Children often hear, “This is going to hurt me more than it will hurt you,” before getting punished and of course they never believe it. One day, they find out that it takes a lot of energy to come up with a punishment and enforce it. In a similar vein, no one who wins the lottery believes that they will fall victim to the “curse” of great financial windfall actually making people more unhappy.
So too imperial states do not realize that extra conquests often presage a time of troubles,* and soon begin to work against them. We usually think of the geo-political or financial burden of conquest, but it takes a psychological toll as well.
Here is a picture of a draftee into Japan’s army, with his family at a farewell gathering.
The picture should be blown up beyond screen size to get the full impact, and you can do that here.
We might guess that this picture was taken late in World War II, when all that seemed left for Japan was either surrender or “honorable” death. But in fact, the picture is from 1939, when Japan’s fortunes seemed very much on the rise. But this “rise” in fortunes may not have been all it seemed. In 1939 Japan had reached a stalemate of sorts in China after quick and early victories. To break the stalemate they began wanton and indiscriminate bombing of Chinese cities. As David Derrick notes, Japanese tended to look somber in photographs, but here they appear beyond somber. They are troubled , suffering from what Toynbee called a “schism of the soul.”
Whether your religion be Christianity, or in Japan’s case, Shintoism, people were not made to kill on such a scale. Such actions take their toll. It may hurt the conqueror more than the conquered.
*Readers of the linked post may note that while Japan technically was ruled by the Emperor, in fact they were controlled by a military oligarchy.