The lessons of the occupation of Japan

Thomas Lifson
President Bush has just cited the success of the occupation of Japan as demonstrating the need for persistence in our occupation of Iraq, in remarks to the VFW (God bless the VFW!) in Kansas City. He said:  
I want to open today's speech with a story that begins on a sunny morning, when thousands of Americans were murdered in a surprise attack -- and our nation was propelled into a conflict that would take us to every corner of the globe.

The enemy who attacked us despises freedom, and harbors resentment at the slights he believes America and Western nations have inflicted on his people. He fights to establish his rule over an entire region. And over time, he turns to a strategy of suicide attacks destined to create so much carnage that the American people will tire of the violence and give up the fight.

If this story sounds familiar, it is -- except for one thing. The enemy I have just described is not al Qaeda, and the attack is not 9/11, and the empire is not the radical caliphate envisioned by Osama bin Laden. Instead, what I've described is the war machine of Imperial Japan in the 1940s, its surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, and its attempt to impose its empire throughout East Asia.

Ultimately, the United States prevailed in World War II, and we have fought two more land wars in Asia. And many in this hall were veterans of those campaigns. Yet even the most optimistic among you probably would not have foreseen that the Japanese would transform themselves into one of America's strongest and most steadfast allies, or that the South Koreans would recover from enemy invasion to raise up one of the world's most powerful economies, or that Asia would pull itself out of poverty and hopelessness as it embraced markets and freedom.

The lesson from Asia's development is that the heart's desire for liberty will not be denied. Once people even get a small taste of liberty, they're not going to rest until they're free. Today's dynamic and hopeful Asia -- a region that brings us countless benefits -- would not have been possible without America's presence and perseverance. It would not have been possible without the veterans in this hall today
I could not agree more. And I have a bit of background on the subject of the occupation of Japan. Last March, I wrote the following, and I think it bears repeating:

Occupation is never easy. Even the most successful of military occupations under the best possible circumstances have their troubles. This is a factor to keep firmly in mind when considering the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The American occupation of Japan has to be counted as a spectacular success - maybe the greatest success in the world's history of occupations -  in retrospect. Fifty-five years later, a country that was once a brutal militaristic and racist imperial power is now committed to democracy.

But at the time, it was often dicey. I wrote my first graduate dissertation on the American occupation of Japan and the emergence of a modern ideology of management there. As part of my research on the topic, I spent endless days reviewing the dusty archives of the American occupation forces in a federal document depository, and got a strong sense of how dangerous, dicey, and difficult the occupation was for the people carrying it out.

To be sure, there were no insurgents flowing over the border because Japan is an island nation. But the danger of a communist revolution was always regarded as serious, all the more so after war broke out on the Korean Peninsula. There was also a counter-force, the often shadowy remnants of militarist circles, consisting of secret societies, purged officials and their confederates, and those seeking to restore something like the pre-war regime.
These hands were enormously strengthened by the need to have a force to combat the well-organized and then-powerful communists in Japan.

Recently, key CIA documents regarding the occupation were declassified, and a startling revelation has come to light: there was a serious coup attempt planned in 1952, shortly after the occupation ended, by a group of ultra-rightists, aiming to assassinate then-Prime Minister Yoshida, and install a hard line regime that could eliminate communist threats with more drastic measures than the fledgling democratic regime could undertake.

This
AP story reveals the expected media spin on both Japan and the USA and beyond:
Japanese ultranationalists with ties to U.S. military intelligence plotted to overthrow the Japanese government and assassinate the prime minister in 1952.
The scheme, which was abandoned, was concocted by militarists and suspected war criminals who had worked for U.S. occupation authorities after World War II, according to CIA records reviewed by The Associated Press. The plotters wanted a right-wing government that would rearm Japan.
The fact that the US would apparently have nothing to do with the effort, that it was quashed or abandoned and never happened, and that Japan went on to recover spectacularly, is regarded as less relevant than the ties of the plotters to the Americans. Of course, they had ties! Any group of any significance which operated in the political sphere had such ties.
The larger point is military occupation puts the occupying power in touch with a lot of dubious people, whose efforts may be needed to offset other dubious people. Defeated evil regimes are full of such people, and they must be dealt with.

Those who argue that the difficulties in Iraq mean that we have failed simply do not know their history. At best (and Japan is probably the best), it is tricky to navigate the shoals of occupation and its aftermath.
President Bush has just cited the success of the occupation of Japan as demonstrating the need for persistence in our occupation of Iraq, in remarks to the VFW (God bless the VFW!) in Kansas City. He said:  
I want to open today's speech with a story that begins on a sunny morning, when thousands of Americans were murdered in a surprise attack -- and our nation was propelled into a conflict that would take us to every corner of the globe.

The enemy who attacked us despises freedom, and harbors resentment at the slights he believes America and Western nations have inflicted on his people. He fights to establish his rule over an entire region. And over time, he turns to a strategy of suicide attacks destined to create so much carnage that the American people will tire of the violence and give up the fight.

If this story sounds familiar, it is -- except for one thing. The enemy I have just described is not al Qaeda, and the attack is not 9/11, and the empire is not the radical caliphate envisioned by Osama bin Laden. Instead, what I've described is the war machine of Imperial Japan in the 1940s, its surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, and its attempt to impose its empire throughout East Asia.

Ultimately, the United States prevailed in World War II, and we have fought two more land wars in Asia. And many in this hall were veterans of those campaigns. Yet even the most optimistic among you probably would not have foreseen that the Japanese would transform themselves into one of America's strongest and most steadfast allies, or that the South Koreans would recover from enemy invasion to raise up one of the world's most powerful economies, or that Asia would pull itself out of poverty and hopelessness as it embraced markets and freedom.

The lesson from Asia's development is that the heart's desire for liberty will not be denied. Once people even get a small taste of liberty, they're not going to rest until they're free. Today's dynamic and hopeful Asia -- a region that brings us countless benefits -- would not have been possible without America's presence and perseverance. It would not have been possible without the veterans in this hall today
I could not agree more. And I have a bit of background on the subject of the occupation of Japan. Last March, I wrote the following, and I think it bears repeating:

Occupation is never easy. Even the most successful of military occupations under the best possible circumstances have their troubles. This is a factor to keep firmly in mind when considering the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The American occupation of Japan has to be counted as a spectacular success - maybe the greatest success in the world's history of occupations -  in retrospect. Fifty-five years later, a country that was once a brutal militaristic and racist imperial power is now committed to democracy.

But at the time, it was often dicey. I wrote my first graduate dissertation on the American occupation of Japan and the emergence of a modern ideology of management there. As part of my research on the topic, I spent endless days reviewing the dusty archives of the American occupation forces in a federal document depository, and got a strong sense of how dangerous, dicey, and difficult the occupation was for the people carrying it out.

To be sure, there were no insurgents flowing over the border because Japan is an island nation. But the danger of a communist revolution was always regarded as serious, all the more so after war broke out on the Korean Peninsula. There was also a counter-force, the often shadowy remnants of militarist circles, consisting of secret societies, purged officials and their confederates, and those seeking to restore something like the pre-war regime.
These hands were enormously strengthened by the need to have a force to combat the well-organized and then-powerful communists in Japan.

Recently, key CIA documents regarding the occupation were declassified, and a startling revelation has come to light: there was a serious coup attempt planned in 1952, shortly after the occupation ended, by a group of ultra-rightists, aiming to assassinate then-Prime Minister Yoshida, and install a hard line regime that could eliminate communist threats with more drastic measures than the fledgling democratic regime could undertake.

This
AP story reveals the expected media spin on both Japan and the USA and beyond:
Japanese ultranationalists with ties to U.S. military intelligence plotted to overthrow the Japanese government and assassinate the prime minister in 1952.
The scheme, which was abandoned, was concocted by militarists and suspected war criminals who had worked for U.S. occupation authorities after World War II, according to CIA records reviewed by The Associated Press. The plotters wanted a right-wing government that would rearm Japan.
The fact that the US would apparently have nothing to do with the effort, that it was quashed or abandoned and never happened, and that Japan went on to recover spectacularly, is regarded as less relevant than the ties of the plotters to the Americans. Of course, they had ties! Any group of any significance which operated in the political sphere had such ties.
The larger point is military occupation puts the occupying power in touch with a lot of dubious people, whose efforts may be needed to offset other dubious people. Defeated evil regimes are full of such people, and they must be dealt with.

Those who argue that the difficulties in Iraq mean that we have failed simply do not know their history. At best (and Japan is probably the best), it is tricky to navigate the shoals of occupation and its aftermath.