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How might the Sino-Japanese war have played out?

Originally published under Ask Mr. History. Published Online: December 06, 2012 
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Let's assume Hitler had a brain aneurism in 1937 and Germany never invaded Poland.

Is there any speculation by historians as to how the Japanese war with China would have played out?

How and when do you think America or the British would have responded to the conflict?


? ? ?

Dear RK,  

I don't recall ever hearing anyone speculate quite the way you did. Most Americans care more about World War II in Europe than in China. After all, China never amounted to anything, did it?  

Without Germany getting involved in a major war in the West—and Benito Mussolini making a hash of his ambitions in the Mediterranean—Japan may well have attracted the attention of concerned outside nations, who might have put increasing pressure on it to stop. The Japanese would have carried on regardless, and probably would have gained a lot of control over cities and towns, as they did in WW2. But Chiang Kai-shek would not have caved in, and neither would Mao Tse-tung. Japan might have conquered a goodly percentage of China, but it would inevitably have found it an entirely different matter holding it. Regardless of how long it took, the Mongols and Manchus were both eventually expelled from China. Given Japan's more heavy handed, arrogant rule, the inevitable might have occurred all the faster.



Jon Guttman
Research Director
Weider History Group
More Questions at Ask Mr. History 




3 Responses to “How might the Sino-Japanese war have played out?”

  1. 1
    Allyson Bace says:

    One mustn't designate the "distractions" of war in the Mediterranean and well, many places, the only reason why the west didn't react sooner to the atrocities committed by the Japanese in China (especially Nanking). Censorship by both the U.S. and Japan, as well as propoganda from the Japanese govornment, were also major factors. President Roosevelt demanded that many rolls of extremely incriminating footage of the sinking of the USS Panay taken by a Universal newsreel man be cut from the whole that he filmed, likely in efforts to expedite a settlement between the U.S and Japan. The evidence of wrongdoing was there, informing the American people of it was just intentionally delayed as a means to reach the governments ends.

  2. 2
    lyndon says:

    If the Kuomintang and the Chinese Communists had settled their differences at the beginning of world war 11 and the Chinese Communists fought the Japanese in Manchuria and the forces of Chiang-kai-chek fought the Japanese in the south ofChina how would the war have played out?

    Instead of sending war material by convoys to Archangel in USSR, U.S ships could have brought provisions to Vladvostock for USSR to distribute to Chinese communists.

    Embroilded in an imbroglio in China,. Japan would not have been able to reach New Guinea, Indonesia and other countries on the periphery.
    I kid you not!!!
    Get real, you guys.

  3. 3
    jim says:

    I always thought that Chiang was a very reluctant combatant against the Japanese. He was more interested in defeating the "Reds".

    He had to be kidnapped by young officers during the Sian incident and forced to agree to fight the Japanese. As a result of this, Chiang had the leader of the officers taken with him to Taiwan as a prisoner.

    Even during the war he wasn't more interested in defeating the Communists. The New 4th Army was an example of this. He tried to eliminate it.

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