Substitute communist China for imperial Japan, and the same thing is now occurring in the Pacific. China believes it is finally time to make its military reflect its enormous economic power.
Chinese armed forces are growing while America's are shrinking. China does not like visiting American blowhards -- most recently, Vice President Joe Biden -- lecturing them on human rights, especially when American power, both military and economic, appears to be waning.
If the Japanese of the 1930s once talked of Western decadence and American frivolity, so too the Chinese now sense that American global influence is not being earned by the current generation of Americans that enjoys the high life on $17 trillion in borrowed money, much of it from China.
China likewise senses growing American isolationism, hears parlor talk about the U.S. reducing its nuclear arsenal, and notices America's new habit of distancing itself from allies.
Americans once talked tough about Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. But China tuned out that empty rhetoric and instead noted that we abandoned Iraq after the successful surge, are exhausted by Afghanistan, were humiliated by Bashar Assad in Syria, and were seemingly paid back with Benghazi after removing Muammar Gadhafi in Libya. China is reassured that what America says and what America does are not quite the same things.
More importantly, the Chinese also appear to hate the Japanese in the same way the latter apparently despised the former in the 1930s. China resents Japan's undeniable lack of contrition over the approximately 15 million Chinese killed by Japanese aggression in World War II. The Chinese also sense that Japan may be a has-been power, with an aging, shrinking population; energy woes; a sluggish, deflationary economy; and increasingly without its once ubiquitous American patron at its side.
China accepts that the U.N., like the old League of Nations, is useless in solving global tensions, and prefers that it is so.
Add everything up and China seems about as confident of the future as Japan once was in the 1930s. It is as eager to teach Japan a lesson, as Japan once did China.
America once again appears confused by these radical changes in the Pacific. That is, until someone in the region tries something stupid -- once again.