Militarism: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 Militarism
  • 0:50 North Korea
  • 2:10 Soviet Union
  • 2:57 Sparta
  • 3:32 World War I & Militarism
  • 4:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stephen Benz

Stephen has a JD and a BA in sociology and political science.

Militarism is the belief that the military should play a central role in society. It usually features high government spending and aggression with neighbors. We look at three examples and then note the role of militarism in the First World War.

Definition of Militarism

Kim Jong-un is officially known as the 'supreme leader of North Korea.' Every year, Kim Jong-un presides over a massive military parade full of comically synchronized soldiers marching through the streets, gigantic tanks and gargantuan missiles on full display, and the mandatory aerial flybys of fighter jets.

These displays are examples of militarism. In a militaristic society, the government extensively promotes and develops the country's military for aggressive use against any enemies. In such a society, the military plays a central role in the government, if not the predominant role.

In this lesson, we'll look at three different examples of militaristic societies. We will also consider the role that militarism played in helping begin the First World War.

North Korea

Imagine a country where every day, the front page of the newspaper announces the latest activities of the military. As weird as that might seem, that is the daily reality for North Koreans.

North Korea officially came about from the division of the Korean Peninsula into the communist-backed North and the democratically-backed South during the Korean War. North Korea was backed by the Chinese government, whereas South Korea was backed by the United States.

Due to its origins from a deadly war, North Korea has always placed a priority on military spending. In fact, North Korea is driven by the doctrine of Songun, which translates as 'military first'. For North Koreans, this means that all spending in the country is prioritized towards military spending. Thus, North Korea spends nearly 25% of its government budget on the military and has 40% of its population in either active or reserved military duty. Despite being a relatively small country, it has the largest military in the world when taking into account active and reserved duty members, with about nine million members as of 2013. The immense amount of spending on the military is particularly surprising for outside observers, considering the low standard of living and poverty for the rest of North Koreans.

Soviet Union

Another prominent example of militarism was the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union, similar to North Korea, had several military parades that boasted the Soviet military on an annual basis. Although the Soviet Union kept their spending secret, United States government officials estimated that about 18% of all spending in the Soviet Union during the 1980s was targeted towards military spending.

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