This article is posted with permission of the author.
"Rebuilding Iraq: Japan Is No Model,"
Los Angeles Times, October 17, 2002
By Chalmers Johnson
According to press reports, the White House is developing a plan,
modeled on the postwar occupation of Japan, to install an American-led
military government in Iraq. Administration officials said Iraq would
be governed by a senior American military officer, who would assume
the role that Gen. Douglas MacArthur played in Japan after its
surrender. The plan calls for war-crimes trials of Iraqi leaders and a
transition to an elected civilian government after a few years of
After the story broke in October, the White House tried to back away
from it. However, some unnamed senior officials stood by it.
Our politics become more surreal every day. This plan won't work for
the simple reason that Iraq is not Japan. The Bush White House and the
Rumsfeld Pentagon seem to know next to nothing about Japan.
The Potsdam Declaration ending World War II ordered MacArthur to
"democratize" Japan. MacArthur himself thought that this order
great dangers. If not done carefully, his efforts would have only the
legitimacy of the conqueror behind them and might well provide a
target for later Japanese nationalists seeking to overturn foreign
MacArthur made some strategic decisions. He retained Hirohito on the
throne and had all occupation reform directives come from the emperor.
The general conducted an indirect occupation. He did not replace the
wartime Japanese government but kept it intact, only now taking orders
The new Japanese constitution, land reform, trade unions and the
attempt to open up the economy all came in the form of laws enacted by
the Japanese government. If the U.S. intends to follow the Japanese
model in Iraq, it will have to keep Saddam Hussein in place and work
The idea of conducting war-crimes trials is crackpot. In Japan, they
were intended to educate the public about the war, but they backfired.
Gen. Hideki Tojo, who was prime minister at the time of Pearl Harbor,
embarrassed everyone by asking from the dock, "Why isn't the emperor
here?" No one dared answer that MacArthur had rewritten history to
keep the emperor in power. By the time the U.S. got around to hanging
a few wartime leaders, most Japanese saw the war-crimes trials as
miscarriages of justice.
Most Americans do not understand that the Japanese people do not
credit MacArthur with bringing democracy to Japan, although they do
honor his memory as a postwar shogun. Democracy already existed in
Japan, based on the parliamentary politics of the 1920s, before the
militarists took over.
Another reason the Japanese don't credit the U.S. is that halfway
through the occupation the Americans changed their minds and began
turning Japan into a docile American satellite for fighting the Cold
The so-called "reverse course" of 1947 meant welcoming back to
many of the prewar and wartime leaders whom the Americans had purged.
Seeing this, the Japanese worked to take advantage of the new
conditions created by the Cold War. In return for letting the U.S.
keep its military bases on Japanese soil, the Japanese demanded
unrestricted access to the U.S. market and American tolerance of their
protectionism. The results of this policy can be seen today in any
U.S. parking lot. It also produced the largest trade imbalances (in
favor of Japan) in economic history.
During the early days of the Allied occupation, the Americans did not
have any economic interests in Japan. But the oil lobby led by Vice
President Dick Cheney is drooling to get its hands on Iraq's oil. As
late as 1999, Cheney's former company, Halliburton, supplied Hussein
with $23.8 million worth of oil field equipment.
Perhaps most obviously, MacArthur did not have a serious religion
problem in Japan. He forced the emperor to renounce his status as a
Shinto god, but religious impulses have always lain lightly on the
Japanese psyche. Iraq, by contrast, is ruled by a minority government
of Sunni Muslims that has fought bloody wars with the country's Shiite
and Kurdish majorities.
I am doubtful that a group of heavily armed American infidels can
bring "democracy" to Iraq, but I know for certain that what happened
50 years ago in Japan is no model.
A copy of this article circulated on the H-Japan emasil list. Another significant
statement appeared on email from Mark Selden. See below.
The Japanese Model for Iraq Revisited
In both Japan and the U.S., significant discussion of the U.S.
invasion of Iraq has pivoted on the analogy of the U.S. occupation of
Japan. As David Sanger and James Dao report on the basis of high
level off the record interviews in the January 6, New York
Times: "Though Mr. Bush came to office expressing distaste for
using the military for what he called nation building, the Pentagon
is preparing for at least a year and a half of military control of
Iraq, with forces that would keep the peace, hunt down Mr. Hussein's
top leaders and weapons of mass destruction and, in the words of one
of Mr. Bush's senior advisers, "keep the country whole."
A civilian administrator - perhaps designated by the United
Nations - would run the country's economy, rebuild its schools and
political institutions, and administer aid programs. Placing those
powers in nonmilitary hands, administration officials hope, will
quell Arab concerns that a military commander would wield the kind of
unchallenged authority that Gen. Douglas MacArthur exercised as
supreme commander in Japan.
The administration plan says, "Government elements closely
identified with Saddam's regime, such as the revolutionary courts or
the special security organization, will be eliminated, but much of
the rest of the government will be reformed and kept."
While publicly saying Iraqi oil would remain what one senior
official calls "the patrimony of the Iraqi people," the
administration is debating how to protect oil fields during the
conflict and how an occupied Iraq would be represented in the
Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, if at all. . . .
Administration officials insist American forces would not stay in
Iraq a day longer than is necessary to stabilize the country.
"I don't think we're talking about months," one of Mr.
Bush's top advisers said of the planned occupation. "But I don't
think we're talking a lot of years, either."
On January 24, 2003, a group of Japanese and international
specialists on the U.S. occupation of Japan held a press conference
at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Tokyo to challenge the Bush
administration's premises with respect to the Japanese occupation
analogy and the logic of invasion. Their statement follows.
U.S. PLANS FOR WAR AND OCCUPATION IN IRAQ ARE A HISTORICAL MISTAKE
An Urgent Appeal from Students of the Allied Occupation of Japan
The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has
announced plans to occupy Iraq, following "pre-emptive"
military strikes, based on the so-called Japanese model--the
post-World War II Allied occupation of Japan. As students of the
Japanese occupation, we protest this reckless and self-serving
misreading of history and strongly urge the U.S. government to
reconsider its ill-conceived project of war and occupation.
A careful look at the Japanese example suggests many reasons why that
experience is inapplicable to U.S. plans for a post-invasion Iraq.
The occupation of Japan (1945-52) derived its legitimacy from a
broad Allied consensus, as expressed in the Potsdam Proclamation,
issued by Britain and the United States on July 26, 1945. Emperor
Hirohito and the Japanese government agreed to accept the Potsdam
terms, surrender unconditionally, and dismantle the Imperial armed
forces. As a result, during the six years and eight months of the
Allied presence, there were no armed clashes or serious incidents
between American military forces and the Japanese people. The
occupation was able to proceed peacefully and in a spirit of relative
The Allied army of occupation relied on a staff composed largely
of American civilian administrators who induced democratic reform by
working indirectly through already existing governmental institutions
and agencies. As a result, the emperor, the Japanese government, and
the people cooperated in demilitarizing and democratizing the
The framework proposed for a post-invasion Iraq is radically
different. There is no broad legal or moral consensus for the Bush
administration's Iraq project, which is opposed by world opinion and
by most of America's close allies. An occupation probably would be
carried out unilaterally by U.S. armed forces acting solely on
Washington's authority. It is difficult to imagine Saddam Hussein
doing a volte face and cooperating with the occupying power, as did
Emperor Hirohito. Indeed, that is why President Bush is determined to
overthrow the Iraqi dictator. The destruction of Hussein's
government, however, may also preclude the possibility of a peaceful
Japan's Asian neighbors, victims of Japanese wartime aggression,
supported the Allied occupation. Some, such as China and the
Philippines, also participated in the Far Eastern Commission, the
Allied policy-making body for post-defeat Japan. Iraq's neighbors are
Muslim societies sharing a common Islamic culture and history. They
are strongly against American plans to topple Saddam Hussein and
replace his government with a pro-Western regime and will oppose even
more fiercely the presence of a large non-Muslim garrison force.
Moreover, a U.S. occupation may further inflame the Palestinian
problem, making peace in the Middle East difficult, if not
impossible, to attain.
If U.S. plans for Iraq bear no resemblance to the Japanese
example, why, then, does the Bush administration persist in such a
spurious comparison? The Allied occupation of Japan not only reformed
the nation's political institutions, insuring the rapid transition
from militarism to democracy, but revitalized the economy, laying the
foundation for Japan's emergence as an industrial superpower. At the
same time, however, it subordinated the new political system and
Japan's foreign policy to U.S. strategic interests in Asia,
producing, after the return of sovereignty, a long-term
"subordinate independence." This appears to be the real
significance of the Bush administration's disingenuous effort to
resurrect the "Japanese model." The current U.S. occupation
project, as conveyed by the media, appears to be a cynical attempt to
justify Washington's bellicose Iraq policy and promote its
post-invasion plans for the region.
The success of an American military occupation in Iraq is highly
problematic. In Japan, the reform program moved ahead relatively
smoothly due to a prewar democratic tradition, the absence of armed
conflict, the maintenance of internal social order, and the survival
of governing institutions, including the emperor. Iraq does not have
a similar history of democratic governance. U.S. plans to kill or
overthrow Saddam Hussein and place top Iraqi leaders on trial could
lead to protracted fighting and internal disorder. Even Iraqis who
hate Hussein may not welcome the destruction of their political and
social institutions. In a worst-case scenario, the American attack is
expected to kill or maim hundreds of thousands of civilians, ruin the
economy, and disrupt food delivery, health services, and sanitation.
Far from "democratizing" Iraq, U.S. military rule most
likely will intensify tribal, ethnic, and religious conflicts. Lack
of popular support and wartime control under conditions of
belligerency will necessitate continuing authoritarian governance.
Moreover, the Pentagon has recommended the use of nuclear arms
against Iraq in a battlefield emergency. Contingency plans for the
use of weapons of mass destruction mock any suggestion of legitimacy
for a "pre-emptive" war and occupation and further erode
America's claims to moral authority. Remembering Japan's experience
of atomic holocaust, we deplore such thinking in the strongest
An occupation of Iraq seems destined to fail for another reason.
Whereas Japan possessed few natural resources, Iraq has the world's
second largest proven reserves of petroleum. Iraqis may well conclude
that the U.S. invasion and occupation are designed mainly to gain
unrestricted access to their oil fields. Few are likely to
collaborate with an occupation authority that is believed to covet
this prime resource for its own use.
American occupying forces will encounter yet another obstacle. U.S.
policy planning for postwar Japan began three years before the
defeat. Thousands of Americans studied Japan's history and language
and, in the last year of the war, underwent intensive training in
civil administration. The occupation succeeded due in part to the
detailed knowledge these administrative experts acquired about
Japan's social and political institutions and culture. There is no
evidence that the United States is now preparing a similar group of
experts or developing comparable post-invasion policies consonant
with Iraq's history, political system, and culture.
Another striking difference is the preponderant role played by
General Douglas MacArthur in effecting a positive outcome. The
charismatic Allied Supreme Commander had an understanding of Japan's
history and cultural traditions. He earned the respect of ordinary
people, enabling him to wield enormous civil authority effectively
and implement liberal reforms quickly. MacArthur also attempted to
propagate Christianity in hopes that Japan would become a Christian
nation, but not even he was able to challenge traditional religious
beliefs. Despite MacArthur's best efforts, the small Christian
community failed to grow during the occupation.
We see no military figure of comparable moral or intellectual
stature in the United States today. With or without such an
individual, however, it is absurd to imagine that an American
military occupation can, in a short period of time, win the
confidence and cooperation of the Iraqi people, bridge ethnic and
religious differences, overhaul their national institutions, and
bring about a change in thinking based on American political values
and ideological beliefs.
Japan has a special obligation to warn its American ally against
such folly. Yet, instead of offering wise counsel, the Japanese
government is at work on a new law that will skirt the Constitution's
war-renouncing Article 9 and send Self-Defense Forces to provide
"humanitarian support" for American soldiers and sailors
the Persian Gulf. We call on the Japanese people and their elected
representatives to remember Japan's own tragic experience of war and
occupation and to decide for themselves the most appropriate way to
assist the Iraqi people.
If history is not to repeat itself, we who have lived through
the horrors of this "century of war" have a moral duty to
transmit its painful lessons to those who inherit the new century.
As students of the Japanese occupation, we believe that the Bush
administration's plans for war and occupation in Iraq are a
historical mistake and strongly urge the United States to seek a
peaceful solution to the present crisis.
January 24, 2003
AWAYA Kentaro (Professor, St. Paul's University, Japan)
Hans H. BAERWALD (former Occupation official, Professor Emeritus,
Herbert P. BIX (Professor, Binghamton University, U.S.)
Bruce CUMINGS (Professor, University of Chicago, U.S.)
John W. DOWER (Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
Norma FIELD (Professor, University of Chicago, U.S.)
FURUKAWA Atsushi (Professor, Senshu University, Japan)
Andrew GORDON (Professor, Harvard University, U.S.)
Laura E. HEIN (Professor, Northwestern University, U.S.)
Glenn D. HOOK (University of Sheffield, U.K.)
HOSOYA Masahiro (Professor, Doshisha University, Japan)
KOSEKI Shoichi (Professor, Dokkyo University, Japan)
J. Victor KOSCHMANN (Professor, Cornell University, U.S.)
C. Douglas LUMMIS (Political scientist and writer, Okinawa, Japan)
Gavan McCORMACK (Professor, Australian National University, Australia)
Richard M. MINEAR (Professor, University of Massachusetts, U.S.)
MIYAGI Etsujiro (Professor Emeritus, Ryukyu University, Japan)
Michael MOLASKY (Associate Professor, University of Minnesota, U.S.)
Joe B. MOORE (Professor, University of Victoria, Canada)
NAKAMURA Masanori (Professor Emeritus, Hitotsubashi University, Japan)
Robert RICKETTS (Professor, Wako University, Japan)
Mark SELDEN (Professor, Binghamton University, U.S.)
SODEI Rinjiro (Professor Emeritus, Hosei University, Japan)
TAKEMAE Eiji (Professor Emeritus, Tokyo Keizai University, Japan)
TANAKA Toshiyuki (Professor, Hiroshima Peace Research Institute, Japan)
TOYOSHITA Narahiko (Professor, Kansei Gakuin University, Japan)
YUI Daizaburo (Professor, Tokyo University, Japan)