United States and Japan - allies to enemies in two decades
Mentor:David Nelson, Assistant Professor, California Lutheran University
US-Japanese relations in the twentieth century fluctuated greatly. During the First World War, the United States and Japan worked together as allies. However, the interwar years saw the two nations drift apart, only to become full-blown enemies during World War II. By looking at primary sources, such as the words of Japanese and American political leaders, executive orders, and inter-war treaties and the popular reaction to international agreements that involved the US and Japan, this paper explores the series of events that occurred in US-Japanese relations during the decades between the two world wars. Domestic political changes that occurred in both nations adversely affected foreign policy, leading to a deterioration of U.S.-Japan relations. Despite the two nations’ determination to play an active role in several conferences dedicated to fostering international cooperation in the aftermath of World War I, such efforts were met with misunderstanding and antagonism on the home front, particularly in Japan. Within the United States, popular resentment toward Asian immigration, particularly from Japan, festered since the turn of the twentieth century. By the late 1920s, Japan’s domestic politics became much more volatile, partially in reaction to perceived international sleights both in the form of international treaties that seemed to favor the West as well as U.S. anti-immigration laws. This led to increased military control of the Japanese regime and greater militarization of the Japanese population. Japan no longer perceived any benefit from international efforts to preserve the status quo, particularly with the onset of a global depression after 1929. For this reason, Japan’s political and military leaders ordered the attack on Pearl Harbor, launching the two erstwhile allies into war with one another.