits, however, failed because of British opposition, and Russian approval of the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina by Austria-Hungary in 1908 was followed by a sharp protest from Serbia. In the end empty-handed, St. Petersburg experienced a “diplomatic Tsushima“ (Binder-Iijima p. 13).

After Japan’s victory over Russia, China also experienced a certain enthusiasm for Japan. A. Li (in Wolff p. 503) goes so far as to speak of the “shock waves” that were running through every level of Chinese society. Throughout the country, pride was felt because of the success of the Japanese victory over a European great power; by contrast Russia earned contempt. The euphoria led to the end of the Chinese monarchy, which was unable to reform successfully. The imperial government, heading for the revolution of 1911 and a phase of modernization, was now frequently compared to the weakened tsarist regime. Many Chinese went to study at Japanese universities, and officers to attend the military academy. So, from 1908 to 1910, did Chiang Kai-shek, who as the future leader of the Kuomintang would rule the country for a considerable period  Militarization also appeared as a path to strengthen China. Sun Yat-sen, the father of the Chinese revolution, rejoiced at the Japanese victory (G. Müller in Sprotte pp. 210-11, 230-31; Hirama pp. 105-11; Aydin, Politics pp. 72-73). The constitutional movement in China received fresh impetus. Constitutionalists argued that Japan’s status as a constitutional state had led to her victory over an autocracy and therefore had made her the model for a “revolution from above” (H.Z. Schiffrin in Kowner/Impact; G. Müller in Sprotte pp. 216-19; A. Li in Wolff pp. 503-04). Meanwhile, the first Russian revolution of 1905 also exerted great influence on Sun’s nationalist movement. In the same year the first political party in China was founded, and the foundations established for a constitutional monarchy. Government reforms included establishment of an elected assembly. In the meantime Sun Yat-sen was looking for political allies in Tōkyō (H.Z. Schiffrin in Kowner/Impact; Y. Shichor in Kowner/Impact pp. 213-16).

Russo-Japanese War Battle Maps

Russo-Japanese War Battle Maps

The war also strengthened Japan’s constitutional system, Prince Saionji Kinmochi became the first Japanese prime minister appointed on the basis of political party leadership (the Seiyūkai), in contrast to all previous prime ministers, who belonged to the oligarchy dominating the state. Furthermore, public opinion attained greater weight, since popular discontent had erupted in connection with the 1905 Portsmouth treaty concluding the Russo-Japanese War. The government became more and more dependent on the Lower House, which had to approve the budget, first for warfare and later for peacetime rearmament. As a result, the oligarchs increasingly made compromises and entered into alliances with the political parties. This was a prelude to the “Taishō democracy“ which emerged after World War I. These events are described by N. Ovsyannikov in Kowner/Rethinking. Itō Yukio wrote a monograph on the influence of the war with Russia on the development of the constitutional state in Japan. He is of the opinion that if Itō Hirobumi had not resigned from his position as president of the Seiyūkai in July 1903 to become president of the Privy Council, his party would have continued its efforts for an abatement of tensions with Russia and might have avoided war. The new prime minister, Katsura Tarō, and his foreign minister, Komura Jūrarō, in contrast, were convinced that an understanding with Russia would only postpone the conflict that was in any case inevitable. This topic was thoroughly discussed by Y. Teramoto, in Ericson/Hockley, who argued that the cabinet came under strong pressure from the army, making war increasingly likely.

In Kowner/Impact, R. Kowner views the war as a continuity of the preceding Meiji policy rather than as a caesura in Japanese history. He thus differs from most other authors. He also stresses the extent of the military’s intervention in politics, enforcing large-scale rearmament as result of the achievements in the war. (pp. 40-42). Y. Shichor, in Kowner/Impact, deals with a certain radicalization that was undoubtedly noticeable in Japan. Though he perceives some critique of the war from the Socialist camp, he concludes that as in Europe in World War I, national identity largely overshadowed class identity. Eventually this resulted in the fragmentation of the Socialist movement. Furthermore, the increasing military successes had weakened pacifism, and many former Socialists had entered the nationalist camp. In the process a national-socialist movement in the true sense of the word had developed; its most prominent ideologue became Kita Ikki, an agitator who subsequently was held responsible for the military coup d´état of February 1936 and was sentenced to death. Christians, Shichor maintains, had also become increasingly patriotic to avoid being regarded any longer as the “fifth column” of the West.

On the other hand, St. Lone detects very strong antimilitaristic and pacific voices in Meiji Japan—sentiments that had been silenced only temporarily by national passion, particularly during the war with Russia, but had been revived immediately after the conclusion of peace. They were particularly strong in rural areas, where conscription, war injuries and tax increases imposed greater hardships than were felt in the big cities. In Ericson/Hockley, S. Konishi finds a similar tendency among intellectuals, expressed in an antiwar movement and anarchism. Their circle also established contact with such similarly minded Russian intellectuals as Pyotr Kropotkin and Lev Tolstoi. For them, war and imperialism were simply inhumane (similarly, M.-H. Sprotte in Sprotte). Shimazu, in her monograph, also demonstrates that an antiwar movement arose, including among other groups journalists – particularly from the newspaper Heimin Shinbun – Socialists, pacifists and Christians.

Painting of Admiral Togo on the Bridge of the Japanese Battleship Mikasa before the Battle of Tsushima in 1905

Painting of Admiral Togo on the Bridge of the Japanese Battleship Mikasa before the Battle of Tsushima in 1905

It is surprising that, according to Shimazu, the mood of low-level patriotism did not change during the victorious campaigns as the result of official hero worship during and after the war. The soldiers did not believe themselves to be the successors of the glorious samurai class but saw themselves as the underdogs of the modern state. Their loyalty was paid, not to abstract concepts, such as state or throne, but to family and locality, the concrete sources of individual identity. The ordinary soldier was not interested in the “honorable war death” of government propaganda but wanted to survive in order to return home to continue to fend for his family. Those who survived received a hero’s welcome, while the fallen soldiers were given funeral services and commemoration ceremonies by local elites and enshrinement into the Yasukuni Shrine by the state.

The Impact on Korea and China

In the years following the peace treaty it became evident that Korea and China were the principal victims of the Russo-Japanese War. This fact was not, however, sufficiently taken into consideration in the volumes introduced here, perhaps because few scholars from these two countries are among the authors. At the beginning of the war Korea was too weak to do anything other than declare her neutrality, as S.-H. Lee in Chapman/Inaba recounts. This action was the continuation of earlier policy, conducted in the hope that tensions between Russia and Japan would lead to a balance of power between the two rivals. Lee, however, maintains that the Korean emperor and his government had trusted too much in Russian protection and leaned too far towards the Tsar’s empire, thereby prompting growing pressure from Japan. The result was that Seoul was forced to conclude an alliance with Japan in February 1904. The expectation that the war would be limited to Manchuria and concentrate on solving the Manchurian problem, so that Korea would stay in the shadow of the conflict and preserve her independence, was soon dispelled. S. I. (possible reading of the family name: Yi) in Nichi-Ro sensō characterizes Korean hopes as an illusion born out of the incorrect estimation that Manchuria alone was the source of the discord leading to the Russo-Japanese War. Eventually, as Lee shows, Korea was abandoned by both Great Britain, which had no significant economic interests there, and the United States, which anticipated expanded trade opportunities in a Korea “civilized” by Japan. K. J. Kim in Wolff, as well as W. Seifert in Sprotte, stresses American expectations in this “civilizing” mission.

Including the prehistory of the conflict, D. Ku in Wolff deals with Korea from the end of the Sino-Japanese War to the treaty with Tōkyō (1895-1905), a period that is usually called the Lost Decade. Ku views Korea’s situation during this time as living under the “sword of Damocles”. After the assassination of the queen in 1895, the Korean monarch sought rapprochement with the Tsar’s empire. He not only backed the wrong horse, but also, as the author claims, failed to carry out critical reforms. In this period the country also lost considerable sympathy in the Anglo-Saxon nations, which were shocked by the prevailing chaos and the monarch’s ineptitude. The result was that Great Britain as well as the United States were increasingly willing to tolerate Japanese predominance. Both St. Petersburg and Tōkyō had a “fifth column” at the ready in Seoul. N. Kanno in Nichi-Ro sensō uses the examples of the diplomat Yamaza Enjirō and the entrepreneur Ōmiwa Chōbei and their cooperation to demonstrate the variety of semi-official and unofficial channels linking Japan and Korea. At the very beginning of the war with Russia, Japan violated Korea’s neutrality by launching operations from her territory. This action prompted no international protest. According to D. Ku in Wolff, the monarchy understood only too late the danger the war posed to Korea’s independence. The reader, however, must question whether there had ever been a chance to save Korean sovereignty, since the country was betrayed by the whole world.

In Wolff, K.-J. Kim presents in greater detail the American attitude. Hoping to strengthen cooperation with Japan, the United States not only conceded a free hand to Tōkyō in Korea during the Russo-Japanese war but also severed the first diplomatic relations with Korea immediately after signing the protectorate treaty in 1905. The principle of the open door, declared by the USA in 1899, had opposed European colonialism in demanding equal opportunities for economic activities and trade. The abrogation of the unequal treaties for Korea soon after the conclusion of the Protectorate Treaty did not strengthen the rights of Seoul but secured Japanese rule at the cost of other great powers (see M. Asano in Nichi-Ro sensō).

H. Seok, in Kowner/Rethinking, sees the road to the annexation of Korea in 1910 as running from the Russo-Japanese convention of 1907 through a second one in 1910, which divided Manchuria into spheres of interest that granted Russia special rights in Outer Mongolia, among other agreements. Only then could Japan be assured of a fully free hand from Russia for the annexation of Korea, which in the author’s opinion, was merely a by-product of the policy of rapprochement with St. Petersburg. These secret concessions became public only on the publication of Russian documents after the October Revolution in 1917. Seok maintains that even after the Portsmouth treaty, Japan had to proceed cautiously so as to avoid risking intervention by other nations and averting humiliation as had occurred during the triple intervention in 1895. How much the annexation of 1910 traumatized the Koreans to this day can be understood from the contribution of G. Podoler and M. Robinson in Kowner/Impact. In retrospect, the authors conclude, the complex issues arising from that experience led to an exaggeration of the opposition movement and a belittling of the extent of collaboration.

As for China’s neutrality, decided by the government in Peking as early as the end of 1903, it became a problem for Korea, as shown by Sh. Kawashima in Gunjishigakkai I. The author explores at length the musings of the minister to St. Petersburg, Hu Weide. He debated whether a Russian or a Japanese victory would be more favorable for his country concerning the recognition of Chinese sovereignty over Manchuria. He did not imagine that, in case of Japanese victory, Russia would cede all rights and interests in the contested region, possibly leaving some room to play both rivals off against each other, while the extent of Tōkyō’s expectations was unclear. Minister Hu Weide therefore recommended strict neutrality instead of a benevolent attitude favoring Japan. After the outbreak of war on February 12, 1904, China declared her neutrality over her entire territory. The warring parties, however, had no qualms about violating China’s sovereignty, turning foreign territory into battlefields at will.

China belatedly realized the danger arising from the Japanese victory in 1905. On a trip through the Suez Canal, Sun Yat-sen, acting as a Chinese nationalist, established bonds of solidarity with ordinary Egyptians, proudly accepting their congratulations on the Japanese triumph (Aydin, Global pp. 215-16; Aydin, Politics pp. 72-73); he viewed the outcome of the war as a victory of Asia over Europe. The enthusiasm many Chinese intellectuals felt about Japan is strange in view of the arrogance and disdain the victorious nation showed to the “weak” country, making it clear how strongly Russia’s weakened position placed China at the mercy of the new hegemonic power. A. Li in Wolff (p. 491) therefore calls their applause somewhat naïve, all the more so as the Peking government had fully recognized the danger and therefore had earlier urged mediation to prevent the war or at least to bring it to a quick end. Eventually China had insisted, though in vain, on participation at the peace conference, a request that is fully dealt with by S. Hirakawa in Wolff and in Gunjishigakkai I in a rare study on this historic chapter about the official policy of the Qing/Manchu-Dynasty, which was fighting for survival. Both warring parties—as well as President Theodore Roosevelt, who feared complications if a nation could bring its wishes to bear without belonging to the recognized great powers—declined the Chinese request to participate. Not even Chinese observers were admitted. This provoked a massive boycott of American goods in China. Yet the Chinese government had no choice but to accept the terms of the Treaty of Portsmouth. At the same time tensions grew between China and the United States because of US restrictions on Chinese immigration. President Roosevelt’s assertion in the context of the Portsmouth treaty that he would struggle to maintain China’s integrity had no weight in light of the power realities in East Asia. Though Manchuria formally returned to China after the evacuation of Russian troops, it was de facto a tempting vacuum for an aggressive great power such as Japan, which, because of the cession of the Kwantung leased territory and the assignment of the South Manchurian Railway by Russia, largely controlled China’s northeast (Kreiner in Kreiner pp. 60-61). Small wonder then that even those Chinese who were enthusiastic about Japan’s victory in 1905 were soon disappointed.

The United States, too, felt deceived by Japan. President Theodore Roosevelt had expected Tōkyō to support his Open Door Policy, particularly in Manchuria. Instead, Japan moved to exclude other countries from economic activities there just as Russia had done earlier. Furthermore, Tōkyō and St. Petersburg divided Manchuria into spheres of interest that left no space for the United States. C. Oberländer in Kreiner stresses the common interest of Japan and Russia in opposition to the Open Door Policy in China as demanded by the US. Ironically, Tōkyō, in its rhetoric before the war, had justified her determination to go to war with the promise to defend the principle of the Open Door in China against Russian machinations in order to gain American and English good will, as Y. Katō in Wolff explains. This argument for free trade, together with the rationale of spreading civilization, was also used by such moderate Japanese intellectuals as Yoshino Sakuzō to justify an attack against “uncivilized” Russia (Katō in Wolff pp. 222-24). Later Yoshino was to become the model liberal of Taishō democracy.

A Japanese propaganda map depicting Russia as the “black octopus”

A Japanese propaganda map depicting Russia as the “black octopus”

Japanese-American Relations After 1905

All authors view the Russo-Japanese War as a turning point in the deterioration of relations between Tōkyō and Washington (for example, D.A. Ballendorf in Gunjishigakkai II) being diametrically opposed to rapprochement between Tōkyō and St. Petersburg. Tovy/Halevi, in Kowner/Impact, see the conflict that ended with the Portsmouth treaty as the beginning of a Japanese-American cold war over control of the Pacific. This situation persisted until it burst into hot war in December 1941 (see also Kowner in Kowner/Impact p. 21). Thus the Russo-Japanese War influenced the outbreak of the Pacific War more crucially than affected World War I. One could, however, object to this kind of determinism, premised on the view that over several decades all options had remained open.

Kowner, in Kowner/Impact, does not view Japan’s rise to great-power status as the result of the victory over Russia; rather, he views the Japanese empire as a regional power as late as 1906. No earlier than World War I, which forced other nations to limit their engagement in East Asia while China disintegrated, did Japan become a great power or even a world power (p. 30). In any case, Japan, whose existence had been viewed as a curiosity before the war, after its victory over Russia was treated as an equal by the great powers; all of these elevated their legations in Tōkyō to the rank of embassies.

The change in the attitude of influential Americans from sympathy for underdog Japan to fear of a revival of the “yellow peril” is demonstrated by J. Henning in Kowner/Impact. According to the author the shock of the victory over white, Christian Russia was deep and led to anti-Japanese demonstrations and culminated in immigration restrictions. Y. Hashimoto, in Nichi-Ro sensō, deals with the renewed fear of the “yellow peril”; his example is the writer Jack London, who was sent by the Hearst Press to Japan immediately before the outbreak of war but stayed only half a year. London was disappointed that the authorities tried to keep him from the front in every possible way; he was apprehended several times on suspicion of espionage. At the sight of Russian prisoners of war, London developed a “white” solidarity, a sympathy he did not lose over many decades. In 1910 he published a book titled The Unparalleled Invasion, about a fictional war of the West against China and her masses, awakened by the Russo-Japanese War and modernized under Japanese guidance, to be fought in 1976 using biological and chemical weapons. Daniel A. Métraux (“Jack London, Asian Wars and the ‘Yellow Peril,'” The Asia-Pacific Journal, 4-3-10, January 25, 2010 (here) has shown that London’s attitude towards East Asia can be interpreted in a completely different way. In his view, Jack London deserves to be remembered as a writer who directly confronted Western racism against Asians, denounced such concepts as the “yellow peril” and showed great sympathy for Japanese and Chinese in his literature. Metraux notes how London saw that Asia was in the process of waking up and that such countries as Japan and China would emerge as major economic powers with the capacity to compete effectively with the West as the twentieth century progressed. London even urged Westerners to make concerted efforts to meet with Japanese and Chinese so as to understand each other as equals. The image of the Japanese spread by London’s writings, however, was bad enough to allow use or misuse of the author for a propaganda movie during World War II, thirty years after his death. Director Samuel Bronston’s 1943 film was based loosely on London’s widow Charmian’s 1921 biography of her husband and starred Michael O’Shea, Virginia Mayo and Susan Hayward. The movie almost entirely restricted London’s life to the months he spent in Korea in 1904 and presented him as prophesying the growing Japanese militarism that would result in Pearl Harbor. Furthermore, one of the Liberty Ships was named for him.

Even the small minority of Japanophiles, mostly American missionaries who stressed the alleged higher level of Japanese civilization compared with that of the Russians, could not overcome the rising fear based on racism. In Kowner/Impact, J. Henning introduces a couple of strange race theories, both those favoring the Japanese as well as those criticizing them. Despite the fact that President Theodore Roosevelt criticized the racist immigration laws in Hawaii and California—which Washington was helpless to override, since these were regional decisions—there are indications that he had an equal dislike of both Russia and Japan and would have preferred that both countries slaughter one another, thus exhausting themselves in the war.  But what led to deadly American-Japanese tensions was the fact that,  as a result of the war of 1904/05 both were expanding imperialist nations in the Asia-Pacific, so that it was natural that they became rivals. In the preceding years the United States had acquired or conquered several territories in Asia, notably Hawaii, Midway, Guam and the Philippines. Now the US was so heavily engaged in East Asia that it challenged the new great power Japan. Since 1907, each state’s naval strategic planning targeted the other as the most probable enemy (see Hirama pp. 144-56). These growing bilateral tensions also made the alliance with Japan problematic for Great Britain, as Seok points out in Kowner/Rethinking. When the renewal of the treaty in 1911 exempted the United States as a possible enemy, Great Britain’s obligation for military assistance against the United States in favor of Japan ceased. In the long run, therefore, Great Britain would have to choose between Japan and the US as her most important partner; during World War I the decision fell more or less automatically in favor of Washington.

The Japanese navy required a principal enemy—or, as constructed in 1907 in the US, “enemy no. 1” was necessary for the Japanese navy if only to get its plans for rearmament approved. With the decline of Russian naval power, the Tsar’s fleet could no longer serve as the justification for naval rearmament. The navy’s plans, however, met with stiff resistance from its rival, the army, for which Russia was still the probable main enemy and which also struggled for a greater share of the military budget. . This rivalry is dealt with by J. C. Schencking in Steinberg; he who particularly describes the endeavor, which was temporarily successful, to conclude a political alliance with the political party Seiyūkai. The navy thus received parliamentary support for its own budget demands, and, in the person of Yamamoto Gonnohyōe, in 1913 an admiral was even appointed prime minister. A corruption scandal involving navy officers who had received bribes from the German Siemens company toppled the cabinet the following year. The army thereby gained the upper hand, but could not alone dictate policy and struggled with the navy for superiority, both trying to use the political parties for their own purposes. Schencking disputes the opinion, often found in historiography, that the navy in contrast to the army, “apolitical”.

Despite the fact that American-Japanese rivalry was becoming obvious, very few predicted Japan’s subsequent policy, which led to war in the Pacific. One of these few was the autodidact Homer Lea, who published his view as early as 1909. As his foreword explains, he wrote the manuscript immediately after the peace treaty of Portsmouth but published it only four years later, so as to see if his hypothesis would be borne out. Lea warned against neglecting American armament in the face of the growing military might of Japan, which would be enabled to open hostilities by conquering the Philippines, Hawaii, Alaska and the West coast of the United States, from Washington State to California. As confirmed in December 1941, he even correctly predicted the landing sites for the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. Though his book was widely read in the US, he was treated condescendingly as a writer of science fiction. After Pearl Harbor, he suddenly gained the reputation of a far-sighted prophet, and his work was immediately reprinted. In contrast to the United States where very few military officers took him seriously, in Japan, the translation of his book became a bestseller and compulsory reading for naval officers. A short time later, Lee also criticized the short sightedness of Great Britain, whose alliance he viewed as a grave mistake: the drive of Russian expansion would be turned from the Far East to Central Asia and India. Furthermore, in his opinion Japan had become stronger than the British Empire by the victory of 1905, had won a sphere of influence including all British territories in the area, and the situation was growing worse through American indifference. While Lea was not the only one to foresee the Japanese attack. the publications under review here pay almost no attention to the Pearl Harbor prophets who were fascinated and influenced by the Russo-Japanese War; only in science fiction did a future American-Japanese war become a frequent theme. While Homer Lea is mentioned, if only in passing (P. Towle in Kowner/Rethinking p. 328; A. Hashimoto in Nichi-Ro sensō pp. 219-20, 227; T. Saitō in Ibid. p. 386), other Pearl Harbor prophets, such as Hector C. Bywater und Satō Kōjirō, are not dealt with at all.

The reason for ignoring the impending danger may be that at the time Japanese policy followed a moderate course. In the first cabinet of Prince Saionji Kinmochi, Hayashi Tadasu served as foreign minister for most of the critical years 1906-08. His policy is dealt with by Y. Teramoto in Nichi-Ro sensō. Hayashi is characterized as an exception among the Japanese policy makers of his time in that he advocated reasonable and rational ideas, including the fair treatment of China. As a former minister and later ambassador to London, he struggled to continue a policy of close cooperation with Great Britain and the US, despite potential tensions. Furthermore, he aimed at preventing Japan’s isolation by seeking better relations with France and Russia. The policy towards the Asian continent, however, was in contradiction to these interests since Tōkyō attempted to tighten its grip on Manchuria. Hayashi’s diplomacy became a difficult balancing act.

Japanese-Russian Peace Treaty Signed on September 5, 1905

Japanese-Russian Peace Treaty Signed on September 5, 1905

The Impact of the War on the Colonized Peoples

An additional reason for deteriorating relations with the Unites States was the fact that the Japanese victory over Russia made a deep impression on the people of the US-ruled Philippines, awakening hopes of independence (Hirama pp. 160-69). Beyond the Philippines there emerged worldwide attention to the Russo-Japanese War, which challenged the claim of the white race to dominate other peoples. Asian intellectuals felt particularly encouraged by the Japanese victory, seeing it as a stimulus for pan-Asianist, pan-Islamic, anti-colonial and anti-imperialistic ideas. The Russo-Japanese War, though itself an imperialist conflict par excellence, ignited the fight against imperialism in the colonies and half-colonized countries, such as China and Korea (so also A. Iriye in Wolff pp. 2-3). As a result, despite great admiration for Japan in Europe, many voices claimed that their own interests were endangered by the strengthened empire of the Tennō, which had awakened Asia (A. Iikura in Chapman/Inaba; G. Westerman in Kowner/Rethinking pp. 413-15).

Several contributions in the publications under review deal with the disappearance of the universal view that “white rule“ was irrevocable. The mood of awakening among colonized peoples is the focus of Y. Hirama’s monograph on the Russo-Japanese war as a turning point in world politics. In this study Japan’s military endeavors appear mainly as rebellion against “white colonialism,” begun as early as the Meij Restoration. Not only had the peoples of Asia been inspired to independence movements, but so had Turks, Arabs and Africans as well as Finns and Poles. Hirama obviously expects gratitude to Japan from other nations, but he ignores the fact that the victory of 1905 was a blow for the independence of China and even more so for Korea, which had the treaty of protection imposed on her in the same year. The author’s justification is that Korea would unquestionably have come under Russian rule if war had been avoided. He further maintains that the Japanese victory in 1905 had given China the chance, utilized particularly by Sun Yat-sen and numerous students, to prepare necessary reforms in their fatherland, using Tōkyō as their base. He further stresses— and exaggerates— the influence of the Comintern in interwar Asia to justify Japan’s military interventions on the continent (pp. 172-85, 197-99). Hirama views the Japanese proposal at the Versailles Peace Conference of 1919 to declare the equality of races as an extension of the “yellow man’s burden” while criticizing its rejection by the Western powers. Oddly, he also sees the expulsion of the colonial powers after the Pacific War as part of this continuity; he further provides long-winded explanations of the Japanese empire’s justification for global rule under the slogan hakkō ichiu (the eight corners of the world under one roof) as being determined by a humanitarian spirit, in contrast to Western-style racism. Though it is true that in World War II Japan used its prestige as an anti-Western power in Southeast Asia to find collaborators, particularly in Burma and Indonesia, those “liberated” peoples soon recognized that their situation had changed from bad to worse. The author does not restrict his study to Japan’s influence on independence movements in many parts of the world; he also includes pan-Asianist ideas after the war with Russia, as, for example, is evident in the case of the nationalist leader Ōkawa Shūmei (On Ōkawa’s activities, see also Aydin, Politics, pp. 111-24, 150-1, 143-4, 147-50, 152-3, 167-74, 177, 181f, 184-6, 195-6, 199; on Ōkawa’s interest in Islam, Aydin in Worringer), and on the emergence of nationalist societies in Japan. Ōkawa became famous for his modern-sounding theory of the “clash of civilizations,” forecasting as early as the mid-1920s military confrontation between the United States and Japan (Aydin, Politics p. 112).

Hirama’s study is reminiscent of Japanese propaganda from the 1930s to the end of World War II, including that in schoolbooks, which presented the Russo-Japanese War as the prologue to the war for Asian liberation and the Greater East Asia War as its conclusion. It is small wonder, therefore, that on the occasion of the centenary of the Russo-Japanese War, the same author wrote an article on the “liberation of the colored peoples” for a publication of the controversial Yasukuni Shrine. The ”jewel in the British crown” of all territories, colonial India, responded with sheer enthusiasm to the Japanese victory, which was seen as Asia’s defeat of Europe (G. Dharampal-Frick in Sprotte; T. R. Sareen in Nichi-Ro sensō and in Kowner/Impact; St. G. Marks in Steinberg; Y. Hashimoto in Wolff pp. 396-400) and as a gleam of hope for the longed for independence. Evidence of leaders of the movement like Mahatma Gandhi who does not appear as very pacifist-minded and Pandit Nehru, who now viewed Japan as a model and the other Asians as co-victors, speaks for itself. So it was natural that Japanese pan-Asianists closely cooperated with Indian activists fighting for independence and took care of them while in exile in Tōkyō (Aydin, Politics pp. 111-21). Gandhi as well as Nehru, however, during World War II denounced Japanese colonialism’s advance in the name of Asian solidarity (Aydin, Politics pp. 181-82).

It is an irony of history that the Japanese victory of 1905, so greatly admired in India, led to a revision of Japan’s 1902 alliance with Great Britain, such that Tōkyō’s obligations for support in case of war would no longer be restricted to East Asia but would include India. The British now feared that Russia could direct her drive for expansion in the direction of Afghanistan and India. By the treaty revision, London gained the additional advantage of being able to withdraw a great part of its navy from Indian waters back to Europe, to be deployed against the steadily expanding German fleet. Dharampal-Frick in Sprotte (p. 275) and Hirama (pp. 202-211) view the 1942 alliance between Japan and the Indian nationalist leader Subhas Chandra Bose against Great Britain as a consequence of the Russo-Japanese War. T.R. Sareen in Kowner/Impact as well points out the longevity of the enthusiasm of Indians, who even organized relief actions for wounded soldiers and bereaved families in Japan. Many students, hoping that independence was imminent, went to study in Japan. After all, as Sareen maintains, the British recognized the growing ”maturity” of the Asians, conceding them more political participation in the administration of the colony. Thus, the victory of their ally became a double-edged sword for India; it would still take two world wars to reach independence.

G. Westermann, in Kowner/Rethinking, appears somewhat isolated in her judgment on the reactions to the war in such colonies as the Philippines, Vietnam and Burma. Acknowledging the overt admiration for Japan in Southeast Asia, the author nevertheless denies that the victory had any, decisive bearing on the anticolonial liberation movements; she maintains that Marxism, Woodrow Wilson’s call for self-determination of the peoples and the Indian Congress all exerted great influence. Similar conclusions concerning Southeast Asia are found in P. A. Rodell, in Steinberg, but this author exempts the Philippines and Vietnam, since only these colonial areas in Southeast Asia had nationalist movements sufficiently developed to allow the Japanese victory to have long-term effects.

The long-term intellectual result of the war is questionable, however, since it did not evoke spontaneous upheavals in the colonial regions: Major intellectuals in colonized Asia who were impressed by Japan, such as Nehru and Gandhi in India, Sukarno in Indonesia and Ba Maw in Burma, did not turn their pro-Japanese sympathies into any political action. Only after several decades, during Japanese claim of leadership in Asia during the Pacific War, some nationalists who had pro-Japanese inclinations in 1905 decided to cooperate with the Japanese Empire. Ahmed Sukarno, one of the most prominent leaders of the Indonesian independence movement, deeply impressed by the Japanese victory over Russia in 1905, predicted as early as the 1920s that a great war between Japan and the Anglo-Saxon nations would occur. Even if Japan were to lose this great battle, Sukarno maintained, this conflict among Japan and other empires would inspire the oppressed peoples of Asia. A clash between the Japanese empire and white empires in Asia would also give Egypt, China, India and Indonesia with the opportunity of liberation, and they would then take over the leading roles.

Almost all authors, for example Y. Shichor, in Kowner/Impact, draw conclusions that differ from those of G. Westermann. They argue that after 1905 great segments of the peoples of Southeast Asia developed great self-confidence and strong nationalism. The Filipinos, however, who had been deeply impressed by the Japanese victory and had themselves fought and lost a war for independence against their new American masters some years earlier, were disappointed by Tōkyō’s policy at that time: Japan recognized American rule over the Philippines in return for American recognition of Japanese supremacy over Korea. Therefore Japan reduced contact with Philippine patriots after 1905 to a minimum. From that time on the Filipinos struggled to gain greater rights through pragmatic cooperation with the United States (Kowner in Kowner/Rethinking p. 20). Therefore, the interest of Philippine patriots in the “Japanese model” waned (see also P. A. Rodell in Steinberg, pp. 650-52; Hirama, pp. 118-20).

Tōkyō’s attitude towards Vietnam, then under French domination, was very similar. The leader of the anticolonial opposition, Phan Bōi Châu, stressed the importance of the Japanese victory in stimulating the national awakening of his people (Aydin, Global, p. 216; Y. Shichor, in Kowner/Impact, pp. 211-12; Hirama, pp. 113-18). Japanese policy, however, was troublesome for this Vietnamese anti-colonial cause. Aiming at equality with the European nations, Japan, as a “Western power”, supported the French colonial empire in Indochina, even banishing activist Vietnamese students from Japan following pressure from the government in Paris. Indeed, in 1909, Phan Bōi Châu was forced to leave Japan.

Japan even embraced British rule as a model for her own colonial empire. In 1910 Prime Minister Ōkuma Shigenobu stated that the English colonial experience in Egypt was a model for Japanese domination of Korea. Ironically Egypt herself saw in the Japanese victory of 1905 a torch for decolonization (Aydin, Global pp. 222-23; Aydin, Politics pp. 78-79). The idea to “Egyptianize” Korea may be traced back to the 1894-95 Sino-Japanese War. Japanese cooperation with the white imperialist powers was harmful to the colonized peoples longing for independence and led to ill feeling, with Japan accused of having betrayed its Asian brothers (A. Iriye in Wolff p. 3). Until the 1894-95 war with China, Japan recognized a similarity between her own situation and that of Egypt, since both countries suffered from unequal treaties that placed them permanently in danger of semi-colonial dependence.

M. Laffan, in Kowner/Impact, describes the ways Japan, in the Muslim world of Southeast Asia, engendered enthusiasm as the “light of Asia“ or the “Mecca of modernity”. Because Japan had appeared as the savior from Dutch colonialism, it could count on cooperation following the invasion of Indonesia in 1942. In other parts of the Islamic world, stretching to the Balkans, the Japanese victory was celebrated as a liberation of the colored peoples suffering under Western colonialism or tutelage, and the Tennō’s empire, rather than the detested West, was viewed as a possible model for modernization, particularly in the Ottoman Empire and Egypt (Aydin, Global; Aydin, Politics; R. Bieganiec in Kowner/Rethinking). So it is small wonder that S. Esenbel, in Kowner/Rethinking, can trace the cooperation of Japan with Muslims under pan-Asian slogans in the 1930s back to contacts started during the Russo-Japanese War. The extent to which Japan became the idol of intellectuals in Egypt—a country that would not escape the British grip for several decades—is demonstrated by Bieganiec in Kowner/Rethinking, St. G. Marks in Steinberg and Hirama (pp. 130-33). There was even the hope of collective conversion to Islam of the Japanese, including the emperor, who would then become caliph (Laffan in Kowner/Impact p. 220; Hirama pp. 136-39). Eich in Worringer and Worringer in Worringer detail how various Arab writers recast the implications of “yellow peril“ into a metaphor of Asian liberation. Particularly persuasive was the fact that Japan had modernized without giving up her own culture and heritage (ibid. p. 4).

Though official Tōkyō disassociated from the colored peoples in order not to revive fear of the yellow peril, several nationalist societies were founded in Japan to propagate pan-Asian aims and claim leadership for the Tennō’s empire (Aydin, Global pp. 220-23). Such ideas would become official policy only in the next generation. S. Saaler, in Chapman/Inaba, deals with the “clash of races,” from yellow-peril propaganda through pan-Asianism and the United States’ racist immigration policy to the ideas of global race conflict of the 1930s that dominated politics at that time. The obsession of the Japanese to be recognized by the West as civilized in contrast to “barbarian” Russia is dealt with by N. Shimazu in Steinberg. Now, in contrast to the pre-1904 years, the “yellows” became the civilized people and the “whites” the wild ones. It is an irony of history that Russia, whose defeat in 1905 was celebrated with enthusiasm by the colonized peoples, claimed to be the advocate of the “colored” races against “white imperialists” after World War I and even more so after World War II.

And What Of Africa?

Most publications emphasize the novelty of an Asian nation defeating a European great power, as occurred in the Russo-Japanese War. Most of the authors, however, do not seem to realize that it was not in fact the first victory of a “colored” nation over a “white” one. That pioneering feat was achieved by Ethiopia in 1896, in the decisive battle of Adua in her war against Italy. The Italians had to endure the mockery of other Europeans, including the Russians. Among colonized peoples, however, Adua produced the same result as did the Japanese victory in 1905, so that for the new world order arising in the twentieth century both events should be regarded as a double impetus for a global anticolonial and anti-Western movement. With minor exceptions, however, the publications under review here ignore Africa. Thus Hirama (pp. 10-11) refers generally to the impact of the Russo-Japanese War on the development of an anti-colonial or an emancipation movement in Africa and among Afro-Americans, while K. Hildebrand, in Kreiner (p. 36) mentions Russian mockery at the expense of the Italians because of their defeat at Adua. M. Berg, in Sprotte (p. 253), points to the fact that a spokesman for African Americans, the civil rights and anti-colonial activist W.E.B. Du Bois, rejoiced at the Japanese victory, which had, after all, frightened white oppressors in Europe and America. Until the 1930s, therefore, many African Americans did not regard Japan as the aggressor or rival of the US but as the predominant power opposing white colonialism in Asia.

The battle of Adua 1896 in a traditional Ethiopian painting (Collection Krebs)

The battle of Adua 1896 in a traditional Ethiopian painting (Collection Krebs)


W.E.B. Du Bois, who often mentioned that he was born in the year of the Meiji Restoration—1868—pinned his hopes on an African-Asian partnership as shown in his statement: “[T]he fire and freedom of black Africa, with the uncurbed might of her consort Asia, are indispensable to the fertilizing of the universal soil of mankind, which Europe alone never would nor could give this aching world.” For Du Bois the future was predetermined by the result of the war of 1905: the brown and black races would join in the upheaval of the Asians unleashed by Japan. He viewed pan-Asianism and pan-Africanism as two sides of the same coin, and he was convinced that the political fronts in the world would be determined by the borderline between white and colored. After 1905 other African Americans also showed enthusiasm for Japan; assuming common interests, they hoped for Japanese leadership of an alliance of colored peoples. An odd theory that the Japanese people were descendants of dispersed Africans was even proposed. Marcus Garvey, the radical African American activist who was born in Jamaica and became the spiritual father of the Rastafari movement named after the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, also demonstrated great enthusiasm for Japan in his campaigns. He spent many years in the United States, where he led an organization for African American emancipation. The African American masses were much more strongly attracted to Garvey than they were to Du Bois and other protagonists of the rights of African Americans and pan-Africanism. In response to the Russo-Japanese War, Garvey called for a bond to be formed between black people and the Japanese. The United States authorities observed his movement with great mistrust, not only because he mobilized large sections of African Americans but also because he proclaimed solidarity with Japan. It is not surprising, therefore, that one of the Pearl Harbor prophets, General Satō Kōjirō, included in his scenario of a Japanese invasion of the United States an insurrection of ten million African Americans under the leadership of Marcus Garvey. In 1927, however, Garvey was deported to Jamaica.

Not unlike interpreters of the 1905 Japanese victory, some European observers viewed the 1896 battle of Adua as a menace to world white supremacy and the Italian defeat as disadvantageous for all of Europe, which might be conquered by an awakened Africa in the future. It may be pure coincidence that Enrico Caviglia, the officer who was an Italian observer posted in Tokyo during the war of 1904/05, had participated in the battle of Adua.

The great idol of Africans, African Americans and the black population of the Caribbean, all longing for liberty and civil rights, was, naturally, the Empire of Ethiopia. With US-protected Liberia, it was the only independent country in Africa. It was opened to the West in the mid-nineteenth century, almost at the same time as Japan; both countries had been sequestered since the seventeenth century as protection against the dominating influence of the Portuguese and the Jesuit missions. Ethiopia thereafter was also modernizing though not with the same speed and success as Japan. The worship of a divine emperor was important in both countries to promote the unity of the nation and its struggle for progress. Eventually Ethiopia developed a sense of camaraderie with the Tennō’s empire, based on their parallel history and similar situation in the world. That feeling can be traced only from the 1920s on, however, when Japan’s rise became a model for Ethiopia’s own modernization…

Japan’s first diplomatic contacts were possible after Ethiopia became a member of the League of Nations in 1923. In 1927 the two countries concluded a Treaty of Friendship and Trade, and three years later an ambassador extraordinary from Japan attended Haile Selassie’s coronation ceremony in Addis Ababa. In 1931 Foreign Minister Heruy Wolde Selassie spent seven weeks in Japan, where the modernization of the country impressed him deeply. At this time Japanese nationalists with pan-Asian ideals sympathized with Ethiopia, dreaming of a future day when they join forces with this African country to begin to fight the white world to eliminate colonialism and imperialism.

A group of Ethiopian intellectuals, called  “Japanizers“ and led by Foreign Minister Heruy pursued reforms based on the Japanese model after World War I. Part of this effort was the introduction of a constitution in 1931 that largely took the Meiji constitution of 1889 as a model with the founding of a bicameral parliament. This constitution elevated the position and prestige of the Ethiopian emperor, not least by its written declaration of a mythical origin. While the Japanese constitution named Emperor Jinmu the founder of the dynasty that ruled the country in an unbroken line, Ethiopia accorded this position to King Solomon of Jerusalem, the alleged father of Emperor Menelik I, whose alleged mother was the Queen of Sheba. This formulation was retained in the revised Ethiopian constitution of 1955. While Emperor Jinmu was the descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu, Menelik as well as his father Solomon were descendants of David, to whose house Jesus also belonged. Thus, in contrast to occidental divine right as the basis for the legitimacy of European monarchies, another type of divine nature is attributed to the Tennō as well as to the Ethiopian emperor, differentiating their rule and legitimacy from those in other countries.

Emperor Haile Selassie clearly hoped to strengthen his prestige abroad by introducing constitutionalism and a parliamentary system, thereby securing the independence of his country. His reform policy following the Japanese model may be traced back to the admiration of his father, Ras (= Prince) Makonnen, the hero of Adua, who had looked up to the Tennō’s empire after the victory over Russia proved that a non-European nation was equal to the West in culture and technology and could defy it.

Comic style Ethiopian painting: King Solomon, the Queen of Sheba and their offspring Menelik (Collection Krebs)

Comic style Ethiopian painting: King Solomon, the Queen of Sheba and their offspring Menelik (Collection Krebs)

In 1931 or 1932 Lij Araya Abebe, a young Ethiopian nobleman and relative of the emperor, wanted to marry a Japanese woman. The idea met with favor in Tōkyō, and the search for a suitable candidate began. Kuroda Masako, the daughter of Viscount Kuroda Hiroyuki, was chosen. A young woman with a sense of adventure, she joyfully agreed; the news was announced in the press in January 1934. The plan was given up, however, soon afterwards, not least out of fear of international implications for Ethiopia. Major colonial powers —Italy, France and Great Britain—had opposed to this plan due to foreign policy implications of such a marriage. It seems that due to similar objections from the representatives of European empires, and under pressure of the government in Tōkyō, negotiations that a private Japanese company conducted with Ethiopian Foreign Minister Heruy in 1933 about the acquisition of vast estates in Ethiopia were discontinued. This land would have allowed the growing of rice, vegetables, tea, coffee and tobacco while allowing the possibility of a certain amount of immigration from Japan.

According to Haile Selassie’s autobiography, the plan of leasing land to Japanese was an unfounded rumor arising from Italian propaganda,, but some foreign observers believed that the project was authentic. What is certain is that Japan had become the most important partner for Ethiopia for both the import of raw cotton and export of yarn. Therefore, Italy, the nation that had most to fear from competition, watched Japan with the greatest mistrust.

Many countries also feared the assumed menace of fraternization by “yellows” and “blacks” against ”whites.” Thus, the mere fact of the independence of Ethiopia was perceived as a “storm center,” since it threatened to attract colonial areas to follow its model, becoming a danger to Western imperialism by encouraging an alliance of “yellow peril” and “black peril”. Therefore, Italy’s 1935 aggression could count on a certain tolerance despite lip service in the League of Nations, which demanded that the independence of Ethiopia be observed; Italy’s move might even appeared as a preventive measure against a foothold by Japan. At the time the Abyssinian conflict was heading to its close, the British King Edward VIII declared frankly to Italian Ambassador to London Dino Grandi, that Mussolini’s war was a necessary surgical operation to cure Africa of a centuries-old infection; he held out the prospect of English-Italian cooperation concerning colonial politics. In February 1936 London had refused Haile Selassie’s appeal to Edward VIII to take over a protectorate or mandate of Ethiopia so that the country could remain independent from Italy.

At this time, semiofficial writers from racist Germany agitated against Ethiopia as well as against Japan—at a time when Hitler was delivering weapons and military equipment to Haile Selassie—seeking to promote an alliance with Mussolini. This opened the way to the 1935 tripartite Germany-Italy-Japan 6pact.

In 1934-35, before the outbreak of the war, official Japan assumed such an unclear attitude concerning the rising tensions between Ethiopia and Italy that mass protests against Japan were organized in Rome, while during its defense against Italian invasion Ethiopia enjoyed great sympathy in the Japanese public, including the press and right-wing organizations.  For example, in 1935 and early 1936 the nationalist society Kokuryūkai, which for some time had stressed the interconnections between pan-Asianism and the situation of colonized Africans, waged a campaign in its organ Dai Ajia Shugi (Great Asianism) against the Italian war in Ethiopia. Mussolini was blamed for treating the Ethiopians, presented as descendants of Arabs with Asian roots, with contempt despite their long glorious history.  The campaign stressed that one of the motives for the war was revenge for Adua, and that European powers considered Ethiopian-Japanese economic relations a menace. In the same journal the diplomat Kajima Morinosuke, speaking in the name of Japan as the leader of the suppressed colored nations of Asia, criticized the passivity of Great Britain and the League of Nations, whom he held responsible for Mussolini’s triumph in Ethiopia. According to Kajima, in the 1904-05 war against Russia, Japan had demonstrated how to resist the expansionist policy of a white power and how military buildup was a necessity for colored peoples.

Official Japanese policy changed only near the end of the conflict, with Tōkyō moving closer to Mussolini as outlines of the emergence of the “Axis” powers emerged. On January 1, 1936, the Japanese government established a legation in Addis Ababa; an Ethiopian consulate general had existed in Osaka for some time. Mussolini’s Abyssinian war, however, soon put an end to diplomatic relations which had been taken up hesitantly. Therefore, the legation in Addis Ababa was converted to a consulate general in December 1936, de facto recognizing the conquest by Italy. Mussolini reciprocated by opening a consulate general in Mukden—that is, in the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo.

In 1935, when Mussolini’s war of revenge was raging in Ethiopia, W.E.B.Du Bois expressed the hope that Japan would act as the leader of all colored peoples. At the end of 1936, the African American leader spent several weeks in Japan, where he was received by high official representatives and by private organizations. The Japanese-Chinese war, which broke out the following year, rocked the belief on the part of African Americans in a united front by nonwhite people, but Du Bois for some time expressed sympathy for Japan while portraying China as the “Asian uncle Tom”, too obsequious towards the West. Du Bois would have preferred an alliance of the two great “yellow” nations against the white world, but that was not to be. Saying that he could not understand why the Chinese showed greater hostility toward Japan than they did toward the West, he held the white powers responsible for the war that broke out between Japan and China in July 1937. Later, during the Pacific War, he denounced US internment of citizens of Japanese origin as racist. In contrast to Du Bois, another African American journalist, and author, Trinidad-born George Padmore, who belonged to the Communist camp, warned Ethiopia against rapprochement with the imperialist powers. To this extent he was in unison with the Soviet Union, but a short while later, when Moscow encouraged Italian aggression, justifying the war in Africa, a break with many African Americans including Padmore occurred. The Soviet goal was to keep Mussolini in the anti-German camp and to prevent a possible Japanese expansion in East Africa. Out of sheer opportunism Stalin denied support for the anti-imperialistic fight of an African people, favoring the interests of the “white” Italians over the yellow peril threatening from Japan.


Lothrop Stoddard’s “Distribution of the primary races” from Lothrop Stoddard, The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1920). This racial map of the world illustrates the character of geopolitical racial thinking in the first three decades of the 20th century.

Italy took revenge on Ethiopia because of the defeat at Adua in 1896, which remained traumatic even 40 years on. Stalin justified his entrance into the war against Japan in August 1945, breaking a neutrality pact on the grounds of the humiliation Russia had suffered in 1905 (see Sh. Yokote in Wolff p. 106 and in Ericson/Hockley p. 121; Wolff in Ericson/Hockley p. 130), also exactly 40 years later. Documents in Russian archives declassified in the 1990s suggest that the Soviet entrance in the war against Japan in 1945 was in fact motivated in part by revenge for the defeat of 1905 and its consequences.

A final note: the Japanese and Ethiopian emperors are the only nonwhites who to date have been inducted into the British Order of the Garter: Meiji 1905 (see N. Kimizuka in Gunjishigakkai I), Taishō 1912, Shōwa (Hirohito) 1929 (expelled 1941, reinducted 1971), Haile Selassie 1954, Akihito 1998. On October 14, 1975, the Order held a memorial service for Haile Selassie, who was assassinated that year.

Emperor Haile Selassie was the first head of state after World War II to pay state visits to the vanquished nations of Germany (1954) and Japan (1956), the former allies of Italy. With these visits, at least this chapter of the history of the twentieth century found a conciliatory end.

This is a revised version of a review article originally published in German as: “World War Zero oder: Der Nullte Weltkrieg? Neuere Literatur zum Russisch-Japanischen Krieg 1904/05“, Nachrichten der Gesellschaft für Natur- und Völkerkunde Ostasiens/Hamburg (OAG), 183-184, 2008, pp. 187-248. I am grateful to Steve Barnett for correcting my English manuscript.

Gerhard Krebs ([email protected]) born in 1943, taught at universities in Tokyo, Freiburg, Trier and Berlin and worked in research institutes in Tokyo and Potsdam. Now living as a free historian in Berlin. His books include Japan’s Deutschlandpolitik 1935-1941. 2 Vols., Hamburg 1984; Das moderne Japan 1868-1952, München 2009; Japan im Pazifischen Krieg, München 2010.

Recommended citation: Gerhard Krebs, “World War Zero? Re-assessing the Global Impact of the Russo-Japanese War 1904-05,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol 10, Issue 21, No 2, May 21, 2012.

Share with a colleague:

Volume 10 | Issue 21 | Number 2

Article ID 3755

About the author:

The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus is a peer-reviewed publication, providing critical analysis of the forces shaping the Asia-Pacific and the world.

    About the author:


    Our monthly newsletter provides readers with an in-depth analysis of forces shaping the Asia-Pacific and the world.

      Since 2002

      Asia Pacific Journal: Japan Focus has produced critical reporting on geopolitics, economics, history, environment, and international relations.