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Conflict in the Pacific Previous Next
Digital History ID 3485


The first major threat to international stability following World War I came in the Far East. Chronically short of raw materials, Japan was desperate to establish political and cultural hegemony in Asia. In September 1931, Japan invaded Manchuria, reducing the Chinese province to a puppet state. President Hoover rejected a military response and also refused to impose economic sanctions against Japan. He simply refused to recognize the new Manchurian government since it was based on force.

Expecting bolder measures, Japan ignored this slap on the wrist and concluded that the United States would not use military might to oppose its designs on the Far East. In 1934, Japan terminated the Five-Power Naval Treaty of 1922, which had limited its naval power in the Pacific. In 1937, Japan invaded China. In response, the League of Nations sponsored a conference at Brussels in November 1937. As the delegates debated whether or not to impose economic sanctions against Japan, the United States announced it would not support sanctions. The conference adjourned after passing a report that mildly criticized Japanese aggression.

Any doubts regarding the U.S. desire to avoid war vanished a few weeks later. In December 1937, Japanese aircraft bombed the Panay, a U.S. gunboat stationed on the Yangtze River near Nanking, killing three Americans. While the attack angered the public, few calls for war rang out, a similar response to those following the sinking of the Maine or the Lusitania. The United States quickly accepted Japan's apology, indemnities for the injured and relatives of the dead, promises against future attacks, and punishment of the pilots responsible for the bloodshed.

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