Organized Panel Session
Japan took a bold gamble in launching the Pacific War against enemies that far outstripped it in economic potential. By 1943, it had become plain across the political establishment that this gamble had failed to pay off. Defeats at Midway and Guadalcanal by early 1943 placed Japan on the defensive across the Pacific. Driven by geopolitical desperation, Japanese leaders reacted to the crisis of empire during World War II by enshrining Wilsonian values into Japan’s war aims. This process of redefining Japan’s war in Wilsonian terms culminated in the production of the Greater East Asia Joint Declaration, a “Pacific Charter” drafted in response to the Atlantic Charter. Adopted formally on November 7, 1943, the charter called for a new Asian spirit of independence, autonomy, equality, prosperity, and cooperation. But the Pacific Charter only deepened Japan’s crisis of empire. The endorsement of national self-determination, in particular, gave elites and anti-imperialist forces in dependent states across Greater East Asia a means to protest the realities of Japanese rule, and to demand that Japan practice what it preached. Efforts to save the empire, in this sense, constrained Japan’s future freedom of action, and ensured that Japan would face an uphill battle to return to the heyday of empire if Japan had survived World War II with its empire intact.