A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present

By Andrew Gordon | Go to book overview

13
Occupied Japan
New Departures and Durable Structures

On August 15, 1945, the emperor of Japan announced the nation's surrender to the Allied powers with his first radio broadcast ever. Some of his stunned listeners would later recall that August noon as an instant of “rebirth.” For these people, the surrender was a moment when past experience and values were rendered illegitimate. They decided to chart a totally new course, whether personal, on behalf of a national community, or both. Other listeners, already struggling to find food and shelter in bombedout cities, fell into a condition of despair and passivity. Still others—especially those in positions of power—resolved to defend the world they knew. Despite the shared national experience of defeat, individual experience varied greatly.

Even before the war ended, many court figures, as well as some politicians, businesspeople, and bureaucratic leaders, feared that defeat might bring a revolution that would sweep away the imperial institution and replace it with state socialism on a Soviet model. After surrender, these fears only intensified, although the United States came to be seen as the agent of revolution. These apocalyptic visions of revolution— for some fearful visions, for others hopeful ones—were not realized. Profound tensions and conflict have remained constant features of Japanese life. But, as one examines the history of the second half of the twentieth century, a central task must be to explain a process of stabilization that somehow contained these tensions. How and why did a conservative political and social order emerge and endure in the decades after 1945?


BEARING THE UNBEARABLE

Hardly any of the millions of people who listened to the surrender announcement had ever heard their sovereign's voice. Their surprise at the sound of his high-pitched words fighting through the radio static compounded their shock at the content of the message. For eight years Japan's rulers had exhorted the Japanese people endlessly to sacrifice in the emperor's name for the sake of a great and certain victory to liberate Asia from the tyranny of the “British and American devils.” Japanese soldiers had killed millions of soldiers and civilians throughout Asia, and about 2.5 million out of 70 million Japanese subjects had perished. Now, suddenly, in stilted and deliberately

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