Imperialism during World War II

May we speak of the imperialism during World War II?

Imperialism, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, can be defined as an act of “extending power and dominion, especially by direct territorial acquisition or by gaining political and economic control of other areas.” Along with colonialism and nationalism, imperialism was one of the main ideologies leading to World War I. By the eve of World War II, two participants of World War I, Germany and Japan, were slowly gaining power as imperialist countries. Both countries were eager for even greater control and eventually launched a war that resulted in many lost lives and caused waves of chaos throughout the world.

Both Germany and Japan were eager to create a “space for their ‘race’ to expand into and develop” so that they could establish vast empires in Europe and Asia, respectively (Spencer, 2013). In Germany, Hitler and his National Socialist Party rose to power, and their main idea of Nazism became the basis of German imperialism. It was Hitler’s desire to expand his country and establish an extensive empire of “living space” (lebensraum) in Eastern Europe. Additionally, they saw Jews as inferior race and implemented the “Final Solution,” which resulted in the mass murder of all Jews in Europe. Likewise, Japan’s ambition was to create a “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” by dominating its neighboring countries. The Meiji Restoration opened the Japanese people’s eyes to the world of advanced technology and established order. They adopted the western concept of Social Darwinism, believing that they were the strongest and the most favored race in Asia.

The war led to the massive death toll caused not only by the battles that occurred worldwide but also by the brutalities committed by the imperialist powers. Among other crimes against humanity, moral ethics and human rights were severely violated. Specifically, Germany and Japan violated women’s rights and killed millions of civilians.

The Symbol of Japanese imperialism history: The Rising Sun Flag

Today, we are all historians, some are professional and many studied history to a smaller extent. And as everyday historians, we immediately recognize the Hakenkruez, or more widely known as the “Swastika.” We understand that the Swastika contains the pain and sufferings that the victims of the German Holocaust had to endure.

This kind of representation that carry painful history also exists in East Asia. Although unnoticed by most people, the Rising Sun Flag is similar to the Swastika in history. Nearly everyone today would recognize the Rising Sun Flag, a historical Japanese Flag used during the WWII and much before the world wars. However to most, this flag is merely a war flag, representing past Japanese patriotism or even just a good looking pattern that delivers a vibrant tone.

Korean history is often left unnoticed, despite the deeply emotional and hurtful history that lies within the Korean Peninsula. From the year of 1910 through the 1945 Japanese defeat in the WWII, the entirety of the Korean Peninsula was imperialized under the Japanese government. And through the Japanese Imperialism, the Rising Sun Flag was what represented and symbolized the military power of the Japanese, who used their control to attack the Peninsula and its people. Currently, the Japanese government states that the Rising Sun Flag is a flag used as a representation of the Sun as it does in the current Japanese flag, and insists that the flag was used culturally for a long time, blurring the all the negative aspects that lie in the flag. The truth is that the Japanese government is hiding the hurtful history, that is engraved behind the white rectangle with red stripes.

It is hard to imagine that there was an event in history that is nearly as painful as the Holocaust in Europe. But the reality is that pain is immeasurable, and that all pain that exists in history can be equally sympathized. For Koreans, the 35 years of imperialism was the most painful memory in history, and the Rising Sun Flag continues to scar the people.


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