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

The Waning of Japanese Democracy and the Rise of Military Authoritarianism

In the wake of the Great Depression and the spectacular success of the campaign in Manchuria, the legitimacy of the parliamentary government in Tokyo increasingly came into focus. On the other side, the authority of the military establishment and insurgent military groups like the Manchurian-based Imperial Way gained popular support and power within both military and civilian institutions. During the 1930s, the military increasingly moved to take control of Japanese politics and society, marginalizing and then terminating the authority of the government, re-orienting and co-opting the Zaibatsu conglomerates in its push toward massive military development, and terrorizing potential political opponents through its secret police arms. Though the military establishment under the so-called Control Faction purged the more ideological members of the Imperial Way in 1936, following a coup d’état attempt, it maintained part of the ideological agenda of the younger zealots, including the belief in Japanese racial superiority over other Asians, Japanese rights to control an East Asian zone of influence, and to some extent the notion of the symbolic power of the emperor. The central pillar of this ideology, as described in Japan’s official “Fundamental Principles of National Policy,” was the creation of a core Japanese zone that included Japan, the newly created puppet state of Manchukao, and northern China. Such a plan set the stage for Japan’s 1937 invasion of China and the beginning of the Second World War in the East.

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