Pacific War

The Pacific War was a theatre of World War II including East Asia, Southeast Asia and Oceania, separate from World War II in Europe.

Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, December 8, 1941

Western accounts generally consider the war to have started with the Pearl Harbor attack of December 1941. Chinese date it from Japan's invasion of China in July 1937. The atomic bombs detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki significantly contributed to ending the war in August 1945, and are so far the only nuclear weapons used for warfare.


Japan began to expand in the late 19th century, annexing Okinawa in 1879, then defeating China in a short decisive war in 1894/95 and annexing Taiwan. In the same period, the US became more active in the Pacific, taking over the Philippines in 1898 after a war with Spain, and annexing Hawaii and Guam. Various European powers also expanded their holdings or influence in the region.

Japan won a war with Russia in 1905, annexed Korea (a Chinese protectorate at that time) in 1910, took over Manchuria in 1931, invaded central China in 1937, and tried to expand into Mongolia and Siberia until the Soviets thrashed them soundly at Kalkhin Gol in 1939. During the course of the war, the Japanese managed to occupy much of the coastal regions of China, including the then-capital Nanjing. However, the resistance they were to encounter in the more inland parts of China was much fiercer than expected, and they never managed to occupy the entire country. The conflict in China went on until the war ended in 1945, and killed at least 10 million. Western powers backed China, sending supplies via the Burma Road and imposing sanctions on Japan.

Meanwhile, World War II in Europe began with the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, and became more complex when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941.

The conflict became global in December 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, other US bases in the Pacific, the Philippines, and British possessions such as Hong Kong and Malaya. The United States and the entire British Empire immediately declared war on Japan, and Germany declared war on the US. The Soviet Union did not declare war on Japan until after the end of the war in Europe.

After that, Japan proceeded to invade and occupy much of Southeast Asia and parts of Oceania; they even managed to bomb the city of Darwin in Australia. By the middle of 1943, virtually all of Southeast Asia had been conquered by Japan, with the colonial powers of the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Portugal and the United States all having suffered humiliating defeats at the hands of the Japanese. Thailand, the only Southeast Asian country that was never colonised, was also the only Southeast Asian country that was spared from Japanese occupation, as the Thais signed a treaty of friendship with the Japanese, allowing Japanese troops free passage through Thailand, as well as allowing the Japanese to set up military bases there.

Japanese propaganda claimed they were driving out Western imperialists, leading an "Asia for Asians" movement, and this got them some support; countries such as India had both pro-Japanese and pro-Allied movements. In China both the Kuomintang and the Communists opposed Japan, but they were sometimes more interested in fighting each other. Everywhere, the local political movements were jockeying for control and trying to use the war to gain independence and/or domestic political influence for the time after the war.

In general though, Japanese rule in the occupied territories was brutal, and by the end of the war, the Japanese had lost the support of much of the local population who initially supported them (eg. Burmese independence hero Aung San). The Chinese, both in China as well as the overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia, were singled out for the harshest treatment due to them putting up the strongest resistance against Japanese rule. In all the occupied territories, the ethnic Chinese were rounded up for "screening" by the Japanese, and the unfortunate ones who were identified (often arbitrarily) as anti-Japanese were brought to remote locations and shot. In addition, the Japanese also performed inhumane experiments on captive locals from the occupied territories, the most famous being Unit 731 in Manchuria (listed below), though other similar units existed throughout the occupied territories.

The Japanese suffered their first major defeat at the Battle of Midway in June 1942, when the Americans successfully intercepted and decoded Japanese communication, and surprised the Japanese by destroying their aircraft carriers when the planes were away on a bombing raid. This marked the turning point in the Pacific War, and by 1945, the Americans were able to re-take the Philippines, while the British were able to re-take Burma with the help of the Chinese, and reopen the Burma Road to supply Chinese forces against the Japanese. The Japanese had also spread their forces too thinly in China, and the Chinese, with the support of the British and Americans, were able to counterattack and reclaim some of the occupied territories from the Japanese. The Americans prepared to invade Japan itself, culminating in the battles of Okinawa and Iwo Jima, in which the Americans managed to score decisive victories and occupy the islands, from which they were able to attack the Japanese mainland. Subsequently, the Americans dropped the first (and to date only) atomic bombs to be used in actual combat on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945, followed by Nagasaki on 9 August 1945. Japan surrendered unconditionally to the Allies on 15 August 1945, bringing World War II to an end.

Following the surrender, Japan was forced to give up all its colonies. Taiwan and Manchuria were returned to China, while Korea regained its independence (but would be split into North and South Korea as a result of the Cold War). The Western colonial powers also got their colonies back, but the war had galvanised many nationalist movements, which were to come of age in the years to come and eventually lead to the independence of the colonies.


Many places that were sites of battles, atrocities or other wartime activities can be visited.

There are also many other sites that commemorate parts of the war.

Marine Corps War Memorial

A number of sites in the US commemorate the internment of Japanese-Americans during the war.

See also

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