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The Allied Occupation of Japan

As stated in the Potsdam Declaration, Japan was to lose all of its empire. Its governance, its sovereignty, was to be limited to its home islands. On August 8, 1945, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, and on August 9 Japanese forces in Manchuria (Manchukuo) on faced an invasion by Soviet troops. Hirohito's surrender speech came on the 15th. Japan's Kwantung Army surrendered on the 16th. Over 500,000 remnants of the Kwantung Army were on their way to Soviet prisoner-of-war camps (many of them to be to be repatriated during the next five years.

With Japan's surrender in mid-August, Korea was put under a United Nations plan for a trustee administration, the Soviet Union administering the peninsula north of the 38th parallel and the United States administering the south. The Japanese evacuated Korea peacefully, including more than 850,000 Japanese settlers. There were problems regarding Koreans who across decades had integrated with the Japanese. And elsewhere there were problems regarding Japanese soldiers left behind.)

Occupation of Japan's home islands

The occupation of Japan's home islands by the Allies was a major issue, and the Supreme Commander of the Allied powers in the Pacific, General Douglas MacArthur, resisted arguments by the Russians that they be allowed to take part in the occupation of Japan. The Truman administration agreed, and the Russians contented themselves with their occupations in Manchuria, North Korea and their taking of the southern half of Sakhalin Island and the Kurile Islands.

One week after Emperor Hirohito's announcement to his subjects that Japan was quitting the war, defiant airforce officers at Atsugi airforce base near Tokyo rebelled. The following day, Japan's military command, in line with the emperor, restored order. Five days later, on August 28, in agreement with the Japanese, US forces began flying into the Atsugi airbase. General MacArthur arrived on the 30th, and a motorcade took MacArthur and his entourage to his temporary headquarters. Hirohito's imperial soldiers lined the route with their backs facing the motorcade – a gesture of respect and a security measure.

At dinner at a luxury hotel where the Americans were quartered, MacArthur joyfully spoke of being "in the enemy's country with only a handful of troops" with nineteen fully armed Japanese divisions nearby. "One false move," he joked, "and the Alamo would look like a Sunday-school picnic." (John Toland,The Rising Sun p 865)

In the days ahead a misunderstanding with the Japanese was overcome. Japanese authorities believed that rules established at Potsdam required Japan's forces to surrender unconditionally but with Japan continuing to govern its own people. Japan's government had convinced the public that the cessation of hostilities would leave in place the country's paramount social and political institutions, including the emperor system. Contrary to this, MacArthur's decrees placed the whole of Japan, including the Throne, under military administration, and this threatened to discredit the authority of the emperor and the promise of self-government. MacArthur listed to the complaints of the Japanese, and on September 3 (the day after the formal signing of the surrender aboard the USS Missouri) MacArthur dropped his plan to institute direct military rule. He ordered a retraction of instructions to US troops to disarm Japanese soldiers and instructions regarding controls over commodity prices, salaries, education, currency, local courts and more. Japanese government agencies were to continue exercising their authority. The Allied Supreme Command was to exercise indirect rule, officially adopted by MacArthur's headquarters on September 26. The softer approach worked well for MacArthur. On October 16, MacArthur boasted:

Approximately seven million armed men...have laid down their weapons. In the accomplishment of the extremely difficult and dangerous surrender in Japan, unique in the annals of history, not a shot was necessary, not a drop of Allied blood was shed.

Emperor Hirohito was impressed by MacArthur, saying that it was a "rare good fortune" that a man of such caliber and character had been designated supreme commander to shape the destiny of Japan.

Japan's military establishment was demobilized. Japan's government was functioning with MacArthur behind the scenes giving "suggestions" and "advice." Hirohito was still looked to as the nation's chief of state, or at least father figure, and MacArthur's job according to the US State Department was to ensure domestic stability. The strategy of hearts and minds worked well enough. The Japanese were relieved. People who had seen the Americans as devils and barbarians now saw them as quite human. This was helped by foreign troops levels in Japan remaining low – at less than 200,000 after 1945 and before the Korean War.

MacArthur was concerned about both democracy in Japan and the ability of Japan to maintain a healthy economy. Japan was economically devastated. People were hungry and many were desperate. US leaders believed that reparations payments were impractical — while Stalin was criticizing the US for being too lenient with the Japanese.

Democracy was again winning support among the Japanese, and Americans were winning respect for their belief in democracy, political freedom and the dignity of common people, including peoples of other nationalities. The belief in empire and militarism was rapidly evaporating. Ordinary Japanese were criticizing wartime leaders – who were being blamed for the war more than was the Emperor. Cooperation among nations was transcendent intellectually over Darwinism applied to international affairs.

Stories of atrocities by Japanese soldiers returned with Japan's soldiers from China and the Pacific. Veterans confessed. Men who had fought for their country, many of them walking the street in their old uniforms, were disturbed by looks of disrespect and disgust. Some Japanese continued to be unaware of atrocities committed by their military. Some who had served as camp guards chose not to remember the brutality there. And some Japanese made the excuse that people would hear elsewhere in the world: that during war occasional brutality was to be expected.

One of the first things that MacArthur did in Japan was to have political prisoners released, thousands of them, including Communists. Everyone was to be free to participate in politics, to run for office and campaign. Over 300 political parties were in the making.

Labor unions had been outlawed in Japan, and MacArthur reversed this. From no labor unions in 1945, by the end of 1946 Japan would have 17,265 different unions. And much of the labor union leadership fell into the hands of those who believed in class struggle: the Marxists.

A new constitution was in the making, written behind the scenes by a group of Americans selected by MacArthur. In its preamble was the prohibition of restoring war as a means of resolving international disputes – a "renunciation of war." Hirohito presented the draft of the constitution to Japan's parliament. The Constitution gave women the right to vote, and the voting age was lowered from 25 to 20. In April 1946, campaigning for seats in parliament was enthusiastic, and thirty-nine women were elected to seats. Japan's Communist Party won six seats and 6.3 percent of the vote. The conservative Liberal Party won the most seats – 148 of a total of 464 – and it formed a governing coalition with the Progressive Party, which had won 110 seats.

In early November 1945 MacArthur's command had moved to reduce the power of Japan's business conglomerates – the Zaibatsu – shocking Japan's business elite. Land reform also had been underway, initiated by the Japanese themselves – something the Japanese had been toying with during the war. The reform took land from absentee landlords and gave it to those who had been tenant farmers. Lands with tenant farmers were to be divided into no larger than 2.45-acre plots and given to the tenants.

MacArthur did impose censorship on the Japanese. Newspapers and radio broadcasting were censored, including news that censorship existed. No unfavorable opinion about the occupation was allowed. Discussions on the effects of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were forbidden. Motion pictures were censored, including the work of filmmakers whose movies had been forbidden during the war years. By January 1946, 670 newspaper articles had been banned. And US military authorities had textbooks screened.

A directive from MacArthur's headquarters in December 1945 ordered the deletion of all references to Japan's Shinto religion from school textbooks, and school trips to Shinto shrines were forbidden. The Americans disliked Japan's mix of state and religion, and Shinto had been a state-sponsored religion. Hirohito had been the head of Shinto, and, in his 1946 New Year message, Hirohito proclaimed that he was not divine and that rather than his reign resting on ancient myths he claimed that it was based on "mutual trust and affection."

MacArthur's command welcomed Christian missionaries to Japan, and Bibles were widely distributed, but the number of Japanese Christians by December 1948 would be the same as before the war: about six percent. (Paul J. Bailey, Postwar Japan, p 29)

Moves to punish militarism in Japan resulted in MacArthur making all who had been officers in Japan's army and navy since 1930 ineligible for appointive or elective office in any branch of government. So too were those who had belonged to ultra-nationalist organizations and had held office while the militarists were in power. Also, those who had held positions of responsibility in leading industrial, commercial and financial corporations during the reign of the militarists had to resign from their positions and were debarred from politics. All teachers were screened and their wartime activities investigated. By April 1949 over 942,000 had been investigated and over 3000 found unacceptable.

War Crimes

To fulfill the agreement at Potsdam, war crimes had to be punished. One of those tried was Tomoyuki Yamashita. He had been one of Japan's brightest generals, bright enough to have opposed going to war against the United States. Prime Minister Tojo had disliked him and had removed him to a desk job following his leading Japan's victory in Malaya. But after Tojo had been dismissed in 1944 Yamashita was sent to the Philippines, and there he had struggled with chaos and against MacArthur. Yamashita had seen Manila as strategically unimportant and had ordered troops out of the city, but a subordinate commander did not obey. It was this band of more fanatical troops that committed the atrocities for which MacArthur held Yamashita responsible – and responsible also for the atrocities at Singapore early in the war. Yamashita claimed that the atrocities had occurred without his knowledge or control. But MacArthur had decided that Yamashita had to be punished, and Yamashita was hanged on February 22, 1946.

Trials of those who had taken part in the brutalities involved in building the rail line from Thailand to Burma resulted in death by hanging of thirty-two officers and enlisted men. Numerous others were sent to prison.

The trials of those accused of "crimes against peace" began in May 1946. there were eleven justices representing the eleven victorious Allied nations. Among the prosecuted was Hideki Tojo and fourteen other generals, three admirals and five career diplomats. The commander at Nanjing at the time of the atrocity there, General Iwane Matsui, was among them. On December 24, 1948, Hideki Tojo and six others, including Matsui, were hanged.

There were those in the United States (and perhaps the other Allied nations) who held to the old concept of revenge by victors over the vanquished. They wanted MacArthur to put Hirohito on trial. They were out of tune with the idea of reconciliation and MacArthur's strategy for transition to peace. MacArthur's highest subordinates were working to attribute ultimate responsibility for Pearl Harbor to Hideki Tojo.

CONTINUE READING: The United Nations

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