In a recent speech in
What are we to make of this murky use of history? The truth is that what is happening in Iraq presents a stunning and fundamental contrast to what took place in occupied Japan and Germany over half a century ago â€” and not a positive one.
Six months after our occupation of
What is more, six months after
Half a year into the occupation of
One week later, on Oct. 11, MacArthur issued a famous statement calling for “liberalization of the constitution” and rapid implementation of democratization in five fundamental areas â€” emancipation of women, unionization of labor, liberalization of education, establishment of a judicial system that protected people’s rights and democratization of economic institutions. Basic reforms were soon in place that enlisted the energies, expertise and support not only of American and Japanese officials but of a broad spectrum of ordinary Japanese as well.
Where the Japanese government faltered, moreover, the Americans were ready and able to take even more decisive action. This occurred most dramatically, as it happened, almost precisely at the half-year point on the critical issue of constitutional revision. In February 1946, after it became clear that the conservative government could not bring itself to propose drastic reform, MacArthur’s staff stepped in to write a model charter, guide it through several “governmental drafts” and then oversee its deliberation and adoption in the national parliament.
All this was accomplished amid suffering and hardship that surpassed what we see in
So why did the occupation of
The Japanese surrender â€” after a protracted war â€” was not merely formal but “unconditional.” Emperor Hirohito ordered the military to lay down its arms, and then he remained in place to endorse the occupation and its agenda. Political and administrative institutions carried on intact, top to bottom.
In this milieu, virtually no one â€” neither among the victorious powers throughout
Unlike Iraq, which emerged as a construct of British and European power politics in the wake of World War I, Japan was a “natural” nation, never before conquered in a recorded history that traces back well over a millennium. It was also a nation that had been seriously “modernizing” since the mid-19th century. Historians of
Even in the midst of unprecedented defeat, moreover, strong traditions of social cohesion held the ravaged country together. Though the occupation forces encountered an unexpectedly vigorous range of political and ideological ferment â€” ranging from conservatives through liberals and social democrats to socialists and communists â€”
There was a different attitude on the part of the Americans as well.
Until the end of the occupation in April 1952, it remained basic policy to encourage Japanese “self-sufficiency.” Thus, in 1949 and 1950, the Americans promoted legislation pertaining to foreign exchange, trade and investment that provided a basis for governmental protection and promotion of domestic industries.
Here â€” to return to President Bush’s speech â€” is the one area in which U.S. policy in occupied Iraq has unquestionably “proceeded faster” than in Germany and Japan after World War II. It has done so, however, by promoting policies and priorities that were simply unthinkable then. Reconstruction has been turned over to foreign corporations led by American firms, and sweeping “privatization” measures have been proposed that call for placing the entire economy â€” except for oil â€” up for sale.
As announced in September, these measures would cap corporate taxes, slash tariffs and permit foreign companies to not only buy 100% of Iraqi firms but also immediately repatriate any profits. Even the conservative Economist magazine, which supports this extremist agenda, calls it a “yard sale.”
Viewed in a cold light, almost everything that abetted stability and serious reform in postwar
Gen. MacArthur, staunch Republican that he was, must be spinning in his grave.
John W. Dower, a professor of history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is the author of Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II (W.W. Norton & Co., 1999), which won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for nonfiction. This