Thursday, August 19, 2021

The Russo-Japanese War

I do tend to agree with this. Understand that before this event, european power was deployed almost thoughtlessly to gobble up every scrap of land on the Globe. This was actually a done deal and such resistence as encountered had been seen off almost effortlessly.  Most were thinking in terms of british mercantalism by then and not in terms genocidal Earlier colonial practise against the Americas.  Thus these new empires were never true colonies.

The defeat of russia nicely informed every indigenous elite that their masters were not invulnerable at all.  This certainly inspired the Indian home rule crowd to say nothing of the Irish home rule crowd.  What was then firmly set in motion was the devolution of these newly established colonial elites from their so called colonizers.

Understand that all these elites were newly westernized local families who looked to the necessary civil service as their safe landing spot.  Their independence was likely inevitable but never as quickly as it then came about.

From then on the first and second war caused the collapse of the Sterling zone along with all forms of faux aristocratic rule from Europe.  Jobs for the boys matter little with so many dead on the field of battle.  The Russian Japanese War was the first massive conflict demolishing the massively overbuilt faux aristocracy enjoyed by all of europe as their historical inheritance.

The next forty years would see all these great regimes utterly humbled.  Not just Japan and Russia 
but every old european power including Britain.

The USA completed the dismantament of this old world order by forcing full decolonization within a decade.

So yes this war had consequences in that it set the new path forward.

This is one of those horrifying conflicts that altered the destiny of millions of lives and was then forgotten about precisely because it was followed by something even more horrific.

The Russo-Japanese War

This oft forgotten war began when the Japanese attacked the Russian held city of Port Arthur strategically located next to Korea (which at the time was under Japanese influence).

The war was caused by several factors.

  • Following the ill fated Boxer Rebellion in 1901, the Russian Empire under Tsar Nicholas the 2nd had established a considerable military presence in Manchuria and had managed to secure control of the city of Port Arthur as a link to Pacific Ocean trade. Imperial Japan (at the time still undergoing modern industrialization) saw this as a potential threat to their own expanding influence in the region.
  • Thanks to the knuckle dragging and confusing nature of the Russian government, the Japanese were unsure of what exactly the Tsar’s plans for the region were. Tsar Nicholas was perfectly happy to let the Japanese have Korea as long as he was allowed access to Port Arthur, but due to poor communications, this was not related to the proper ears in Tokyo.
  • Russia was also a few years from completing the vital Trans Siberian Railroad; which would make transportation of goods (and hypothetically a strong military force) more efficient across the vast wilderness of the Tsar’s empire. Once the railroad was complete, the Japanese hold on the region could easily be undone.

These factors in mind, the Japanese Empire felt they were facing a “Now or Never “ situation. Unless they demonstrated their determination to hold onto their sphere of influence, the Russians might slowly erode what authority they had over the region. Japan had only very recently modernized and this was an opportunity to show the rest of the world they would not backdown in the face of an established world superpower. Thus on the 8th of February 1904, the Japanese Empire declared war on the Russian Empire (three hours after they had actually begun their attack on Port Arthur).

The course of the war was as follows.

  • The Japanese army besieged Port Arthur for over 5 months. During this time the battle was not just on land, but sea as well. The majority of the Russian Pacific fleet was trapped in port Arthur by a naval blockade and ultimately knocked out action. When it became clear that the situation was hopeless, the Russian commander at Port Arthur gave up instead of fighting to the bitter end.
  • On land, the Japanese overcame sturdy Russian resistance and scored a series of brilliant victories on land. This was in part due to the majority of Russian soldiers being Siberian detachments and therefore of a having worse quality leadership and training than those positioned closer to Moscow.
  • The war came to a close with the catastrophic Russian defeat at Tsushima. After their Pacific fleet was basically wiped out, the Russian had to redeploy their Baltic Fleet, who had to sail over 18,000 nautical miles to get to the Pacific. They arrived far too late to do anything and were ultimately ambushed and destroyed in the straits of Tsushima. The Russians lost 34 ships of the line. The Japanese lost 3 torpedo boats.

With the loss of their Baltic Fleet, the Tsar and his ministers finally decided to head to the negotiating table. The Japanese accepted and met to bargain in Portsmouth USA, under mediation by then US President Theodore Roosevelt. This is where things get VERY interesting and where we see genuine long lasting consequences.

Representatives of two empires meet

On paper, it seemed like the Japanese had the advantage. They had defeated the Russians on land and sea. They had occupied large swathes of territory. They had forced the largest nation on earth to the negotiating table. Surely this was victory right? In reality, the situation was far more complex. It had evolved into a situation where neither side could achieve true victory.

  • For starters, Japan could not win the conflict. The longer it dragged on, the greater the advantage the Russians would have. Hypothetically, even if the entire Japanese army was deployed and able to inflict a casualty ratio of three to one on the Tsar’s forces, the Russians would still have more than enough men to drive the Japanese into the Pacific ocean. In a protracted battle of attrition Japan would have no chance. Mind you up until this point, the Japanese had actually been taking HIGHER casualties than the Russians. The wiser heads of state knew that continuing the war would only end in disaster for Japan.
  • On the opposing end, the Russian leader didn’t want to win the war. The Russian military could win if they pressed their advantages. If they redeployed their armies from the west and utilized superior numbers under better leadership, victory would become a matter of “when” not “if”. After the defeat at Tsushima though, Tsar Nicholas lost faith in an easy war and believed that any victory would likely be far too costly to justify. The Japanese were not the pushovers he had thought they were.
  • On the Japanese home front, things were economically dire. Japan was still a relatively young industrial nation with a manufacturing base that could not compete at the same level as their opponents. Not to mention the vast amounts of money spent on the war effort had practically bankrupted Japan. The Russians weren’t exactly in the best economic shape either, but they could last longer financially.

What emerged was a negotiation that ultimately favored neither side. The borders remained relatively the same, except the Russians chose to let the Japanese have greater control of Korea and northern China. Aside from these territorial gains, the Japanese got no real benefits/reparations whatsoever (which they badly needed to pay off the war) and they lost control of the Sakhalin Islands. To quote Baron Komura (the Japanese Envoy who negotiated for the Empire), “I don’t really know who won or lost!”

Nevertheless on September 5th, 1905 a peace treaty was signed; ending official hostilities. The greater effects of the conflict though, were far more dangerous and long lasting.

  • Japan’s victories came as a shock to nearly every other world power at the time. A non-white nation defeating a European nation in a modern industrial conflict was practically unheard of. This marked the true beginning of the Japanese Empire becoming a world superpower and all the realpolitik that came with that reputation.
  • Other countries under the yoke of Imperialism from European powers took inspiration from Japan’s perceived success. Anti-colonial movements across the globe saw this as a shared victory and rallying point for the non-white oppressed peoples of the world. At the time, even the future prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru remarked, "Japan's victory lessened the feeling of inferiority from which most of us suffered. A great European power had been defeated, thus Asia could still defeat Europe as it had done in the past.”
  • Conversely, this marks the beginning of the end for the Russian Empire, particularly the Romanov Dynasty. Tsar Nicholas handling of the conflict was an embarrassment both to himself and his nation, seriously undermining the idea of his power. The weakness on display here played a major part in the eventual downfall of the Russian empire and the rise of the Soviet Union.
  • The apparent weakness of the Russian military also played a role later in World War 1 when Germany was weighing whether or not to go to war with them. After all if a tiny island in Asia could do it why not one of Europe’s true military masters? We all know how that particular path ends.

A British political cartoon of the era showing that time is running out for Nicholas.

  • Ironically in Japan, the outcome of the war was met with negative or mixed reactions. Ordinary people, not aware of Japan’s precarious state and only hearing of the amazing victories scored against the Russians, were quite disappointed to have the war basically end in a stalemate and economic downturn. It took Japan almost a decade to recover from the monetary effects of the war.

A demonstration in Tokyo protesting the terms of the Treaty of Portsmouth

  • This also marks a dangerous turning point in Japanese political and cultural thinking. Because of their PERCEIVED ability during the war, this fueled pro-military elements within government and society. Japan had tasted conquest and wanted more.

Militarily, the war affected Japan in several important ways.

  • It was their first modern use of attacking a foreign country before officially declaring war. This was something they would use MANY times after this (even though their actions played a role in this being internationally outlawed a few years later).
  • The astounding victory at Tsushima also fundamentally altered the Japanese navy to embrace “Kantai Kessen”; a military doctrine emphasizing singular decisive battles where large formations inflict maximum damage on an enemy force to ensure victory. Fittingly it was their embracing this strategy honed at Tsushima that would massively contribute to the Japanese Navy losing in World War 2.
  • All of this contributed to a false confidence generated by the idea that Japan could fight a stronger foreign power and win that would end up pushing Japan into becoming the Empire decades later. A militaristic empire that would launch a brutal war with China and ultimately a hopeless war against the United States that cost tens of millions of lives before ground to dust without atomic fire and starvation.
  • The war as a whole was also a harbinger to World War 1. During the siege of Port Arthur especially, both sides used trench warfare, artillery and machine guns to inflict massive casualties on one another. The Japanese commander, Nogi Maresuke even requested that his Emperor allow him to commit ritual suicide to atone for the vast number of men he lost taking Port Arthur (including both of his sons).

The Russo Japanese war is one of those strange events that laid the foundation for so much political instability and violence in the years to come, but still remains relatively overlooked in much of the world today. 

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