The rise of Japanese militarism

Part one

The rise of Japanese militarism

The Japanese militarism was a movement spurred by the ideology that was wide spread in the empire of Japan stating that dominance of the social and political life of the nation should be left to the militarism, and the strength of the nation should be equal to the strength of the military. This ideology made the military to have significance influence on the society of Japan, uniting all leaders from business, politics or military wings during the Meiji period. Being descendants of samurai, the society shared common set of outlooks and values. In early ages of nineteenth century, Meiji government perceived that western imperialism was threatening the governance and operation of the nation, through weakening their efforts to construct firm industrial and economic foundations (Junji, 1997, p.10).

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This perception further initiated the need to build up a strong military base to protect Japan from the outside powers influence or governance. The development of strong military base was also necessitated by domestic issues such as internal revolts including the numerous rural; peasant uprisings, rebellions and the saga rebellion.

When the universal military was set up, it was enabled to indoctrinate men from diverse social setups holding values of military patriotism. The basis for Japan state then became unquestionable loyalty to the Emperor. After considering states that had transformed from agricultural state to states of great military and industrial power, Yamagata adopted the Prussia model. He therefore accepted the political provisions of Prussia, favoring authoritarian government at home and military expansion abroad. The military could be seen as a state within a state, influencing political matters in general because the model devalued civilian control over the independent military (Lippit, 2002, p.16).

As strategies to reform the army, its command structure was reorganized into regiments and divisions, strengthening transport structures, army logistics and increased military mobility. As independent commands, engineering regiments and artillery were connected by railways which enabled universal conscription system to abolish all virtual exceptions. Following these tends in military framework of Japan, its imperialism and militarism grew due to the following principal reasons. The reasons differed in the functions they were attached to since each was being applied at a specified time period. Japan desired to be a western style imperialist power, was concerned by its safety and security, believed in its leadership role in Asia, was concerned by frequent provocations by western powers and it also desired to secure its economic interests. These factors expended militarism and imperialism base of Japan from 1905 to 1940s (Lippit, 2002, p.16).

Japan aggression towards foreign nations was highly motivated by the western imperialism. Japan consistently followed great examples of western imperialist nations in several occasions. In some cases, Japan defended itself against western powers, counteracted their ideologies and sometimes conformed to them. The attitude of western nations towards Japan was provocative and stubborn, providing good environment for Japan to advance in imperialism and militarism. These events of military race ultimately led to Second World War.

According to the way Japan reacted towards the west, it really aspired for imperialism of the western style. This was indicated by the way Meiji leaders wanted to drive Japan to a first rate nation with the power and prestige bestowed on foreign territorial possessions. During the nineteenth century, military means were used to make overseas territorial acquisitions by western powers such as Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, America, Britain, Russia and France. Western imperialism began in the 16th century and had a history of making forced acquisitions in other nations. After admiring this, Japanese Meiji oligarchs joined these powers in demanding privileges and rights in the other Asian nations (Meacham, 2003, p.34).

However before the country attempted to assert the demands to western powers, it realized that it had to strengthen and modernize its military force. Japan concentrated in expanding military base for several years only to realize by 1910 that it had no reached the level of imperialist western powers. This was realized during the Sino Japanese war in which Japan acquired Formosa and made china pay large indemnity. However, it could not tolerate the situation when France, Germany and Russia forced Japan to surrender Liaotung Peninsula which it captured during the war. This made Japan allocate an increased expenditure to military operations and upgrading from 1900 to 1910 (Junji, 1997, p.11).

Additionally, intensification of Japanese militaristic attitude was geared by the recognition by the government that there was the need for defense against Russia and other western powers. Japan feared any invention by these nations especially Russia because of their naval power, superior military and advanced technological achievements. By then, china was very weak in military and economically. Japan feared that the rivalry of the western nations towards china may collapse it and consequently breach the security of Japan. The feeling that Japan needed expansion more for security reasons rather than for conquest reasons was an end in itself. Militarism expansion was therefore recommended not only for advantage lines but also for lines of sovereignty. This meant that the country had to extend its control and influence beyond national boundaries to ensure assured security (Meacham, 2003, p.35).

The control over Korea served as Japanese protection against western countries. This was because Korea bordered Russia and china, with Korea and Japan having geographical propinquity. To ensure defense coverage from Korea, Japan realized it required control over Liaotung Peninsula. Japan won the war but the Triple Convention forced Japan to drop it, with Russia moving at the tip of the peninsula, increasing sense of insecurity of Japan. These tensions led to Russo Japanese war in 1910 to 1915. to survive through this subjection into insecure environment, Japan had to put in place alert and potential military to react against any threats from Russia (Lippit, 2002, p.14).

The other factor that motivated Japan to firmly establish and support bold military system was the belief that it had to play a leading role to the other Asian nations. In the late 19th century, leader from Japan agreed that their nation possessed manifest destiny. This was after seeing they had the ability to free Asian nations against imperialist powers of the west and lead them to collective prosperity and strength. Throughout the Asian world, social Darwinism and foreign expansion were highly supported because of promoting strongest cultures survival in natural selection process. In 1905, the belief of Japan to lead was bolstered by becoming the first Asian nation to defeat western imperialist. This took place when Japan defeated Russia in Russo Japanese war of 1914 to 1915. This served as a clear demonstration that Asian nations had the power to stand against the dictation of western imperialists. Ultranationalists gave widespread views that Japan could responsibly expel foreign powers through righteous war where applicable. The moral purity of race and unique ancestry was believed to entitle such leadership role in Asia to Japan. This desire to lead Asian world required high military base and forced Japan to heavily make such investments (Junji, 1997, p.12).

Another major reason as to why Japan intensified military equipment was because of the provocations by the western powers. Series of provocations, insults and coercive acts to Japan from 1898 to 1930s festered great anger among Japanese people. After Japan was forced to sign unequal treaties with America, Russia, Holland and France restricted Japanese national sovereignty. Through extraterritoriality, foreigners in Japan were immune to Japanese legal system jurisdiction. Japan was also forced by 1921-1922 Washington conference naval treaties to battleship ration of 5:5:3 for America, Britain and Japan respectively, a condition that was too unfavorable to Japan. The same country was coerced to the same ration for its heavy cruisers by western imperialists at London Naval Conference of 1930. Several severe insulting incidents affected Japanese population through strong social prejudice from the west, without sparing china and other Asian nations (Lippit, 2002, p.16).

 In 1919 Paris Peace Conference, Japanese request for racial equality clause inclusion in the League of Nations Covenant was rejected by the Western countries. To follow suit, California passed anti Japanese legislation in 1905. In 1906, Asian and Japanese children in San Francisco school were ordered by the school board to attend segregated schools. To shut off Japanese immigration into US, America passed Japanese Exculsion Act in 1924. The imperialist and militaristic sentiments of ultranationalists and Japanese government were fueled by these series of international affronts to its status and pride.

Japan was also ignited towards militarism expansion by economic interests and forces. The nation heavily depended on foreign trade and was badly hit by the world depression that began in 1929, exposing Japanese people to economic hardships. The depression came at heels of 1923s earthquake devastation and 1920s economic stagnation, hurting small shops’ workers and farmers. To ensure continued foreign trade, economic motives for japans imperialism grew strongly in the decade of 1930. Strong export market for Japanese goods and textiles was a requirement for economic growth to be realized. China being an Asian country provided the best market opportunities for the exports of Japan. This was the reason as to why Japanese government had to take all initiative of minimizing any possible interruptions of the trade by obtaining transportation and commercial rights in china (Dower, 1986, p.12).

To supply its manufacturing industries, japans economy required raw materials imports from china. This linkage called for close and uninterrupted relationship between these two nations. The need for raw materials to support heavy industries and japans overpopulation problems were solved by Manchuria abundance in natural resources such as coal and iron and extensive land area. These industries revolved around one objective of military equipment buildup. In 1931, Japan seized Manchuria. To maintain its self sufficiency which could only be achieved through ensuring sufficient resources, Japan moved into other south Asian countries. As an example, the nation went to Dutch East Indies because it required oil to keep the military and industries supplied. The above reasons which made Japan as a nation to have a firmly established military base. The construction of the base was carried out up to early 1940s (Meacham, 2003, p.35).

Part two


This is the code name for the military operation Hitler planned against Britain in 1940. Theoretically, the attack seemed simple for a number of reasons. First, the German military had succeeded in the war on Poland. Secondly, the British army had lost a lot of military equipment on the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940. Consequently, the British Royal Air Force and the Navy were weak, with only the Army being able to offer Britain some protection (Junji, 1997, p.12).

On May 21st 1940, Admiral Raeder informed Hitler of a plan to attack Britain and Hitler was interested in the idea. Military conquest would be fast and decisive as, compared to the long time economic war he had thought of, and hence this appealed to Hitler. By the end of June 1940, Hitler ordered his military to put in place plans to invade Britain. The military had anticipated war with Britain and had already researched and reported on a possible invasion of Britain. The German Navy had, in November 1939, pointed out that many problems would be encountered and advised on caution should such a plan be implemented. The Army had in December 1939 hinted that such an invasion needed the support of the Navy. Since the Navy would be busy fielding off the British Navy as well as protecting German landing Army fleets, this was seen as a task that would be impossible to successfully accomplish. The Air Force had argued that good weather, which was not guaranteed across the North Sea, was required. In addition it was noted that though the German Air Force had triumphed, the Royal Air Force had not employed its full capacity in 1940 (Junji, 1997, p.10).

Hitler was prepared to offer Britain generous peace terms provided Germany’s domination on mainland Europe was respected. When it became clear that Britain would not sign a peace pact with Germany, Hitler gave the first order on a possible invasion of Britain on July 2nd 1940. The German army chiefs tabled their plan, on July 13th 1940, in whose success they were so confident that they envisaged an occupation of Britain within a month. A directive ‘Preparation for a landing operation against England’ code named “Sea Lion” was issued on July 16th.

Hitler expressed his reservations in a meeting with service chiefs on July 21st 1940. He however explained that he needed to go on with the plan so as to shift attention to Russia. Hitler wanted Sea Lion to be over by mid-September although his naval officers were of the view that Sea Lion could only start after mid-September. Hitler declared that as long as the Air force had control over the air space, Sea Lion would start on September 15th 1940. The success of the operation depended on whether the German Air Force triumphed over the Royal Air Force. Cancellation of Sea Lion was announced on September 17th 1940 owing to the failure of the German Air Force to defeat the Royal Air Force (Dower, 1986, p.14).


This was a meeting involving Joseph Stalin (General Secretary of the Russian Communist Party), Franklin D. Roosevelt (United States President) and Winston Churchill (Prime Minister of the United Kingdom) in Tehran, Iran, between November 28th and December 1st 1943. It was the First World War II conference involving the United States, the Soviet Union and Russia attended by Stalin. A number of important historical resolutions were arrived at during the conference including the following.

     It was agreed that the Yugoslavia partisans would be offered maximum equipment and commando support by the United States and the United Kingdom. The Soviet Union promised to support Turkey, a common ally,   at war. Operation Overlord against France was to be launched in May 1944. Soviet forces would also conduct an offensive at the same time to prevent German forces from transferring from the Eastern to Western Front. It was concluded that it would be good if Turkey joined the Allies in the war by the end of 1943.The Three Powers agreed to have their military staff in close contact from then onwards regarding operations in Europe. A cover plan to mislead the enemy was to be hatched among the staff (Lippit, 2002, p.16).

The Soviet Union agreed to war against Japan once Germany was toppled. The United States gave in to USSR’s claim to Kurile Islands and the southern half of Sakhalin and access to the ports of Darien and Arthur situated on the Liaodong peninsula in northern China. The formation of a United Nations Organization to promote international peace and security was discussed. The US and Britain promised Stalin to send back-up troops to Western Europe by the spring of 1944.The Poland – USSR border was determined to be along the Oder and Neisse rivers and the Curzon line- set in 1920 by Lord Curzon. This effectively added an eastern part of Poland to the USSR and also lengthened the border at some other Stalin was allowed leeway in his country as well as powers to establish puppet communist governments in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the Baltic states, Romania and other European countries. This resulted to loss of freedom by the concerned countries and the commencement of Cold War for the next fifty years. A plan of a concerted joint operation from the east, south and west to exterminate the German forces was arrived at. Stalin promised that the republics of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania would only be incorporated into the USSR after they voted in a referendum (Meacham, 2003, p.34).


This concept was propagated by the government and the military of the Japanese Empire during the Showa era (1926-1989). The object was the creation of a self-sufficient Japan-led bloc of East Asia nations (Japan, China, Manchukuo and South East Asia) devoid of western domination.  The countries would share peace, isolate Australia and perform naval operations in the Indian Ocean. One objective was the extending of Japanese power and building of an empire based on European models. One major impact of this concept was increased aggression Japanese in East Asia from 1930s to the end of World War II and justification thereof. Japan operated puppet governments in occupied countries which manipulated the populace on its behalf. The negativity associated with the Greater East Asia doctrine poses difficulties for the realization of a stronger more united East Asia Community discussed at the annual East Asia Summits (Lippit, 2002, p.15).

The concept helped to instill an anti-western theme in Asia. This was due to the use of phrases like “Asia for Asians”. The high sounding propaganda made the Japanese unpopular among the Asian countries over time. The disdain and high-handedness that the Japanese depicted further unpopularised them among the local population. The Japanese forcefully obtained labor from the local populations among other atrocities. The need to create a new order in East Asia prompted Japan to wage war against western colonialists. The new order so envisaged would then pave way for the realization of the Greater East Asia Co- prosperity Sphere (Dower, 1986, p.13).


This was a military right wing nationalist Japanese political group in the 1920s and 1930s aiming to control the civil government. It upheld the ideals of militarism, expansion and totalitarianism and was composed of junior officers.

The movement advocated for a return to a pre-western, pre-industrial Japan in which corrupt bureaucrats, opportunistic politicians and greedy capitalists were non-existent.  The proponents favored spiritual training of the army and a return to the traditional Japanese ways of life.

The toseiha group was formed in response to the teachings of the Imperial Way faction. Strong skepticism of representative democracy and political party politics were evident in this group’s ideology. This would in future form a firm basis form Japan’s choice of imperial as opposed to democratic leadership.

The power tussles between the imperial way group and its opponent – the toseiha culminated in a failed coup de tat backed by the Imperial Way group- the kodoha in February 26th 1936. The Imperial Way’s group doctrines of spiritual power, imperial mysticism and insubordination of junior officers became deeply embedded in the military even after the demise of the groups after February 1936 (Junji, 1997, p.11).


This was a conference that took place in a Russia resort town on February 4-11 in 1945 in Crimea, during the Second World War. At this place, soviet premier Joseph Stanlin, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt made significant decisions regarding the future progress of the second world war and the post world war. Before they met, they believed in an inevitable practicability of an Allied victory in Europe, however less convinced that the end of the pacific war was nearing. Great Britain and the United States tirelessly fought to have the participation of the Soviet Union in the pacific theatre against Japan because it required protracted fight. There were therefore discussing the conditions under which Soviet Union was to join the war against Japan (Dower, 1986, p.12).

The three agreed that, if the union participates crucially in the theatre, it will be granted influence sphere in Manchuria if Japan happened to surrender. In the same they discussed the future of Germany, United Nations and Eastern Europe. France was included in postwar governance of Germany as Germany assumed little operations. Eastern Europe nations that bordered Soviet Union were to be friendly to the union, as the union pledged to hold free elections in all territories liberated from Nazi Germany.

Concerning the United Nations, they agreed to vote in the procedures of the Security Council that favored those permanent members. The other conditions which the union demanded and was agreed upon included preservation of the status quo in Mongolian People’s Republic, restoring former rights which were violated in Russia by treacherous attach by Japan. Commercial p[ort of Darien was to be internationalized with total safeguarding of pre eminent interests of the USSR in the port and Port Arthur be leased as naval base for USSR be formalized. The Kurile Islands were also to be handed over to USSR. The three agreed that these claims were to be unquestionably fulfilled if Japan happened to be defeated (Lippit, 2002, p.14).


  • Dower, J. (1986) War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War. Pantheon Books. New York, p.12, 13, 14.
  • Junji Banno (1997). The political economy of Japanese society: The state of the market. Oxford University Press, Oxford, p.10, 11, 12.
  • Lippit Seiji (2002). Topographies of Japanese modernism. Columbia University Press, Columbia, p.14, 15, 16.
  • Meacham John; (2003). An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship: Random House Inc. New York, p.34, 35.


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