The Police in Occupation Japan: Control, Corruption and Resistance to Reform

The Police in Occupation Japan: Control, Corruption and Resistance to Reform

The Police in Occupation Japan: Control, Corruption and Resistance to Reform

The Police in Occupation Japan: Control, Corruption and Resistance to Reform

Synopsis

Drawing on a wide range of sources, Christopher Aldous explores the extent to which America failed in its goal of "democratising" the Japanese police force, arguing that deeply rooted tradition and the black market led to resistance.

Excerpt

Any assessment of the health of a country’s political system, its democratic impulses or authoritarian tendencies, finds itself drawn inexorably to the role of the police in that society. The nature of the police system, its raison d’être, has great bearing on any judgement as to whether or not the subject qualifies as a democracy. As Anthony Sampson puts it, ‘[t]he police are inevitably the most visible arm of government…. Relations with the police are everywhere a touch-stone of true democracy’. Operating at the interface between state and society, the police serve as an instrument of state power, exercising a monopoly of legitimate force; as a mechanism for social control, regulating public behaviour and deterring criminal activity; and, less obviously, as a symbol of stability and continuity, buttressing the status quo against sudden, unpredictable change—so much so that the police institution itself seems peculiarly resistant to change or reform. Indeed, David Bayley, author of numerous works on policing, maintains that ‘police systems exhibit an enormous inertial strength over time; their forms endure even across the divides of war, violent revolution and shattering economic and social change’.

This tendency is exemplified by the Japanese police in the after-math of the Pacific War, when, under the aegis of the Allied Occupation of Japan (1945-52), American reformers set about redefining its role, transforming its ethos, even restructuring the system itself. Those involved in the business of Occupation fully understood the significance of the police—they would have recognized the import of Bayley’s assertion that ‘police penetrate society more completely than any other governmental agency’. Thus, it is no exaggeration to say that the ‘democratization’ of Japan depended to a large extent on the transformation of this institution. The extraordinary potential of the moment was keenly felt by those involved in carrying out the reform. But what did they achieve? To what extent was the role of the

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