National Geographic : 1942 Nov
Japan Faces Russia in Manchuria BY WILLARD PRICE With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author JAPAN and Russia have been at war since 1931. It is an undeclared war. But it is not merely a war of words. There have been more than 2,000 armed clashes between Japan and the Soviet during that period. Some of them have been small affairs; others have involved large forces. In one, 100,000 troops were engaged. In an other, scores of bombers and tanks took part. In a single battle, 18,000 Japanese were killed and wounded (page 631). The world heard little about these troubles. They were hushed up-because neither Japan nor the Soviet was ready for total war. They occurred in remote Manchuria (Manchukuo), well off the beat of American correspondents. But Manchuria is destined to become well known. Large-scale conflict between Japan and the Soviet is almost inevitable. Russia, with her Vladivostok dagger poised less than three flying hours from Tokyo, is an immediate menace to Japan's safety. With the Soviet close behind her, Japan is as un easy as a criminal in the electric chair. Not until this danger is removed can she breathe easily and utilize the booty she has gained in the South Pacific. American bombers may soon be flying to Japan from the underground hangars of Vladi vostok and American troops may be battling Japanese along the far-flung border of Man churia. Manchuria is important because it is the Japanese hand on the throat of Vladivostok. A glance at the map (page 607) shows that Manchuria crowds up behind Vladivostok and could strangle it by cutting the Trans-Siberian Railway. Then Vladivostok would be cut off from European Russia and fall into Japanese hands. Probably all the Far Eastern part of Siberia would go with it. Japan's Toughest Fighters Await Soviet Attack The great Kwantung Army of Japan is now massed in Manchuria, itching for action. In all of Japan's recent operations these men have stood idle. The battles in the South Pacific, when they were not purely naval or aerial, have required few ground forces. Fresh troops have been sent to China, but they came from Japan, not from Manchuria. Japan has taken care not to deplete or dis turb her toughest fighting force, reserved for the specific job of whipping the Soviet. The Kwantung Army is not merely one of the armies of Japan. It is the army. It has the best men and the best mechanized equip ment. More than that, it is a political as well as a military force. It not only governs Man churia. It is the most powerful factor in the Tokyo government itself. The Premier, General Hideki Tojo, is a Kwantung Army man. He is surrounded by Kwantung Army chiefs. These are the men who dictate Japanese policy. The people are powerless, the Diet is a farce, the Cabinet is completely controlled by the militarists. The Emperor is the Army's rubber stamp. It was the Kwantung Army that launched Japan on the bloody path to Far Eastern domination or disaster. Manchuria "Always a Powder Keg" In 1931 the then "younger officers" who now rule Japan began the attack upon Man churia without the knowledge or consent of the Japanese Government. They wrested Manchuria from China, and asked the world to recognize it under the name of "Man chukuo." The Army men then proceeded to develop war industries in the seized territory pre paratory to the next step, the expulsion of the Soviet from Asia. Why has that step been so long delayed? Because the cocky young officers discov ered in border clashes that the Soviet was dis concertingly strong. The Kwantung Army began to see sense in the Navy's contention that the best pro cedure was, first, to conquer helpless southern Asia: second, wait for Hitler's aid against Russia; and then, strengthened by the limit less oil and mineral resources of the Indies, strike at Russia. But the time of waiting may now be nearly over. The "southward advance" is history, the metals and chemicals of the Indies and Malaya are pouring into Japan's factories and pouring out in planes, tanks, and munitions. There is an abundance of oil for a long war. "This country has always been a powder keg," an old ex-bandit told me in Muk den.