Effects of the Post World War II Occupation on Japan's Government and Politics Term Paper

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War and Occupation: The Effects of the U.S. Occupation on Japan's Government and Politics

The recent change in the American foreign policy direction which has seen the replacement of its traditional anti-colonialist tilt by the neo-conservative belief of guided nation building evokes a lot of interest in the history of United State's occupation of post world war II Japan. Although each such occupation is different -- the political, social and cultural environment as well as the historical context of every war and country being different-- it is interesting to study how the Americans handled the re-building of Japan in the post-World War II period.

There is no doubt that the United State government's influence in shaping the future of Japan was overwhelming. In fact it would not be wrong to state that Japan's current political and economic status as a first world power is a direct result of the guiding philosophy developed by the Post Dam Declaration and further defined by the United States Government. In the aftermath of the War, the Supreme Commander for Allied Powers (SCAP) became responsible to carry out these policies and directives. The Allied Council and Far Eastern Commission had a formal but token involvement in the reconstruction of post war Japan. This was essentially an American undertaking. The reconstruction of Japan was accomplished by SCAP relying on the existing Japanese government and its agencies, especially the bureaucracy, to implement its policies. In this paper we shall examine how far the U.S. was responsible in changing the course of Japan's political and social direction and whether the lessons learnt from Japan's post war occupation and nation building are applicable in the present day scenario.

The Potsdam Declaration provided the initial theme and direction of the post Word War Japan. Although less tough and vindictive than the JC 1067 imposed on the defeated Nazi Germany it described how stern justice, reparations, and demilitarization were necessary for democratization of Japan. (Jennings, p.16) Stalin himself agreed at the Potsdam Conference that the American Supreme Commander should act as the sole executive authority for the Allies in Japan. (Bell, pp.199-200) General MacCarthur, therefore, had the fullest authority in post war Japan and was the dictator of Japan, except in name. At times, the United States was out voted in the Allied Council but simply ignored the Council and proceeded to do as he pleased. Other policies that further defined Japan's future direction were the "U.S. Initial Post-Surrender Policy Relating to Japan" and the classified "JCS1380/15. " The "Post Surrender Policy" gave MacCarthur authority over the media, the educational and social policy designed to politically re-orient the country, and the classified "JCS1380/15" specified the avoidance of a policy of collective punishment. MacCarthur used his authority effectively to drive a "wedge" between the militarists on one side and the public and the emperor on the other. (Dower, Embracing Defeat)

Demilitarization and Democratization

Demilitarization" and "Democratization" of Japan were the two key aims of General MacCarthur from the start of the U.S. occupation. This was not an easy task since the direction meant a complete reversal of the hitherto social, political, and cultural direction of Japan. The U.S. not only believed that "the country should not only be 'democratized' to prevent the reemergence of militarism, but simultaneously immunized against a rising tide of communist influence" (Dower, 75). The task could not have been achieved without the free hand and backing given to MacCarthur by the U.S. government and President Truman himself. The fact that MacCarthur's effort was successful to a large extent is all the more remarkable since there was no massive economic aid package for Japan as the massive "Marshall Plan" worked out for the reconstruction of Europe. This is despite the fact that Japan had been just as extensively "fire-bombed" as Germany during the Second World War and had suffered widespread "collateral damage." The only saving grace in case of Japan (and which MacCarthur was able to put to effective use in the re-building process) was that the country's bureaucracy had largely survived the war. In many areas of the Japanese administration after the war there were signs of continuity. For example, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry formed in 1949 to direct Japan's economic development took over elements from the earlier Ministry of Commerce and even wartime Munitions Ministry. (Bell, p. 2000) The continuity in administration was made possible by the American decision to avoid the application of "collective guilt" for the war (and therefore collective punishment) in Japan. Nevertheless, well-known militarists and wartime collaborators were purged from their posts. These numbered more than 210,000 Japanese, including 2000 civil servants, a majority of whom were in the Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs. (Jennings, p. 16)

The "collaboration" between the Japanese bureaucracy and the U.S. occupying forces was crucial in the success of the re-orientation of Japan since the Americans did not have enough numbers on the ground to carry out all governmental tasks themselves.

MacCarthur's Reforms

MacCarthur moved with impressive speed in ordering and then delivering on a number of fundamental reforms that were to put the Japanese people on the path of democracy in "the image of the United States." The array of reforms included dismantling of large family-run conglomerates (the Zaibatsu), land redistribution, the introduction of civil liberties and the Labor was given the right to organize and strike. These steps were instrumental in driving the "wedge" between the public and the militarists as the majority of the Japanese people, and the marginalized sections of the society in particular, stood to gain from these reforms.

The Emperor's unqualified support for the reforms and his appeal to co-operate with the occupation forces lent the much-needed credence to the reform process. Other reforms included freedom of speech, the right to vote for women, and revision of the school curricula, the media and the arts for promoting pacifist ideas. As part of the reform process, political prisoners were released from jail and the government-sanctioned cult of Shinto was banned. All of these reforms were announced and implemented in the first months of the U.S. occupation and General MacCarthur was not obligated to consult and evolve consensus for his orders either from the Japanese or other members of the Allied Council. It was an unprecedented case of 'revolution from above' and support for the reforms from below were to follow in due course. (Jennings pp. 15-19)

The Japanese Constitution

Perhaps the most glaring example of the American attempt of 're-engineering' the Japanese society and government was the new Japanese constitution drafted in 1946 in the Supreme Commander's headquarters on lines laid down by MacCarthur himself. The new constitution stripped the emperor of the sweeping powers granted to him by the Meiji constitution, making him instead just the symbol of the Japanese nation in a largely ceremonial role. It provided for a British-style parliamentary system, with a cabinet elected by and responsible to the House of Representatives renamed as the National Diet. ("Japan," Encarta, para on postwar reform) In the constitution General MacCarthur insisted on inserting a provision that denounced war, besides recognizing the status of trade unions, the right of votes for women, and the freedom of press. The constitution is in some ways even more "libertine" than the American constitution. The reform process and the liberating provisions of the constitution contrasted sharply with the conservative view of the U.S. State department that the Japanese people were incapable of democracy. MacCarthur also used his powers to insert the monarchial basis of the constitution before the "republicans" in the U.S. could interfere as he realized that the institution of the monarchy still had a lot of prestige and a majority of Japanese held the Emperor in high esteem. The new Japanese government also had orders to arrest anyone who advocated the abolition of the monarchy. (Roberts, p. 516)

Since MacCarthur had not consulted any member of the Japanese government while drafting the constitution, several members of the Japanese parliament (Diet) were shocked when the draft was put up for their ratification. They were of the opinion that the constitution could not possibly work in the Japanese culture and environment, as it would erode everything that contributed to the existence of an ordered, sustainable society. (Jennings, p. 18) The parliament only agreed to ratify the constitution when MacCarthur threatened to put up the document for a referendum before the public. The marked conservatism of the Diet and their less than enthusiastic support for the liberal reforms in the constitution forced MacCarthur to rely more on the Japanese bureaucracy for implementation.

Economic Reforms

Economic reforms led to the transfer (through compulsory purchase) of approximately one-third of all cultivated land in Japan to the cultivators. According to the land reforms, there could no absentee landlords. A person who actually worked the land could own up to 7.5 acres. Larger plots of land were procured by the government and sold on easy terms to former tenants. Within two years 2 million tenants became landowners. This…[continue]

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