Military history

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At the height of the British Empire, photographs of naval and military commanders were a popular subject for eagerly-collected cigarette cards. The one shown here, from the turn of the 20th century, depicts then-Captain Jellicoe (later Admiral Jellicoe of World War I) in command of H.M.S. Centurion, the flagship of the Royal Navy's China station.

Militarism is defined as:

the belief or desire of a government or people that a country should maintain a strong military capability and be prepared to use it aggressively to defend or promote national interests.[1]

It can be more simply defined as a policy of glorifying military power and keeping a standing army always prepared for war. It has also been defined as "aggressiveness that involves the threat of using military force",[2] the "glorification of the ideas of a professional military class" and the "predominance of the armed forces in the administration or policy of the state"[3] (see also: stratocracy and military junta).

Militarism has been a significant element of the imperialist or expansionist ideologies of several nations throughout history. Prominent examples include the Ancient Assyrian Empire, the Greek city state of Sparta, the Roman Empire, the Aztec nation, the Kingdom of Prussia, the British Empire, the Empire of Japan, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (which would later become part of the Soviet Union), the Italian Colonial Empire during the reign of Benito Mussolini, Nazi Germany and American Imperialism.

After World War II, militarism appeared in many of the post-colonial nations of Asia (i.e. North Korea, Myanmar and Thailand) and Africa (i.e. Liberia, Nigeria and Uganda). Militarist regimes also emerged in Latin America; some, such as the right-wing administration of Augusto Pinochet in Chile, gained power in coups through U.S. support, while others, such as the leftist Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, were elected.[citation needed]


By nation


Prussian (and later German) Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, left, with Generals Albrecht von Roon (center) and Helmuth von Moltke the Elder (right) in the 1860s. Although Bismarck was a civilian politician and not a military officer, he wore a military uniform as part of the Prussian militarist culture of the time.

The roots of German militarism can be found in 19th-century Prussia and the subsequent unification of Germany under Prussian leadership. After Napoleon conquered Prussia in 1806, one of the conditions of peace was that Prussia should reduce her army to no more than 42,000 men. In order that the country should not again be so easily conquered, the King of Prussia enrolled the permitted number of men for one year, then dismissed that group, and enrolled another of the same size, and so on. Thus, in the course of ten years, he was able to gather an army of 420,000 men who had at least one year of military training. The officers of the army were drawn almost entirely from among the land-owning nobility. The result was that there was gradually built up a large class of professional officers on the one hand, and a much larger class, the rank and file of the army, on the other. These enlisted men had become conditioned to obey implicitly all the commands of the officers, creating a class-based culture of deference.

This system led to several consequences. Since the officer class also furnished most of the officials for the civil administration of the country, the interests of the army came to be considered as identical to the interests of the country as a whole. A second result was that the governing class desired to continue a system which gave them so much power over the common people, contributing to the continuing influence of the Junker noble classes.

Militarism in Germany continued after World War I and the fall of the German monarchy. During the period of the Weimar Republic (1919–1933), the Kapp Putsch, an attempted coup d'état against the republican government, was launched by disaffected members of the armed forces. After this event, some of the more radical militarists and nationalists were subsumed into the Nazi Party, while more moderate elements of militarism declined. Nazi Germany was a strongly militarist state; after its fall in 1945, militarism in German culture was dramatically reduced as a backlash against the Nazi period.

The Federal Republic of Germany today maintains a large, modern military and has one of the highest defence budgets in the world. Contemporary opinions vary but Germans predominantly oppose unilateral military actions and are suspicious of all claims advocating them. [under discussion]


In parallel with 20th-century German militarism, Japanese militarism began with a series of events by which the military gained prominence in dictating Japan's affairs. This was evident in 15th-century Japan's Sengoku period or Age of Warring States, where powerful samurai warlords or shogun played a significant role in Japanese politics. Japan's militarism is deeply rooted in the ancient samurai tradition, centuries before Japan's modernization. Even though a militarist philosophy was intrinsic to the shogunates, a nationalist style of militarism developed after the Meiji Restoration, which restored the Emperor to power and began the Empire of Japan. It is exemplified by the 1882 Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors, which called for all members of the armed forces to have an absolute personal loyalty to the Emperor.

In the 20th century (approximately in the 1920s), two factors contributed both to the power of the military and chaos within its ranks. One was the Cabinet Law, which required the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) and Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) to nominate serving officers for the Cabinet positions of Minister of War and Minister of the Navy before the Cabinet could be formed. This essentially gave the military veto power over the formation of any Cabinet in the ostensibly parliamentary country. Another factor was gekokujo, or institutionalized disobedience by junior officers.[4] It was not uncommon for radical junior officers to press for their goals, to the extent of assassinating their seniors. In 1936, this phenomenon resulted in the February 26 Incident, in which junior officers attempted a coup d'état and killed leading members of the Japanese government. The rebellion enraged Emperor Hirohito and he ordered its suppression, which was successfully carried out by loyal members of the military.

In the 1930s, the Great Depression wrecked Japan's economy and gave radical elements within the Japanese military the chance to realize their ambitions of conquering all of Asia. In 1931, the Kwantung Army (a Japanese military force stationed in Manchuria) staged the Mukden Incident, which sparked the Invasion of Manchuria and its transformation into the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo. Six years later, the Marco Polo Bridge Incident outside Peking sparked the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). Japanese troops streamed into China, conquering Peking, Shanghai, and the national capital of Nanjing; the last conquest was followed by the Nanjing Massacre. In 1940, Japan entered into an alliance with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, two similarly militaristic states in Europe, and advanced out of China and into Southeast Asia. This brought about the intervention of the United States, which embargoed all petroleum to Japan. The embargo eventually precipitated the Attack on Pearl Harbor and the entry of the U.S. into World War II.

In 1945, Japan surrendered to the United States, beginning the Occupation of Japan and the purging of all militarist influences from Japanese society and politics. In 1947, the new Constitution of Japan supplanted the Meiji Constitution as the fundamental law of the country, replacing the rule of the Emperor with parliamentary government. With this event, the Empire of Japan officially came to an end and the modern State of Japan was founded.

United States

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries political and military leaders reformed the US federal government to establish a stronger central government than had ever previously existed for the purpose of enabling the nation to pursue an imperial policy in the Pacific and in the Caribbean and economic militarism to support the development of the new industrial economy. This reform was the result of a conflict between Neo-Hamiltonian Republicans and Jeffersonian-Jacksonian Democrats over the proper administration of the state and direction of its foreign policy. The conflict pitted proponents of professionalism, based on business management principles, against proponents favoring more local control in the hands of laymen and political appointees.

After the end of the American Civil War the national army fell into disrepair. Reforms based on various European states including Imperial Britain, Imperial Germany, and Switzerland were made so that it would become responsive to control from the central government, prepared for future conflicts, and develop refined command and support structures; it led to the development of professional military thinkers and cadre.

During this time the intellectual ideas of Social Darwinism propelled the development of an American overseas expansion in the Pacific and Caribbean. This required modifications for a more efficient central government due to the added administration requirements.

The enlargement of the U.S. Army for the Spanish-American War was considered essential to the occupation and control of the new territories acquired from Spain in its defeat (Guam, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Cuba). The previous limit by legislation of 24 000 men was expanded to 60 000 regulars in the new army bill on 2 February 1901, with allowance at that time for expansion to 80 000 regulars by presidential discretion at times of national emergency.

Again, U.S. forces were enlarged immensely for World War I. Officers such as George S. Patton were permanent captains at the start of the war and received temporary promotions to colonel.

Between the first and second world wars, the US Marine Corps engaged in questionable activities in the Banana Wars in Latin America. Retired Major General Smedley Butler, at the time of his death the most decorated Marine, spoke strongly against a trend to what he considered trends toward fascism and militarism. The Latin American expeditions ended with Franklin D. Roosevelt's Good Neighbor Policy of 1934.

Butler briefed Congress on what he described as a business plot for a military coup, for which he had been suggested as leader; the matter was partially corroborated, but the real threat has been disputed. There is little evidence that any serious military coups were planned in the US. During the American Civil War those officers who were sympathetic to the Confederacy resigned their commissions rather than mutiny.

After World War II, there were major cutbacks, such that units responding early in the Korean War, under United Nations authority (e.g., Task Force Smith) were unprepared, resulting in catastrophic performance. It should be noted that when Harry S. Truman fired Douglas MacArthur, the tradition of civilian control held and MacArthur left without any hint of military coup.

Serious permanent buildups were a result of the Cold War. Dwight D. Eisenhower, a retired top military commander elected as a civilian President, warned of the development of a military-industrial complex, more complex than many traditional ideas of militarism. In the Cold War, there emerged many civilian academics and industrial researchers, such as Henry Kissinger and Herman Kahn, who had significant input into the use of military force.

It has been argued that the United States has shifted to a state of neomilitarism since the end of the Vietnam War. This form of militarism is distinguished by the reliance on a relatively small number of volunteer fighters; heavy reliance on complex technologies; and the rationalization and expansion of government advertising and recruitment programs designed to promote military service.[5]

The Military budget of the United States for 2008 was $740,800,000,000. [1]


Rise of militarim in India dates back to the British Raj with the rise of several Indian independence movement organizations such as Indian National Army led by Subhash Chandra Bose. The INA played a crucial role on pressuring the British Raj after it occupied Andaman and Nicobar Islands with the help of Imperial Japan but the movement lost momentum due to lack of support by Indian National Congress, Battle of Imphal and Bose's sudden death.

After India gained independence in 1947, tensions with neighboring Pakistan over Kashmir dispute also led to rise militarism in India which also saw a boost during the various events that led to the political integration of India. After the Sino-Indian War in 1962, India dramatically expanded its military prowess which helped India emerge victorious during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. The rise of Kashmiri insurgency and recent events such as the Kargil War assured that the Indian government remained committed to military expansion.


Israel's many security difficulties since the establishment of the State have led to a prominence of security in politics and civil society, resulting in many of Israel's top politicians being former high ranking military officials (partial list: Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon, Ezer Weizman, Ehud Barak, Shaul Mofaz, Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Mordechai, Amram Mitzna and Menachem Begin).


  1. ^ New Oxford American Dictionary (2007)
  2. ^ Online dictionary
  3. ^ American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
  4. ^ "Strengths and Weaknesses in the Decision-Making Process" Craig AM in Vogel, EM (ed.), Modern Japanese Organization and Decision-Making, University of California Press, 1987.
  5. ^ Roberts, Alasdair. The Collapse of Fortress Bush: The Crisis of Authority in American Government. New York: New York University Press, 2008, 14 and 108-117.
  • Bacevich, Andrew J. The New American Militarism. Oxford: University Press, 2005.
  • Barr, Ronald J. "The Progressive Army: US Army Command and Administration 1870-1914." St. Martin's Press, Inc. 1998. ISBN 0-312-21467-7.
  • Barzilai, Gad. Wars, Internal Conflicts and Political Order. Albany: State University of New York Press. 1996.
  • Bond, Brian. War and Society in Europe, 1870-1970. McGill-Queen's University Press. 1985 ISBN 0-7735-1763-4
  • Conversi, Daniele 2007 'Homogenisation, nationalism and war’, Nations and Nationalism, Vol. 13, no 3, 2007, pp. 1–24
  • Ensign, Tod. America's Military Today. The New Press. 2005. ISBN 1-56584-883-7.
  • Fink, Christina. Living Silence: Burma Under Military Rule. White Lotus Press. 2001. ISBN 1-85649-925-1.
  • Frevert, Ute. A Nation in Barracks: Modern Germany, Military Conscription and Civil Society. Berg, 2004. ISBN 1-85973-886-9
  • Huntington, Samuel P.. Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1981.
  • Ritter, Gerhard The Sword and the Scepter; the Problem of Militarism in Germany, translated from the German by Heinz Norden, Coral Gables, Fla., University of Miami Press 1969-73.
  • Shaw, Martin. Post-Military Society: Militarism, Demilitarization and War at the End of the Twentieth Century. Temple University Press, 1992.
  • Tang, C. Comprehensive Notes on World History Hong Kong, 2004
  • Vagts, Alfred. A History of Militarism. Meridian Books, 1959.
  • Western, Jon. Selling Intervention and War. Johns Hopkins University . 2005. ISBN 0-8018-8108-0

External links

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