Ninety years before the invasion of Saipan on March 31, 1854 Commodore
Matthew C. Perry, United States Navy, sailed into Edo (Tokyo) Bay and
subsequently negotiated the Treaty Of Kanagawa which would open Japan to
commerce with the West. Prior to 1854 Japan had successfully been kept
closed to the world. By 1868 the Japanese of the Meiji era were groping
their way out of the Shogun period toward imperialism. Sixteen - year
old Emperor Mutsuhito abolished the feudal system, restored the Meiji
dynasty and began the process of westernization. In 1904 Japan launched
a surprise attack on Admiral Zinovi Rozhoestuenski's Russian Fleet at
Ryojunko (Port Arthur), China after they were unsuccessful in persuading
Czarist Russia to leave China. They destroyed Russia's Baltic Fleet in
the Tsushima Strait. The subsequent treaty signed between Japan and
Russia made the country a world naval power and contributed to its
future belligerent adventures, first against China and later the United
States and its allies. Thus, forty years after Commodore Perry "opened"
Japan to the West, the island kingdom was militarily and industrially
strong enough to defeat China and take over Formosa. Ten years later
Japan defeated Russia and annexed Korea.
The seeds of World War Two which were long in germinating were
planted in the mid 19th century. In hindsight, the reasons for the war
were largely economic. The seizure or protection of spheres of
influence, the maintenance of territorial integrity, the acquisition of
raw materials as well as Asian markets for the commercial opportunities
they presented were all reasons which would eventually account for so
much loss of life and national treasure.
Western nations, notably Great Britain, France, Germany and the
United States, had for more than one hundred years prior to the outbreak
of hostilities exhibited great interest in the commercial opportunities
in China and other parts of Asia. These opportunities had attracted
Western investment for the exploitation of raw materials for the
manufacture of products not only for domestic consumption but for
export of finished goods back to the Orient.These opportunities were
eyed covetously by Japan through what was to become known as the
Greater Southeast Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.
The small islands of Micronesia, and the Marianas in particular,
offered none of these opportunities. The population of the islands was
too small to provide interesting markets and the people had only
limited financial resources for the purchase of imported goods. They
did , however, have one important advantage that was of interest to many
developed nations and which had been bestowed upon them by virtue of
geography. It was then - as it is still today - the location of the
islands in the vast Pacific that was of interest to both the West and
Japan. They sit astride the great circle sailing routes connecting the
Western and Eastern Hemispheres. In the early days they offered
convenient locations for sailing vessels in need of water and provisions
of fresh fruit, vegetables and meat. Later, as in the case of Guam, they
became important coaling stations for steam-powered vessels.
Germany had formally taken over the islands from Spain in
November, 1899 after purchasing them for the equivalent of $4.5 million.
When World War One erupted in Europe in 1914 the Japanese moved into
the islands and forced the Germans out without a struggle.When the Peace
Treaty was signed at Versailles, France in 1919 Germany was stripped of
its Pacific colonies by the Allied Powers of which Japan was a member.
The islands were formally mandated to Japan by the newly formed League
Of Nations. The United States had been influential in establishing the
League which gave Japan a mandate over the islands as their
administrator. When the World War One Peace Conference met at
Versailles, the United States was faced with the fact that Japan had
virtually annexed the islands and American efforts were powerless to
effect any significant change in this fait accompli. The League
confirmed Japan in 1920 in her possession of the islands as a mandate.
The United States Senate refused to ratify America's membership in the
League but in 1922 the United States accepted the arrangement with
Japan by the Ishii - Lansing Agreement. Japan remained a member of the
League Of Nations until 1935 at which time the country withdrew from the
organization and kept the mandated islands "as an integral part of the