Japan and the League of Nations: Empire and World Order, 1914–1938
312pp. January 2008
Japan and the League of Nations: Empire and World Order, 1914–1938
Author: Burkman, Thomas W.;
Japan joined the League of Nations in 1920 as a charter member and one of four permanent members of the League Council. Until conflict arose between Japan and the organization over the 1931 Manchurian Incident, the League was a centerpiece of Japan’s policy to maintain accommodation with the Western powers. The picture of Japan as a positive contributor to international comity, however, is not the conventional view of the country in the early and mid-twentieth century. Rather, this period is usually depicted in Japan and abroad as a history of incremental imperialism and intensifying militarism, culminating in war in China and the Pacific. Even the empire’s interface with the League of Nations is typically addressed only at nodes of confrontation: the 1919 debates over racial equality as the Covenant was drafted and the 1931–1933 League challenge to Japan’s seizure of northeast China.

This volume fills in the space before, between, and after these nodes and gives the League relationship the legitimate place it deserves in Japanese international history of the 1920s and 1930s. It also argues that the Japanese cooperative international stance in the decades since the Pacific War bears noteworthy continuity with the mainstream international accommodationism of the League years.

Thomas Burkman sheds new light on the meaning and content of internationalism in an era typically seen as a showcase for diplomatic autonomy and isolation. Well into the 1930s, the vestiges of international accommodationism among diplomats and intellectuals are clearly evident. The League project ushered those it affected into world citizenship and inspired them to build bridges across boundaries and cultures. Burkman’s cogent analysis of Japan’s international role is enhanced and enlivened by his descriptions of the personalities and initiatives of Makino Nobuaki, Ishii Kikujirô, Nitobe Inazô, Matsuoka Yôsuke, and others in their Geneva roles.

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"Burkman’s book is a thoughtful and richly documented study of competing concerns in Japan during the era of that nation’s engagement with the League of Nations. . . . [It] is a compelling blend of intellectual biography and diplomatic history. . . . Given Japan’s aspirations in the world today, Burkman’s study deserves broad reaching and serious consideration." —American Historical Review (June 2009)

"Meticulously researched and very well written, [this book] is important not only for specialists in Japanese studies, but for all students of the history of international relations between the wars." —Monumenta Nipponica (64:1, 2009)

"A valuable and important book on the League of Nations and Japan. . . . [Burkman’s] dual approach to the topic, both institutional (or political) and biographical (or intellectual), successfully illustrates that the Japanese engagement with the League was in fact more multi-dimensional and intricate. . . . Burkman deserves praise for this comprehensive and illuminating study that locates Japan more properly in interwar international history." —Pacific Affairs (82:1, spring 2009)

"This book marks the eagerly awaited appearance of [Burkman’s] powerful vision of Japanese inter-war internationalism in book form. [It] is distinct for its rigorous use of orthodox diplomatic history sources: official papers, memorandums, and correspondence; personal letters, diaries, and memoirs of policy-makers (military and civilian); contemporary newspapers and journals; and interviews with relevant diplomats and journalists. The study preserves, moreover, a refreshing old-school etiquette—manageable chapters, jargon-free prose, rich biographical vignettes of principal players, and an illuminating index." —International History Review (31:1, March 2009)

Author: Burkman, Thomas W.;
Thomas W. Burkman is research professor in Asian studies at the University of Buffalo at SUNY.
Read the introduction (PDF).


Note on Japanese and Chinese Names

1. The World War I Experience

2. The Idea of a League

3. The Great Debate

4. Making the Covenant Palatable at Paris

5. The Geneva Years

6. The Japanese Face at Geneva: Nitobe Inazo and Ishii Kikujiro

7. Crisis over Manchuria

8. Japan as an Outsider

Epilogue: Internationalism and International Organization in Interwar Japan