Occupation's Mixed Legacy. (Book Reviews)

By Tabb, William K. | Monthly Review, January 2003 | Go to article overview

Occupation's Mixed Legacy. (Book Reviews)


Tabb, William K., Monthly Review


Eiji Takemae, Inside GHQ: The Allied Occupation of Japan and Its Legacy, translated and adapted by Robert Ricketts and Sebastian Swann with a preface by John W. Dower (New York and London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2002), 751 pages, hardcover $40.

Eiji Takemae, the doyen of Occupation studies in Japan, first wrote in 1983 in Japanese this fascinating account of how the United States, over a brief space of time, "dramatically rewove the social, economic and political fabric of a modern state, resetting its national priorities, redirecting its course of development." It is now available in a substantially revised and enlarged English edition. This major contribution is accessible to the general reader with little or no background in these important events--which brought New Deal reform to an essentially feudal country, and in what became known as the reverse course, restored important elements of the Old Order as part of a Cold War turnaround. While right-wing Japanese then and now present the democratization process as the imposition of a victor's peace and cultural imperialism, for most Japanese it was liberation from repressive militarist autocracy.

Like their German and Italian contemporaries, Japan's rulers believed their country had been denied its fair share of colonial spoils. They demanded a redistribution of wealth and power in Asia that reflected Japan's industrial and military strength. The United States resisted, since such redistribution could only come at its expense. Rather than seeing the war as a matter of Japanese aggression, Japan's leaders believed it was forced on them by the Western imperialists asserting control over Japan's natural co-prosperity sphere. From a broader Asian perspective, Japan's imperial expansion shattered the mystique of Western supremacy and contributed to a consciousness of the Western colonialists' vulnerability. However, an exploitative, and in many instances inhumane, Japanese brutality toward "lesser peoples," enslavement, forced labor, and other forms of savagery left wounds that affect the politics of the region to this day. Takemae explains that the Japanese soldiers committing these atrocities were themse lves denied basic civil liberties, indoctrinated to be obedient subjects of an emperor-god, subjected to rigid police control, and were the product of a society where ultra-rightist pronouncements seemed to prefer national extinction to defeat. Readers can learn more about the experiences of Japanese soldiers and the civilians they encountered in Soldier Alive (forthcoming from University of Hawaii Press) a grimly realistic novella by Ishikawa Tatsuzo, based on his experiences in China and banned by the Japanese government.

American soldiers perhaps had less excuse for their excesses, described in the early chapters of the book. U.S. paratroopers who landed in Sapporo, for example, engaged in an orgy of looting, violence, drunken brawling, gang rapes and other sexual atrocities. But the actions of rank and file soldiers are as nothing to the policies of military leaders. On the American side, there is General Curtis LeMay's use of incendiary bombs filled with a volatile mixture of jellied gasoline, phosphorous, and magnesium specially designed to incinerate Japan's "wood-and-paper" cities. The author quotes a staff memorandum from General Douglas MacArthur's psychological warfare chief calling the fire bombings "one of the most ruthless and barbaric killings of non-combatants in all history." And then there are Hiroshima and Nagasaki, necessary, in the opinion of Secretary of State Byrnes and other Truman advisers, to make the Russians more manageable in the postwar period.

Takemae tells the absorbing story of the Occupation's dynamic in which the allies, especially the Soviets, are frozen out of any serious role, and MacArthur, ostensibly overseeing the administration of Japan under Washington's orders, arrogates power to set policy.

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