The die was cast; great Russia was defied; Japan’s very existence as a nation was to be the prize of battle.
Continuing The Russo-Japanese War,
with a selection from Article in Great Events by Famous Historians, Volume XX by Charles F. Horne published in 1914. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. This selection is presented in nine easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in The Russo-Japanese War.
At first she [Japan – jl] tried to match Russia at the diplomatic game, and her devotion to Korean independence has been as widely proclaimed — upon paper — as has Russia’s. Nevertheless, Japanese agents in the Korean capital of Seoul were specially handicapped. While the Koreans dreaded and disliked all these intruding foreigners, their bitterest feeling was directed against the Japanese, who in ancient days had desolated the land. Moreover, some Japanese soldiers slew the Korean queen, a method of argument poorly calculated to win the good-will of her husband or his subjects.
Thus, at Seoul, Japan found herself rapidly losing ground against the astute M. Pavloff. Her protests to the Russian Government became more and more vigorous. She even offered to recognize Russia’s authority over Manchuria, if the Northern Empire would refrain from interference in Korea. But Russia saw no necessity for any compromise; the diplomatic game was going wholly in her favor, and she had only to keep Japan in check while waiting to take possession of the entire stakes. The Russian Government has had much experience in dealing with Orientals, and appeared to think it possible to delay and protract indefinitely the correspondence with Japan. It hardly occurred to Russia that the Japanese would be so foolish as to fight. If they did, she would simply crush them, and take more territory. Already at the beginning of 1904 her armed force in the East was nominally as strong as Japan’s; but to make all sure she sent out more troops and started a squadron of war-ships from the Mediterranean to reinforce that already in the East. At the same time (February 3, 1904) the Russian Asiatic fleet made a “demonstration in force,” sailing out of Port Arthur in battle array, as if to tell Japan to beware.
The next thing that happened was unexpected from the Russian official standpoint. Russian naval men in the East had been prophesying for months that war would come; but Russian diplomats, headed by M. Pavloff, were quite positive that Japan had too much sense to hurl herself upon inevitable ruin by attacking their mighty Empire. Herein lay their mistake. They underrated both the ability and the self-confidence of their foe. For years Japan had been seriously and steadily preparing for this very war. Remembering how she had been driven from Port Arthur by the combined menace of Russia, France, and Germany, she, in 1902, made a treaty of alliance with England, receiving promise of aid if she were attacked by more than a single foe. With truly Oriental patience she meditated every feature, outlined every possibility of her chances of revenge against the power that had robbed her of Port Arthur. In February, 1904, she saw that the time had come. To wait until a second Russian fleet arrived to reinforce the first, would place her at a dangerous disadvantage. She must strike at once — or never. On February 6th she notified the Russian Government that diplomatic relations between them were at an end, and on the same day the Japanese fleet, comprising the entire naval strength of the country, steamed across the narrow Korean strait to find the Russian warships and give them battle.
Russia, in her desire for sympathy, has complained of Japanese treachery in thus rushing upon her without a formal declaration of war; but the majority of modern wars have begun without any such declaration. The breaking off of diplomatic relations is an open threat that a blow will follow. Sometimes it does; sometimes it is withheld, and negotiations are resumed. Wars have frequently continued for years without any formal notice issuing from either combatant.
As the Japanese fleet under its now famous chieftain, Admiral Togo, advanced upon the Korean coast, it encountered and took possession of a Russian trading-vessel named the “Russia.” The coincidence was seized upon by the sailors as a happy omen. They shouted to each other from ship to ship, “Russia is captured. She is ours.” This was the first act of open war, and we may accept its date (February 6th) as beginning the terrific conflict. If we pause here to understand what may be called the broad ground-plan of the operations of the war, the military problem that confronted each contestant is fairly clear. For Japan, the chief point, indeed the one absolute necessity, was to keep control of the sea, and so prevent Russia from landing an army in Japan itself and making the war one of invasion and utter desolation. Beyond this Japan’s aim must be to ship her own troops to the mainland and with them win possession of Korea, the real subject of dispute, and, if possible, of Port Arthur, from which Russian diplomacy had expelled her. If she could accomplish all this, the Island kingdom might then consider the possibility of driving the Russian forces out of Manchuria and Vladivostok, or even expelling them wholly from the East.
Russia, on her side, might plan to destroy the enemy’s navy and then bombard the ports and desolate the islands at leisure. Or, if her Asiatic fleet proved unequal to this, she might hold her ships in reserve in the protected harbors of Port Arthur and Vladivostok, until sufficient vessels could arrive from Europe to give her an overwhelming superiority. Meanwhile, she must remain on the defensive, strengthening her forces in Manchuria, or retreating if she saw fit, since the desolation of that province was not to her a vital matter. The inhabitants of the land were still Chinamen, not Russians.
From this general outline it will be evident with what grim anxiety the Japanese must have watched the departure of Admiral Togo’s fleet. The die was cast; great Russia was defied; their very existence as a nation was to be the prize of battle.
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