1. Japan in the 1930s: Militarism and Ultranationalism

Some general questions: Japanese experience with militarism and ultranationalism ended with defeat on August 15, 1945. Why is the history of the war years (event that took place more than 60 years ago) still contested? What role does the history and memory of the war years play in contemporary Japanese international relations? What role does the history and memory of the war years play in contemporary national self identity? What is the difference between ghistoryh and gmemoryh? Why does the past matter?

Some more specific question: Who should accept the responsibility for going to war? Were the people the victims of militarism or were they the willing supporters of militarism? Why did Japan and China go to war in July 1937? Why did Japan and the United States go to war in 1941?

Some background information:

  1. Shidehara Kijûrô and Tanaka Giichi: two paths open to Japan at the end of the 1920s
    Why did Japan chose the path that led to militarism?

  2. The Great Depression
    What role did the crash of the American stock market on October 24, 1929 play in Japan?
    Civilian rule (Prime Minister Hamaguchi; Foreign Minister Shidehara) attacked for failure to help the people. The stage set for army action; people began to look to the military for salvation.

  3. The Manchurian Incident: September 18, 1931
    Why did the Japanese military (the Kwantung Army) attempt a coup dftat? Why couldnft the civilian government control the military?. May 15, 1932: Prime Minister Inukai assassinated; put an end to party government; military begins to dominate government policy.

  4. Going it Alone: Japan withdraws from the League of Nations on March 27, 1933
    The Manchurian Incident was a major turning point; Japan abandoned a general policy of cooperation with the West that had governed its international behavior since the Meiji Restoration (1868); increasingly Japan’s leaders spoke of an “Asian Monroe Doctrine.” What does this mean?

  5. Militarism; how defined? Government by assassination; a series of incidents culminating with the February 26, 1936 incident; thereafter control of the Japanese government firmly in hands of the military. Attempt is to transform Japan into a military garrison state or national defense state. Why?

  6. Where did these ideas come from and why were they so attractive in the 1930s?
    Army Factions: the Kōdō (Imperial Way) faction and the Tōsei (Control) faction The leader of the Tōsei faction was Tōjo Hideki. Who was he?

  7. Why did Japan and China go to war? Explaining the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, July 7, 1937. Japanese troops entered Nanjing on December 13, 1937

  8. Why did Japan and the United States go to war? Explaining Pearl Harbor, December 8, 1941.

For additional information:

Many books have been written about Japanese militarism and ultranationalism. The classic study of Japanese wartime thought and psychology is Maruyama Masao, Thought and Behavior in Modern Japanese Politics (Oxford, 1963). Ienaga Saburo has written a comprehensive study of the ideas and events that led to war: The Pacific War (Random House, 1978). John Dower’s War Without Mercy (Random House, 1984) shows how racial prejudices allowed Japanese and Americans to think it was legitimate to kill each other. Haruko Taya Cook and Theodore Cook have published an extraordinary account of the war from the point of view of ordinary Japanese people: Japan at War: An Oral History (New Press, 1992).