How did militarists gain control of Japan?
During the 1920s and 1930s, the Japanese economy relied heavily on the export of silk and cotton textiles. Silk prices dropped dramatically because of the depression, which began in 1929. Meanwhile, the Chinese started to boycott Japanese cotton goods for political reasons. Many people in Japan argued for a new, aggressive foreign policy to acquire control of Manchuria, which was formally part of China and had a substantial Chinese population, and where the Japanese army had maintained a presence since the end of the Russo-Japanese war in 1905; in this way, Japan hoped to retain at least the Manchurian market and Manchuria’s resources. The Chiang Kai Shek nationalists reunified China in the late 1920s and wanted, on the contrary, to free China from Japanese military and economic influence as much as possible.
Young Japanese officers believed that the Japanese government, which had agreed to naval armaments restrictions in negotiations with European powers at the 1924 Washington conference, was undermining the military strength of Japan. In September, 1931, these young officers decided to use the Kwantung army, the separate branch of the Japanese military that was stationed in Machuria, to launch an all-out conquest of Manchuria, which they turned into the Japanese vassal state of Manchukuo. The Japanese government made only weak and unsuccessful attempts to reassert its authority over the popular, influential officers and to contain them as they continued to expand from their Manchurian power base into the neighboring Chinese provinces.
The Japanese militarists invested large sums of money into the development of industry (including steel) and mining in Manchuria. By this time, Japan was growing increasingly dependent on the resources of its other colonies, in particular Korea and Taiwan. This gave an additional boost to domestic imperialist propaganda.
The inevitable confrontation with Chiang Kai Shek forces in July 1937 quickly turned into a full-fledged war, which eventually became part of World War II. By this time, the militarists were shaping Japanese policies and controlling the government.
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A rising tide of ultra-nationalism coupled with severe economic problems led to the rise of militarists in Japan. Between 1932-1936 admirals operated the Japanese government. This happened as a result of over a decade of political and economic turmoil on the island nation.
The 1920's was a time of great political distress in Japan. Some democratic reforms were won by the left in the early period and more citizens were given a voice in government. On the right, however, nationalists attempted to slow the stem of reform, viewing it as an unnecessary Western influence. In 1925, the Public Security Preservation Law created a dramatic reduction in political freedoms. It even established a secret police to control political dissent.
The stock market crash in the United States in 1929 caused great harm to the economy of Japan. Inflation and unemployment were indicators of a broken economy. It was in this environment that the military was able to gain more power. A program of nationalist indoctrination swept over Japan. The emperor was elevated as a god. In 1930, ultra-nationalists shot the prime minister and he was never able to regain his health. The civilian government was losing its leadership. By 1931, the military decided that an empire would help to cure the ills of Japan. In the summer of that year, against the wishes of the civilian government, the army invaded Manchuria in China. It was clear at this time that the military was in control of the Japanese government.
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