Military Monday: China, Japan and the “Panay Incident”

by David Crocker on December 2, 2013, 10:32 am

in History,Military

Because I read history, watching China’s aggression against Japan and Korea in the East China Sea gives me the willies. Clearly, there’s never been any love lost between China and Japan. Japan was the aggressor in the two Sino-Japanese wars (1894-95 and 1937-45) and now the shoe is on the other foot. China is reverting to historical form: when its fortunes rose over the centuries, it automatically bullied its neighbors. So, taking the long view, honors are fairly even.

After Japan invaded China in 1937, they moved on the city of Nanking (leading to the infamous “Rape of Nanking”). The Japanese military was very arrogant and while assaulting Nanking, they bombed and sank the USS Panay, a navy gunboat anchored in the Yangtze River. The Panay was part of the US Navy’s “Yangtze Patrol”, safeguarding US lives and commercial interests in the Chinese interior (see The Sand Pebbles in all its imperialistic glory).

Although the Japanese apologized and paid an indemnity, this incident hardened US public opinion against Japan and is generally considered part of the run-up to Pearl Harbor. The point being, when countries start pushing and shoving in a small space, bad – and unintended – things happen.

I watch the current contretemps in the East China Sea and wonder who’s going to make a mistake. Because when it happens, no one can predict the outcome.

But here’s what’s giving me the willies: will China instigate its own Panay Incident? And then what happens?

Here’s a newsreel from 1937:

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