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From WFC are five College Radio in Amherst Massachusetts. We present Japan 1868 through 968 this year has been officially designated as the centennial of the beginning of the modernization of Japan and this is the sixth of a series of broadcasts with John a mucky 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 militarism. Professor Markey what I referred to earlier as the incredible drama of the life you know he told the Emperor of Japan was a true reflection of the history of this country. But on the other hand good obviously was by no means the entire history of his country. I would like to sketch out very briefly the principal developments in Japanese history sense over approximately the past third of a century.
As I emphasized in an earlier broadcast the decade of the 1920s the last half of which marked the beginning of the rule of the present Emperor held promises for both good and for ill. And unfortunately it was the promise for Israel not only as far as the Japanese people were concerned but the neighbors of Japan and much of the rest of the world. It was this possibility that was realized. The decade of the 1930s was marked obviously by the beginning of the major phase of Japan's aggression. A career a policy of aggression that had begun to develop even before the opening of the 20th century. Now this major period of aggression was marked characterized by developments moles inside and obviously outside the country.
Inside Japan the military came to power. And from roughly 1931 down to the end of the Second World War it was no exaggeration to say that it was the military who called the tune in matters first of government and then of politics. Now as you might expect not only was this the domination of the military carried to rise by a great emphasis on military affairs of all kinds but also by the development of authoritarian government in Japan. Indeed the Democratic promise that I referred to earlier the promise of the 1920s disappeared very rapidly and by roughly the mid 19th 30s. There were only exceptional signs of the democracy that many people just a few short years earlier had thought had been well rooted in Japan.
Now also this was the period of the 1930s was the period of major aggression on the continent directed obviously and initially against China. From 1931 onward to the end of the second world war Japan was continuously involved either in actual military aggression against China or in a period of preparation for that aggression. Now also the decade of the 1930s witnessed the alignment of Japan with the Axis powers in Europe. Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. And quite clearly this meant the development of the line up of one side in what became by 939 the actual second world war. The decade of the 1940s was one of
intense drama. To put it very mildly. The opening years of the decade of the 1940 roughly from the summer 7th 1941 into the summer of 1940 three witnessed the height of the military power and the associated military glory of modern Japan. As a matter of fact by 1941 Japan was recognized without qualification as being one of the really great military powers of the world great in terms of the size of its land armies the size of its navy and the size of its air force and the Japanese succeeded in utilizing that military power very effectively effectively again for their own purposes for the achievement of a certain policy in the Asian part of the world and in directly into many other parts of the world. On the other hand
from this peak of military strength Japan went very rapidly downhill. The problem was not that the Japanese military machine as it used to be referred to turned out to be defective put rather this whole career of military aggression finally arrayed against Japan. A combination of enemies that Japan found it impossible to resist. And of course this combination of military enemies was headed by the United States. The disaster struck of course in August of 1945. The disaster of military defeat and that was climaxed by the use of the two atomic bombs against Japan in early August of 1945 followed by another military and psychological development of very great significance namely the
declaration of war on Japan by the Soviet Union. Now the Soviets contribution to the defeat of Japan was by almost any standards except the propaganda standard utilized by the Soviet Union. A very minor one indeed. On the other hand this act coming as it did immediately after the two A-bombs and as a further military climax to the intense military pressure to which Japan had been subjected for well over a year meant that the Japanese clearly could not continue. Now this crazy impact of military defeat in a very spectacular one indeed was followed by an allied military occupation. Now military occupation is a traumatic event in the history of any country and initially the Japanese many Japanese I should say regarded it
as an all too obvious mark of humiliation humiliation piled on the country as a result of the figure of the military policies of the country. On the other hand as a result of some very dramatic developments it became speedily apparent that is within the space of less than five years between one thousand forty five thousand nine hundred fifty. But this military occupation was in a very real sense a blessing in disguise. Not only did it mean obviously the end of the war and all that that had brought to the Japanese people but it meant in addition the reorientation indeed almost the reconstitution of Japanese society. And some people referred to what began in Japan in the last half of the 1940s as the Democratic Revolution a bloodless revolution but on the other hand
a shift in Japan's politics and government and economy and indeed society that must be described by the revolution. The decade of the 1950s was in a sense a kind of a transitional decade. They occupation came to an end early in the 1950s. At the end of April in 1952 as a matter of fact and on the other hand Japan was still involved in the process of repairing the very extensive damage that was inflicted in the closing stages of the war. Now also the decade of the 1950s witnessed the beginning of the emergence of a new kind of Japanese nation. Or to go back to the theme of the series of broadcast a new stage of the modernization of Japan.
Now very briefly what began in the decade of the 1950s after the end of the occupation and has continued down to the present day has been well a furthering of this democratic revolution not simply a political revolution but a revolution one way or another has touched virtually all areas of Japanese society. In the first place the Japanese demonstrated during the 1950s that they were developing an operative system of democracy or a system of democracy that guaranteed the Japanese people the rights and the freedoms of a democratic system no matter where it might be and the institution of a system of government that in a very real sense has served the Japanese people and has not controlled the Japanese people as was true
of the Japanese government in the modern period prior to the end of the Second World War. Now also as the world is aware Japan witnessed the beginning of its period of fantastic economic development of economic growth in all sectors of the economy and an unprecedented economic prosperity. Now also there was the fascinating and extremely difficult to evaluate the phenomenon of very rapid social change growing partly out of political developments partly out of economic developments and operating as you might say under its own steam namely that Japanese attitudes began to change partly as a result of these traumatic events of the late 1940s but also began to change because of what you might describe as a
kind of a culmination of the process of modernization that after all was three quarters of a century old when the Second World War came to an end. Now externally Of course Japan has been following a far different kind of policy namely one of renunciation of the use of force in its foreign policy and also a policy of alliance with the free world and very specifically alliance with the United States. Now this current decade of the 1960s now rapidly drawing to a close has seen the further development of the promising trends of the decade of the 1950s. Japan's democracy has indicated in this decade that it is on a very firm foundation. Economic development has continued to pace and perhaps most significantly of all particularly for Japan itself is the fact that since the
mid-1960s particularly Japan has begun to play a far more assertive although by not at all aggressive role not only in Asian affairs but in world affairs in general. Oh I would like to go back and begin to take a look at some of the broad developments that have characterized Japan during the rule of the Emperor Hirohito. And the broad development or indeed the phenomenon that I want to discuss for the remainder of this broadcast is that of Japanese militarism which as I have indicated had been the predominant theme in the modernization of Japan from 1870 onward and had come to dominate Japan particularly from 1930 down to the end of the Second World War.
Now this phenomenon of militarism in Japan was not simply the result of the plotting and the actions of a few evil men of generals and admirals who had decided for their own personal glory and for the glory of their country to do certain things to their people and to do certain things for their nation and in the process to do some very evil things to their neighbors and to other peoples and other nations scattered throughout the world. Japanese militarism in a very real sense was a product of Japanese history. Obviously there had to be actors there had to be men generals and admirals lesser officers civilian supporters who manifested this militarism and who did the things that are usually associated with militarism. No matter where it might develop.
No the spirit of militarism or sometimes as it is sometimes referred to the military tradition was rooted very deeply indeed in Japanese society. Actually what is usually referred to as the warrior class became the dominant class in Japanese society about the middle of the 12th century A.D. there occurred around the year 11:50 a series of military and political and indeed social and economic events that were the culmination of again a long historical development and for a period of almost 700 years from about 11:50 down to the middle of the 19th century as I have been emphasizing this warrior class was the dominant group inside Japan. As I just indicated there were
historical antecedents for the development of this position but. From roughly the last half of the twelfth century onwards there was no question as to the role of this newly arisen group in Japanese society. As I have indicated there is no question but that the warrior class was the dominant social class and it enjoyed all of the prestige and all of the respect that normally accrues to any class in any society that enjoys such a dominant position. And not only that but one which endured over so many centuries. Now very briefly the warrior class dominated Japanese government and dominated Japanese politics during this long period of seven hundred years. Also it dominated the economic activities of Japanese society. This grasped this control over economic
affairs began to weaken. During the last century approximately of the Tokugawa period but never the less. Even though their position was being threatened Nevertheless on paper and in real terms the warrior class was still economically dominant. In addition however there was the very important point that the warrior class played an extremely important role in the cultural activities of Japanese society. It was not a class that lived by the sword alone. Obviously it was the source of their political power and obviously of course the foundation on which their dominant social position was built. On the other hand the cultural contributions the contributions in literature in Art thought in the theater were very great indeed. Now as a matter of fact it was the actions of the activities of the warrior class
in the area of culture that demonstrated the degree to which they did enjoy this dominant position in Japanese society. Now in addition to that there was the highly important point that what could be described as the warrior ideal or to use a slightly more intellectual term perhaps the ethic of the warrior class was accepted by Japanese society as a whole. All of those individuals and perhaps groups might have come to resent from time to time the kinds of control the kinds of domination that were typical of the warrior rule. Nevertheless Japanese society in general did accept as right and to a considerable extent as good. The situation in which the country was dominated by this warrior class. Now as I have indicated the warrior
class did make contributions cultural contributions to Japanese society that were accepted by society that became a part of the traditions of Japanese society. Part of the literary tradition part of the aesthetic tradition clearly also the activities of individual warriors of warrior families and of the class were firmly woven in to the history of Japan a history that was not widely known throughout the country. But on the other hand it was a history that was written that was recorded and in a very real sense was a true history of the development of Japanese society. Now in other words what the warrior class did what it stood for was firmly woven in to the whole web of Japanese society by again the middle 19th century when this process of modernization began.
Now it is not at all surprising that this tradition this seven centuries old tradition remains a very strong component of the traditional element in Japanese society that was retained as a very powerful core of this Japanese society which was undergoing the process of modernization. Now on the other hand very rapidly the nature of this military spirit this military tradition began to undergo a rapid change after 1870 after this process of modernization began. What Japan was witnessing was the emergence of modern militarism. You know the old warrior class was formally abolished in the early 1870s as a part of the destruction of the old that
necessarily had to be a characteristic feature of the process of modernization. It is a very remarkable historical and indeed cultural development. That minute from the warrior class in Japan who became the new leaders of the country deliberately destroyed the dominant position of their class not of their own position as individual leaders of the new Japan but of their class in Japan. No longer was there a formal warrior class indeed but the leaders of the new Japan did was to eliminate on paper at least the formal class distinctions that had become a mark of Japanese society. And as I have just said destroyed the dominant position of the class from which they had come. They saw very clearly that what Japan had to do in many areas could
not be done by a warrior class or indeed could not be done by a society that was narrowly and firmly divided up into classes or into various kinds of subgroups. Now as I pointed out in an earlier broadcast the leaders of the new Japan the great majority of these leaders came from this old warrior class which to all intents and purposes was destroyed by these new leaders themselves. Now the warrior antecedents of these new leaders of Japan and clearly it was one reason why it was that militarism are building the building up of Japan's military strength which is a more precise way of putting it in the 1870s became a central element in the process of modernization. These men also were confronted in a situation in which they were
convinced that their country Japan might be attacked by the nations of the Western world. They observed just across the way in China that from the early 1840s China had become enmeshed in a whole series of minor wars all of which it lost with the result that the Western powers dominated China more and more in the half century between roughly 1840 and in 1890. In addition the leaders of Japan were fully aware of the fact that one reason why the country was opened by Commodore Perry succeeded in his negotiations with the Tokugawa government in the early 1850s was that Perry and his squadron were militarily far more powerful than anything Japan had. And behind Perry was the United States government which as useful as it
was as a nation nevertheless possessed a military potential far beyond anything that Japan had at that particular time. Now all through the rest of the 19th century at least down into the 1890s one of the pervading fears of the leaders of Japan was that somehow some way Japan might become involved in a war that it could not win with all of the disastrous consequences that were perfectly clear to them. So as a central theme in this process of modernization from the beginning from 1870 was the building up of Japanese military strength specifically the creation of a modern army and the creation of a modern navy. Now as things turned out Japan never had to utilize this military power in this particular sense as a defense of Japan. On the other
hand it is perfectly clear that the existence of the military power even a very minor military power by the standards of the 1870s and eighteen eighties constituted a problem that any foreign government had to take into account if it began to think in terms of applying military pressure on Japan. Now this highly important decision to emphasize the development of Japan's military establishment had a another very important effect. It meant that military affairs were a central concern of this new government from the very beginning. That from the early 1870s onward the military required a substantial percentage of the Japanese budget. And it is perfectly obvious that in any government in any aspect of governmental affairs any
operation that D-men has a substantial percentage of the budget clearly occupies a central position in the affairs of that government. Now they in other words the operations of the Japanese government constantly had to take into effect the impact on Japan of all aspects of the problem of the development of military strength. Now also there was the very important question or issue namely that the Japanese government took the decision again in the early 1870s to institute a system of mass conscription. And this system continued for three quarters of a century almost right down to the end of the Second World War. Now this meant that virtually all able bodied males served in the armed forces and directly or in directly almost all Japanese families were brought into direct
contact with either the army or with the Navy. Now in addition to that the Japanese military the Ministry of War and the Navy ministry carried out again from the earliest time what we would describe as an effective propaganda campaign. Not only did they emphasize to the Japanese people the importance the significance of their own operations but also they very firmly related the power and the operations and indeed the success of the military establishment into the fate of the nation itself. So consequently what occurred in Japan was the deeper and deeper integration of the military into all aspects of Japanese society. All members of the society from children on up were made abundantly
Japan: 1868-1968
The Roots of Militarism
Producing Organization
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: 68-35-6 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:23
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Chicago: “Japan: 1868-1968; The Roots of Militarism,” 1968-10-14, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 11, 2022,
MLA: “Japan: 1868-1968; The Roots of Militarism.” 1968-10-14. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 11, 2022. <>.
APA: Japan: 1868-1968; The Roots of Militarism. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from