The Manchurian incident, the League of Nations, and the road to the Pacific War
LE3 .A278 2013
Perrins, Robert John
Bachelor of Arts
History & Classics
On the night of 18 September 1931, Japanese soldiers from the Kwantung Army stationed in northeast China (‘Manchuria’) detonated a bomb on the railway tracks in the southern outskirts of the city of Shenyang (Mukden). Blaming the explosion on Chinese saboteurs, the Kwantung Army used the incident as the pretext for launching an invasion of the entire region. Within a few weeks, the Kwantung Army had seized most of northeast China, and began to establish a puppet-government in the region. The Manchurian Incident of 1931 was the most significant diplomatic and military crisis in East Asia prior to the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. In the days, weeks, and months, following the explosion on the railway tracks in Mukden both the Chinese and Japanese governments sought to make their respective cases in the international diplomatic venue for settling disputes—the League of Nations. After weeks of inaction, the Executive Committee of the League established a five-member commission of inquiry to investigate the Manchurian Incident and the conflicting Chinese and Japanese claims. Under the chairmanship of Lord Lytton of the United Kingdom, the League’s commission traveled to many locations in East Asia gathering evidence and interviewing both witnesses and interested parties, before it drafted its report in the summer of 1932. While the League sought to use diplomacy to diffuse the situation, and await Lord Lytton’s report, Japanese militarists sought to consolidate their hold over northeast China by establishing the puppet-state under the symbolic headship of Aisin-Gioro Pu Yi, the last emperor of the Qing dynasty who had relinquished the throne in ix 1911, and who was now to be established as the Emperor Gang De, the first emperor of the new ‘independent’ nation of Manzhouguo. When the Lytton Commission’s report was finally released in 1932, it not only failed to resolve the crisis in Manchuria and the growing tension between China and Japan, but also led to the Japanese government’s decision to quit the League later that year. This thesis examines the history of the Manchurian Incident and the broader Sino-Japanese crisis of 1931-1932. In addition to reviewing a wide variety of secondary literature on the topic, I have also examined some of the key primary sources from the period, including the Lytton Commission’s full report to the League of Nations, and British diplomatic letters. By examining the history of the Manchurian Incident this thesis illuminates part of the path that led to the Pacific War. 1
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