Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Guest Post: Dutch-Japanese War of 1905 by Allen McDonnell

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

The Japanese being a proud people with an industrialized country had always resented being considered second-class powers by the various European nations. They shared this insulting loss of face in common with the new country of the United States of North America for a few decades, but after the Spanish-American war of 1898-1899, there was a decided shift in the level of respect Europeans gave to their North American rivals on the world political stage.
In back rooms, the Japanese leaders discussed the issue endlessly. In 1904, when relations with Russia became strained over the issue of the Korean Peninsula, there were several prominent Japanese who advocated going to war with Russia. This would prove Japan was equal to the European Powers in its industrial war-making capacity. However, in late 1904, Czar Nicholas II defused tensions when he ordered his negotiator to accept the Japanese terms and ensure that Port Arthur would remain the excellent Pacific Navy port it had become without risking open war so far from the power-centers of the Russian Empire.

Despite the resolution of the "Korean Question," the idea that a war with a European Power would make Japan a recognized equal among the industrial nations of the world took firm hold in the Japanese circles of power, both in the Imperial Palace and the military leadership. That being the case, it is relatively easy for a Japanese ship to demand access to a Dutch port of call in Batavia, Java. The next day, while many of the crew are exploring the city on shore leave, the ship mysteriously explodes, reminiscent of the loss of the USS Maine in Havana, Cuba, a few years earlier. Japan immediately demands that the Netherlands either turn over one of their heavy cruisers or pay for the replacement cost of the lost Japanese naval ship. When the Dutch refuse, war is declared.

The war is actually nearly a year long as the Japanese Army and Marines land and take control of Java and Sumatra, then expand to Borneo, Sulawesi and the Molucca islands, hitherto all under direct large-scale Dutch imperial control. From there, they spread out to take over all the independent islands in the Indonesian islands. They are very careful not to stray from Dutch Borneo into British Borneo on that island, also respecting Portuguese Timor and both the British and German claims in East Papua New Guinea island but taking the western half for themselves.

The loss of the spice trade from Indonesia is a serious financial and status blow to the Netherlands when they finally are forced to concede the losses to Japan in the Treaty of Washington, signed in 1906. The attempts by the Dutch to form alliances with the UK, Portugal, and Germany to retake their empire were forestalled by the scrupulous adherence to the agreed-upon territorial limits between Holland and those powers being observed by the Japanese.

Unlike the Dutch, who were very far away from the East Indies and never a large population, the Japanese have a great deal of manpower and are within easy sailing distance. The fact that oil had been discovered in Dutch Sumatra in 1885, coupled with the fact that the Japanese wish to convert their navy to oil-fired boilers in place of the smokier coal-fired boilers many of their ships still use, sets off a major colonization and oil development program by Japan in 1907. Unlike the Dutch, who were never willing to emigrate in large numbers to the tropical East Indies, the Japanese are able to send workers and colonists as quickly as housing can be constructed and rice paddies built out of the wild forests of Sumatra. Additional resources in Java are less influenced by colonization because the island already has a large population, but the development of Borneo is even more extensive than that of Sumatra as the native population is even less technologically equipped than the Sumatrans and resistance to the colonization movement is easily squelched by the Japanese military presence on every island large enough to support a Japanese colonist settlement.

Drawing on their population of over 40 million Japanese, the government encourages hundreds of thousands of their citizens to relocate each year and expand their families when they do so. In addition to the mineral and spice-rich territories so desired by the Dutch settlers before the Japanese takeover the lower population islands are especially sought after by the Japanese as easily dominated colonial areas where Japanese culture easily suppresses the low population natives. Of the islands in the East Indies partly or fully under Japanese control by 1907 three, New Guinea, Borneo and Sumatra, are each substantially larger than the main Japanese home island of Honshu. Sumatra alone is nearly twice the size of Honshu, and, while Japan only controls half of New Guinea and two thirds of Borneo, the islands are so large that the territories are each more than twice the size of Honshu in area. Learning to raise their traditional rice in the tropical wet and dry climate of Indonesia is not an issue. The preexisting population already knows what techniques to use to successfully grow rice as well as a large number of other crops as well as the oil palms and various spices they had been growing for export purposes.

The East Indies all together have a population rivaling that of the four Japanese Home Islands in 1900, but the population density is a fraction of what the Japanese are used too. Being able to spread out into low density tropical jungle and develop large farms the Japanese undergo a classical baby boom in their population. The Japanese government's official policy is a version that used when they annexed the island of Hokkaido and its native Ainu population. The only language permitted to be used in Japanese islands is Japanese; the only culture allowed to exist is Japanese culture. All written records in other languages must be translated and the original documents in other languages archived or destroyed. The intention is that Japan will have a homogenous culture in every bit of territory under its jurisdiction where everyone will worship the Emperor and only those long established religions of Japan will be accepted.

The practice of discouraging Islam while encouraging Shinto, and to a lessor extent Buddhism, causes some lashing out by the Muslim population of Java where that faith is centered. For many of the others there is the Dutch Reformed Christian Church and dozens, perhaps even hundreds of small native religions that exist in the small isolated villages scattered among the hundreds of small islands of the East Indies. Shinto easily displaces the earlier native practices on the small islands, the Japanese colonial administration sets forth on a policy to colonize every island with at least 1,000 Japanese. Many of the small islands have well under that number of native inhabitants, and in quite a few cases the natives are forced to migrate to Java, the most densely settled of the islands.

Because of its relatively high population density and the predominance of the Muslim and Christian faiths on the island, Java is unofficially seen as the dumping ground for natives displaced from any of the other islands. While the Japanese have thousands of administrators and military living on Java, because of the difficulty in assimilating it, the decision was made very early to colonize the other islands first.

Everything is operating as a well designed machine by the time World War I breaks out in 1914. Japan seizes the opportunity to declare war on Germany and occupy the northern half of East New Guinea along with the islands of the Bismarck Archipelago, Micronesia, the North Marianas and a long list of other Pacific islands that had been part of the German Empire. Once again, they are scrupulously careful not to cross the border between German northeast Papua New Guinea and the British southeast territory of the same island. They are also careful to seize the German Samoa without straying into the American portion of the islands. The Japanese take the excuse of the war to round up thousands of mixed race and native people from the German territory it now holds and relocate them to Java opening up more 'vacant land' for development by ethnic Japanese.

The territorial acquisitions that come out of the Dutch Japanese war and World War I stretch the Japanese to the limit, and they conclude it will take them at least fifty years to completely homogenize these territories into the Japanese Empire. Having the East Indies oil supply along with the vast mineral resources gained permits them to be fully industrialized without needing imports of scrap iron or oil from the USA. They have no incentive for further expansion. The Japanese are generally a forward-looking people who believe in long term plans that take decades to completely fulfill.

Occasional acts of rebellion by Indonesian natives, especially on Java, lead to severe reprisals. The isolation from western media leaves these acts almost unnoticed on the world stage and the Japanese press have no desire to record these events. Rounding up and relocating natives who refuse to adopt Japanese culture becomes a regular feature of the Japanese Empire, in some cases natives from as far away as the Kurile Islands in the north Pacific make up these "resettled" people forced to relocate to Java. As a result passers-by could hear arguments in a dozen languages on Batavia where the relocated people are dumped to live or die based on their personal abilities. Batavia becomes a much less friendly version of the New York City immigrant mix where people on a street or block speak one language and practice one culture and the people on the next block over can be wildly different in custom. Unlike New York, these immigrants are not volunteers all seeking to live in harmony; they are forced to be here against their will and competing with each other to survive in a cruel world where the only crimes seriously punished are those against the Japanese. On those rare occasions when actual riots break out the Japanese military show no mercy in shooting down the rioters in the streets and leaving the wounded to bleed to death if their fellow Javanese do not help them.

Site Meter