Imperial Japan’s Meiji- and Taisho-period wars, fought between 1894 and 1922, have defined Japan’s ascension to the community of militarily powerful European and American "Great Powers." The Showa-era wars of the 1930s and 1940s, in contrast, have defined Japan’s departure from the Atlantic-centered “imperialist’s club” toward an aggressive and brutal pan-Asianism which destroyed countless lives. But despite war’s thematic centrality in dominant narratives of Japan’s modern history, military history itself has become a minor subfield of Japanese Studies. War is often referenced in the vibrant new scholarship on Japan’s culture, ideology, politics, and diplomacy, but fighting is rarely the focus of the research. This panel reassesses the importance of military history by presenting case studies of actual war-fighting, while expanding the military-historical archive in new directions. All three papers investigate combat under extreme conditions: expeditions against irregular forces in Taiwan and Korea; sub-arctic campaigns in Siberia; and jungle warfare in New Guinea. How does foregrounding ethno-racial peoples as protagonists in the Pacific War change our understanding of Japanese military campaigns? What can a pictorial diary produced by a rank-and-file soldier tell us about combat in harsh climatic conditions? Does classifying counter-insurgency campaigns as full blown wars force us to rethink the framework of military history? This panel proposes new ways to write military history that allow us to see and understand war--in all its sheer physicality in the moment of conflict--as well as larger effects that ramify beyond the times and places of war-fighting itself.
Paper Presenter: Nadine Willems – University of East Anglia
Paper Presenter: Kirsten L. Ziomek – Adelphi University
Paper Presenter: Paul D. Barclay – Lafayette College