How and Why Did the Allied Occupations of Japan and Korea Differ Essay

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Japan and Korea Occupation

How and why did the Allied occupations of Japan and Korea differ?

Allied occupations of Japan and Korea date backs to year 1945 when World War II got ended. Both the occupations occurred as a consequence of victory of allies over the axis. The allied powers included the United States of America, United Kingdom, Soviet Union, France, and China whereas axis included Germany, Empire of Japan, and Italy (Schaller 1985, 1-11). The causes and effects of both these occupations were dependent on occupation of Japan by the allied forces. This paper will investigate and analyze that how and why did the allied occupations of Japan and Korea differ? After stating a brief hypothesis of this study, the paper will briefly inform the reader about the background that led to both these occupations. This will set the stage for understanding that how and why did both of these allied occupations differ from each other.


The occupation of Japan and Korea by allied forces differed in the context that Japan as a unified country was kept intact whereas Korea got disintegrated into North and South Korea. Japan paid the price of war and subsequent occupation by being bombed whereas Korea paid the price by being divided into two distinct countries.


1939-1945: World War II (WWII) officially started in 1939 when Germany attacked Poland and thus encouraged all the great powers (both military and economic powers) of the world in this theatre of war. As a consequence, the allied powers of Great Britain and France attacked Germany in September 1939. As the world powers locked themselves into WWII, Japan was already at war with China since 1937. It was in 1940 that Japan joined the axis powers of Germany and Italy thereby occupying Vietnam, called the French Indochina. As a result, the U.S. And the U.K imposed an oil embargo on Japan (Takemae 2003, 15-33). The Empire of Japan, after annexing Vietnam intended to minimize the U.S. threat in the Northern Pacific. To achieve this end, Pearl Harbor was attacked that ultimately resulted in atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the two cities of Japan. Thus, the WWII officially ended when Japan surrendered unconditionally to the allied forces (meanwhile Soviet Union also attacked one of Japan's colony, Korea). It was now for the allied powers to decide the future of Japan as well as its colonies that included Korea and Taiwan. Within the allied powers, the U.S. led NATO was a major military block whereas Soviet led WARSAW was another major military block. Although united to fight the axis powers i.e. Germany, Italy and Japan, the allied powers were internally entangled in a 'communist' versus 'capitalist' war, each being supported by different countries (Takemae 2003).

The allied occupation of Japan

As discussed earlier, the occupation of Japan at the hands of allied forces was the consequence of former's defeat inflicted by the allied forces. It was essentially to demilitarize Japan and reduce its capacity to wage war in future that the allied forces occupied the Japanese territory. After the occupation, major reforms in military, political, and social spheres of Japan were introduced. It was on 14th of August 1945 that Japan accepted the demands made at the Potsdam Declaration in which the allied powers had demanded Japan to accept unconditional defeat.

After Japan's emperor Hirohito officially accepted the defeat (mainly caused by atomic bombs attacked at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Soviet Union's occupation of Manchiria in Japanese colony of Korea), the allied powers were now faced with the daunting task of managing these occupied territories. The U.S. was focused on occupying main islands of Japan in order to gain control of Japan and eliminate Japan's capacity to attack the U.S. In future. Other allied forces were interested in countries that Japan had colonized earlier. Soviet Union was interested in occupying Korea (Tsar of Russia lost Korea to Japan in 1905 and thus Soviets had not forgot this defeat); China was interested in occupying Taiwan and Penghu whereas U.K intended to occupy Hong Kong, Solomon Islands, and Nicobar Islands (Weinberg 1994, 630-645). Therefore, in theory it was the entire allied bloc that occupied Japan but in practice it was the U.S. that occupied the main islands of Japan. This occupation resulted in democratization of Japan soon after the occupation. While the U.S. was preeminently focused to gain military hold of Japan's main islands, it focused less on the Korean issue. Japan formed the main theatre of war for the U.S. And therefore, the U.S. spared less time (and partly due to commitments between the allied powers of the U.S., U.K and Soviet Russia made at Yaltra Conference regarding occupation plan of Japan and its colonies) for managing the issues of Korea (Weinberg 1994). It can be stated that occupation of mainland Japan was the major preoccupation and objective of the U.S.

Unity of Japan: The Japanese geographical unity was kept intact after it was occupied by the allied forces. The U.S. was the dominant force in allied bloc and therefore exercised greater control of the Japanese occupation. Two clearly articulated objectives of Japanese occupation plan were announced by Harry S. Truman, firstly to eliminate Japan's war potential and secondly to establish Japan on western style democratic system, much identical to that of the U.S. (Weinberg 1994).

Administrative functioning of occupied Japan: Officially stating, occupied Japan was to be administered by advisory council set up by the allied powers. However, practically it was General MacArthur was the absolute authority over Japan as being the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP). MacArthur supervised the demilitarization of Japan and closing down the war-related manufacturing industries of Japan. The constitution of Japan was change after being occupied and an article (article 9) was inserted that barred Japan as a state to wage/declare war in future (Dower 2000).

Occupation of Korea

Korea's occupation at the hands of the U.S. And the Soviet military is one of the unfortunate historical episodes that resulted in major conflict, not only between the occupying forces but the occupied country as well in form of division into North and South Korea. Thus, at the onset of investigating Korean occupation, it is safe to state that geographical division of Korea into two distinct countries (North and South Korea) remains the most controversial and visible difference between occupation of Japan and Korea. Japan's unity was kept intact as one country, just having the same boundaries as were before the occupation by allied forces. Korea on the other hand lost its unity and was divided into two countries i.e. North Korea and South Korea by the two major military powers of the allied bloc.

Japanese occupation led to Korean occupation: The major occupation was that of Japan that resulted in occupation as well as division of Korea (Molasky 2001). Had there been no occupation of Japan, Korea would have been saved of this fate of occupation and division. Therefore, Japan's occupation differed from that of Korea in the sense that the former caused the latter. However, after both of these countries were occupied, what we today see for both the countries in totally different in terms of political and economic influence. While Japan regained and multiplied its economic power (through industrialization) as well as the military power (however the latter being subdued to the U.S.), Korea lost its potentially strong geographic position by virtue of division into two countries and being sandwiched into the two powerful militaries.

Communism vs. Capitalism in form of North and South Korea: As soon Soviets watched Hiroshima and Nagasaki being bombed by the U.S. And imminent victory of the U.S. over Japan, they quickly moved into the Northern parts of Korea by attacking Manchiria and expanding their occupation of Korea up to the 38th north parallel. It was here that the Soviet army halted for the U.S. To respond regarding the occupation of Korea. When the U.S. realized that Soviets could well occupy the whole of the Korea, they rushed and in collaboration with Russia, established a control through trusteeship and the control of respective regions was based on 38th north parallel as a geographic demarcation. It was this demarcation that divided Korea for the rest of the years till now. Seoul was made the capital of South Korea and Pyongyang as North Korean capital. Although both Russia and the U.S. entered into the trusteeship agreements for controlling Korea as a temporary arrangement (and thereby dividing the country into two), this arrangement resulted in making the demarcated boundaries permanent due to subsequent animosity of both Russia and the U.S. towards each other and each country established their preferred political and economic system in respectively governed countries (Oberdorfer 1997, 50-90).

Start of cold war: It was the beginning of cold war (a term coined by George Orwell) that shaped the fate of Korea as two distinct and mutually hostile countries. The background of this animosity was the mutual tussle between Russia as a supporter of communist…

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