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From WMC our Five College Radio in Amherst Massachusetts we present Japan 1868 through 1968. This year has been officially designated as the centennial of the beginning of the modernization of Japan and this is the seventh of a series of broadcasts with John M. Aki professor of government and vice dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Massachusetts. The title of today's broadcast is the roots of aggression. Professor Markey in the previous broadcast I outlined the manner in which in a sense modern militarism was build into Japanese society. I indicated the very deep historical and traditional roots that the spirit of militarism had in Japanese history and also touched on some of the special circumstances of Japan's emergence into the community of nations and the beginnings of Japan as a modern state that led the country in the direction of militarism. On the other hand I had also
sketched very very briefly indeed in an earlier broadcast the manner in which the military went into temporary eclipse during the decade of the 1920s. Now I do not want to give the impression that militarism came to dominate Japan by the mid-1930s simply because of the unfolding of relatively undramatic movements and currents within Japanese society. As a matter of fact it was in the first half of the 1930s that the issue between the so-called militarists and the civilians in Japanese government came to a head. Now in September of one thousand thirty one there occurred a very dramatic and indeed highly significant event not only in the history of modern Japan and of modern Asia but indeed of the
entire world. And that was the beginnings of the so-called Manchurian incident. On the evening of September 18th one thousand thirty one. In a nutshell what happened was simply that a segment of the Japanese military what was called at the time the London army which was stationed in Manchuria or more exactly the southern tip of Manchuria begin a military attack on Manchuria Chinese territory. That was in the space of a few months brought all of the so-called north eastern provinces of China under Japanese control. Now this was an act of military aggression but it was also a political act of very great significance because what happened was that the Japanese cabinet dominated by civilians attempted at the outbreak of this conflict
to keep it narrowly confined to make it simply into a local incident. Of course this cabinet opposition to the moves of the army was led by the foreign ministry which of course was in charge of Japan's. International relations now at this time. The army the Japanese army in Tokyo as well as in Manchuria has successfully defied the cabinet as a whole. The army simply made the decision that it was going ahead in this military venture and would tolerate no interference from Japan China or anyone else. Now this was a real test of strength in Japanese internal politics and it indicated very clearly that the military was able to do whatever it wanted to do in defiance of the wishes of both civilian leaders and indeed of the Japanese government itself. Now this was followed a few months later in mid-May of one thousand thirty
two. But what came to be known as the May 15th incident. Now this May 15th incident was a series of terroristic acts which were directed against prominent civilians in Japan. Business leaders financial leaders and political leaders. It was carried out by what became known as the young officers group junior officers in both the Army and Navy who allied themselves with certain civilian extremists and carried out a successful attack on the lives of a few civilians attacked property in Tokyo and made it abundantly clear that they were resentful of all of the groups that were in power in Japan at that particular time. Now the final act in this series of violence and terror in Japan came in the form of a far more serious development early in
1036 and this was the so-called February 26 incident. Now this involved a unit a regiment of the Japanese army that was stationed in Tokyo and it was a military insurrection. And again it was directed against the Japanese government itself and against civilian leaders. And this was by far the most serious of this series of dramatic events. About half a dozen leading figures in Japan were assassinated and incidentally This included some military men as well because they had been following certain policies that some elements in the Army had decided were against the best interests of the military. And above and beyond that those of Japan itself. Now this February 26 incident was finally put down after three or four days of sporadic fighting
inside the city of Tokyo and was put down I might add by the army authorities themselves. On the other hand the military leaders of Japan and their civilian associates seized upon this incident as being simply a reaction on the part of the military men as I have indicated against highly unsatisfactory conditions inside Japan itself. Now what I would like to do to round off this very brief account is to describe the motivation of the men motivation that was made abundantly clear both at the time and in the succeeding weeks and months and years the motivation of these groups that were behind the Manchurian incident of 1031 and the May 15th and February 26 incidents. Now basically these men declared that Japan was in a
serious situation and that certain individuals were responsible for getting Japan into this serious situation and that all the military the young officers and the high officers alike were trying to do was to get Japan out of its difficulties and established in the proper direction to the benefit of all and particularly of the Emperor and of the people in general. Now as I indicated in an earlier broadcast of what had happened in in effect was that the military in Japan was reacting against the developments of the 1920s the economic developments and the political developments and the diplomatic developments as well. You will recall that I characterized earlier the decade of the 1980s as being one in which the Japanese government followed a policy which could be described as
one of international cooperation as international cooperation was understood in the 1920s and that I also emphasized that Japan was confronted with some fairly difficult internal economic problems and of course the fact the government was dominated by civilians. Now the young officers and indeed the superior officers in the Japanese military both army and navy by one thousand thirty one had taken a very serious view of the internal situation in Japan. They saw for example that the Japanese people in general were suffering economically and this was particularly true of the countryside because Japanese agriculture and consequently Japanese farmers or peasants suffered as a result directly as a result of one
the economic recession inside Japan and two they were depression that began right at the end of the decade of the one thousand twenty one thousand twenty nine. As a matter of fact now many of the. Well let me go back just one step further. Japan's army as I indicated earlier was a conscript army that a system of mass conscription had been inaugurated in the early 1870s. Now for many reasons the well the real backbone of the army came from the countryside mainly because of the fact that physically they are sons of farmers were far more vigorous. That is on the general average then there are city cousins. And also because the army did provide a certain economic future security I should say for at least a few of those from the countryside because the army was democratic in the sense that anyone who demonstrated the
native intelligence and the ambition could qualify to go to the Officers Training School and emerge as a professional army men. Now it was the farm originated segment of the Japanese army that by the early 1930s had become most resentful of what was happening to their families and also at what they thought was the cause of these difficulties namely the government leaders in the government itself and above all the big business interests inside Japan who undoubtedly were involved deeply enough in the economy so that many of their decisions their policies their actions did affect the foreign population adversely. Now also and naturally there was a fair amount of unemployment in Japan in the early 1930s and again this was laid at the door of big business big business interests who
again were not only exploiting the people but following the wrong kinds of policies policies that were getting Japan involved in these difficulties. And so it was no accident at all that some of the leaders of the vast business firms in Japan were targets of the assassins in the early and the mid 19th 30s. Now also many of the career military men particularly had become very much concerned with what was referred to then as dangerous thoughts or radicalism. Now there were two sources for concern. Young Japanese military men and indeed some civilian leaders on this issue of radicalism in the first place. There was a minor Well radical current inside Japan itself. For example socialism had been introduced into Japan at the end of the 19th century
and the Japanese Communist Party was established in the early 1920s. It was the target of suppression and suspicion on the part of the Japanese government. But nevertheless it was no on. But there were a very very small number of Japanese communists who were attempting to organize and to act politically. And of course a different kind of reaction inside Japan particularly among intellectuals and especially among unemployed university graduates that led them in the direction of communism radicalism in general because they saw in these foreign ID is both an explanation and a possible solution to the grave economic difficulties of Japan and indeed these were grave in the late 1920s and the early 1930s. Now the second source of concern about radicalism. It
was extra No. And of course what I'm referring to is the Soviet Union. The revolution had taken place in the fall of 1017. The government had established itself had become steadily stronger in the decade of the 1920s and also the leaders of the Soviet Union they don't have secret of the fact that they were supporters of international Communism which meant of course the world revolution now because Russia had been a traditional enemy of Japan. Recall the war of one thousand four five between Imperial Japan and Imperial Russia. But also because of this new element of communism they Japanese military leaders became more and more concerned about this steadily developing neighbor and a boat. The idea is that this government this neighbor
was trying to support. So consequently there was a strong anti radical anti communist motivation. Again both the young and old officers inside Japan. Now also as I pointed out very briefly in an earlier broadcast both the Army and the Navy leaders were very resentful of the moves in the direction of disarmament that the Japanese government had taken in the decade of the 1920s. This was not only a loss of power and prestige to them as individuals and a group but according to their reading of the international situation this was weakening Japan a very great deal and it consequently exposing Japan to a very grave international dangers on the scene of world politics. Now all of these arguments were brought together and given focus in the Person of the
imperial throne of the Emperor. Because the leaders of all of these movements that I have outlined very briefly claimed that all that they were trying to do was to eliminate the evil leaders of the Japanese government who were giving the Emperor the wrong kind of advice and consequently leading him and the country into very grave difficulties. So they Manchurian incident and they may 15th and February 26 incidents were all carried out in the name of the Emperor and of the glory of Japan and the strengthening of the country through the conquest of wealth the economic and the political problems that one were both very real and second for which again the military claim to have the solution. So consequently By 1936 it was perfectly clear that Japan was dominated not controlled completely by any
means but dominated internally by the military not only the generals and the admirals but also with the support of a very substantial segment of both the officers corps and the rank and file. Now this raises the question of why it was that Japan utilized its militarism in acts of aggression against both its near neighbors and some of its more distant neighbors on the world scene. In the first place it is important to note that as I have stressed earlier Japan was involved in a whole series of wars from the first war against China in 1894 5 down to this Manchurian incident which was an undeclared war incidentally of one thousand thirty one and one thousand thirty two. Now the Japanese found this series of wars which incidentally came along about once every 10 years.
Enormously beneficial. Obviously there were casualties there were economic cost involved in these wars but on the other hand the cost of war to Japan. Again till the second world war it was very slight indeed. But the returns were very large. Japan acquired territory Japan acquired the island of Taiwan and to Korea as a colony directly or indirectly as a result of resort to war. Japan established this very important base in Manchuria through military action also automatically Japan's military power developed as it became involved in war and as it was victorious in war. As I have already pointed out from 1894 5 onward Japan's land and naval power expanded steadily until by the early 1930s Japan was recognized and rightly so as a great
military power. Now also there was the fact that militarism and the resort to war were intimately woven into Japanese economic development because obviously from the very beginning enormous stress that had been placed on the industrial sector the heavy industrial sector and in order to provide the armaments that were being utilized by the Japanese military and its wars. Now I pointed out that grave economic difficulties did follow the First World War. But on the other hand these were to be explained in terms other than military terms in terms other than those involved in Japan's resort to war. Now on the other hand again from the 1890s onward Japan obtained direct economic gains from its resort to war. It gained control over sources of raw material in
China. In Korea it gained access to markets in these areas. So in economic terms it seemed to many of Japan's leaders that war was indeed profitable. And finally of course as I've already indicated there were diplomatic returns to Japan as a result of successful recourse to war simply again the prestige and the recognition that accrued to the country as a result of the use of war in order to further Japan's foreign policy. So consequently there was everything to encourage Japan to continue to resort to war after the advent to a position of power by the Japanese military in roughly the first half of the 1930s. Now you know Ed. There are certain other factors operating outside of Japan that encourage Japan to resort to aggression to resort to force to military
force in the execution of its foreign policy. Now in the first place there was the problem of the opening of Japan itself. Commodore Perry Fortunately for everyone did not go to war in order to open Japan in order to conclude Japan's first treaty. Modern diplomatic treaty on the other hand it was perfectly clear to the Japanese that Perry was able to conclude this treaty simply because he commanded superior force even though he did not use that force against the Japanese. And so the lesson was not lost by any means on the Japanese. As I have already indicated also the Japanese had before them the example of what was happening to China just across the way from the early 1840s onward. China fought and lost a whole series of minor wars against the Western
powers and finally against Japan and this one obviously was weakening China but too was operating to the benefit of those countries again including Japan that had succeeded in defeating China with that with ease. Now another phenomenon of the 19th century dating well back before the beginning of the 19th century but certainly by the middle of the century was observable to all was the development of Western colonialism in Asia the Philippines Indonesia Burma. But isn't it used to be known as India China all either came under the control of the Western colonial powers in the latter part of the one thousandth century or were exploited in Colonial terms far more than they ever had before. Now again they reason for colonialism was perfectly clear. It was simply that the Western
powers were militarily strong enough to enforce their wills on people on the other side of the world in Asia. Now what the Japanese emerged into in the last half of the 19th century was an international situation in which the dominant theme of relations between and among nations was the familiar phrase might is right. In other words Western powers were getting away with anything that they wanted to do as long as they were militarily powerful enough to do what they wanted to do. So consequently it was this international situation that encouraged the Japanese very definitely to resort to the building up of their own military strength. And when the proper point was reached to begin to utilize that military strength. Now recall also that
one of the motivating factors behind the whole process of modernization in Japan was fear fear that Japan would become involved in a war with a Western power or a group of Western powers and would lose that war with consequent disastrous effects to the Japanese themselves. And this was a spur to the concentration on the building up of Japan's military strength and also to the. Again to this general process of modernization. So consequently Japan again by the 1890s was ready and willing to begin to utilize its military power and in other words simply Japan one develop the kinds of military power that the Western nations had already developed and secondly Japan was ready and willing to use its military power
just as the Western nations had been using their military power in many areas of Asia. Again the particular and particularly over the last half of the 19th century. Now also as I have emphasized on several occasions earlier there was a favorable international reaction to Japanese military strength and Japanese military achievements. You will recall that Japan was accepted as a great power by one thousand twenty eight and that Japan had steadily gained in power influence and prestige through its victories in war against imperial China against imperial Russia and against imperial Germany in the sense that Japan both rejected Imperial Germany from China and was on the side of the victorious allies in the first world war. No Also there was
the very important question relating to Japan's resort to aggression of what might be referred to as the power differential. The difference between the military power of Japan and that existing in the areas around Japan. Now it is an obvious fact of modern Asian history that China and Korea were extremely weak internally indeed both were in situations of what could be described as near chaos. By the last half of the 19th century and consequently were in no position to resist anyone. This was the reason why Japan was able to defeat China. And this was the reason also why Japan was able to penetrate as deeply as it did into Korea prior to an accession in 1910. Now this weakness in the immediate neighborhood of Japan was a
magnet a natural attraction for Japan to utilize its military power. Japan also was fortunate in waging a war against a weak Western power namely Imperial Russia. Because even though in 1905 Imperial Russia was recognized beyond any question as being a great world power. There were already grave signs of internal disintegration and there were certain other economic and strategic factors that contributed to Japan's victory. Now in addition to that there was the important consideration that none of the other Western powers down to the Second World War was in the position to stand in the way of Japanese power. There was a military presence an American a British a French ship Dutch military presence in Asia prior to the outbreak of the Second
World War. But this was very minor indeed. But more importantly there was the fact that the Western powers were not willing to stand in the way of Japanese militarism. But through the use of their own military force. You have just heard a broadcast on the topic the roots of aggression. The seventh of a series titled Japan 1868 through 1968 with John M. Maki professor of government and vice dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Massachusetts. The title of the next broadcast in the series is prelude to Pearl Harbor Japan 1868 through 968 comes to you from WFC are five College Radio in Amherst Massachusetts. This program was distributed by the national educational radio network.
Japan: 1868-1968
The Roots of Aggression
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WFCR (Radio station : Amherst, Mass.)
Four College Radio
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Producing Organization: WFCR (Radio station : Amherst, Mass.)
Producing Organization: Four College Radio
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-35-7 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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Chicago: “Japan: 1868-1968; The Roots of Aggression,” 1968-10-21, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 23, 2024,
MLA: “Japan: 1868-1968; The Roots of Aggression.” 1968-10-21. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 23, 2024. <>.
APA: Japan: 1868-1968; The Roots of Aggression. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from