llama stated in Comments about General Billy Mitchell's observation from March 1912 after touring Russo Japanese War Battle Fields, "war between the United States and Japan is inevitable".

I don't think you can say something nearly 30 years in the future is inevitable, even if it turned out that way in hindsight. There are innumerable things which could have turned out differently and changed the course of things, especially in the 20s.

In response to llama's comment, what could General Billy Mitchell have observed which drew him to such a strong conclusion? Is there anything in history which he could have been relying upon when he made this strong declaration?

I have some thoughts on this and plan to write my own response.

Related Thread:
Was Japan known to be a potential threat to the USA in the 10 year period prior to 1941

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    Looking at WP: Billy Mitchell, I found that the 324-page report from 1924 mentioned in the linked history.SE question, apparently reaffirming the General's conviction that war with Japan was inevitable, was published as the book Winged Defense.
    – DevSolar
    Commented Dec 12, 2018 at 12:13
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    But Winged Defense was written much later and under the impression of aviation as a factor in warfare. From the foreword of an even later edition: "In some respects, the book represented major changes in Mitchell's thinking since the war." Which would be WWI. Commented Dec 12, 2018 at 15:03

2 Answers 2


Visiting the aftermath of the Russo-Japanese war in 1905 Mitchell went for some time inspecting 'the area'. Stationed primarily for two years in the Philipines, he went on "an undercover reconnaissance mission of Japanese activities in the islands lying between Formosa and the Philippines". After visiting the battle fields of the 1905 war he studied Chinese, Russian and Japanese forces.

His conclusion were put forth into an official report to the War College Division of the General Staff in Washington.

His main points were summarised:

While Mitchell's predictions about Japan were significant primarily as landmarks in his personal development, some of his thoughts deserved consideration in Washington. American diplomatic policies in that area of the world, Mitchell stressed, were not isolationist. Mitchell warned that the constant display of American interest in Korea, Manchuria, and China ran counter to Japanese plans. Moreover, the United States had chosen to antagonize the most advanced of the Oriental nations—Japan—through a policy of discrimination against her nationals who had immigrated to America. American persistence in such policies, not to mention the "Open Door" policy in China, made it imperative that America make military preparations to back up her diplomacy.

Alfred F Hurley: "Billy Mitchell, Crusader for Air-Power", Indiana University Press: Bloomington, Indianapolis, 1964/1975, p 14.

(Source for this book cited as:

WM, "Report of Observations in Manchuria, Korea and Japan," NA, GS Report 7027-1, Jan. 2, 1912 (hereafter cited as "Report of Observations"), esp. 77-80; "Report to the Adjutant General, U.S. Army," NA, Report 7027-2, Mar. 22, 1912, 75; Outen J. Clinard, Japan's Influence on American Naval Power 1897-1917 (Berkeley, 1947), 2f.

That seems to make a commentary necessary, also in light of the way the linked question that originated this question is phrased:

It seems not to be the case that Mitchell saw war with Japan as inevitable!

It looks like Mitchell analysed both sides and concluded that there was a clear conflict of interests emerging, additionally fuelled by racial antagonisms, that would very probably lead to a confrontation if both sides kept their then current trajectory. So, the envisioned development was that not only was Japan a threat to the US, but the US a threat to Japan as well. Both displaying disrespect for each other and oogling on marbles that both claimed as theirs.

The University of Virginia had digitized that book, sold it to Google, and now it's lost to the public for viewing instead of being freely available on the net. This perversion must end in much less time than it took to destroy Carthage.


Why did General Billy Mitchell regard war with Japan as inevitable as early as 1912?

Billy Mitchell was from a prominent Wisconsin Family and benefited from a superior classical education which included private schools and college. He studied at The Columbian College of Arts and Science in Washington DC, later incorporated into George Washington University, which was and is a prestigious, highly ranked, liberal arts college.

Historically speaking when an emerging power in this case Japan, threaten the interests of an established power, in this case the United States; the result is generally war. In fact when Billy Mitchell first called war with Japan inevitable in 1912 this phenomena had occurred 10 times in history over the previous 400 years, and 9 times had resulted in War.

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Harvard Kennedy School of Gov: Belfer Center: Thucydides's Trap

Mitchell was likely referencing the Greek Historian Thucydides who first observed this process and who used the same word to describe a parallel event in his book "The History of the Peloponnesian War".

Thucydides: WikiQuote
“It was the rise of Athens, and the fear that this inspired in Sparta, that made war inevitable


  • That is an interesting read. The Belfer links in that article to read up on this are broken for me. Do you have access? (I am quite curious about cases 14&16, as this runs against commmon wisdom. Commented Dec 13, 2018 at 19:45
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    @LangLangC, nice video, except It made me spit my cola out my nose.. Belfer Links. I'll add it to the sources at the end of my post too. And thank you for my +1..
    – user27618
    Commented Dec 13, 2018 at 20:07
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    @LangLangC, updated the graphic and the one I used was from latter article.
    – user27618
    Commented Dec 13, 2018 at 20:31
  • This answer is problematic because (a) the general concept of Thucydides Trap, as opposed to its limited application to Athens vs. Sparta, is a relatively modern theory; (b) just because Mitchell had a good education does not prove he was aware of such a phenomenon; (c) no proof that Mitchell was referencing Thucydides. Commented Dec 14, 2018 at 6:08
  • @congusbongus the name is modern but the phenomena isn’t. There were 10 examples for Mitchell to draw upon historically in 1912 beyond Thucydides.. The facts that Mitchell used the same word as Thucydides and made his statement after studying evidence of Japanese’s meteoric ascendancy (first Asian power to defeat a European powers in nearly half a millennium). Is why I thought the answer relevant. To your mind should I delete it or reword it?
    – user27618
    Commented Dec 14, 2018 at 11:00

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