Operation STARVATION, 1945: A Transnational History of Blockades and the Defeat of Japan

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Going beyond the conventional focus on the British blockade of Germany in the First World War, this essay situates blockades in a broader transnational history of waging war on civil populations. From the early twentieth century through the Second World War, blockade strategies evolved as part of a global circulation of ideas and practices on how wars might be won by starving, bombing, and demoralizing the enemy’s urban masses. The Allied blockade and German U-boat campaigns were connected, as each side learned from the other’s attacks on the civilian food supply. Moreover, the ‘lessons’ of 1914–18 shaped blockade strategies for the next war not only among Europeans, but also among the Japanese and Americans in the Pacific. For Japanese planners, who investigated European home fronts in the First World War, the transnational lessons were largely defensive. The island nation adopted dynamic programs of imperial food self-sufficiency. Yet in the Second World War, Japan experienced a devastating collapse in food supply, precipitated by perhaps the most successful blockade in history—the Allied blockades of Japan’s food and raw material supplies from Asia that culminated in Operation STARVATION. The prospect of mass starvation, I argue, helped persuade Japanese leaders to surrender.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalInternational History Review
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Blockade
  • food insecurity
  • home fronts
  • transnational learning
  • war on civilians


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