It ended nearly 75 years ago. Not with a bang, but with a shrug. On 15 January 1936, Japanese delegates walked out of negotiations at the Second London Naval Conference. That act guaranteed that an era of naval arms limitation born at Washington, D.C., nearly 15 years earlier would soon die.
At the time, no one seemed terribly troubled by that development. For months Tokyo had been emitting signals that Japan was no longer willing to abide by previously agreed-on limitations in naval strength. American and British leaders, convinced they could triumph over Japan in any subsequent arms race, did not sound alarms. Newspaper editorial writers did not wring their hands. The Washington Post found “no cause for excitement” in what had occurred, and the Los Angeles Times cheerily proclaimed, “So now for a naval race!”1 No one then foresaw what historian Stephen Pelz recognized 40 years later: The failure of the Second London Naval Conference marked the beginning of a naval race that would culminate at Pearl Harbor.2