"World War I and the Imperical Japanese Navy" Review

The Journal of American History Vol.88,No.2, September 2001 Book Review

Dai ichiji sekai taisen to Nihon Kaigun-Gaiko to gunji to no rensetsu
(World War I and the Imperical Japanese Navy
-The diplomacy in concert with the military actions, by Yoichi Hirama)

Tokyo:Keio Gijiku Daigaku, 1998, vi 330pp. 4,000@ISBN@4-7664-0687-7 In Japanese.

A skillful synthesis of previously published articles, this articulate and informative volume is a welcome addition to the recent trickle of English- and Japanese- language monographs on Japan in World War I. As a body, these works incorporate Japan into the general history of the twentieth century by identifying the Great War as a watershed similar to that long recognized in the histories of the major belligerents. Yoichi Hirama specifically highlights the Imperial Japanese Navy and ponders the impact of its wartime experience on the ultimate road to the Pacific war.

It is not an easy task. There are precious few sources to ascertain debates within the Imperial Navy at this time, unlike the fount of diaries, letters, and personal papers available for the Imperial Army. Rather than offer a comprehensive view of Japanese naval thinking, then, Hirama culls from official Japanese military histories, Japanese Defense Agency and Ministry of Foreign Affairs archives, and national archives in the United States, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand to describe wartime Japanese naval operations and their effect upon relations with Japan's allies.

Part of this story can be found in English in the work of lan Nish, Peter Lowe, Mark Peattie, and Henry Frei. But this is the first book devoted exclusively to the Japanese navy in World War I. And, although it is not the most pivotal tale either of the war or of Japan's wartime experience, there is an important history here: of combined naval operations with Britain and Australia in Asia and the South Pacific and the occupation of German Micronesia in 1 914, arms aid to the allies and naval support in the Mediterranean from 1 91 7, and United States-Japanese wartime tensions over Mexico.

As a naval officer himself, Hirama subconsciously lionizes the Imperial Navy at the expense of other players in his story. The navy is a voice of caution on Japanese participation in the war and exploitation of interests in China, and it is a defender of international law. It works well with Britain and helps battle German submarines in the Mediterranean Sea. The Imperial Army, by contrast, aggressively pursues its own interests in China, damns the British, and sends only arms to Europe. The British, Australians, and Americans make tactical blunders and harbor unwarranted suspicions of Japan.

How did this seemingly model force eventually help lead Japan into a suicidal war? Hirama cites a lack of naval attention to questions of military leadership and repeats the old lament over the 1 922 dissolution of the Anglo-Japanese alliance. But he provides fresh glimpses of naval views of the Chinese revolution, Japan's participation in the war, the occupation of German Micronesia, and the Twenty-one Demands. And he hints at what was perhaps the most basic concern of naval leaders: the potent political battle with the Imperial Army. Most important, Hirama's painstaking work in Western archives proves conclusively that, while historians have largely ignored Japanese participation in World War l, contemporary Western statesmen did not. They eagerly sought, and subconsciously feared, Japanese military support.

Frederick R. Dickinson
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia. Pennsylvania