Russo-Japanese War

The Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 was a conflict that formed out of the rival imperialist ambitions. Although the Russians recovered from initial setbacks to hold off the Japanese armies in Manchuria and along the Yalu River in Korea, the Japanese mastery of the seas proved to be decisive. The Russian fleet took eight months to sail from the Baltic Sea to relieve the besieged Russian forces at Port Arthur, the warm water port on the Pacific Ocean the Russians had so desired. The formidable Russian fleet is destoryed on arrival by the Japanese in a devastating battle at Tsushima Straits on 27th May 1905. (Above, a Chinese man unperturbedly rakes in front of a destroyed Russian warship at Port Arthur).

This and increasing political unrest at home forced the Russians to the peace table. The Russian defeat broke a chain of victories by Christians over non-Christian nations, that stretched back to the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. In a sense, the Russo-Japanese War was a pivotal moment. The Japanese victory tipped the scale in the struggle between Japanese democrats and militarists in favor of the latter and broke the confidence in Russia’s tsarist rulers. This lead to the revolution of 1905—the dress rehearsal for 1917. From the fall of Port Arthur one line led straight to Pearl Harbor; another to Lenin. (For negotiating between Russia and Japan, Teddy Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize, the first American to do so).

On the photojournalism front, the war was a grand exotic picnic for many military attaches, propagandists, photographers, and journalists (including Jack London). In an action that would presage a century of technological savviness, the Japanese used postcards, etchings and (extremely popular) stereoscope photos as propaganda pieces. The war was therefore an extremely well-documented (albeit almost one-sided). Photos showed victorious Japanese commanders, Japanese medics tending wounded Russians, Japanese Nurses posing with their Russian patients, captured Russians learning Japanese calligraphy, and celebrating a Russian holiday together with their captors.

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