Knowledge Is Power: The Interwar German and Japanese Mass Media in the Making of the Axis Public Deposited

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  • March 22, 2019
  • Law, Ricky W.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
  • This dissertation studies the historical impact of civil society on international relations by illuminating the process through which interwar Germany and Japan came to build an alliance in the 1930s. Specifically, it examines how opinion-makers in each country used the mass media to transform the Tokyo-Berlin Axis from an idea into reality. Contrary to conventional views that saw the German-Japanese alliance as the culmination of the long-term political and economic developments of both countries, the dissertation argues that the erosion of democracy in both interwar Japan and Germany prompted German and Japanese pundits to begin agitating for closer ties. Drawing on their firsthand experience abroad and influential positions in the media, German and Japanese commentators molded the image of each other in ways powerful enough to shape policies of the state. Using newspapers, films, pamphlets, lectures, books, and language textbooks as sources, my research has revealed that interwar Japanese observers idealized Germany as a model of science and order, while German area-specialists relied on outdated stereotypes of geisha and samurai to portray Japan. The project makes three contributions to our understanding of the history of Germany, Japan, and international relations. First, it highlights the importance of perceptions in the management of foreign affairs. It argues that, despite publicized campaigns to bolster cross-cultural dialogue, Japan and Germany allied not so much with each other but with romanticized imaginations of each other propagated in the media. These mutual fantasies were powerful enough to transcend the problem of race, which otherwise would have prevented the two xenophobic regimes from forging a bond. Second, the dissertation stresses the legacy of democracy in the 1920s. This period of liberalization, albeit brief, created an opening for citizens to voice their opinions and participate in politics that neither Nazi Germany nor militarist Japan could shut completely. Even in the 1930s, individuals and organizations not associated with the state still found room to steer foreign policy through the media. Third, this revelation sheds light on the role of information in the interplay between society and state. My dissertation points out that, although diplomacy had of course long been guarded as a prerogative of the government, the advent of the mass media empowered opinion-makers to pursue their own foreign-policy goals with clear effect on the state's decision-making. Indeed, whether in the democratic 1920s or the authoritarian 1930s, those who had access to more knowledge also had access to more state power.
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  • In Copyright
  • Browning, Christopher R.
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Graduation year
  • 2012

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