Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in History



First Advisor

Daniel Thomas


This thesis is a study of American policy in the conflict between China and Japan in 1931 and 1932. The dispute is of tremendous significance since it was what has often been called the first step leading to World War II. The purpose here is to make a thorough study of the development of American policy in the Manchurian affair and the events that occured in Shanghai early in 1932 and to draw some conclusion as to why American policy did not succeed.

The major source of primary research material was five volumes of The Foreign Relations of the United States, a comprehensive accumulation of diplomatic papers published by the State Department from 1943 to 1949. Also, considerable attention was given to The Far Eastern Crisis, the journal of the man most responsible for the policy of the United States, Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson. The Report of the Assembly of the League of Nations, the body which passed final judgment against Japan, the State Department publication, Peace and War, and the Report of the League of Nations Commission of Enquiry were also utilized.

The major secondary source consulted was The Manchurian Crisis, by Sara R. Smith, a work published in 1948. The chief source of information regarding developments within Japan was War and Diplomacy in the Japanese Empire, by Tatsuji Takeuchi.

The main finding of this study is that American policy was guilty of two major errors. First, the United States stayed out of the dispute publicly for the first two months. The purpose of this move was to avoid fanning the flames of nationalism in Japan and give the civilian element in the government a chance to wrest control away from the military. The result was the reverse of what was intended. The failure of the United States to apply strong and open pressure from the beginning and the military successes of this period encouraged the militant nationalists, and the liberal element never had a chance to regain control.

The second error was the failure of the United States to cooperate fully with the League of Nations, a failure which came after the State Department realized its first error in judgment. The fact that the League was never completely confident of American support encouraged that organization to move with extreme caution, and it was this type of caution that led to that body’s downfall.

The policy of moral pressure and non-recognition or the puppet state of Manchukuo represented, in this writer's opinion, the best possible course of action against Japan, which the facts show to be the aggressor. Economic sanctions or armed forces would probably have resulted in the war everyone wanted to prevent. Nevertheless, the action which was taken would have had a better chance of success had it been immediate and the result of close and complete cooperation between the League and the United States. Further, it would have required a sincere effort on the part of all the nations of the world to assist Japan in her economic difficulties.

It is acknowledged that such a course would have had no guarantee of success, but, it is the firm conviction of the writer that such a policy represented the only possibility of a peaceful and permanent settlement.



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