Militarization and Nationalism in Japan in the 1920s-1930s

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  • 0:01 Japan After World War I
  • 1:40 Western Betrayal
  • 3:05 Stability Through Strength
  • 5:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught history, and has an MA in Islamic law/finance. He has since founded his own financial advice firm, Newton Analytical.

Within 13 years, Japan went from a founder of the League of Nations to being the very sort of state that the League was founded to stop. This lesson explores that radical transformation.

Japan After World War I

By the end of World War I, Japan could rightfully expect to be treated as a major power. Respected as a legitimate power since its victory over the Russians in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 through 1905, Japan had now proven itself on a much larger stage. Almost single-handedly, it had cleared German interests from East Asia and put down mutinies of British garrisons in Asia. Additionally, Japanese ships had sailed into the South Atlantic to pursue German U-boats, and even landed in Russia to attempt to contain the Russian Revolution so the Western Allies could focus on defeating Germany.

Additionally, the material needs of Japan's allies meant that manufacturing and industrialization took off quickly, propelling Japan to industrial parity with Western states. In short, Japan had done everything that could be expected of a first-rate power. All the while, Japan had worked to expand its own influence in the East Asian world. After all, since the 1910 invasion of Korea, Japan was an empire in its own right, with significant other island holdings throughout the Pacific. Now, as the rest of the world was busy, the Japanese used their relative strength in the region to ensure that they would gain special treatment in China, especially Manchuria and Inner Mongolia.

Western Betrayal

Such contributions had not gone unnoticed by the Western powers. Japan was rewarded with legal possession of its gains made during the war and was given additional powers at the newly formed League of Nations. However, within a decade those attitudes had shifted. America especially had been wary of Japan's expansion in China. In fact, when the Japanese had proposed to head west and commit more forces to defeating the Communists in Russia, it had been the Americans who protested loudly enough to convince them to withdraw their army.

By the time of the Washington Naval Conference, those attitudes found their way to the paper of the treaty. The conference proposed limits on the world's navies. The British and Americans, each having interests in two oceans, were allowed a significant margin of ships on Japan. For every five ships that either Britain or America had, Japan could only have three. Obviously, this meant that the Americans and the British, by now closer than ever before, could potentially project many more ships in the Pacific than the Japanese could. Problems plagued Japan's empire, as well. The Koreans were resentful for being under the control of the Japanese, who treated them very badly.

Stability Through Strength

Japanese resentment toward the West soon transformed into protests, and conservative elements of Japanese society saw this as an affront to their power. Between those revolts and the perceived insults from the West, increasingly conservative groups were voted into power. As if that weren't enough, by 1930, Japan's economy was in a recession. Japan had depended on its manufacturing plants to supply much of its economic growth, and much of what was manufactured was destined for export.

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