The Rise and Fall of Imperial Japan

free essayIn the early twentieth century, the West looked at Japan with benevolent condescension. During the mid-1850s, the American captain Matthew Perry brought Japanese dubious benefits of “Western civilization” (Rees, 2002, p.145). Another officer in the US Navy Lieutenant Pinkerton in Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” helped create in the minds of Westerners the image of the “land of blooming cherry trees and chrysanthemums” (Rees, 2002, p.231). Within the Western countries camp, England, shocked with Japan’s victory over the Russian colossus in 1904, welcomed the “brave little Japanese” as the allies in the First World War (Rees, 2002, p.26). However, ten years after the end of the war, this kind of image disappeared nearly without a trace. “Brave little Japanese” have become in the eyes of the West the “East Prussia” (Dower, 1993, p.359). Trying to figure out the reasons of such a rapid change, the paper analyzes the Japanese rise and fall in the war period, in particular, 1931-1945. Japan was found to lead vivid and sometimes hidden propaganda campaigns for a long period of time, therefore creating the sole for future victories in the wars (Cook & Cook, 1992, p.75). Japan, being previously considered to be a land of “good little Japanese”, in the period of wars should be considered a tyrant, allowing its citizens to choose without choice and using lie as its main means of gaining respect, and trust on behalf of its people, as well as fear on behalf of its enemies.

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In 1900, Japan was still getting out of its medieval cocoon, with a population of 50 million, and represented for the West the most lucrative market for western goods or one of the cheapest in the world’s landfills for the US and European manufacturers (Dower, 1993, p.377). Nevertheless, as soon as the last vestiges of the Middle Ages were dropped, in two decades Japan became an industrialized country. With the help of a large and cheap labor force, it soon began to usurp traditional Western markets and sell products cheaper than the West in their own countries.

During the Depression in the early thirties, Americans and Europeans have introduced harsh tariffs against Japanese goods (Rees, 2002, p.36). Therefore, Japan was forced to search for new markets. China became its main source of coal and iron ore. It soon became clear that in neighboring East Asia it has to gain a foothold in the markets, which could permanently count. It was fraught with conflicts with the Western powers, which due to commercial and political relations were dominant there. The positive image of Japan on behalf of the Western powers began to change.

The process was accelerated by an increase in the West Japan’s unpopularity because of its invasion of China in 1931 under the pretext that China allegedly blew up a part of the Manchurian Railroad in Mukden, owned by Japan (Cook & Cook, 1992, p. 24). In fact, the accident was conceived and carried out by the Japanese army as a pretext for going into war. The invasion was met with general hostility in America. America began to consider Japan, rather than European countries, as its potential enemy in the next war. Although Congress passed a law on neutrality and declared that the United States will remain deaf to the conflict between the China and Japan, the sympathy of both America and England were on the side of China. They even have helped the country build a road to Burma to ensure the receipt of war material (Cook & Cook, 1992, p. 26).

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In Japan, the art of government and practical politics was always intertwined with religion. Behind the religious curtain, a complex political game was planned and organized. By the mid-thirties, the Government of Japan, following its policies, became an appendage of the armed forces. The generals took over both the legislative and executive branches and formed an independent body that was responsible only to the throne. Logically, the Japanese Parliament began to play the same role as the Reichstag under Hitler, stamping government decrees. The military did not only pursue such a policy, it took an active role in formulating it. The penetration of the military spirit in the education system soon made it a reliable tool in the formation of a new “war of ideas”. Children were taught that the soldiers killed in battle, serve some good in the tomb of the great men of the Japanese Yasukuni and that war with China was fair and supported by gods (Brook, 1999, p. 248).

During the war, all these forms of government control (media propaganda, religion) have been greatly expanded. In 1942, the government created the National Patriotic Association of Publishers, which included writers, orators, novelists, historians, and philosophers (Rees, 2002, p. 51). When the tide of war changed not in favor of Japan, they were instructed to carry out across the country a series of lectures to tell people about the dangers of defeatism. In the country “patriotic literary gatherings” regularly took place, analyzing a series of books about the destruction of the British and the Americans. The country acquired a new motto – the defeat of America and England. After the press and radio, these, monstrous in size meetings, similar to Nazis, were the most effective propaganda weapon. In contrast to this anti-Anglo-Saxon propaganda, Japan conducted a campaign of Nazi power glorification, methods of which the Japanese militarists adored. Japan’s government and military forces aimed to establish a new order that had to ensure the permanent stability of East Asia (Cook & Cook, 1992, p. 22).

In the last stages of the war, Japanese propagandists resorted to stories about the atrocities in order to whip up patriotism. They argued that if the Americans won, they would destroy the entire male population of Japan to make Japanese women their mistresses. As a result, they left any self-respecting Japanese no choice except to die for their country. After the bloody battle for the island of Okinawa, many Japanese in Tokyo believed that every woman out there was at least once raped by an American soldier (Brook, 1999, p. 235).


It is complicated to imagine oneself living in a country where war is an ordinary thing, directed at enhancing prosperity, welfare, and peace (although it sounds funny). Nevertheless, it is not complicated to imagine living in a country that lies to you, while every government in a particular way lies and widely broadcasts its propaganda. Even nowadays, it is impossible to predict and understand whether the news presented on TV, in the newspaper, radio, or on the Internet are not a part of state’s plan and a means of hidden propaganda. The country gave Japanese people choice without a choice. Living in such a state, a person had only two options – either obey and really believe in everything the country was claiming true, or to disobey, try to find the truth – and, sooner or later, be punished by the state for high treason. Choosing out of these options, those who wanted to live as slaves chose the first one while those who aimed at some positive changes and freedom chose the latter. The Documents on the rape of Nanking presents a clear picture of the cruel and horrible acts, a part of which was Japan. Horror in the East: Japan and the Atrocities of World War II as the above-mentioned work also depicts the shocking and horrifying methods Japanese government resorted to, but it devoted more time to analyzing why and how this happened. Moreover, one more work Factories of Death in a form of a novel, in details describe the horrible experiments (testing pathogens on human) Japanese scientists conducted trying to create the superhuman nation (Harris, 2002, p. 78).

On the other hand, one has to note that, despite all the disadvantages of the international and inner politics, Japan deserved respect and trust on behalf of its citizens. Moreover, the rapid transformation of Japan from a good nation to the “East Prussia” was partly caused by the world’s perception and attitude towards Japanese. Accordingly, it was not just the fault of Japanese government that the country followed a fascist totalitarian regime. A considerable role was played by the Anglo-American racist attitude towards Japanese people. They were considered subhuman, “little men, inferior to white westerns in every physical, moral, and intellectual way” (Dower, 1993, p. 363). Moreover, they were considered “primitive, childish, and mad” (Dower, 1993, p. 363). As a result, the position of complete inferiority encouraged the country to prove its power, opportunities, and influence with the help of invasions and wars.

Between the states of East and West, there are numerous similarities, such as they all insisted on instilling militarist ideas. The Japanese, like the Germans, believed that their country was fateful and that war was bringing unquestionable benefits. However, in Japan, fascism or Nazism in its European form got no support and did not spread. Japanese military leaders shared the responsibility, fiercely argued and were guided by mutual compromises. They never promised their people a short and easy war, as did the Germans. On the contrary, they always said that it was impossible to anticipate the end of the war. Their victory at the beginning of hostilities was interpreted as having not a momentary decisive effect but a long-term, cumulative result of the fight, which could last a century. It lasted exactly three years and four months. All in all, having analyzed the politics led by Japan in the war period, one can be sure of one thing – they possessed a gift of great persuasion and became true experts in the art of lie.