World War 2
World War 1

What started World War 2 in Asia?

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January 02, 2018 6:37PM

World War 2 actually started in Asia almost a decade before it

started in Europe and elsewhere. Ultimately, the war kicked off

when Japan invaded China and French Indochina; when the US tried to

convince Japan to stop, Japan instead attacked the US Navy at Pearl

Harbor, bringing the US into World War 2.

The slightly longer version:

Between about 1865 and 1895, Japan changed from an isolated

feudal state to a modernized major power. Starting in 1895, Japan

started getting involved in international affairs. Japan had beaten

the mighty Russian Empire in 1905, annexed Korea, and began

economic expansion in China. Japan seemed to be the powerful "new

kid on the block", so to speak.

During the same time period, China was recovering from a tough

time they had in the 1800s and early 1900s. China lost several wars

with foreign countries (including Britain and Japan), partial

foreign occupation, and popular revolts against their imperial

government, the Qing dynasty. In 1912, the last Qing Emperor was

overthrown in a revolution, but the newly established Chinese

Republic was very weak. There was a central government, but large

portions of the country were actually under the control of

warlords, many of whom had served as generals under the old

imperial government. Japan tried to take advantage of the chaos to

begin taking control of parts of China, and played the warlords

against each other to keep China divided and weak.

In 1931, some Japanese soldiers blew up a railway in the city of

Mukden in Manchuria (a region of northeastern China); the railway

was owned by a Japanese company. They wanted to make it seem like

Chinese rebels were trying to sabotage Japanese interests. Japan

then used the "bombing" as a reason to invade- they invaded and

conquered Manchuria in just a few months. Manchuria was made into

an independent country called "Manchukuo"- but Manchukuo was

actually totally under the control of Japan. Over the next few

years, Japan would occasionally fight some of the warlords, but

otherwise, things were relatively peaceful.

In 1937, Japan and China wound up fighting again. Long story

short, Japan was using their soldiers to guard their railways and

businesses in China. One day, some Japanese soldiers got into a

small battle with some Chinese soldiers at a bridge near Beijing.

Japan used this as a reason to invade China again. This began the

so-called "Second Sino-Japanese War", and Japan launched a

full-scale invasion of China itself.

The Sino-Japanese War led to the escalation of the war. Notably,

the US and the UK both opposed the Japanese invasion. When World

War II began in Europe in 1939, Japan took advantage of France, the

Netherlands, and the UK being distracted by Germany to seize

colonies belonging to those countries. Japan notably invaded and

conquered French Indochina (modern Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia),

despite international condemnation of it.

It was the negotiations between the US and Japan that ultimately

led the Japanese to attack the US at Pearl Harbor. The US tried to

convince Japan to stop attacking and occupying China and Indochina;

Japan refused. The US then put embargoes against Japan, cutting off

their oil and other supplies, which just made them angry. The

embargoes convinced Japan that they would soon be at war with the

US too. So Japan decided to launch an overwhelming attack on the

powerful US Navy to try to cause enough damage to prevent the US

from getting involved in the war.

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese ended the negotiations and

launched a huge attack on the American fleet stationed at Pearl

Harbor, Hawaii. The attack dealt significant damage to the US Navy,

including sinking four battleships. However, the attack failed to

cripple the American Navy; notably, it did not damage the American

aircraft carriers, which were not at Hawaii at the time. Also, due

to a delay in translating the official message, Japan's attack

happened before they officially told the US they were declaring

war- so the attack was viewed by Americans as a cowardly sneak


At the same time that the US was attacked at Pearl Harbor, Japan

launched a series of attacks on other countries and colonies across

Asia and the Pacific. Thailand was invaded and quickly surrendered.

Japan also invaded Hong Kong, Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia,

and Indonesia all in a fairly short time. World War II was

officially started in Asia and the Pacific.

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