Russia Against Japan, 1904-1905

A New Look at the Russo-Japanese War

By J. N. Westwood

Hardcover : 9780887061912, 183 pages, May 1986

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The Russo-Japanese conflict was recognized, in its time, as introducing a new era of warfare, involving millions of men and weapons of mass destruction. In the decade which elapsed after its end much was written about it. The First World War marked a second stage in the development of twentieth-century-style total war, and so overshadowed the Russo-Japanese War that little further study was made of the latter. Subsequent books on this subject were for popular readerships, and mainly recycled the knowledge and beliefs of the pre-1914 years.

This book aims to present a short account of the war, stripped of the legends that successive journalists and authors have attached to it, and at the same time present new angles and interpretations based on hitherto unused Russian-language sources and on the specialized monographs of the few scholars working in this and related fields. While not claiming to be definitive, it does provide a fresh start for the study of this war, whose importance justifies a clear-headed examination, casting light on Russian military and naval tradition.

The distinctive psychology of Russian generals and admirals is well illustrated in this book, and the conclusion that the former were for bureaucratic reasons happier in defense than offense, and that the latter thought in military rather than naval terms (regarding battleships as fortresses that, under pressure, they could surrender of demolish), has implications for the understanding of subsequent Russian and Soviet history.

Among the incidental implications is that during this war the British and American press sank to such a voluntary and involuntary level of distortion that its performance in subsequent wars can only be regarded as an improvement.

Here and there in the book explanations for subsequent Russian and Japanese behavior can be glimpsed; not the least of these is the circumstance that at the end of the war Russian generals and officials felt cheated of certain victory while exactly the same intense and long-term frustration gnawed at Japanese public opinion. It was really an unsatisfactory war for both sides, the innumerable dead winning nothing worth while; in this and many other ways the Russo-Japanese War was a dress rehearsal for the First World War.

J. N. Westwood is an Honorary Research Fellow in the Centre for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Birmingham. He has been the naval correspondent of the Birmingham Post, has served in the Intelligence Corps, and has held posts as Lecturer in Russian, McGill University, Associate Professor of History, Florida State University, and Senior Lecturer in History, University of Sydney. His previous books include Endurance and Endeavour: Russian History, 1812-1980, Witnesses of Tsushima, A History of Russian Railways, Railways at War and Soviet Locomotive Technology during Industrialization, 1928-1952.