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The Japanese Empire – Japanese Militarism

The Far East had been an important trading area for the European powers for centuries and a developing resentment against what were regarded as unjust treaties had grown up in Japan, and other countries.

In particular, Britain through its enormously large and powerful Empire, the Netherlands with their extensive interests in the Dutch East Indies, and the US exerted enormous influence over many South East Asian countries. 

In the mid 1800s, like other Asian nations, Japan was comparatively backward until a major reform and modernisation programme commenced after the Meiji restoration in 1868. With this development, there was a growth in nationalistic sentiment. Japan set up its first European style constitution in 1889, and established the parliament, or Diet, with the emperor retaining sovereignty but power held by the ruling faction. Political parties exercised little power at that time.                                                         

Emperor Mutsuhito (1852-1912)

1894-5 Sino-Japanese War broke out after conflicts of interest with China over Korea. Although Japan won, and retained Taiwan, it was required by Russia, France, Germany – The Triple Intervention – to return other territories. The Japanese army and navy stepped up their rearmament.

1904-5 Russo-Japanese War resulted from conflicts with Russia over interests in Korea and Manchuria. Japan won, gaining new territory so that it was able to annex Korea in 1910.

 See: http://www.russojapanesewar.com/

With the death of Emperor Meiji in 1912 and the passing of the ruling faction, a weak Emperor, Taisho, took over and power moved to parliament and political parties.

Although Japan participated, to a minor degree, in World War I, in support of the Allies, relations with Western nations continued to deteriorate. Japan believed itself to be the object of discrimination and racist policies which were to figure significantly in the lead up to the Pacific War in 1941.

Japan’s economic situation worsened during the 1930’s, aggravated by the after effects of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the Great Depression.

The military were well positioned to take over effective control of government and any real opposition was eliminated.

Japan’s influence had been growing in Manchuria since 1905, and when its interest began to be challenged by China in 1931, Japanese armed forces in Manchuria “The Kwantung Army” occupied Manchuria. “Manchukuo”, as it was renamed, was declared an independent state in 1932. Shanghai was bombed in support of Japanese citizens living there.

Japan was heavily criticised, worldwide, for these actions and withdrew from the League of Nations in 1933.

1937 Second Sino-Japanese War broke out. A small incident turned into major conflict with Japanese forces occupying most of the Chinese coastline. During these actions, Japanese forces carried out extraordinary atrocities on the Chinese population. It is believed that more than 200,000 people were massacred in the Sack of Nanking.    

See: http://www.worldwar2database.com/html/sinojapan.htm

The concept of a “New Order” in East Asia was central to Japanese military thinking, leading to the declaration of The Great East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere presaging the growth of the Japanese Empire in SE Asia.

Navy & Army battle flag (382x247)

1940 Japan, in agreement the French Vichy Government, occupied French Indo China and in September 27th 1940 signed a tripartite pact with Germany and Italy in Berlin. This 10 year agreement provided mutual aid in the event of one of the parties being attacked by a country not yet involved in the war. Although this was constructed as a warning to the US, subsequent events at Pearl Harbour would not prevent the immediate declaration of war by the US.

The US and Britain responded with an oil boycott on Japan. The oil shortages that resulted and failure to solve the issues diplomatically led Japan to resolve to take the oilfields in The Dutch East Indies and British interests in Malaya. This would be a valuable source of raw materials for the Japanese economy (Malaya supplied half of the world’s tin and one third of its rubber). These would be later supplemented by the oilfields of Burma.

The Imperial Designs of Japan required the acquisition of natural resources that it, as a nation, did not possess.

Further reading:

Japan’s Quest for Empire 1931-1945 by Susan Townsend   http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwtwo/japan_quest_empire_01.shtml

Introduction to Japanese History                                      http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2130.html                          Top