Alternate WW1: Japan

Alright all, I remember reading somewhere that Japan was considering sending troops to the Western Front in late 1916-early 1917. They ended up not doing this of course, but I was wondering what might have happened if they had. It would have made the post war situation quite different politically. Reactionary Japan would have been the king maker at Versailles rather than Wilson and his liberal internationalists. I imagine it may have deepened the UK-Japan friendship and possibly led to the US refocusing on the western hemisphere as liberal internationalism would have been even less relevant after the war. I don't imagine the Americans would abandon the Philippines but US influence in the region would have been curtailed. I'm not sure how things with China would shake out but if Japan was still friendly enough with the UK and France, objections to the annexation of Manchuria might have been more muted. In addition, Japan and Germany wouldn't have formed an alliance, and the Second World War might be more European focused like the First was, assuming it happened at all.

Also with significant land combat experience, the Imperial Japanese army might have ended up with more pull in Tokyo and their 'northern strategy' to take on the USSR rather than the IJN and it's 'southern strategy' to take on the US, France and UK may have become dominant.

Just some things I've been thinking about, I'd like to hear your thoughts.



  • I recently read Margaret MacMillan's Peacemakers, about the 1919 Versailles Conference, and apparently the Japanese there barely played a role. They weren't interested in anything except the territorial settlements in Asia.

    That makes it hard to come up with a scenario in which the Japanese do deploy troops to Europe. I guess (but I don't know a lot of Japanese history) they might be persuaded to in return for territorial concessions in Asia?

    Then you'd have England and France becoming allies of Japan and China, the Philippines and the US on the other side. That sets up an interesting dynamic for an alternate 1920s and 30s.

    We're assuming, though, that with a Japanese intervention in the War in Europe, the Americans would stay out?

  • Well the UK and Japan were allies for a time from 1902 to 1921 when the pact was allowed to expire, mostly to placate the US. I figure if Japan jumps into WW1 in a big way that pact will get stronger, and the more pro US faction in the British elite will have a harder time.

    As I remember reading (and this was a while ago, it was a brief digression in some history book I was reading so take this with a grain of salt) the Japanese hoped involvement in the Western Front would get them approval for Chinese territorial concessions and smooth over the PR disaster that the 21 Demands were turning out to be. Ultimately it was felt that involvement wouldn't be worth it, and that was that.

    As for US involvement, I'm not sure. Wilson is often considered the first 'modern' Democrat in terms of policy and worldview but with one very noticeable difference. He was an enormous and unapologetic racist and Confederate Lost Cause sympathizer. If a non white power were to be seen as the ones 'saving Europe' I'm not sure how he'd respond.

  • I can imagine how that sentiment might conspire with a latent anti-Britishness and general distaste of European affairs to orient America toward the Pacific.

  • Yeah that's the interesting thing, Wilson was very much an Anglophile and a Francophile. He wasn't neutral on the European question, which is why William Bryan resigned as his secretary of state. You're right in that American public opinion was very isolationist, even after the Spanish American War. FDR changed that, pretty much single handedly. Wilson was an internationalist to the point of being an authoritarian, jailing anti-war protestors and similar things. Not to say that FDR didn't have an authoritarian streak but with Wilson it was much more front and center. I think that's partially why it was possible for the Democrats to be easily defeated in 1920 by a clown like Harding. If Japan was fighting on the western front Wilson might still want to get involved, but I imagine he'd face even more resistance at home.

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