Ramifications of the American Occupation in Japan
The American occupation over Japan after the World War II followed Japan’s unconditional surrender in 1945. It was the first occupation of a post-war enemy territory that aimed to bring modern democracy instead of colonialism to the occupied country. The term of the occupation was relatively short, since it had an objective to facilitate the social and political transformation. Despite of the fact that the main theme of the occupation was to establish democracy, derived ramifications involve other results and effects, among which some can be perceived as unintended. This essay focuses on characterizing these ramifications, and is divided into three sections, characterizing the occupation, explaining the causes, and reviewing the effects.
Characterizing the Occupation
American’s occupation in Japan, in general, can be characterized as a military occupation that aimed to demilitarize Japan, releasing emperor from political power and reestablish democracy in Japan. However, the initial intention produced irony and unexpected results. The process of democratization was conducted in a censored and undemocratic way; the democratization was incomplete as the emperor remained as a symbolic public figure; and the commander, General MacArthur, and his occupational force, created social inequality themselves, while helping build an equal society.
The democracy development during the occupation period initiated several major political changes. According to John Dower’s book, these democratic changes can be summarized as follows. The emperor system was changed to constitutional democracy; The Diet, Japan’s new parliament, had the supreme political power; Military forces were completely abolished; Constitution established new civil rights, such as equal rights for women, and freedom of speech and information; Equal chances for political participation was developed by the local governments .
However, the reality of this process developed some ramifications involving preservation of the emperor, media censorship, and anti-Communism ideology. The following paragraphs will attempt to characterize the nature of this phenomenon. Related causing reasons will be explained in the second section.
Although the Emperor of Hirohito was released from the political power, he remained as the emperor of Japan and was exempted from any war crime. As John Dower has pointed out, avoidance of attacking the emperor was a part of the wartime policy . There was a concern that demerit of Hirohito would accentuate Japanese people’s aggression and fighting wills, since the emperor’s religious effect on each Japanese was enormous and seemed little possibility of diminishing in the near future. .
In terms of Emperor’s responsibility of war crimes, the Allied decided to hide his guilt and failure, and portrayed him as a peacemaker and victim . The false message delivered to the public was that the public should apologize for disappointing the emperor . Besides being a victim of the war, the emperor also began to be perceived as a normal Japanese citizen. The photo picture of MacArthur and Hirohito illustrated such message. Thus, after the occupation, the completion of democracy becomes questionable, since the symbolic emperor still exists.
Secondly, the human rights for free speech and receiving information were severely violated. Censorships that were used by the old militaristic government, was heavily conducted by the American occupying force who promised a democratic development in Japan. The censored contents involve mainly criticism to the Allies, complaints & grievance of current conditions and etc . The occupying forces worried that open criticism would shatter the social stability and “undermine allied moral authority” .
On the other hand, the information inflows to Japanese people were also censored. The Japanese were, in effect, isolated from the rest of the world during the occupation period . They were not informed of the separation of wartime alliance, the civil war in China, the Western powers repossessing their colonial areas in South East Asia .
The contrast between abundant material supply of American and shortage of food of Japanese add another bit of irony taste to the ideology of building an equal and democratic society. American occupational forces segregated themselves from average Japanese citizens. For instance, those who stayed in Tokyo dwelled in a small Tokyo downtown area, which survived allied air-raid bombing .
As John Dower described in his book, this separation was unbridgeable . Americans living inside this area had not only sufficient food but also luxury goods imported from America, whereas Japanese outside the area were often forced to riot for more rice . This difference somewhat corresponds to the nature of colonialism, such as segregation and dramatically different living standards.
The other example of this imperfect democratization is the legacy of American’s wartime image of Japanese. Prior to defeating Japan and rebuilding her democracy, American government created public’s negative perception towards Japanese for war purpose by the wartime propagandas. In such films and publications, Japanese was largely portrayed as an inferior and uncivilized race . Some described Japanese soldiers as monkey-men in the jungle or brutal and fanatical peoples .
After the war, to build a parallel democracy as American’s, American government had to justify and correct public’s image of Japan . Although new films and publications reviewing positive images of Japanese had been produced, their effects were never measured. And the residual wartime propaganda images could still be reflected by American’s segregation and privileges.
Thirdly, the other characteristic of the occupation is the propensity for Japanese anti-militarism activists to mix anti-militarism with Communism. That created two problems for the Allied. Firstly, after the majority of Japanese had suffered wartime working exhaustion, allied air-raid, and epidemic shortage of food and medical supplies, they had reached a physically unbearable point. The popularity towards Communism, which could promise them a better future, was dramatically increased. For instance, Communists’ seats in the Diet had increased from 4 to 35 in 1949 .
The other problem, which is more likely to be called as dilemma is that allied occupational forces faced a shortage of expertise in Japanese administration. Thus, the very first experts to conduct demilitarization, in effect, had little knowledge and experience about Japan and their jobs. As a result, the Allied had to rely on local anti-militarism activists who often took pro-communism positions to process the demilitarization .
Explaining the Causes
When evaluating the motivations for the Allied to forge an American-style democracy in Japan, this essay found one rationale that could add another element to the nature of American occupation. This rationale is that by building a democracy in Japan and helping her succeed economically, the results will prove the superiority of capitalism and democracy over socialism and communism. This would further help spread the American ideology over the South East Asia, and win the ideology warfare against Soviet Union and other Communist countries.
As Michael Schaller described in his book, The American Occupation of Japan, if Japan could establish a leadership role in economics and politics, the rest of the South East Asian countries would notice the high living standards and highly satisfied Japanese people . However, what is not explicitly stated in his book would be inferred that the notice would eventually become adoration when other South East Asian countries compared Japan with their own. A later example could be the 1989 Tianan Men Event, in which Chinese students learned about Japan and South Korea’s economic success under democracy in the early 1980s, and their accumulated adoration turned into angry towards their own government. Although this event was eventually suppressed, it proved the success of American strategy that other Asian countries would be gradually attracted by the achievement of Japan under its democracy, which was established during the occupation period.
The process to develop democracy in Japan, on the other hand, involved wrongdoings such as censorship that the allied and MacArthur were responsible for. However, these negative ramifications of the occupation were, in effect, inevitable consequences of bigger pictures, the World War II and historical context of both countries.
Firstly, the unequal living standards and social status between American occupational personnel and Japanese civilians were inevitably caused by several objective factors. The social structure of Japan that existed for thousand years was based on social power hierarchy. It can be argued that to abandon the highly unequal and stratified structure in a short period of time seems unrealistic. The nature of occupational force, on the other hand, was a stratified military bureaucracy . Due to this nature, it is difficult for it to promote value of equality, and a plausible resolution is for the society to retreat to the old hierarchy structure.
In addition, the authoritarian of governance style was largely influenced by the legacy of the old Japanese governance mechanism, which was also authoritarian . This indirect governance was due to the lack of language and technical experts of Japan, and therefore much of the governance had to be relied on the wartime civil bureaucracy .
Reviewing the Effects
One of result of American occupation is the Tokyo trial, an international official trial, which brought war criminals to justice. Although the criminals involved were mainly government officials and military leaders, its profound legacy was the public awareness and repentance of Japan’s war crime and associated responsibility.
During the war period, information regarding Japan’s oversea atrocity was hidden and censored from the public. The Tokyo trial, nevertheless, disclosed the oversea war crimes in Korea, China and South East Asia. Accordingly, the collective repentance among the public started to developed. For example, after a soldier’s mother knew the Japan’s war crimes in Philippines, she refused to accommodate her son if he participated in such oversea slaughter . The other example could a publication writer’s response to the Nanking Massacre, in which he expressed that Nanking Massacre was everyone’s crime, and everyone should bear that responsibility .
The Tokyo Trial and disclosure of Japan’s war crimes further impacts on Japanese understanding of causes for the atrocity. Some Japanese scholars and scientists analyzed the sociological and psychological background of Japan, and argued that the social hierarchy caused transferred aggressions and frustrations from one class to another class, and accumulated oppression was eventually released towards enemy soldiers and even civilians. These scholars also realized the lack of morality conduct and education that was rooted in religious beliefs. Thus, the impaired morality was often reflected by battlefield cruelty.
By repenting the past, Japan found itself an opportunity to reborn as a new nation that left past failures behind. It could be argued that the Japanese public who repented Japan’s atrocity would favor a peaceful and demilitarized presence of Japan. This picture mixed with hope and self-criticism dominated the minds of vast amount of Japanese people, especially intellectuals . Thus, when the cold-war attempt to rebuild Japanese military occurred, many Japanese resisted through publications showing the diary and letter collections from dead wartime students, since they couldn’t tolerate any additional risk of war for their promising and peaceful future .
To sum up, the occupation of Japan transformed Japan in political, social and other areas. It resulted in unexpected ramifications and effects given that the initial purpose and intention of occupation. But under a broader context of history, these characteristics were inevitably expected and reckoned as reasonable. Although the occupation lasted for six years, its legacy acknowledged Japanese public of the war crime responsibility and helped build Japanese public attitude for peace. Globally, its legacy created an example that the western democracy would work in an Asian country, which spread profound impacts on South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, China and other Asian countries.