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Greek Drama

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The Rise of Japanese Militarism

Japan's political journey from its quasi-democratic

government in the 1920's to its radical nationalism of the mid 1930's,

the collapse of democratic institutions, and the eventual military

state was not an overnight transformation. There was no coup d'etat,

no march on Rome, no storming of the Bastille. Instead, it was a

political journey that allowed a semi-democratic nation to transform

itself into a military dictatorship. The forces that aided in this

transformation were the failed promises of the Meiji Restoration that

were represented in the stagnation of the Japanese economy, the

perceived capitulation of the Japanese parliamentary leaders to the

western powers, a compliant public, and an independent military.

The ground work for Japanese militarism was a compliant

Japanese public. This pliant public was created through a variety of

factors. Beginning in the 1890's the public education system

indoctrinated students in the ideas of nationalism, loyalty to the

emperor and traditionalist ideas of self-sacrifice and obedience. Thus

ideas that were originally propagated to mobilize support for the

Meiji government were easily diverted to form broad support for

foreign militarism. Japanese society also still held many of the

remnants of feudal culture such as strong confusion beliefs that

stressed support for social order and lack of emphasis on

individualist values. These values taught obedience not to a

democratic but to the emperor; so the fact that the militaristic

government of the 1930's ruled under the emperor meant that the

Japanese were loyal to this government just as they had been to the

government of the 1920's. So when Japan's militaristic government

implemented programs characteristic of totalitarian governments such

as strong media control, a thought police, and community organizations

the public did little to protest. Shintoism provided a religious

justification for nationalism and support for the militaristic

government. Shintoism before the 1930's was primarily a nativistic

religion which stressed nature and harmony. But during the 1930's it

became a ideological weapon teaching Japanese that they were a

superior country that had a right to expand and that its government

was

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