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Disaster, Technology, and the Military: The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, and the Impact of the Environment on Cultural Perceptions of the Military
AdvisorShapiro, Hugh L.
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The Great Kanto Earthquake and the impact of disaster on cultural perceptions of the military as well as the synergistic relationship between disaster, technology, and the military had a profound bearing on ensuing developments in Japan and have subsequently been overlooked and underestimated in modern historical scholarship. This paper studies the Japanese response to disaster in the chaotic atmosphere associated with the challenges of a state struggling with modernity, urbanization, and industrialization. A burgeoning democratic polity and a growing middle class wrestled for a voice within an oligarchic state run by an aging elite. These clashes were frequent and often bloody in the early twentieth century leaving the popularity of the military at its lowest mark since the Meiji Restoration. In 1923, the Great Kanto Earthquake reversed the fortunes of these military perceptions and reinvigorated the military hierarchy. The public’s perception of what was conceivable was subtly changed, as a once hostile urban community now acquiesced to ever-increasing militarism in order to protect life and property. Although this trend certainly continued and mirrored political developments that had already been occurring prior to WWI, the public shift in perceptions caused by this military disaster response provided the impetus for a more conservative turn and a decline of the democracy movement over the next several years. This historical narrative provides troubling signs in the context of recent developments in the twenty-first century and provides relevancy to growing fears about global warming, the militarization of disaster response, and the slow degradation of American political institutions in a post-9/11 United States.