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News Navigator: What happened in Japan's 'February 26 Incident' coup attempt?

Rebel soldiers gather in the courtyard of the Metropolitan Police Department on Feb. 26, 1936. (Mainichi)

The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about Japan's "February 26 Incident" that took place in 1936.

    Question: I heard there was a big incident 85 years ago on Feb. 26. What was it?

    Answer: On that day in 1936, a group of young Imperial Japanese Army officers in their 20s and 30s led some 1,500 of their subordinates into killing or injuring ministers, military chiefs, police guards and others. It's known as the "February 26 Incident," and is said to be the largest attempted coup in modern Japanese history.

    Q: Why did they do it?

    A: At the time, prolonged economic recession had widened the disparity between rich and poor, but neither the political parties nor the politicians could do enough to help people in poverty. There was a sense of stagnation in society, and intense factional conflict raged in the army. The young officers had a profound sense of crisis, so to solve the problems they acted to try to achieve the "Showa Restoration" -- a major change for the nation.

    Q: But they failed?

    A: It only makes sense that officers would be punished immediately for their extensive disruption of military order. But immediately after the incident, there was no consensus within the army as to whether the young officers' actions should be put down as a revolt. What ended up playing a large role was the strong will from Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, to quash the riot. From the beginning, he was furious that people he trusted had been killed or injured. The revolt was stopped in four days; 19 young officers were sentenced to death following court-martial.

    Q: What influence has the incident had?

    A: Ordinarily following a huge scandal, the army was supposed to self-reflect, and their prestige would likely have been damaged. But after the incident they continued to interfere in politics, such as by making demands on Cabinet personnel matters and starting a war with China. The incident could have been a final chance to review the relationship between politics and the military, but Japan missed its opportunity. It was a fork in the road of modern Japanese history.

    (Japanese original by Toshio Kurihara, Cultural News Department)

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