USM Open Source History Text: The World at War: World History 1914-1945

Japan toward the 1930s

We have seen in the past weeks the transformation from a weak and inward-looking Tokugawa Japan to a forceful, expansionist, and nationalist Japan under the Meiji emperor and the new constitutional government. We also saw how Japanese modernization impacted its military capacity during the Russo-Japanese War, which Japan won decisively both on land and at sea. By the end of World War I, Japan had used its position in the region and its alliance with the entente powers against Germany (and following the war its alliance with anti-Bolsheviks in the West against the Red Army) to secure possession of Taiwan (Formosa), the Korean Peninsula, and economic interests in Manchuria. Japan’s actions in the international arena during this time mirrored those of most other industrializing states. Japan sought access to raw materials to support domestic production, adequate agricultural production to feed its surging urban populations (and population in general), and markets in which to sell manufactured goods. Domestically, Japan’s situation mirrored that of other non-Western societies struggling with the impacts of Western culture and globalization. Unlike other major industrial powers like the United States, England, or France, Japan had geographic limits to in all three areas of its foreign policy agenda. Its territory was resource poor, especially in key industrial resources like iron, coal, oil and rubber. It was agriculturally deficient, relying on imports of stable goods. And it was not in control of its own markets (like England was in India and throughout its empire), thus making its economic position vulnerable to protectionist policies and other price manipulations. The tensions caused by this position, especially after the economic crash that began in 1929, led to the gradual deterioration of the democratic, progressive structure of Japanese society and the rise of military-led authoritarianism bent on imperial expansion and supported by a fascistic ideological blend of state economic/military planning, conservatism, modernization/radicalism, and racial superiority. In the end, the goal of Japan’s military and industrial elite, like the Nazis, was economic autarky with the Japanese ruling over a vast, subservient Asian empire that would stretch from China to Australia.

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