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1931 - Invasion of Manchuria

Japan invades Manchuria - following the Mukden Incident Japanese troops take control of Manchuria and expand their imperial ambitions in China

In order to secure resources for its expanding industries, Japan invaded the northern Chinese province of Manchuria. On September 18, 1931, an explosion destroyed a section of railway track near the city of Mukden. The Japanese, who owned the railway, blamed Chinese nationalists for the incident and used the opportunity to retaliate and invade Manchuria. However, others speculated that the bomb may have been planted by mid-level officers in the Japanese Army to provide a pretext for the subsequent military action.


Within a few short months, the Japanese Army had overrun the region, having encountered next to no resistance from an untrained Chinese Army, and it went about consolidating its control on the resource-rich area. The Japanese declared the area to be the new autonomous state of Manchukuo, though the new nation was in fact under the control of the local Japanese Army.

Although many Western nations protested the Japanese action, most members of the League of Nations, including Canada, opposed any form of military intervention to defend Chinese sovereignty. A League of Nations commission, headed by the British diplomat Lord Lytton, was dispatched to Manchuria to investigate. The Lytton Commission branded the Japanese as aggressors but urged the League to recognize Japan's right to maintain a military force in Manchuria to protect its economic interests.

Meanwhile, the Japanese government established a puppet regime in Manchuria and formally withdrew from the League of Nations. The Japanese action in Manchuria was the first of a series of expansionist military operations that would eventually lead to a confrontation with Britain and the United States in the Far East.


Further Reading


Asia-Pacific Journal - The Manchurian Incident, the League of Nations and the Origins of the Pacific War

Cambridge University - When Fascism Met Empire in Japanese-Occupied Manchuria

Japan TimesMemories of 1931 Mukden Incident Remain Divisive

1931 - Al Capone's Soup Kitchen

Al Capone's Soup Kitchen - unemployed men of Chicago queue up for free food from a soup kitchen set up by infamous mobster Al Capone

Al Capone's soup kitchen, Chicago, 1931

Al "Scarface" Capone, the notorious Chicago gangster who ran American metropolitan streets during the 1920s and 1930s, is rarely associated with acts of charity or altruism. being better known for associations with criminality - bootlegging, violent crime rings, and prostitution. 

However, in response to the devastating impact that the Great Depression was having on poor Americans, Capone stepped up to the plate and rejuvenated the classic model of the soup kitchen for a more modern customer – out-of-work Americans. Honing in on a need that was not being filled by the US government, he opened the Capone Free Soup Kitchen in downtown Chicago.

Though Capone was adored by those who benefited from his entrepreneurial efforts, as well as by Italian-Americans who saw him as an advocate for their community, many people still viewed him as a man motivated by cruel self interest, which usually came at the expense of others.

Things only got worse for Capone after the infamous St. Valentine's Day Massacre occurred in Chicago on February 14, 1929 – and, though he was never officially connected to the murders, it was popular knowledge that he was in some way involved. As a result, Capone began to look for ways to earn back the trust of the communities he worked in, and the economic collapse of the Great Depression gave him plenty of opportunities.

With over four million people unemployed by 1930 alone, the Great Depression caused a ripple effect of poverty and debt across the US.  As more people fell victim to this dire economic situation, it became obvious that the biggest struggle they faced on a daily basis was obtaining food for themselves and their families. 


Capone was not blind to the situation on the streets, and in 1931 he had opened the Capone Free Soup Kitchen in downtown Chicago on the corner of 9th and State Street. The Chicago Tribune noted that by December the soup kitchen was churning out over 120,000 meals a day to unemployed and homeless individuals, and Capone even managed to create jobs by employing people to work at the kitchen. 


It became common to hear people praise Capone's efforts by saying that "he was doing more for the poor than the entire US government." With the success of Capone's soup kitchen, and others like it, the public began to place more pressure on the government, criticizing their lack of social support programs.

In 1935 President Roosevelt passed the Social Security Act, which included benefit opportunities for disability and medical coverage, social security in retirement, as well as unemployment insurance. Whether or not the US government took a page out of Capone's book in hopes of bettering their public image, Capone certainly paved the way for the social security benefits many American's enjoy today.


Further Reading


History.comMobster Al Capone Ran a Soup Kitchen During the Great Depression

1931 - China Floods

Central China Flood - a series of devastating floods submerges large parts of China, affecting millions of people and destroying large swathes of farmland and housing

Between July and November in 1931, China experienced some unusual weather patterns. In the years running up to the disaster, China had been suffering from awful drought conditions. But by the winter of 1930, changes began to occur. There was particularly heavy snow fall over parts of the country. As the spring of 1931 arrived and weather started to thaw, China was also bombarded with very heavy rainfall. This sudden and unexpected change meant that the rivers were higher than normal levels. In July, the rainfall grew heavier and heavier, continuing into the August. To make things worse, there were an unusually high number of cyclones during these months, nine in total, when the country usually only recorded having two a year.


The Yangtze River burst its banks, wiping out a lot of the surrounding areas. When the waters receded, the damage was colossal, and estimated to have affected over twenty eight million people. Local sources estimated the number of people killed as one hundred and forty five thousand, but sources form the West tallied a much higher four million. The death toll is still considered to be one of the highest. The flooding of the Yangtze River was at its worst in the July and August of 1931. As the rains hit in July, the area recorded twenty four inches of rainfall from at least four separate weather stations along its banks.


The Yellow River also burst during this time. The Yellow River was, and still is, key to a lot of trade in China, and is one of the most important places for civilisation in the country. Therefore, as the floods hit, China was weakened socially and economically, with huge losses to their farming industries.

The Huai River overflowed, and the waters headed straight for the capital city in China, which at the time was Nanjing. Nanjing was surrounded by water anyway, as it was balanced on an island. However, as the water levels rose, the city suffered colossal damages. It is estimated that millions of people drowned in the flood waters, and those who survived the initial wall of water dies from exposure to diseases such as typhus and cholera. The people in the city became so desperate that they took to cannibalism and infanticide to keep themselves alive. Some families even sold their children and, in some cases, their wives, to stay alive.


Further Reading


China Dialogue - Picturing disaster: The 1931 Wuhan Flood

Disaster HistoryCentral China Flood

California Oil Well Fire - firefighters struggle to contain a blaze in the oilfields of Signal Hill

oil well fire california 1931.jpg

Oil became a major California industry in the 20th century with the discovery on new fields around Los Angeles and the San Joaquin Valley, and the dramatic increase in demand for gasoline to fuel automobiles and trucks.

With the pace of development in the 1920s and 30s, accidents and fires were inevitable, and it was a dangerous job for the firefighters tasked with bringing them under control.

This dramatic photo is a composite photo produced by the Dick Whittington Studio for General Petroleum Co. in 1931. It seems to be at least four or five different photos superimposed together along with some obvious manipulation to create the smoke cloud and smog on the left side. This was likely some sort of promotional photo for the oil company.


Further Reading


The Atlantic - The Urban Oil Fields of Los Angeles

1931 - Oil Well Fire
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