The photo above was taken as Japanese diplomats left the League of Nations building in Geneva after Japan’s withdrawal in 1933. In December 1932, the League of Nations’ Assembly had adopted an unanimous report (42-1, with only Japan opposing) blaming Japan for the Invasion of Manchuria. Japan’s delegation, led by Yosuke Matsuok walked from the hall amidst mingled hisses and applause.
Six months later, after rounds of negotiations between the League and Japan had failed, Japan’s formal resignation from the League was filed. “We are not coming back,” Matsuoka said simply and prophetically as he left the hall. Before he left, he asked rhetorically, “Would the American people agree to such control of the Panama Canal Zone; would the British permit it over Egypt?”
Two nations (Costa Rica in 1925 and Brazil in 1926) had previously withdrew from the League but Japan’s departure was a major blow to the League as it was the first major power to do so. Moreover, Japan held suzerainty over South Sea Islands — a vast island Mandate in the Pacific containing the Marianas, Carolines, Marshall Islands and Palau. This was transferred to Japan from German control under the League’s auspices following Germany’s surrender in the First World War.
The League’s nominal guardianship of the South Sea Islands was tenuous even before Japan withdrew — as Tokyo repeatedly rejected requests for the League’s inspection rights to the islands, and began construction of airfields and military installations there — but now even this nominal rule is shown to be a facade. According to the League’s charter, it should have responded to Japan’s withdraw with economic sanctions and reclamation of the Mandate, but none was forthcoming.
The League was shown to be impotent against the Great Powers. In October 1933, Hitler took Germany out of the Geneva Disarmament Conference, and disregarding a mandatory requirement of two years’ notice, withdrew from the League. By 1935, when Italy withdrew over the Abyssinian crisis, the League’s ills had reached a terminal point. The world was poised once again on the brink of war.