A Distant Mirror

As Berlin goes to war, Tokyo continues to march through Asia

Deceit. Terror. The compulsion to perfect an impossible master plan. Nazi Germany's plunge into madness may have convulsed Europe, but Imperial Japan had set out on the same course eight years earlier in East Asia. The war there was already raging in September 1939, and no end was in sight.

On Sept. 18, 1931, a Japanese army lieutenant meticulously wired 42 cubes of yellow blasting powder and buried the load in the earth 5 ft. from railroad tracks north of the Manchurian city of Mukden (now Shenyang). The explosives would throw a lot of dirt but cause little damage to the...

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