In a previous article, I discussed Hector Bywater and his foresight. This column now reviews his book, The Great Pacific War: A History of the American-Japanese Campaign of 1931-33. Bywater used an unusual method to make his point; he created a fictional historical account of an imaginable war between Japan and the United States. The real war that would occur sixteen years after the publication of his book resembled the fictional account in an eerily similar fashion.
The book does have weakness and much of them are related to the time period that it was written in. The world was a totally different place than it would be just a decade and half later. The world in 1925 still saw the British as the leading world power and the fledging Weimar Republic was running Germany, while the Bolsheviks were still consolidating their power in Russia. Japan was one of the world’s leading naval powers and the United States retreated behind an isolationist policy. So Bywater’s own vision in 1925 deleted the Germany factor from his calculations. However, he understood the Japanese potential and comprehended Japanese geo-political moves. Bywater's expertise was in naval technology, and his book details the naval strategy under consideration by both sides. He anticipated moves and countermoves that proved prophetically similar to the real strategy used by both sides in the Pacific war of 1941.
Bywater understood that Japan's weakness was being a nation with very few natural resources and her policies after World War I were pursued to make Japan no longer dependent upon others. This policy of autarky could only occur through military campaigns. Japanese intervention into China was done in part to acquire resources needed to build up its own industries. In Bywaters’ novel, a military autocracy controlled Japan. He described these men thusly: “...feudal spirits still burn beneath a veneer of Western Civilization.” This certainly represented the real life autocrats and military chieftains who would lead Japan into war.
The goal of the original Washington Naval Conference in 1921 was to limit the building of capital ships, and the ratio appeared to favor both the United States and Great Britain. The reality was that ratio actually favored Japan since their navy resided primary in the Pacific, whereas both Great Britain and the United States had two oceans to protect.
To show this point more forcefully, Bywater depicted the Japanese damaging the Panama Canal with a “suicide passenger ship” exploding in the Canal Zone. While no one could actually prove that the passenger ship explosion was not accidental, Bywater's point was that the timing made it suspicious. This foreshadowed later acts of suicide attacks by Japanese fighter pilots at the end of the Second World War. Bywater details an unorthodox war within the conventional war and with the Canal damaged, the American Atlantic fleet had to go around Cape Horn to reach the Pacific.