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Is China a Real Victor of WWII?

In my recent article on Philippines’ ultimately absurd legal challenge to China’s claims in the S. China Sea, I noted how that conflict arose from the prevailing wind to diss China’s interests in the post WWII world.  The cause for that are many.  No doubt China’s relative weakness vis-a-vis the West and/or Soviet Union, its plunge into a major civil war in the aftermath of WWII, the alignment of the interests among the world’s most powerful – including both the West and the Soviets – to keep China from re-emerging as a major power all play a part.  But whatever the cause, I think it is major time for the world to revisit just how important a role China played in securing WWII’s victory against the Axis.

I have heard many Japanese say that even though China was technically a victor, China did not defeat Japan, only the U.S. did.  Some Americans say – what role could China have played when it was always teetering on the brink of national annihilation?  Both are way over simplifications of history.

Even if China could not have single-handedly defeat Japan, the world would not have been able to defeat Japan without China.  The defeat of the axis was a collaborative effort.  The U.S. and Soviet Union may have been the strongest military powers of the day, but the removal of any of the major four victors – China included – would have changed history irrevocably.  There are many reasons for the Axis to be defeated in WWII, and China is a key indispensable reason.

Consider, for example, that despite Japan’s many military victories in China throughout WWII, China was nevertheless able to, through its heroic resistance movement, lock down some 94% of Japan’s army throughout the war.  That is a huge deal.  Had China capitulated and freed Japan’s army, Japan could have opened with the Soviet Union a second front as Hitler had asked.  The course of WWII in Europe would have been irrevocably changed.

Alternatively – or perhaps simultaneously – the freed Japanese army could have rolled across S. East Asia, or India … or been used to invade Australia, Philippines and perhaps even India – securing the resources of much of Asia.  Does the U.S. really think it could have withstood an additional enforcement of Japan’s army by a factor of 15-16 throughout Asia???  Japan, I argue – would have been that much more difficult – if not impossible to defeat.

Some American exceptionalists might claim, but it was nuclear bombs that defeated the Japaneses.  That is patently false.  By the time the “bomb” was used, Americans already had control of Japanese skies and were carrying out firebomb raids with impunity.  Without that cover, the bomb could not have been deployed.

Strategically also, the bomb was used precisely because Japan was a defeated nation.  Had Japan had a fighting chance of survival, America would not have dared to try the bomb … for the simple reason that Japan would not easily go down, and would have had the resources to develop its own bomb  … and used it against America. The nuclear bomb did not end the war.  It was used to make a political statement … and to shorten – perhaps (tenuously) – the war. But make no mistake: the war was already  won.

In commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, I offer two articles.  The first,  China a Forgotten WWII Ally, from China.org, argues that China made uniquely important and significant contributions to securing Japan’s ultimate defeat and that its efforts have been too long been neglected in the West in the advent of the cold war.  The second, Did a forgotten Japanese journalist turn the tide of World War II?, from Asia Times tells the story of how Soviet knowledge of Japan’s decision not to open a second front decisively changed the course of WWII … and how a brave Japanese journalist named Hotsumi Ozaki heroically relayed that critical knowledge to Soviet leaders.

Without further adieu, here is China a Forgotten WWI Ally:

China a forgotten WWII ally: historian

Xinhua, August 6, 2015

China deserves more respect abroad for its role resisting fascism during World War II, a Chinese historian has said, as the country marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the war.

“China’s important status and efforts during the war have been neglected by the West for more than 70 years due to the cold war. It’s not fair that the country hasn’t received due respect and has become a forgotten ally,” Hu Dekun wrote in an article published on Wednesday in Guangming Daily.

Hu, president of the Chinese Research Association of Second World War History, stressed that China was the main battlefield in Asia and one of the most important battlefields in the whole of the war.

Japan started to invade northeast China in September 1931, foreshadowing WWII and making China the first country to resist Fascism. With Japan’s full-scale invasion kicking off on July 7, 1937, the Kuomintang and the Communist Party of China (CPC) joined forces, making China the first battlefield of resistance against the Axis.

Citing Japanese battle logs describing the bloody Battle of Songhu in 1937, Hu said Chinese soldiers and civilians’ resistance was “very tough.” They endured a siege during the battle in which Japan suffered more than 40,000 casualties.

China’s resoluteness foiled the enemy’s fantasy of winning the war within a month and dragged the main force of the Japanese army into drawn-out, costly warfare, holding Japan back from invading other regions and relieving pressures on the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union.

According to the article, as Japan had to gradually mobilize more forces to China, 32 of 34 divisions of the Japanese army, or 94 percent of its entire forces, as well as some navy forces, ended up in the China battlefield by 1938, when large-scale battles took place in central China.

As the resistance went on, the CPC’s regular army and militia grew to surpass 3.1 million people and they became the main force to finally turn the tables and launch counterattacks in 1945.

Meanwhile, China’s fierce resistance also greatly distracted Japan from the Pacific battlefield, Hu noted.

In 1942, the Japanese navy mapped a plan to invade Australia to prevent the United States using the country as a base to launch counterattacks, but the Japanese army, unable to transfer a huge portion of its forces from China, rejected the plan.

According to Hu, Japanese troops in China still far outnumbered those in the Pacific battlefield by the end of the Pacific War.

As for Europe, Japan, weighed down by China’s resistance, had to turn down Germany’s request for reinforcement in 1942 when Germany was deep in the Battle of Stalingrad with the Soviet Union.

Later, Japan would turn down multiple similar requests from Germany, freeing the Soviet Union from the worry of being outflanked.

“China’s efforts forced Japan and Germany to fight battles independently of each other and to fail to cooperate strategically, giving the Allies an upper hand,” the article said.

As part of the Allies’ plan, Chinese troops also battled in Myanmar between 1943 and 1945 and liberated the country’s north as well as the border area of southwest China’s Yunnan Province after severe casualties.

The road linking Yunnan and Myanmar secured by Chinese troops would later greatly facilitate the Allies’ counterattacks in Myanmar.

China maintained diplomatic ties with the Allies throughout WWII and also played a key role in helping set up post-War order, Hu said. He cited the Cairo Declaration, the outcome of the meeting attended by China, the United States and Britain in 1943 demanding Japan return all territories it invaded and offering the basis for handling Japan after its defeat.

In July 1945, the three countries issued the Potsdam Proclamation, another key legal document to demand Japan’s unconditional surrender to the Allies and accelerating the end of WWII.

One of five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, China played a key role in the planning and founding of the UN after WWII, setting down the Charter of the United Nations together with the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union in 1945.

“As a weak country then, China was brave enough to stand up against powerful Japanese fascism, maintained enduring resistance, greatly supported the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union in their own fights and hugely contributed to the establishment of post-WWII order and the founding of international organizations. History proves beyond doubt that China was rightfully one of the four major anti-fascist nations,” Hu wrote.

Without further adieu, here is the second article, Did a forgotten Japanese journalist turn the tide of World War II?:

Did a forgotten Japanese journalist turn the tide of World War II?

Most historians agree that World War II’s first real turning point occurred in December 1941 when Red Army troops led by Marshal Georgy Zhukov smashed through the German lines encircling Moscow and shattered the siege of the city.
The epic “Breakout from Moscow,” spearheaded by 18 fresh divisions, 1,700 tanks and 1,500 planes hastily recalled from the Soviet Far East, spurred a chain of events that literally sent Hitler’s forces reeling from the gates of Moscow to the gates of Berlin. Larger Soviet victories at Stalingrad and Kursk, in all likelihood, would not have followed if Moscow had fallen.“It was the beginning of the end for Germany,” John Pike, an intelligence expert who heads military think tank Globalsecurity.org in Washington, D.C. told Asia Times.

Hotsumi Ozaki

Hotsumi Ozaki

As the world this month celebrates the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender and the end of World War II, it would do well to remember that the crucial intelligence which allowed Zhukov to transfer these desperately needed forces to Moscow came from a now-forgotten Japanese journalist named Hotsumi Ozaki.

Ozaki was a Japanese newspaper correspondent and pivotal member of the legendary Tokyo spy ring headed by Soviet spymaster Richard Sorge.

Sorge’s most famous feat involved giving Stalin advance word of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor — a tip his Kremlin master ignored. But arguably, the most critical information he relayed during the war was confirmation, from reliable sources, that the Japanese Army would not relieve Germany by opening a second front against the USSR. The tip allowed Zhukov to redeploy his battle-hardened men and armor to Moscow. The final confirmation of what Japan would do came from Ozaki.


The greatest spy story of all time

“If there is a single piece of intelligence that changed the course of World War II, it was Sorge’s report to Moscow that the Japanese would not invade Russia,” said Bob Bergin, a former US foreign service officer who writes on the history of World War II intelligence operations. “Sorge’s ring – and Ozaki’s role in it — may be the greatest spy story of all time.”

Richard Sorge

Richard Sorge

Ozaki and Sorge were both arrested for espionage and hanged by Japanese authorities. Ozaki, however, has the distinction of being the only Japanese civilian executed for high treason in World War II.

A chubby-cheeked ladies’ man who worked for the Osaka Asahi, Japan’s leading newspaper at the time, Ozaki was an unlikely choice for his telling historical role.

He was born on in Shirakawa, Gifu Prefecture on May Day in 1901.  He was descended from an old samurai family. But his father made his living as an almost penniless journalist. His family moved during his youth to the new Japanese colony of Taiwan for economic reasons. It was here that Hotsumi, an irrepressibly impulsive and open-minded man, became acquainted with Chinese culture and the awkwardness of being a member of the island’s ruling class.

“My connection with the controlling and governing classes was revealed to me as a concrete fact of daily life. This experience later aroused in me an extraordinary interest in the problem of national liberation, and it also gave me an insight into the China problem,” Ozaki is quoted as saying in Japan expert Chalmers Johnson’s 1990 biography, “An Instance of Treason: Ozaki Hotsumi and the Sorge Spy Ring.”

Ozaki returned to Japan in 1922 and studied law at elite Tokyo Imperial University. But he soon dropped out, and threw himself into Communist Party activities. His conversion to Marxism and opposition to the Japanese government was shaped in the aftermath of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 when he watched local police and officials incite mob hysteria that led to the slaughter of more than 6,000 Korean residents of Tokyo.

“Violent mobs seized, tortured, and killed Koreans in the frantic belief that they were using the disaster as an opportunity for rebellion,” Johnson wrote. Authorities also used the quake to arrest or kill many Japanese labor leaders.

The young radical followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a journalist. He was hired by the Asahi Shimbun as a reporter in 1926 and was soon writing stories about Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin. Asahi posted him to Shanghai in 1928 where he became friendly with leftist American reporter Agnes Smedley. Ozaki also began to secretly assist members of the city’s Chinese Communist Party.

Fateful meeting

Agnes Smedley as a young woman

Agnes Smedley as a young woman

It was Smedley who introduced Ozaki to Sorge during one of the latter’s trips to China. “Can you introduce me to a Japanese to help improve my knowledge of Japan’s policy towards China?,” Sorge was quoted as asking Smedley in Robert Whymant’s 1996 book, “Stalin’s Spy.” Smedley introduced Sorge, her then lover, to Ozaki.

The two hit it off. “Ozaki was affable, interesting and ready to help. They recognized each other’s intellectual ability and before long discovered shared interests,” Whymant wrote of the chemistry between the two men.

Ozaki joined the ring and the pair teamed up in Japan after Sorge, who was posing as a pro-Nazi journalist for Russian military intelligence, was posted to Tokyo. Other key members included Yotoku Miyagi, a Okinawan, Branko Vukelic, a Yugoslav, and Max Clausen, a German wireless operator.

“If I reflect deeply, I can say that I was indeed destined to meet Agnes Smedley and Richard Sorge. It was my encounter with these people that finally determined my narrow path from then on,” Ozaki observed after his arrest.

Sorge was a brilliant spy and a man of great courage. But he knew little about Japan. Japanese politics, institutions and culture was a cipher to him. It was Ozaki who schooled him, and it was the chatty Japanese scribe who recruited other anti-militarist Japanese who served as the ring’s human sinews in Japan.

While history rightly credits Sorge with relaying key intelligence to Moscow as the brains and guts of the operation, it’s doubtful if Sorge (who couldn’t speak or read Japanese) could have succeeded without Ozaki’s access to the innermost circles of Japanese government.

A leading China authority, Ozaki had charmed his way to become an adviser and confidant of Japanese Prime Minister Prince Fumimaro Konoe and other top officials. He met regularly with Konoe and his coterie of friends at the prince’s residence in Tokyo. It was here that Ozaki gleaned critical information about Japanese military strategy and policy toward the Asian mainland.

Code-name Otto

Ozaki, code-named “Otto,” and Miyagi, code-name “Joe,” undertook risky missions in Japan, Manchuria and other parts of Asia to report on Japanese troop movements. They also corroborated information Sorge received from German diplomats.

It’s ironic that Ozaki managed to evade Japan’s coldly efficient wartime security apparatus for so long. In a classic case of cultural blindsiding, no one on the Japanese side suspected that someone who had attended an elite Japanese university could be working for Stalin.

Sorge also was a journalist who used his cover as a correspondent for Germany’s Frankfurter Zeitung to win the trust of German diplomats in Japan. Badly wounded in World War I where he won the Iron Cross, Sorge was first swayed to the cause of the Great Proletarian Revolution by a communist-leaning nurse who tended his wounds. An edgy adventurer fond of wine, women and motorcycles, he had a German father. But few knew of a Russian mother who imbued him with other loyalties. Some of Sorge’s biggest intelligence coups were tied to a torrid affair he carried on with the wife of the German ambassador to Japan.

A glorious way to die

Ozaki was a true believer who had chosen his side in the fight against the Axis.

“I would like to go and die splendidly as a communist. I have nothing to regret, and I am fully prepared,” Ozaki remarked to a visitor, shortly before he was executed.

Did he know of Stalin’s crimes or communism’s dark side? It makes no difference. Untold millions were saved because of what he did.

A description of the ruses that the Tokyo espionage ring used to probe the Japanese military’s designs toward the USSR’s eastern flank could fill volumes. The skinny is as follows: Zhukov had annihilated the better part of two Japanese divisions in a short but vicious war with Japan in 1939 at Nomonhan, along the Russian-Mongolia frontier. “It was enough to convince the Japanese that attacking Russia would be a tough nut to crack,” Pike said, stressing that the battle, also known as Khalkhin Gol, was a little-appreciated prelude to Moscow. Sorge, Ozaki and Miyagi also played a critical role at this time by relaying intelligence on Japanese troop movements to Zhukov.

The Japanese continued to mass troops near Russia’s border with Manchuria after their humiliating defeat. Berlin, meanwhile, kept pressing Tokyo to reopen hostilities. Stalin feared Japan would attack as German troops invaded Russia from the West in 1941. Encouraged by early German successes against Russia, Japan appeared to mobilize for a strike.

Sorge, however, had heard in casual conversation from a German naval attache in August 1941 that Japan had ruled out war with the USSR. Antsy about a coming clash with the US, Japanese strategists were waiting until Russia’s collapse became certain. If true, it meant that hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops tied down in the Far East could be sprung. But this sizzling piece of intelligence needed to be verified before it could be radioed to Moscow – and it was Ozaki who did it.

In late August of 1941, Ozaki traveled to Japanese-occupied Manchuria under the cover of attending a conference sponsored by Japan’s South Manchurian Railway company in Dairen. His real purpose was to check the dispositions of Japan’s crack Kwantung Army to ascertain if they were preparing for an invasion of Siberia. He also collected statistics on Japanese army and navy oil stocks for clues on military deployments.

Ozaki soon returned to Tokyo with the final piece in the puzzle. “The danger has passed,” Sorge recalled Ozaki telling him in a diary entry. The Japanese were withdrawing units from Manchuria and were not moving others northward from China. An invasion of Russia’s eastern frontier was clearly not in the offing. All signs were that Japan would strike southward — to the Dutch East Indies and Singapore.

“It was Ozaki who was the real spy in this case,” Bergin told Asia Times. “What Ozaki did and how he did it certainly deserves a great deal of credit, perhaps the biggest part of it.  He came to Sorge not as an informant already in place, but as an outsider.  It was through his deliberate effort that he worked himself into the upper reaches of the Japanese government and became a confidant of the Japanese PM.  This must be what all spies dream of, but almost never achieve.  He put himself where the intelligence had to be.  Individual acts of spies do make a difference.”

Zhukov’s troops attack at the Battle of Moscow

Zhukov’s troops attack at the Battle of Moscow

The rest is history. On Dec. 5, 1941, massed formations of Soviet tanks and troops in white winter camouflage (recently disembarked from rail cars that had carried them from Asia) attacked under the cover of a swirling snowstorm. The Germans were taken by surprise and never regained the initiative in the field. Pike notes Zhukov’s reinforcements eventually struck southward and broke the back of the German 6th Army at Stalingrad.

What if …

What if Moscow had fallen? “The western allies were never sure of what the Soviets would do,” noted Pike who has no argument with the view that Ozaki and Sorge changed history. “Given Stalin’s track record, there was the clear and present danger of a separate peace with Germany. The Soviets could have said, ‘we’ve had enough’ and called it a day.” The full weight of the Axis war machine would have fallen on Britain and the US.

Stalin acted on Sorge’s tip because of the accuracy of his earlier intelligence on Japanese troop dispositions at Nomonhan. The master spy also tapped German diplomatic sources in Tokyo to alert Stalin to the impending Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. In this instance, Stalin elected not to warn the US about the attack because if it was true, he preferred the “ABC Powers” (America, Britain and China) to consume themselves in a war with Japan and Germany – to Moscow’s advantage.

The Tokyo spy ring was exposed when Japanese police discovered that Miyagi had joined the Communist Party in the US years earlier.

Miyagi, after his arrest, tried to protect his colleagues by jumping out of a window at police headquarters. Unfortunately, he survived the fall and following interrogation, police were able to capture the ring’s members.

Ozaki and Sorge were brutally tortured and admitted their “crimes.” Both were made to write long confessions, detailing their espionage.

Sorge would have gone to the gallows regardless of what he had written. But in Ozaki’s case, it was possible the court would spare the noose if he recanted the wrongness of his deeds by writing a so-called “tenkosho” or statement of conversion.

Ozaki, however, found it impossible to recant. “It pained Ozaki to beg for his life by disowning the beliefs and principles he had cherished,” Whymant says. The court ultimately ruled that his “anti-state” views were unchanged.

Ozaki and Sorge were hung minutes apart on Nov. 7, 1944, in Tokyo’s Sugamo prison after prolonged confinement. The date coincided with the 27th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. Ozaki was the first to die.

“(Sorge) was led to the trapdoor set in the floor and stood calmly as his hands and legs were bound. He did not know that shortly after 9:30 that morning, Ozaki Hotsumi, his loyal helper, had stood on this same spot, and been hanged until he died at 9:51,” Whymant wrote.

Miyagi and Vukelic died in custody.

Red Army soldier plants flag on Berlin’s Reichstag in 1945

Red Army soldier plants flag on Berlin’s Reichstag in 1945

Sorge was proclaimed a “Hero of the Soviet Union” after V-J Day and posthumously rewarded with a stone monument in Moscow. There is no monument to Hotsumi Ozaki in Japan today.

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  1. August 8th, 2015 at 11:49 | #1

    As Allen has pointed out, the Allies would be hard pressed to win if China or the British Commonwealth (the other victors) were taken out of the equation. Of course there is no doubt the Soviet Union and the US were the really pivotal participants. Without the Soviet Union it would be almost impossible to defeat Nazi Germany. The US Navy is responsible for sinking the lion share’s of the Imperial Japanese Navy. By 1944, even the Japanese high command knew that they were defeated, and had made plan to move their headquarter to Northeast China to make a final stand. They knew they would not be able to hold Japan, which consists of near barren islands.

    This is why Roosevelt and Churchill made deal Stalin to declare war against Japan. In 1941, the Soviet Union and Japan had signed a neutrality pact. The Allies knew that if the Soviet Union did not launched an attack against Japanese forces in China, Japan cannot be defeated. By 1945, the Japanese still have close to 2 million troops in China. Another notable fact is that the Soviet Union was the only country to help defend China when Japan launched the full scale invasion of China in 1937. The support stopped after signing the neutrality pact. The series of events in WWII clearly showed the shifting alliance and the fragility of any pact signed. The most famous being the Nazi-Soviet Pact.

    Compare with the British Commonwealth, China’s contribution has been severely downplayed. This is despite the fact that 2/3 of Imperial Japanese Army casualties were inflicted by Chinese forces. Of course, all these are now history but has the lesson of the war has been properly explained? Today’s Russian-Japanese dispute of the Kuril Islands can be in some ways traced to WWII, so is the Korean-Japanese islands dispute, not to mention the Chinese-Japanese Diaoyu dispute. I want to bring to attention the Potsdam Declaration. (The Potsdam Declaration or the Proclamation Defining Terms for Japanese Surrender is a statement that called for the surrender of all Japanese armed forces during World War II. On July 26, 1945, United States President Harry S. Truman, United Kingdom Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Chairman of the Nationalist Government of China Chiang Kai-shek issued the document, which outlined the terms of surrender for the Empire of Japan as agreed upon at the Potsdam Conference. This ultimatum stated that, if Japan did not surrender, it would face “prompt and utter destruction.”)

    I would highlight some very important terms of the declaration:

    (8) The terms of the Cairo Declaration shall be carried out and Japanese sovereignty shall be limited to the islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku and such minor islands as we determine.

    It is clear cut that Japan no longer has any sovereignty over any out lying islands. However, why do Japan today still have claim against China, Korea and Russia?

  2. Black Pheonix
    August 10th, 2015 at 07:03 | #2

    Yes, USSR tied down Nazi Germany on the dreaded “Eastern Front”, and China tied down more than 2 million Japanese troops in China.

    And China was fighting and holding back Japan long before US or UK entered the War.

  3. ersim
    August 13th, 2015 at 07:54 | #3

    The americans will always minimize Chinese resistance to Japanese occupation since 1937, around 4 years before american involvement. Typical american mindset.

  4. raffiaflower
    August 14th, 2015 at 11:49 | #4

    China is a victor of World War 2, unbowed. It just fought a different war from the United States and Britain.
    For China, it was an existential war of survival, against an unfathomably cruel – and much stronger – enemy that resorted to the most extreme means to subjugate and eradicate her from memory as a society/state.
    For the United States, it was a power struggle with an imperialist challenger for the leadership of the Pacific/Asian region.
    China was pivotal in bogging and wearing down the invaders and Washington charged in after Pearl Harbor for a clear decisive outcome.
    Rana Mitter author of China: Forgotten Ally posits that China’s fighting forces would eventually have succumbed to Japan’s overwhelming technological superiority.
    But it is just as likely that communist armies and guerillas – plus China’s aroused citizenry – would have frustrated Japan’s conquest for a long time, and eventually exhausted the home country itself.
    Whether Washington and its vassal Japan like it or not, China is a victor of WWII.

  5. yhuang12
    June 15th, 2016 at 18:55 | #5

    Even though China was on the list of Allies, they actually didn’t fight on the pacific war. They were not super heroes in the american movies, how can they do fighting on the pacific ocean without jets or ships? Also, the Cairo declaration was not a formal and a legal document. The transferring sovereignty must be issued under the peace treaty. The formal document of WWII is San Francisco Peace Treaty signed in 1951, however, the Chinese Nationalists lost the civil war with Chinese Communists and immediately became a government in exile in 1949. The San Francisco Peace Treaty only issued the renounce of Formosa, Pescadores and those small “islands” on the south china sea, the sovereignty didn’t transfer to china. Be aware of anther thing, Chinese government would not release any thing would against themselves.

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