Changes in the Pacifictags: World War II, China, Japan
Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His latest book is The Savior Generals, published this spring by Bloomsbury Books. You can reach him by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the 1920s, Japan began to translate its growing economic might — after a prior 50-year crash course in Western capitalism and industrialization — into formidable military power.
At first, few of its possible rivals seemed to care. America and condescending European colonials did not quite believe that any Asian power could ever dare to threaten their own Pacific interests....
By 1941, few Americans were even aware that the Imperial Japanese Navy had almost magically grown more powerful than the Pacific fleet of the United States in every category of battleships, carriers, cruisers, destroyers, and submarines. The idea that Japan was waiting for an opportune moment to exploit American weakness, at a time when Europe was convulsed in war, would have seemed absurd to most Americans.
The 1940 American relocation of its Pacific-fleet home port from San Diego to an exposed Pearl Harbor was supposed to deter Japan. But the Japanese interpreted such muscle-flexing as empty braggadocio, if not mere foolhardy symbolism.
The attack on Pearl Harbor followed.
Substitute Communist China for imperial Japan and the same thing is now occurring in the Pacific. China believes it is finally time to make its military reflect its enormous economic power....
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