Clash of Empires in South China: The Allied Nations’ Proxy War With Japan, 1935–1941, by Franco David Macri, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, 2012, $45
In the years before Japan’s 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and the American entry into World War II, Japanese expansionism reached new heights. One tempting prize was China, a rich source of food, labor and raw materials. With the 1937 invasion of China, Japan’s military leaders sought to ensure their nation’s continued survival during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Most of that conflict’s major campaigns took place in northern China, a theater of war considerably dissected by military historians. Less attention has been paid to southern China and the stalemate Japan encountered there.
Franco David Macri’s history of that theater offers a comprehensive examination of the Second Sino-Japanese War and its effect upon Allied—that is, American, British, French and Dutch—military strategy. He describes how the 1937–45 conflict in southern China developed into a proxy war between Japan and the Allies, as the latter sought to tie up Japan’s military resources in a war of attrition and thus hamper its ability to invade British and Soviet territory.
The author also explains how Japan had hoped for a rapid conquest of the European nations’ Far East colonies, followed by a negotiated peace that would allow it to retain the conquered lands and also greatly diminish American influence in the region. Ironically, that plan failed due to Japan’s own longstanding military doctrine, which considered the elimination of American naval power in the central and western Pacific a necessary prerequisite for victory. The attack on Pearl Harbor was thus a logical move on Japan’s part, but one that infuriated the American people and ultimately had tragic consequences for the Japanese.
The book offers a fresh perspective on the Second Sino-Japanese War, while noting the hazard of permitting ideology to inform one’s military policy.