Meiji Restoration Thesis

Meiji Restoration Thesis-63
Each successive assault on China’s perceived centre-of-gravity met with a measure of tactical success, but never a strategic outcome.Meanwhile, Japan only made its own centre of gravity more vulnerable: the Japanese economy stalled, nationalism within China rose to levels previously unseen, and ultimately Japan found itself in a suicidal war with the United States that resulted in the complete collapse of Japan’s maritime security.In a tightly argued 187-page monograph, she has arguably done something more useful for the general student of global history and international relations, and that is to place an earlier and more tragic era of Japanese grand strategy into a context that has obvious if unspoken implications for East Asia today.

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Paine takes the reader through this evolution with a clarity and cadence that make the book hard to put down.

One cannot help but think of the perils maritime powers have always faced in continental wars, from the invasion of Sicily by Athens to the Vietnam War.

Thus, Japan’s strategic approach shifted in the early- to mid-twentieth century from a focus on maritime control to a focus on continental control, where Japan steadily lost its competitive edge.

The Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars were a narrow victory, but Japan prevailed through superior definition of objectives and unity of command.

Meanwhile, Xi has articulated and programmed for a maritime strategy that looks in the South China Sea like it could be the antithesis of a positive-sum and rules-based vision of a maritime order.

But then, Chinese strategists could learn from this book as well.

But in certain places Paine takes shortcuts to describe Japan’s strategic culture that do not do justice to the contents of the book.

On the first page, for example, Japan’s objectives in the wars from 1894 to 1945 are defined as containing “the march of Russian imperialism into Asia that became the march of Communist Imperialism post-1917”—a description belied by the twists and turns that follow.

This misguided continentalism was identified by Masataka Kosaka in the 1960s and more recently by Makoto Iokibe, and it was anticipated as far back as the eighteenth century by Tokugawa scholar Shihei Hayashi.

The overall thesis is not new—that Japan tragically shifted from a maritime strategy in the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars to an unwinnable continental strategy aimed at an elusive Chinese centre of gravity in the wars from 1931 to 1945.


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