|Meiji of Japan & Nicholas II of Russia|
It did not escape the notice of Japan that Russian power was expanding in East Asia rapidly. Mongolia was recognized by the other European powers as being within the Russian sphere of influence and later Manchuria was as well. Following the Boxer Rebellion, the Russian Empire took control of Manchuria, making it a part of the Russian Empire in all but name. Russia invested heavily in the region and was intent to see such investments protected. The Trans-Siberian railway was also soon under construction in 1891 which would enable Russia to transfer its vast strength from one side of Asia to the other. In 1896 Russia obtained permission from China to build railroads across Manchuria which would bring Russian power extremely close to the doorstep of Japan. These were concerns for Japan but not the sort of thing that could not be worked through. However, after the Sino-Japanese War, that situation changed. The Japanese victory removed Korea from Chinese control and Japan obtained considerable concessions, such as the island of Formosa, but most significantly for Russia, the Liaotung Peninsula on the Manchurian coast. No sooner was the ink dry on the documents then Russia, Germany and France joined together to declare that Japan had gained too much from China and demanded that some of the spoils of victory be returned.
|Pro-Russian French view of the invasion of Korea|
During the diplomatic talks to settle differences and ward off a potential conflict, the Japanese made it clear that they would be willing to accept the Russian domination of Manchuria but that, in return, Russia would have to recognize the Japanese domination of Korea. The realists in Tokyo viewed Manchuria as a lost cause but they could never tolerate Korea becoming a Russian protectorate. However, Japan did not want war. Russia had almost every possible advantage over Japan and the Japanese hoped that they could settle matters through diplomacy with the formula which said, in its simplest form; Russia can have Manchuria if Korea is left to Japan. Russia did not really want war either. They were not even opposed to Japan keeping control of South Korea so long as North Korea remained unoccupied so that Japanese forces could not threaten Russia’s presence in Manchuria. If Czar Nicholas II was simply out to pick a fight with Japan, or any East Asian country, he certainly would have waited until the Trans-Siberian Railroad was completed. Yet, what was, perhaps, the most dangerous mistake that the Czar made was in thinking that war was never a realistic possibility. He had no desire for a war and saw no need for one as Russia had been doing fine expanding her influence without fighting. Why should it not continue? It was a perfectly reasonable point of view. The mistake was in discounting the notion that Japan might be the one to initiate a war with Russia. To summarize, the basic attitude of the Czar was, ‘they wouldn’t dare’.
|The great Admiral Togo|
The opening battle of Port Arthur was fairly inconclusive. The Japanese did slightly more damage but were finally forced to withdraw with neither side suffering very grievous losses. However, the pattern of the war was set with Japan being on the offensive and Russia being on the defensive. The Japanese actually had superior numbers on the scene as Russia had only about 80,000 in Manchuria compared to 200,000 Japanese in Korea and neighboring islands. Anxious to get some revenge on Russia themselves, the Chinese offered to join Japan at war but the Japanese refused the offer, not wishing to deal with China wanting a share of the spoils. Japanese troops were landed in Korea, occupied Seoul and were soon marching north while others were landed in Manchuria to begin the siege of Port Arthur. Having not prepared for aggressive war, the Russians were forced to fight delaying action while the bulk of Russian military strength was mobilized for transport to the Far East. At the battle of the Yalu River the Japanese brushed aside a Russian detachment and invaded Manchuria. At Port Arthur, the Russians tried to strike back but suffered damage from Japanese naval mines which unfortunately killed the best Russian naval commander in the region, putting Russia at another serious disadvantage.
|Japanese infantry attack|
The Japanese had won the field but the Russian army had escaped and would only grow stronger over time and the Japanese had suffered horrendous casualties in the process. Still, Port Arthur was then completely isolated and on January 2, 1905 General Stossel surrendered, much to the surprise of the Japanese. In Russia there was shock and fury, especially after subsequent investigations showed that the Russian troops had been holding their lines and that sufficient provisions were available to sustain the garrison for much longer. It was a heavy blow to Russian morale and allowed Japan to focus on pushing north into Manchuria for further attacks before Russian reinforcements could arrive. To the surprise of some, Russian troops taken prisoner by the Japanese were treated with great humanity, even generosity which stood in stark contrast to the treatment meted out to POW’s in the First Sino-Japanese War and later during World War II. Meanwhile, on the home front, both countries faced serious problems because of the on-going war.
|Russian propaganda picture|
In Russia, where most ordinary people never understood the necessity of their foreign policy goals, anti-war agitation and social unrest was increasing. The Japanese did their best to encourage this, funding a variety of leftist, revolutionary groups in Russia and pro-independence dissidents in Poland by way of agents operating in Sweden. Even the future Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin received some Japanese subsidy. With the monarchy itself coming under greater threat, more officials were advising the Czar to make peace but Nicholas II was infuriated by Japanese behavior and determined to fight on until final victory was won. Aiding revolutionary elements would have been unthinkable to the high-minded Czar but one thing he could do was to have prayers read out in all the Russian Orthodox Churches calling down the wrath of God on the Japanese. When, eighteen years after the war, Japan was hit by a number of immense natural disasters, such as the Great Kantou earthquake, Russians began to remark that Heaven must be eighteen years away from earth.
|Russian troops at the front|
The resulting peace left neither side happy but Japan more so than Russia. Japan gained the Russian lease on Port Arthur, the southern half of Sakhalin Island and saw all Russian forces evacuated from Manchuria as well as an acknowledgement of Japanese domination over Korea. However, none of it seemed sufficient given how costly the war had been and Czar Nicholas II refused to pay an indemnity to Japan and when President Roosevelt backed Russia, Japan had to drop the issue. For the Czar, as with most things, it was a matter of principle. Such payments were usually taken as an admission of guilt for starting a war and given that it was the Japanese who had struck first, the Czar saw this as totally unacceptable. He was also reluctant to give in to all Japanese demands considering that Russia still had considerable forces in the field and was quite capable of continuing the war. The Japanese tended to blame the American president for not getting all they wanted but the fact is that the war was not the total victory it had been portrayed as with the Japanese armies severely depleted and the economy stretched to the breaking point. The Treaty of Portsmouth ended the war officially on September 5, 1905.
|American pro-Japanese view of the fall of Port Arthur|
The Empire of Japan emerged from the conflict as a world power, recognized as such by the other great powers of the world. Japanese mastery of northeast Asia was undisputed and no one voiced any serious opposition when Japan annexed Korea in 1910. However, the Japanese were not happy with the fruits of their victory, mostly because of how the government had made promises to the public that were unrealistic and kept them in the dark as to the true situation at the end of the war. Knowing nothing of how badly Japan needed the war to end, the public blamed America (which had been overwhelmingly pro-Japanese) for the fact that they had not received everything they wanted from the Russians. Anti-American riots broke out across Japan and an offended United States then retaliated by enacting laws restricting Japanese immigration to the United States (oddly enough, those who voiced the most anti-American attitudes seemed most offended at not being able to immigrate to America). The USA would not be so well-disposed toward Japan again until after World War II. Likewise, the way the war was triumphed in Japan and by others in East Asia in racial terms made the elite club of colonial powers rather nervous about their newest member. Successive victories over China and Russia also, probably, produced a degree of over-confidence in the Japanese military that was to have disastrous consequences in the years to come.