Militarism

Japan's political journey from its quasi-democratic
government in the 1920's to its radical nationalism of the mid 1930's,
the collapse of democratic institutions, and the eventual military
state was not an overnight transformation. There was no coup d'etat,
no march on Rome, no storming of the Bastille. Instead, it was a
political journey that allowed a semi-democratic nation to transform
itself into a military dictatorship. The forces that aided in this
transformation were the failed promises of the Meiji Restoration that
were represented in the stagnation of the Japanese economy, the
perceived capitulation of the Japanese parliamentary leaders to the
western powers, a compliant public, and an independent military.

The ground work for Japanese militarism was a compliant

Japanese public. This pliant public was created through a variety of
factors. Beginning in the 1890's the public education system
indoctrinated students in the ideas of nationalism, loyalty to the
emperor and traditionalist ideas of self-sacrifice and obedience. Thus
ideas that were originally propagated to mobilize support for the

Meiji government were easily diverted to form broad support for
foreign militarism. Japanese society also still held many of the
remnants of feudal culture such as strong confusion beliefs that
stressed support for social order and lack of emphasis on
individualist values. These values taught obedience not to a
democratic but to the emperor; so the fact that the militaristic
government of the 1930's ruled under the emperor meant that the

Japanese were loyal to this government just as they had been to the
government of the 1920's. So when Japan's militaristic government
implemented programs characteristic of totalitarian governments such
as strong media control, a thought police, and community organizations
the public did little to protest. Shintoism provided a religious
justification for nationalism and support for the militaristic
government. Shintoism before the 1930's was primarily a nativistic
religion which stressed nature and harmony. But during the 1930's it
became a ideological weapon teaching Japanese that they were a
superior country that had a right to expand and that its government
was divinely lead by a descendent of the sun god.

The independence and decentralization of the military allowed
it to act largely on its own will as characterized in the Manchurian
incident in 1931 and the Marco Polo bridge explosion in Shanghai.

Because these incidents went unpunished and the Japanese public
rallied around them the military was able to push for greater
militarism and an increasingly active role in government till the
entire government was run by the military. The London Treaty and

Japan's rejection by large European powers at the Versailles
conference angered many in the military who felt that Japan was being
denied its place at the table with the great powers. This lead to a
disenfranchisement with the parliamentary government who the military
felt had capitulated to the western powers in treaties and by stopping
its colonial expansion during the nineteen twenties. Once Japan
commenced on the path of militarism it found that because of its
technological edge it could defeat other Asian powers this increased

Japan's sense of superiority and feed the fires of nationalism. These
fires grew as following the 1931 Manchurian incident Japan invaded

Manchuria then most China. In South East Asia Japan quickly expanded
breaking up British, Portuguese, and Dutch colonialism. Japanese
militarism occurred not by an organized plan but rather through
passive acceptance by the Japanese public. A compliant Japanese public
coupled with a independent army were two factors that pushed Japan
toward militarism in the 1930's.