Term Paper: War and Occupation: The Effects

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[. . .] Since agriculture was still the major industry in Japan, the implication of the reform cannot be underestimated. In fact its implication extended far beyond the economic -- it served to change many ancient and severely entrenched attitudes in the Japanese society and even served to weaken the previously strong authority of family and community. (Roberts, p. 517) It also prompted continuing electoral support of a succession of conservative Japanese governments (who supported the reforms) by the rural community. In the meantime the trade union reforms were implemented by the Americans to balance the power of management. The workers in the Japanese cities embraced trade unionism enthusiastically and as early as May 1946, 2.7 million workers were members of trade unions. (Ibid.) MacCarthur's economic reform policy was not just based on driving the "wedge" between the militarists and the marginalized sections of the Japanese public. He was genuinely interested in making the country's economy stand on its feet to "get it off the back of the American tax payers" as soon as possible.

Disbanding the Zaibatsu

The Zaibatsu were large family owned companies such as Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Yasuda, and Sumitomo who controlled the industry of Japan. The Americans proposed to disband the Zaibatsu in order to reduce Japan's war-making potential. Many Japanese felt that the American's wanted to cripple Japanese business and industry forever by disbanding the Zaibatsu and opposed the proposed law. However, MacArthur pressured the Diet into passing the De-concentration Law in December 1947. The stocks of the large companies were to be sold to the public. The measure was only partially successful as several "friends" of the old Zaibatsu families bought most of the stock and the Zaibatsu managed to survive although their hold on the Japanese industry was weakened as the ownership of the companies was diluted to some extent.

Influence of the Cold War

The crucial need for "demilitarization" and "democratization" was not the only factor that governed American policy towards Japan in post World War II period. The increasing influence of the Communists in the trade unions and the beyond expectations enthusiasm for liberal reforms prompted MacCarthur to eventually back-track on some of his liberating steps that has come to be known as the "reverse course." The American preoccupation with containing the spread of communism and Japan's proximity to China and Korea where the Cold War rivalry had already spread, also began to influence the course of America's Japan policy. In 1947 and 1948 the U.S. government decided to actively promote the recovery of Japan's devastated economy in order to counter the threat of Communism. The American occupation reversed its policy of breaking up big business concerns, and encouraged the Japanese government to adopt anti-inflation policies and to stabilize business conditions through fiscal austerity. (Gordon) The U.S. also changed its policy of encouraging the growth and power of the Labor Unions and the conservative Japanese government, assisted by the U.S. Occupation forces, began to crack down on the domestic Communist movement, curbing the activities of radical labor union groups.

Japan's economic recovery was also stimulated by the Korean War (1950-1953), when UN fighting forces (mostly Americans) used Japan as a logistical base. Procurement of military supplies and repair of damaged military equipment stimulated Japan's manufacturing sector with the industrial production index growing at more than 10% during the Korean War. (Roberts, p.518) By 1951 the economic activity in the country had already reached the pre-war levels and the economy was poised for further take-off.

The Return of Sovereignty

Having achieved all the aims it had set out for itself at the start of the occupation, i.e., demilitarization, democratization of the political institutions, disbanding of Shintoism, and economic reforms that reduced the influence of the elite, the U.S. decided to give Japan its sovereignty. Hence, after more than a year of consultation and negotiation, Japan, the United States, and 47 other countries signed a peace treaty in San Francisco returning Japan to full sovereign independence in September 1951.

As a result of the Treaty, Japan renounced all previous claims to Korea, Taiwan, and its former mandates in the Pacific. The treaty also legitimized U.S. trusteeship of the Ryukyu Islands, including the island of Okinawa. In return, Japan was permitted to make reparation payments to the countries it had invaded and occupied in goods and services rather than in cash. These steps, along with the "umbrella" of U.S. military protection enabled Japan to concentrate on its economic development in the following decades. It finally emerged as a first world country with a burgeoning economy, which at one stage threatened to fulfill the prophecy of its Prime Minister Yoshida (1946-54): "Just as the U.S. was once a colony of Great Britain but is now stronger of the two, if Japan becomes a colony of the U.S. It will eventually become the stronger of the two." (Quoted by Bell, p. 201)

How Relevant is Japan's post War Experience to the Present Day?

A key question that is often debated today is the relevance of Japan's guided nation building by the U.S. In the post WWII period relevant to the similar attempts by the U.S. In countries like Afghanistan and Iraq. The U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, for example stated in October 2002 that "the U.S. is considering a model for post-war Iraq that resembles Japan after World War II." (Quoted by Jennings, p. 15) Several other commentators have also advocated the application of the Japanese model for Iraq. There is no doubt that the post war reforms undertaken by Gen. MacCarthur and his team in transforming a devastated Japan after WWII transformed the country from an aggressive, militarist monarchy to a pacifist, capitalist democracy that grew into an economic powerhouse. It is, therefore, tempting to prescribe the same 'remedy' for countries such as Iraq in the 21st century. A reality check, however, tells us that the past (quite literally) is "another country." The policies that had succeeded in a post WWII Japan may well backfire in the Middle East and Iraq.

John W. Dower, professor of history at the MIT and a specialist on Japanese history refutes the analogies drawn between the post WWII Japan and the present day Iraq. He is of the opinion that the situation that was successfully tackled by the U.S. In Japan contrasts sharply with the economic, social and political situation in Iraq. Dower points out that the economic reforms carried out by the U.S. In Japan had reflected the liberal philosophy of FDR's New Deal and entailed both encouragement of a strong labor movement and enactment of a radical land reform. Japan had also not been "blessed" with natural resources like Iraq that, in the end, proved a blessing in disguise as it encouraged self-reliance and disinterest of foreign powers in the country's economy. Under U.S. direction, the Japanese government had introduced legislation restricting foreign influence over the domestic economy. The economic agenda being advanced in Iraq, on the other hand, is strikingly different. Access to oil, lucrative reconstruction contracts, sweeping privatization plans are tainted by "crony capitalism" that lead to "the highest circles of American lobbyists and policy-makers." (Dower, "Why Iraq is not Japan") Hence, in Dower's opinion the most important lesson to be learned from Japan in "nation-building" is that it is easier to move the "armies and viceroys" into foreign territory than to get them out. "Occupations and empires have their own inexorable logic." (Ibid.)

Other commentators like David Greenberg also believe that "if officials are looking to post-World War II Japan for pointers on running the...postwar Iraq, they should study not just the similarities between the two situations but also the signal differences." The most crucial difference between the Japanese and Iraqi scenarios was that the Japanese had suffered such widespread deaths (over 3 million) and devastation in the war they were ready to refute and punish their own leaders and to "embrace defeat." Another major difference that led to a successful nation-building occupation of Japan was that the U.S. enjoyed the whole world's blessings for "shouldering the burden" after World War II. Even Stalin had agreed to let the U.S. deal exclusively with Japan. Everyone knew that Japan had attacked the United States (along with China and other neighbors) and thoroughly lost. The world was eager to see the aggressors punished and Japanese society remade. This is hardly the case in Iraq, where even some of the closest U.S. allies had opposed the Iraq War, and differed on its post war plans. (Greenberg)


There is no doubt that the post World War II Occupation of Japan was a remarkable undertaking of "Nation building" by the U.S. that has no precedence in history. It was largely successful in its aim of "demilitarizing" and "democratizing" the country in a relatively short time. The series of reforms pushed through by General MacCarthur were also responsible in putting Japan on the path of progress by channeling its militarist energies… [END OF PREVIEW]

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