Published in Environmental History 18: 2 (April 2013)

Abstract: In the 1930s, the Japanese army used forest management in its effort to transform the puppet Manchu Nation (Manchukuo) it had created in Northeast China into the cornerstone of a pan-Asian bloc. The bloc was intended to preserve the Japanese Empire’s security in a world sundered by global depression and rising tensions. The army turned forest management away from destructive practices toward sustained yield management, but within a few years they reversed course when Japan’s widening aggressions in pursuit of regional autarky pushed it into a desperate war with the United States and its allies. Even as the Japanese plundered Manchuria’s forests, they continued to promote tree planting in populated areas to support the fictions that Manchukuo was a nation serving its people and that Manchukuo’s so-called ally—the Japanese Empire—would prevail in its crusade to save Asia from Western imperialist domination. The arc of that crusade shared the trajectory of Manchukuo’s forest management. Japan’s wars ended in 1945 with the amputation of the territorial gains it had made over the previous fifty years and the devastation of the peoples and the forests under its control.