On September 18, 1931 members of the Kwantung Army stationed in Manchuria faked an attack by “Chinese bandits” on the South Manchurian Railway Company’s (SMRC) near the city of Mukden. Their intent was to force military and Diet officials in Tokyo to commit forces to establishing complete control of Manchuria. Though it is likely they acted with no or at best tacit approval from some military commanders the result was the establishment of the puppet regime of Manchukuo six months later in 1932. The League of Nations sent the Lytton Commission to investigate and that critical report led to Japan’s withdrawal from the League and the beginning of what the Japanese left calls “The Fifteen-year War (1931-45).”
Beyond merely starting a war the leaders of the Incident, such as Ishihara Kanji, sought to build in Manchukuo a totalitarian state that would rescue Japan and eventually all Asia from Western imperialism and the devastation of the global economic and political crisis of the Great Depression. This would be accomplished by an anti-communist “total war” against the USSR followed bya “final war” against the United States—seen now as having replaced Britain as the main Western imperial power in Asia. In the face of the collapse of international economics and society and the extreme confusion of the relations between nation, state, and capital, the Kwantung Army and its ideological followers sought no less than a complete unification of the three under its guidance, that is the complete unification culture, society, and economics under the ultimate symbol of sovereignty, the Shōwa emperor (known in the US as Hirohito).