-Allison Krug, Yokosuka
Brian Farrell and Charles Burgess presented “All for Nothing: the Southern Resources Area and the Pacific War” last night in an engaging tag-team delivery at Yokosuka’s Werk Community Center. The two military history scholars, Professor Farrell and PhD candidate Burgess, traveled from their home institution—The National University of Singapore—and spent the day touring historic sites in Yokosuka accompanied by YCAPS member Enora Rogers.
The evening seminar was attended by 20 YCAPS members, including several first-timers who contributed to the vigorous question and answer dialogue following the presentation. Farrell and Burgess presented the challenges and choices from Allied and Japanese perspectives throughout the presentation, highlighting how a war designed to acquire enough resources to reorder Asia by conquering China ultimately ended in disaster. The consequences for Japan were swift and devastating: 75% of the merchant fleet destroyed, commerce completely stifled even within the islands of Japan, the war economy pulverized, and overseas forces isolated. All for nothing? The resources acquired in victories in Southeast Asia were never deployed to support the war, which was won swiftly by the Allies who were equally concerned about sustaining the resources required for a protracted war.
During the post-seminar dialogue, Farrell and Burgess elaborated on their cohesive coverage of these challenges by introducing historical perspectives and insights, such as the tendency of democracies to prepare for war differently than authoritarian regimes. “Democracies prepare for a war they don’t want to fight – they prepare for Armageddon,” Farrell asserted, while regimes prepare for a short and sharp engagement designed to settle the war. This “decisive battle obsession” was a hallmark of the Japanese strategic thinking, complicated by failures of communication, an inability to argue effectively within the highest ranks of military leadership, lack of a cohesive strategy to unify Navy and Army forces, and failure to ensure a protected convoy to deliver resources won.
Divided by rivalries, Japan could not compete with the Allies’ innovations, logistics, operational freedom on the front lines, and a willingness to cut losses and regroup to fight another day. In the end, Japan had to “think the unthinkable,” which was to lay down arms and accept the end. This outcome was completely inconceivable in the mindset of civilians and military leaders alike, who planned to fight to the end. The final question regarding a “pain point” laid out the disparity in perspectives—Japan anticipated finding a pain point for the Allies, the point at which they would have given in and a peace could have been negotiated. This was not to be, but this theoretical “pain point” was of concern to the Allies, motivating a mindset of do whatever it takes to win the war swiftly. This mindset no doubt contributed to the innovative and decisive nature of the Allies’ evolving strategy, forged in the crucible of notable arguments over specific tactics, ultimately yielding a unified and cohesive “strategic flexibility.”
Unable to access resources, facing starvation, and yet remaining steadfast to the end, the ultimate battle was for the mindset of civilians and soldiers. Hirohito’s understanding of his people enabled a shift to acknowledgement of defeat, which created a path for Japan’s remarkable resolve to rebuild. As the subsequent decades would show, this polarity shift to rebuilding opened an era of global engagement and strength.