Response to Early 1900s “Modernization” efforts

For countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia that were threatened by the expansion of European Imperial powers, how they could protect their self determination and territorial integrity as peoples became an existential question. In Latin America, native populations such as that in Brazil were successfully ethnically cleansed, in many cases, in order to make room for development. Likewise, many African and Asian countries were conquered or had the influence of Europeans powers imposed upon them by the early 20th century. The elites of the remaining free non-imperial states then had to reckon with the question of protecting themselves urgently.

In Africa, the Ethiopians attempted to play various powers – the British, French, and Italians against each other, but repeatedly found themselves to trade. The end result was that they were able to protect their own independence by fighting back against invading powers by having their soldiers armed with European arms and a leader in king Menelek II who was able to organize a proper defense. The Japanese, in a somewhat similar fashion, decided that for the sake of self preservation, their government needed to be reformed into a European-style nation state that would be respected by Imperial powers. Fukuzawa Yukichi explains this mentality as “We should leave [the ranks of East Asian countries] to join the camp of the civilized countries of the West.” In the first half of the 20th Century, Japan was arguably the most successful non-Western nation in adopting Western Imperial Bureaucracy and statecraft.

The examples of Ethiopia and Japan show an similar decision being made by the ruling classes of the countries – to sacrifice some amount of traditional practice and shifting away from traditional methods of state organization in order to protect self determination and cultural practices from Imperialism in the long run. In Ethiopia and especially Japan, however, the adoption of some imperial systems resulted in both of the countries being conquering powers – Ethiopia conquered surrounding territories under Menelek II and Japan becoming a brutal Imperial power in its own right between 1900 and 1945.

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