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date: 25 June 2024

Japan: The Culture of Insubordination in the Army, 1868–1945locked

Japan: The Culture of Insubordination in the Army, 1868–1945locked

  • Danny OrbachDanny OrbachDepartment of Asian Studies, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Summary

The soldiers and sailors of Imperial Japan (1868–1945) are often presented in Western popular publications as obedient robots, unblinkingly following their commanders to certain death. In fact, however, the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy were among the most disobedient military forces in modern history. Structural flaws in the political code of the early Japanese state, as well as a series of misguided reforms to the Army, incubated an ideology of military independence from civilian rule. The Army, placed directly under the Emperor, did not institutionally believe it had to unconditionally obey the civilian government. Even worse, generals used their connections with the sovereign as an excuse for their individual disobedience.

In the 1920s, this ideology of military independence converged with a subculture of insubordination from below, recalling revolutionary traditions of the mid-19th century. According to this ideology, prevalent among both officers and civilian activists, spontaneous political violence was justified when motivated by sincere patriotism and imperial loyalty. By the 1930s, insubordination from above and from below converged to produce a strong sense of military superiority, independence from any kind of civilian supervision, and endemic violence. The result was an unending series of unauthorized military operations, political assassinations, and coups d’état. These terrified the civilian leadership and eventually drove Japan to imperial overreach and disastrous, unwinnable wars.

Subjects

  • Contentious Politics and Political Violence
  • Governance/Political Change
  • History and Politics

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