nightmaneuvers near an ancient marble span called the Marco Polo Bridge, so named because the Italian traveler was supposed to have crossed it in the fourteenth century, Japan turned to the conquest of all of China. Responding to this new “incident,” it sent four divisions of its heavily armed Manchurian-based troops through the Great Wall with the objective of seizing the four provinces of China north of the Yellow River, the old imperial capital of Beijing included. With that move, full-scale war between the two countries broke out, and it continued intermittently, its lulls interspersed with periods of intense fighting, for the next eight years.
By the time World War II had spread to Western Europe, when Germany invaded Belgium, Holland, and France, the Japanese assault on China was four years old, and during those four years, China fought entirely alone, without allies or support, except for some financial and material aid from the Soviet Union and the United States and, more significantly, the efforts of Chennault’s American Volunteer Force, which used airfields in the interior of China to make the Japanese pay at least some price for their invasion of the country’s northern and coastal provinces.
Like Ethiopia after Mussolini’s invasion two years before, China in 1937 appealed to the rest of the world for help, but no help came, not from the League of Nations, which had been set up to make international aggression illegal and of which Japan was a member, and not from the United States. China had a great sentimental importance to Americans, who had been sending their traders there since the late eighteenth century and whose missionaries had been bringing what they ardently believed to be the benefits of Christian civilization to the Chinese for a hundred years. Franklin Delano Roosevelt liked to tell visitors about his Delano ancestors’ connections to China. The music room at the family’s ancestral home, Hyde Park, was filled with Chinese porcelain and lacquer antiques that the president’s ancestors had collected in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But less than twenty years after the end of World War I, the United States was in no mood to intervene in aforeign conflict, whetherin Europe or Asia. For most of the first four years of theSino-Japanese War, the United States continued to supply Japan with vital raw materials, the most important of which was oil, so in a way Americans were collaborators in China’s humiliationand despoliation. In 1931, after theMukden Incident, the headline in the Hearst tabloids provided a succinct summary of the American attitude, wherein its sentimental attachments to China were trumped by China’s strategic unimportance. “WE SYMPATHIZE. BUT IT IS NOT OUR CONCERN.” The same headline could have been written after the Japanese invasion of 1937, even if the sympathy was greater and the knowledge of Japanese atrocities more immediate.
The United States was brought directly into the war only in 1941 when, on December 7, Japan launched its surprise attack onPearl Harbor. By that time, China’s military and civilian losses were staggering, yet it showed a determination to resist that should have put most of Europe to shame. In contrast to China, for example, France surrendered in six weeks in the face of the German invasion of 1940; it then established an obsequious collaborationist government, and until the D-Day invasion of 1944 remained in a state of noncombative subjugation. World War II also ended quickly in the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Serbia, Romania, Croatia, Greece, and the other occupied countries of Europe. All of them suffered the heavy hand of the German occupation, including the mass murder of the Jews. The West experienced guerrilla opposition to the occupation and the savage reprisals that the Germans exacted whenever their troops were attacked. Britain, of course, never surrendered and was never
Annetta Ribken, Eden Baylee
Jane Straus, Lester Kaufman, Tom Stern