In the 1930s, the Japanese were determined to extend their empire. They ruled in Korea, but they also controlled the Manchurian railway. In September 1931, they claimed that Chinese soldiers had sabotaged the railway, and attacked the Chinese army (which had just executed a Japanese spy). The Chinese army did not fight back because it knew that the Japanese were just wanting an excuse to invade Manchuria.
The Japanese army invaded anyway – even though the civilian government of Japan told it to withdraw! For a while, in January – May 1932, they attacked and captured the city of Shanghai in China itself.
By February 1932, the Japanese had conquered the whole of Manchuria, and set up a Japanese-controlled state called Manchukuo, run by the former Emperor of China. Thousands of Chinese soldiers and civilians had been killed by the modern but ruthless Japanese army.
China appealed to the League of Nations. The League sent a delegation to Manchuria to see what was happening. It did not report back until September 1932, when it said the Japanese were completely in the wrong. It recommended that Manchuria be returned to China.
A Special Assembly of the League was held in February 1933 (17 months after the Japanese invasion). 40 nations voted that Japan was to blame for the war and should withdraw. Siam abstained. Only Japan voted against it – Mr Matsuoka, the Japanese delegate, argued that China was not really a country (China had just had a revolution, and its government was fighting a civil war).
Instead of pulling out of Manchuria, Japan walked out of the League. In 1933, Japan invaded Jehol, the Chinese province next to Manchuria.
The League could do nothing. A David Low cartoon of 1933 showed a Japanese soldier using the League of Nations and its Covenant as a doormat, while the members of the League did nothing – just powdered the League’s face . . . and bowed down to Japan.
The League suggested economic sanctions, but nothing was done because America (Japan’s main trading partner) was not a member of the League, and because Britain wanted to keep trading with Japan. The League did not even stop arms sales, because it feared that this would make Japan declare war.
The League was powerless to stop a powerful, determined country.