Danny Orbach’s Curse on This Country: The Rebellious Army of Imperial Japan (Cornell University Press, 2017) provides new insights into the origins of the insubordination that plagued and characterized the Imperial Japanese Army in the 1930s. Orbach identifies the causes of insubordination in both the political culture of the military dating back to the Meiji Restoration itself and a series of systemic “bugs” that infected the modern political system but that were in themselves the result of mostly reasonable solutions to challenges Japan faced early on in its blitzkrieg modernization. By assembling a series of mostly well known events into a coherent narrative from the 1860s to the 1930s, Orbach shows how insubordination in the name of the emperor rotted the Army from its core and destroyed civilian control in the process, culminating in the military governments of the Second World War period. The book is not only a convincing reevaluation of the history of the Army and modern Japan, but also a refreshing antidote to persistent misconceptions about the roots and timeline of Japan’s imperial ambitions. Instead of a geopolitical imperial strategy with roots in the 1870s, in which there is a continuity of aggressive expansionist purpose, what we come away with is a story about the continuity of structural/systemic “bugs” and their long-term unintended consequences.
This podcast was recorded in front of a live audience at Nagoya University.