March 30, 2003
Interview by DAVID WALLIS
Q Your book ''Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World
War II'' reportedly is required reading in the Bush White
House. Describe the inherent differences between the
occupation of Japan and the likely postwar rule of Iraq.
The differences are quite conspicuous. First, the
occupation of Japan had great moral and legal legitimacy in
the eyes of everyone -- the American people, the victorious
Allied powers, Japan's Asian neighbors. It also had
legitimacy in the eyes of most of the Japanese themselves.
Unlike Iraq, Japan was an isolated country, an island
facing no threats of infiltration. And despite the
shattering effects of the war, there was internal cohesion
and continuity in Japan in the form of the emperor, the
bureaucracy, administrative structures.
Isn't it true that few people after World War II expected
democracy to blossom in Japan?
That's absolutely true. Many Westerners and many
conservative Japanese argued that democracy was not
possible in Japan. For historical reasons and because of
the horrors they had gone though, however, there was great
receptivity to democracy. But the manner in which ''regime
change'' is being effected in Iraq has created worldwide
opposition to what is sensed as American aggression and
arrogance. In the case of Japan, there was not a single
incident of terrorism against U.S. forces there after World
Given the differences between Japan and Iraq, could the
administration still learn something from the Japanese
occupation and reconstruction?
I think there are both positive and negative lessons to be
learned. The first challenge to be addressed is to
alleviate the humanitarian crisis in an immediate, massive
way. Then you have to give immediate attention to creating
institutional structure for democracy. And you must
mobilize popular support. You just can't work with your
chosen delegates. There are negative lessons, too. One of
the great differences between Japan then and Iraq now is
that the people who occupied Japan had a breathing space of
several years. The Americans were preoccupied with Europe
and the emerging cold war, so MacArthur had a relatively
free hand for two years. And Japan had no precious natural
resources, so there was no outside intervention.
Many people expect companies that support the
administration financially, like Bechtel and Halliburton,
to profit from the occupation of Iraq. Did that kind of
thing go on in the Truman administration?
No. Japan after World War II was not seen as having a
particularly bright economic future. There were no American
economic interests hankering to get into Japan after the
war. In Iraq, we are going to have carpetbaggers and
special interests trying to manipulate what's going on
there for their own advantage. This could be disastrous.
Given the incredible focus on Iraq's strategic importance,
the more appropriate analogy may not be Japan proper but
Okinawa, which was turned into a grotesque appendage of the
American military empire.
What Japanese proverb or parable comes to mind when you
consider the coming occupation of Iraq?
In the weeks before the attack, we heard people say,
''Well, maybe this isn't the best thing, but we've gone so
far we can't turn back.'' This is what Tojo said before
Pearl Harbor. There is a famous temple called Kiyomizu-dera
on a steep hillside in Kyoto, and on the eve of Pearl
Harbor Tojo realized that he had gotten himself into a
terrible predicament, and he said, ''Well, sometimes you
just have to close your eyes and leap off the veranda at
Kiyomizu-dera.'' Why did he have to take the plunge then?
Because the weather was going to be bad in Southeast Asia,
the troops had already been mobilized and he had pumped up
What was the best decision that Gen. Douglas MacArthur made
as Supreme Commander of Japan?
General MacArthur had a charisma and an authority that we
cannot envision anyone having today. He believed in putting
his weight behind a really radical program of
democratization. It included encouraging labor movements,
releasing Communists from prison, legalizing the Communist
Party and having an agenda of breaking up the big economic
trusts. He had a great vision of making Japan a
demilitarized country. He expressed confidence to the
Japanese people that they could indeed do this. We all hope
that the Iraqi people will be given such an opportunity.
But I don't see it taking place given the present