Japan History Lab

1941-1945: Total War

The war in the Pacific was won by logistics and production as much as it was won by soldiers. When two imperial powers come into large-scale armed conflict, every aspect of their respective societies are mobilized to support the effort. Factories are repurposed to build guns and planes, civilian supplies of cotton, steel, oil and even food are rationed to ensure that the Army can function, and every man, woman and child has their energies and their labor directed towards the war effort. In total war, civilian populations become strategic targets. Of course, the Pacific war had another important factor that affected its outcome: the size of the theater.

In the Pacific, distances are so vast that simply transporting soldiers and keeping them fed and equipped becomes a serious logistical problem. Throughout the war, key battles were fought over supply lines and the tiny islands that made them possible. Some of the worst suffering inflicted on soldiers in the Pacific theater were the consequences of inadequate supply. Hunger and disease were often endemic among the soldiers who fought across these island battlefields. Sailors and airmen died in the skies and on the seas in vast numbers to ensure that supplies could reach soldiers on the ground.

Of course, the battles were not the only places where the ugliness of war reared it’s head. There was suffering to be found on the home front in both Japan and America. In America, ethnically Japanese citizens were taken from their homes and livelihoods and corralled into internment camps. In Japan, civilians were conscripted into poorly paid government work while they could barely feed their own families. Meanwhile, POWs, foreign civilians and political dissidents were tortured in brutal experiments intended to produce new weapons for the war. In total ware, everyone is touched by brutality.