As Japan was opened by the Admiral Perry in 1853, the United States was a nation of contradictions. As Perry’s black ships were landing in Edo Bay, his nation was growing bitterly divided over the issue of state’s rights versus national interests. Japan seemed very far off, especially to a nation that was centered on the Atlantic.
Within eight years, the United States would have fought its bloodiest war, far more deadly than the whole of World War II. By the end of the 19th century its borders would stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and many islands would seek the protection of or be claimed under its flag.
The result of the war was mass military technology. Throughout the 19th and 20th century, America excelled at making machines. The 200 years before World War II was a time of fantastic change, with innovation and revolution remaking the "state-of-the-art" every decade and then every few years.
Just eight years after he landed in Edo Bay, the war Perry’s ships fought back in America stunned the nation in its carnage. But it was seen as a local war, and the world powers did not take note. So in 1872 the world’s greatest sea power, Great Britain, embarked on a race with Germany that would culminate in the World War I battle of Jutland. The "Great War," as it was called before there were enough world wars to number, was to kill more people in four years than had existed on the planet during the first era of humanity.
In this world of mechanized death, the nations came together to try to control the race for the seas. The Washington Treaty of 1921 and the London Treaty of 1930 sought to limit the Pacific Powers’ navies, to keep the ratio of power as a balance. The Washington treaty set America’s navy at five battleships for every three English and one Japanese. Of course, the Allies saw their burden as defending their interests in two navies. So they felt justified in building more. The Japanese leadership, especially the Imperial Army, saw their interests being limited. How can you be a world power if you have fewer battleships than the other world powers? Neither Washington nor London saw the Japanese point of view.
But the Allies had never seen the Asian point of view very clearly. Fear and ignorance had colored almost all of the actions of the Western Leaders throughout the history of contact. America enacted tough immigration laws that banned Asian immigration, and incarcerated those who were legally immigrating for months without reason. One man was incarcerated in a mental institution, simply because no one realized that he was Chinese. In Asia, the western powers destabilized many governments, notably China, in order to control trade. Britain fought several opium wars in the 19th century to control the market. When Sun Yat Sen called for Chinese Nationalism and took control of the government in 1911, Western leaders were duplicitous, calling for his support while ensuring that control of China’s exports were firmly in Western hands.