Occupation, legitimacy and democracy

The lessons of the occupation of Iraq will be debated far into the future. One theory is that it was mistake to disband the army and destroy the corrupt Baathist infrastructure which had kept a semblance of peace among the divisive factions, albeit at a huge cost in blood and tyranny. With 20-20 hindsight, we see that an utter lack of any indigenous intact power structure or source of legitimization has had bloody consequences.

Things were done differently when America occupied Japan in 1945. The American Occupation of Japan is seen by many as a model of a successful conquest and orderly social revolution from above, imposing democracy by military conquest, and succeeding beyond anyone's wildest dreams in fostering a democratic and prosperous society. Yet even today, the lessons of the Japanese Occupation are fiercely debated. Particularly the question of whether or not the Emperor should have been regarded as a war criminal.

Following Japan's defeat, General MacArthur's Occupation made a clear decision to use the Emperor as a tool to ensure Japanese compliance with the massive changes to be ordered. It was therefore important to avoid discrediting him as a war criminal. Accordingly, the image was created of a shy, unassuming man more interested in his hobby of marine biology than in statecraft or warcraft. He was exonerated, and the question of his responsibilities dismissed.

Edwin O. Reischauer, JFK's Ambassador to Japan and professor of Japanese history at Harvard, embodied this pragmatic consensus. Reischauer maintained that Hirohito was indeed powerless to stop the militarists, and was personally a gentle and scholarly man. Since he knew the Emperor personally and was deeply immersed in the conduct of the war as an advisor on Japanese affairs, his words carried a lot of weight, albeit not enough to discourage one of his students from pursuing a counter-thesis.

Several years ago, my friend from graduate school days Herbert Bix received the Pulitzer Prize in history for his book, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan. Professor Bix argued that, although not a driving force behind Japanese militarism, Hirohito played a strategist's role, and had far more control than the consensus view of postwar Japanese and Americans. Professor Bix faulted him for doing nothing to stop the war and for being more interested in the throne than in democracy.

The research underlying Bix's conclusions consisted of painstaking examination of diaries, memoranda, and other documents that had been declassified starting around 1989, and all but ignored by Japanese historians, wary of the deep reverence accorded the Imperial Family. He convincingly showed that Hirohito was indeed conversant with the details of war strategy, and that he did not try to stop the war.

However, there is new evidence just revealed which at least softens somewhat the appearance of guilt of the wartime Emperor, while reinforcing the conclusion that he was kept quite well informed and did offer his opinions. The diaries of Kuraji Ogura, Hirohito's Chamberlain, have been discovered, and excerpts are being published by the prestigious Japanese magazine Bungei Shunju, in its April issue, hitting the newsstands in Japan today. Via an account in today's Japan Times:
Ogura wrote 600 pages of words uttered by Emperor Hirohito, posthumously called Emperor Showa, between May 1939 and June 1945.

He was quoted as saying on Oct. 12, 1940: "Shina (China) is stronger than expected. Everybody made mistakes in war projections. Notably, the army of war specialists was wrong in observing the situation."

On Jan. 9, 1941: he said, "Japan had underestimated China. It is much wiser to cease the war as early as possible and to cultivate (Japan's) national power for some 10 years." [....]

The Emperor went on to say: "What is important is when to end the war.

"I did not want to see the Sino-Japanese War break out. Because, I am scared of the Soviet Union....  We must be very careful in starting a war and fight to the last after the start."
These are not exactly the words of a pacifist, but rather of a pragmatist who thinks that the time is not yet ripe for military conquest. Other excerpts indicate that the Emperor was ignored on military personnel decisions.

There will no doubt much further discussion in Japan of the new evidence, and perhaps we will be treated to a review of it by Professor Bix.

It is clear in retrospect that Japan managed to avoid a reversion to militarism, despite the continuity of Imperial leadership, and that the legitimacy for the Occupation provided by the Emperor's open acceptance was a critical factor. This famous picture said it all: the towering figure of MacArthur relaxed in an informal pose and uniform, next to the rigid Emperor in formal dress.

Saddam was too wily and too obviously guilty to have served in such a role for the American occupiers And Iraq, unlike Japan, has porous borders and numerous groups including al Qaeda anxious to undermine the new democracy, so the situations are not at all comparable. Still, the question will haunt us for some time to come: should the United States have used some elements of the former power structure of Iraq to keep control, particularly in the early stages?

Hat tip: China Challenges  
The lessons of the occupation of Iraq will be debated far into the future. One theory is that it was mistake to disband the army and destroy the corrupt Baathist infrastructure which had kept a semblance of peace among the divisive factions, albeit at a huge cost in blood and tyranny. With 20-20 hindsight, we see that an utter lack of any indigenous intact power structure or source of legitimization has had bloody consequences.

Things were done differently when America occupied Japan in 1945. The American Occupation of Japan is seen by many as a model of a successful conquest and orderly social revolution from above, imposing democracy by military conquest, and succeeding beyond anyone's wildest dreams in fostering a democratic and prosperous society. Yet even today, the lessons of the Japanese Occupation are fiercely debated. Particularly the question of whether or not the Emperor should have been regarded as a war criminal.

Following Japan's defeat, General MacArthur's Occupation made a clear decision to use the Emperor as a tool to ensure Japanese compliance with the massive changes to be ordered. It was therefore important to avoid discrediting him as a war criminal. Accordingly, the image was created of a shy, unassuming man more interested in his hobby of marine biology than in statecraft or warcraft. He was exonerated, and the question of his responsibilities dismissed.

Edwin O. Reischauer, JFK's Ambassador to Japan and professor of Japanese history at Harvard, embodied this pragmatic consensus. Reischauer maintained that Hirohito was indeed powerless to stop the militarists, and was personally a gentle and scholarly man. Since he knew the Emperor personally and was deeply immersed in the conduct of the war as an advisor on Japanese affairs, his words carried a lot of weight, albeit not enough to discourage one of his students from pursuing a counter-thesis.

Several years ago, my friend from graduate school days Herbert Bix received the Pulitzer Prize in history for his book, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan. Professor Bix argued that, although not a driving force behind Japanese militarism, Hirohito played a strategist's role, and had far more control than the consensus view of postwar Japanese and Americans. Professor Bix faulted him for doing nothing to stop the war and for being more interested in the throne than in democracy.

The research underlying Bix's conclusions consisted of painstaking examination of diaries, memoranda, and other documents that had been declassified starting around 1989, and all but ignored by Japanese historians, wary of the deep reverence accorded the Imperial Family. He convincingly showed that Hirohito was indeed conversant with the details of war strategy, and that he did not try to stop the war.

However, there is new evidence just revealed which at least softens somewhat the appearance of guilt of the wartime Emperor, while reinforcing the conclusion that he was kept quite well informed and did offer his opinions. The diaries of Kuraji Ogura, Hirohito's Chamberlain, have been discovered, and excerpts are being published by the prestigious Japanese magazine Bungei Shunju, in its April issue, hitting the newsstands in Japan today. Via an account in today's Japan Times:
Ogura wrote 600 pages of words uttered by Emperor Hirohito, posthumously called Emperor Showa, between May 1939 and June 1945.

He was quoted as saying on Oct. 12, 1940: "Shina (China) is stronger than expected. Everybody made mistakes in war projections. Notably, the army of war specialists was wrong in observing the situation."

On Jan. 9, 1941: he said, "Japan had underestimated China. It is much wiser to cease the war as early as possible and to cultivate (Japan's) national power for some 10 years." [....]

The Emperor went on to say: "What is important is when to end the war.

"I did not want to see the Sino-Japanese War break out. Because, I am scared of the Soviet Union....  We must be very careful in starting a war and fight to the last after the start."
These are not exactly the words of a pacifist, but rather of a pragmatist who thinks that the time is not yet ripe for military conquest. Other excerpts indicate that the Emperor was ignored on military personnel decisions.

There will no doubt much further discussion in Japan of the new evidence, and perhaps we will be treated to a review of it by Professor Bix.

It is clear in retrospect that Japan managed to avoid a reversion to militarism, despite the continuity of Imperial leadership, and that the legitimacy for the Occupation provided by the Emperor's open acceptance was a critical factor. This famous picture said it all: the towering figure of MacArthur relaxed in an informal pose and uniform, next to the rigid Emperor in formal dress.

Saddam was too wily and too obviously guilty to have served in such a role for the American occupiers And Iraq, unlike Japan, has porous borders and numerous groups including al Qaeda anxious to undermine the new democracy, so the situations are not at all comparable. Still, the question will haunt us for some time to come: should the United States have used some elements of the former power structure of Iraq to keep control, particularly in the early stages?

Hat tip: China Challenges