Leadership differences: Axis and Allied powers during the Pacific War

29 Apr

The Allied leadership in the Pacific, predominantly the United States, was more effective in the management of the war than that of their adversary in the east – Japan. FDR, General George Marshall, Admiral Ernest King (replaced Admiral Stark 1942), Lt. General Henry Arnold, and Admiral William Leahy were JCS members who combined with the British Chiefs of Staff Committee to direct the war.

Axis Leadership Characteristics: Japan
Japan’s leadership throughout the prewar era was characterized by a largely decentralized core led by Emperor Hirohito, or Emperor Showa, heir to the throne succeeding his father Emperor Taisho. The Emperor, largely a proponent for peace, worked closely with General Tojo Hideki who was regarded as a proponent for war.[1] Tojo was however devoted to his emperor and the imperial house and assumed full responsibility for starting the Pacific War for which he was hanged following the 1948 Tokyo war crimes trials.[2] Hirohito was unique in his leadership of Japan; well-educated in ethics, history, and biological science, he sought to maintain Japanese traditional values and the preservation of Japan through a strong military. His precipitation in pre-war military decisions and advocacy of western scientific methods of learning were viewed as contradictory following the war; but it was for the preservation of tradition and not just for war as a means unto itself.[3] The Japanese army and navy during the war acted separately – that is, there was much disagreement among its changing leadership on the best way to fight the war. The spirit of cooperation among the Imperial Army’s leaders and those of the navy was strained due to the constant struggle for resources such as steel and fuel. The Imperial Army and navy had different strategies for the southward advance – both continually at odds for natural resources needed to conduct their war while maintaining peace in the west.[4]

The cooperation between Japan and Germany’s leadership was characterized by split execution between the Pacific and European theaters. Towards the end of the war in 1945, there was talk of sending remaining German U-boats to the Pacific, but the required resources for the transfer no longer existed. Japan’s hopes earlier had rested on the hopes of Germany’s invasion of Great Britain which would have opened the way for easier conquests to the south.

Allied Leadership Characteristics: The US
There existed a far greater opportunity for success and cooperation among the Allied leaders involved in the Pacific war; with a seemingly never ending supply line that stretched unabated across the Pacific expanse – one which was made safer by the contracting defensive sphere of Japanese control. There did exist however similarities between the Axis and Allied leadership – the struggle for control at the command and staff levels; notably the competition between the US Army’s General Douglas MacArthur and that of the US Navy’s Admiral Chester Nimitz for overall command of Allied forces in the Pacific. Both MacArthur and Nimitz were highly competitive and strong-willed leaders; only MacArthur’s reputation and leadership decisions have been widely documented by historians as less than favorable. While both were not fighting over the flow of raw materials needed by their respective services as had the Japanese; theirs was a struggle for the best way to strategize and lead. The dilemma was decided in the fall of 1942 for a split command to exist between MacArthur and Nimitz.[5]

1 Peter Wetzler, Hirohito and War: Imperial Tradition and Military Decision Making in Prewar Japan (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1998) 7.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid., 11.
4 Michael A. Barnhart, Japan Prepares for Total War: The Search for Economic Security, 1919-1941. (London: Cornell University Press, 1988) 166.
5 Ronald H. Spector, Eagle Against the Sun: The American War with Japan. (New York: Vintage Books, 1985) 225.

Barnhart, Michael A. Japan Prepares for Total War: The Search for Economic Security, 1919-1941. London: Cornell University Press, 1987. Page references are to the 1988 edition.
Ronald H. Spector. Eagle Against the Sun: The American War with Japan. New York: Vintage Books, 1985.
Wetzler, Peter. Hirohito and War: Imperial Tradition and Military Decision Making in Prewar Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1998.

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Posted by on April 29, 2012 in WWII in the Pacific


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