On the threat of Japanese invasion in WWII

28 September 2015
Tom O’Lincoln

Reviewing my chapter on Australia in a recently released book, Fighting on all fronts: popular resistance in the Second World War, Jeff Sparrow cites my statement that “the great majority of Australians would endorse the war effort on the simple grounds that a Japanese invasion must be avoided”.

He then remarks: “[O’Lincoln] dismisses this on the basis of the recently established scholarly consensus that Japan never intended to invade and lacked the resources to do so. It’s not an altogether satisfactory response. After all, ordinary workers could not have known Japan’s weakness at the time. If they did believe an occupation imminent, what attitude should they have taken?”

In the introduction to my book Australia’s Pacific war, I wrote:

“People ask me if I would have fought in the war. There were undoubtedly parts of the war worth fighting. I’m for armed struggle against imperialism, and on that basis would have supported the Chinese Red Army’s war to drive out all the colonisers, Japanese and Western, from China.

“In Australia, people whose politics were close to mine – socialist supporters of Leon Trotsky – favoured armed resistance to a Japanese occupation, but conducted independently of the Australian state. This seems to me correct in principle. However … the Japanese had neither the intention nor the capability of invading Australia.

“The war was not primarily about defending the Australian people, but rather was an imperialist venture. I would not have supported that.” I hope this clarifies my position (which seems a lot like Jeff’s), though I agree the questions remain vexed.

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