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Rising Sun and Tumbling Bear: Russia’s War with Japan


Special To The Japan Times

Richard Connaughton’s “Rising Sun and Tumbling Bear” is a detailed study of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, the first war where an Asian power defeated a European power since the Mongol invasion of the 13th century.

Rising Sun and Tumbling Bear, by Richard Connaughton
384 pages.
Cassell, Nonfiction.

The humiliation of one of Europe’s oldest superpowers was a game-changer, rebalancing international relationships in a way that still influences politics in the area. The war, short as it was, can be seen as a major turning point in the geopolitics of East Asia and a milestone on the road to the events of the 1930s and 1940s.

Connaughton is a military historian with an eye on the wider ramifications of armed conflict and “Rising Sun and Tumbling Bear” — loaded with statistics, official accounts and private correspondence from both sides — reflects that dual interest. His rich prose and dramatic flair vividly bring to life the harrowing experiences of men at war.

The story begins in 1860 and ends in 1918, with the last chapter tracing the ripples of 1904-05 through to World War II. Connaughton reveals the Russo-Japanese War as a foretaste of the horrors of the 20th-century warfare, with its machine guns, mines, trenches and barbed wire.

Although the confidence and swagger the Imperial Army and Navy took from their victory would lead them to disaster, this moment — when the world acknowledged Japan as a serious power — is a remarkable story, expertly told by Connaughton.

Read archived reviews of Japanese classics at jtimes.jp/essential.

  • GIJ

    “The humiliation of one of Europe’s oldest superpowers”

    In the interest of starting discussion here, I have to call this statement an exaggeration. Russia in 1905 may have been nominally considered one of Europe’s “superpowers,” but I’m not really sure it was one of the oldest. In fact, “superpower” itself is an odd term to use here instead of “great power.” The undoubted great powers of Europe in 1905 were Britain, France, and Germany. Countries like Italy, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Russia were really second-tier great powers on the continent.

    Tsarist Russia in 1905 was also a despotic, decrepit, economically backward, and logistically challenged country where the most primitive of conditions prevailed in the rural areas. While Japan’s victory over Russia in that war was certainly important, I do think the Meiji leaders and a lot of other people too–owing to their obsession at the time with skin complexion as the key factor in determining a human’s intelligence and capabilities–overstated how impressive Japan’s accomplishment was. People saw that Russians were white, rather than collectively incompetent and poor at waging war.

    • Internet Terracotta Tiger

      In the interest of continuing discussion, how’s this for a counterpoint: the ability of the Russian soldier has more often than not been underestimated to considerable loss. Frederick the Great, Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and Hitler were all accused by historians of ruin or near-ruin due to this error; Napoleon and Hitler lost their armies far more to fighting Russia than from fighting Britain. Certainly credit to Japanese military strategy in 1904/05 should be given its due for the stunning success that it was, though it often seems forgotten that many able Russian soldiers were engaged at the time in a hostile takeover of Finland. Also, the Russians as with the Germans and French were far stronger with their land army than their navy, unlike island nations.

      Either way, it is geopolitically very entertaining that Serbia declared war on Japan to show solidarity with Russia, resulting in tiny Montenegro declaring war on Japan to show solidarity with Serbia. And the Finns sure cheered Japan very loudly when Russian troops had to abandon their invasion for the other side of Siberia!