Kanji Ishiwara

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Kanji Ishiwara (1889-1949) was an Imperial Japanese Army officer deeply involved in the military and Palace intrigue of the 1920s and 1930s, which led to the military decision for actions by Japan in China, and then in World War Two in the Pacific. Brilliant but personally disliked by many, he was moved to garrison commands by 1938 and into retirement by 1941. [1]

After graduating from the War College in 1920, he joined Kokuchukai, an anti-democratic nationalist movekent led by Chigaku Tanaka, a leader in one Nichiren Buddhist group. The Three Crows picked him as one of the Eleven Reliables, or officers of potential value in creating their model of Japanese society. Lieutenant General Sosaku Suzuki, commanding Army forces on Leyte, earlier having been Tomiyuki Yamashita's chief of staff in Malaya and a commander in the Second Sino-Japanese War, said late in the war, "It was the Ishiwara-Tsuji clique — the personification of gekokujo — that brought the Japanese Army to this deplorable situation."[2] Both were known, and often unpopular, for their moralizing.

In 1927, he was assigned to the Suzuki Study Group preparing position papers for Japanese policy on China.[3] He becane a staff officer of the Kwangtung Army in 1928, [4] where he would become the theoretician of the Manchurian Incident. He subscribed to a "Final World War Theory" that would determine if Japan or the United States would dominate the world. "In January 1928, at a meeting of the Mokuyo-kai (Thursday Society) group of elite officers who graduated from the Imperial Japanese Army's War College, Ishihara said, 'The nation could stand being in a state of war for even 20 years or 30 years if we have footholds all over China and fully use them.'" [5]

In the mid-1930s, various factions were considering greater expansion, the Strike-North into the Soviet Union and Strike-South into Southeast Asia. Ishiwara urged against both in 1935, sending a memo to Hirohito and the General Staff,

There is only one course for us: to consolidate and perfect our gains. If we do a fine job of reconstruction even only in Manchukuo, the rest of China will follow us as a matter of course.[6]

After the assassination of First Crow Tetsuzan Nagata, Ishiwara took over the "total war lobby" in the Army command. In particular, he worked out the consequences of promises by Sadao Araki, who, as war minister, wanted support for the Army buildup for an expected 1936 war against Russia. The Navy abrogated the Washington and London Naval Treaties in 1934, committing to an open-ended building program in 1937. On August 7, the inner five ministers issued broad policies to "ensure naval supremacy in the Western Pacific against the United States", while the Army would prepare to resist the power that Russia could use, especially increasing our armed strength in Manchukuo and Korea in order to launch a major attack at the outbreak of war...by gradual peaceful means" expanding into Southeast Asia. To support these, Ishiwara developed a five-year plan for expanding industrial infrastructure, which was expected to be voted on by the Diet on 24 July 1937. Before that vote, however, the full Second Sino-Japanese War broke out.[7]


  1. David Bergamini (1971), Japan's Imperial Conspiracy, Morrow, p. 1090
  2. Max Hastings (2007), Retribution: the Battle for Japan, 1944-1995, Alfred A. Knopf, ISBN 9780307263513, p. 53
  3. Bergamini, p. 327
  4. Herbert P. Bix (2001), Hirohito and the making of modern Japan, Harper Perennial, ISBN 978-0060931308, pp. 168-169
  5. War Responsibility--delving into the past (1) / Who should bear the most blame for the Showa War?, Yomiuri Shimbun
  6. Bergamini, p. 602
  7. Merion and Susie Harris (1991), Soldiers of the Sun: the Rise and Fall of the Imperial Japanese Army, Random House, pp. 197-198