December 14, 2017


The Occupation of Japan (MacroHistory)

Japan's military establishment was demobilized, but unlike in Germany a central government was allowed, with MacArthur behind the scenes appearing as giving "suggestions" and "advice" and as a benevolent overseer. Emperor Hirohito was still looked to as the nation's chief of state, or at least father figure. MacArthur and the US State Department saw MacArthur's job as ensuring domestic stability.

MacArthur made rules in Japan in the name of all the Allies as head of what was called the Far Eastern Commission. But in fact it was the US that was in charge, the US seeing this as its right given the contribution it had made to defeating the Japanese. He remained concerned about both democracy in Japan and the ability of Japan to maintain a healthy economy. Japan was economically devastated. People were hungry and many were desperate. US leaders believed that reparations payments were impractical - while Stalin was criticizing the US for being too lenient with the Japanese.

Sixty-seven percent in Britain and thirty-three percent in the United States had favored the execution of Hirohito, and most Americans, focusing on the righteousness of their cause and the evil of Japan's efforts, did not want to see Hirohito continue as emperor. This righteousness ignored, and Hirohito allowed to remain as emperor, helped create an image among the Japanese of US benevolence.

The strategy of hearts and minds worked well. US troops were not roaming about intervening in local politics. Local government had remained intact. The Japanese were relieved. People who had seen the Americans as devils and barbarians now saw them as quite human. This was helped by foreign troops levels in Japan remaining low - at less than 200,000 after 1945 and before the Korean War.

Democracy was seen as a winner, as it had been among the Japanese at the close of World War I. Democracy was again winning support among the Japanese, and Americans were winning respect for their belief in democracy, political freedom and the dignity of common people, including peoples of other nationalities. The belief in empire and militarism was rapidly evaporating. Ordinary Japanese were criticizing wartime leaders - who were being blamed for the war more than was the Emperor. Cooperation was now seen as the more workable way for the nation to conduct itself vis-à-vis other nations. Darwinism applied to international affairs - the view also of the Italian and German fascists - was dissipating, as was respect for the old military virtues.

Stories of atrocities by Japanese soldiers returned with Japan's soldiers from China and the Pacific. Veterans confessed. Men who had fought for their country, many of them walking the street in their old uniforms, were disturbed by looks of disrespect and disgust. Some Japanese continued to be unaware of atrocities committed by their military. Some who had served as camp guards chose not to remember the brutality there. And some Japanese made the excuse that people would hear elsewhere in the world: that during war occasional brutality was to be expected.

One of the first things that MacArthur did in Japan was to have political prisoners released, thousands of them, including Communists - some of whom were returning from exile. Everyone was to be free to participate in politics, to run for office and campaign. Over 300 political parties were in the making.

Labor unions had been outlawed in Japan, and MacArthur reversed this. From no labor unions in 1945, by the end of 1946 Japan would have 17,265 different unions. And much of the labor union leadership fell into the hands of those who believed in class struggle: the Communists.

A new constitution was in the making, written behind the scenes by a group of Americans selected by MacArthur. In its preamble was the prohibition of restoring war as a means of resolving international disputes - a "renunciation of war" tailored for a defeated aggressor nation. The Emperor presented the draft of the constitution to Japan's parliament. Women were given the vote, and the voting age was lowered from 25 to 20. In April 1946, campaigning for seats in parliament was enthusiastic. And thirty-nine women were elected to seats. Japan's Communist Party won six seats and 6.3 percent of the vote. The conservative Liberal Party won the most seats - 148 of a total of 464 - and it formed a governing coalition with the Progressive Party, which had won 110 seats.

MacArthur had already been working on reforms. In early November 1945 MacArthur's command had moved to reduce the power of Japan's business conglomerates - the Zaibatsu - shocking Japanese business elite. Land reform, meanwhile, was underway, initiated by the Japanese themselves - something the Japanese had been toying with during the war. The reform took land from absentee landlords and gave it to those who had been tenant farmers. Lands with tenant farmers were to be divided into no larger than 2.45 acre plots and given to the tenants.

MacArthur did impose censorship on the Japanese. Newspapers and radio broadcasting were censored, including news that censorship existed. No unfavorable opinion about the occupation was allowed. Discussions on the effects of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were forbidden. Motion pictures were censored, including the work of filmmakers whose movies had been forbidden during the war years. By January 1946, 670 newspaper articles had been banned. And US military authorities had textbooks screened.

A directive from MacArthur's headquarters in December 1945 ordered the deletion of all references to Japan's Shinto religion from school textbooks, and school trips to Shinto shrines were forbidden. The Americans disliked Japan's mix of state and religion, and Shinto had been a state sponsored religion - much as Christianity had been in Europe, except that the religion was headed by what had been believed to be a living divinity - the Emperor. In his 1946 New Year message, Hirohito proclaimed that he was not divine and that rather than his reign resting on ancient myths it was based on "mutual trust and affection."

Posted by at December 14, 2017 10:38 AM