Militarism the First World War. North Korea

Militarism is the belief that the military should play a central role in society. It usually features high government spending and aggression with neighbors. We look at three examples and then note the role of militarism in the First World War.

Definition of Militarism

Kim Jong-un is officially known as the ‘supreme leader of North Korea.’ Every year, Kim Jong-un presides over a massive military parade full of comically synchronized soldiers marching through the streets, gigantic tanks and gargantuan missiles on full display, and the mandatory aerial flybys of fighter jets.These displays are examples of militarism. In a militaristic society, the government extensively promotes and develops the country’s military for aggressive use against any enemies.

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In such a society, the military plays a central role in the government, if not the predominant role.In this lesson, we’ll look at three different examples of militaristic societies. We will also consider the role that militarism played in helping begin the First World War.

North Korea

Imagine a country where every day, the front page of the newspaper announces the latest activities of the military. As weird as that might seem, that is the daily reality for North Koreans.North Korea officially came about from the division of the Korean Peninsula into the communist-backed North and the democratically-backed South during the Korean War. North Korea was backed by the Chinese government, whereas South Korea was backed by the United States.

Due to its origins from a deadly war, North Korea has always placed a priority on military spending. In fact, North Korea is driven by the doctrine of Songun, which translates as ‘military first’. For North Koreans, this means that all spending in the country is prioritized towards military spending. Thus, North Korea spends nearly 25% of its government budget on the military and has 40% of its population in either active or reserved military duty.

Despite being a relatively small country, it has the largest military in the world when taking into account active and reserved duty members, with about nine million members as of 2013. The immense amount of spending on the military is particularly surprising for outside observers, considering the low standard of living and poverty for the rest of North Koreans.

Soviet Union

Another prominent example of militarism was the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union, similar to North Korea, had several military parades that boasted the Soviet military on an annual basis.

Although the Soviet Union kept their spending secret, United States government officials estimated that about 18% of all spending in the Soviet Union during the 1980s was targeted towards military spending.Have your ever heard the age-old adage, ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket?’ The same can be said of the Soviet Union and how much it spent on its military. In fact, many scholars have claimed that the Soviet Union failed because of how much money it spent on the military. With all that spending, the economy suffered and other basic goods were lacking in the Soviet Union.

A Soviet Union military parade.


A historical example of a militaristic society is ancient Sparta.

Spartan society was heavily structured around the military. Newborn boys determined to be unfit for later military fighting were left in the wild to die. In fact, Spartan education focused mainly on teaching boys how to fight and wrestle. Spartans would intentionally underfeed the boys in order to make them physically tougher and prepared for war. Upon graduating to adulthood, Spartan boys often would become members of the Spartan army, where most Spartan men served.

A statue of a Spartan soldier.

World War I and Militarism

What do you think would happen if a lot of countries, all located right next to each other, began to build up their militaries at the same time? It would be like a powder keg ready to explode!The same situation happened in Europe in the 1910s. In one of the biggest displays of militarism, several countries began building up their armies in order to intimidate one another. Thus, when a small skirmish broke out between Austria and Serbia, Europe went into a violent and deadly war quite quickly.

For this reason, militarism is considered one of the many causes of World War I.

Lesson Summary

Militarism is when the government extensively promotes and develops the country’s military for aggressive use against any enemies. In such a society, the military plays a central role in the government, if not the predominant role. North Korea, the Soviet Union and Sparta are three examples of militaristic societies.

Militarism in Europe in the early 1900s contributed to World War I.

Learning Outcomes

When you are done, you should be able to:

  • Describe the characteristics of militarism
  • Discuss the role of the military in the societies of North Korea, the former Soviet Union and the ancient city of Sparta
  • Explain the role of militarism in starting World War I

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