JPRI Critique Vol. VIII No. 7 (October 2001)
The San Francisco Peace Treaty Fifty Years Later

Anniversary of A Satellite
by Chalmers Johnson



America's Complicity in Japan's Historical Amnesia
by Steven C. Clemons

Commenting on the importance of transparency in modern government, economist Joseph Stiglitz has written "secrecy is corrosive: it is antithetical to democratic values, and it undermines democratic processes. It is based on a mistrust between those governing and those governed." Stiglitz was writing not just about the secrecy of totalitarian regimes but of the "kind of secrecy that is pervasive today in many democratic societies."

At the dawn of the 21st century, it seems absurd that the United States government still embargoes historical records and vigorously perpetuates half-truths and outright lies about affairs of state that occurred many decades ago. One of the more notable examples of government deceit, originally crafted by the famously anti-communist John Foster Dulles and perpetuated for decades by the Department of State, are the terms agreed to by signing parties of the San Francisco Peace Treaty. This treaty brought a formal end to hostilities between Japan and 46 signatory nations, led by the United States, and laid the groundwork for the military alliance between Japan and the United States. September 8th of this year marked the fiftieth anniversary of this important treaty-- which among other actions purported, as specified in Article 14(b) to "waive all reparations claims of the Allied Powers, other claims of the Allied Powers and their nationals arising out of any actions take by Japan and its nationals in the course of the prosecution of the War."

Fearing Soviet and Chinese communist expansion in Asia, John Foster Dulles wanted to rid Japan of the burdens of responsibility for its war-time aggression and quickly rehabilitate it from being America's leading enemy during the second world war into becoming America's closest friend and ally in the Pacific. With a heavy dose of arm-twisting and back room deals, Dulles persuaded most of the allied powers into acceding to the terms of the treaty and focused most of the victims of Japanese aggression, such as the Philippines, on the future prospect of aid and potential reparations from a more economically sound Japan. The major nations that refused to sign the treaty included Korea, because of its irreconcilable enmity against Japan for the savagery of its colonization of the Korean peninsula; nor did India, China, and the Soviet Union.

However, only days before the Peace Treaty was to be signed, the Dutch government threatened to walk out because the treaty as prepared "expropriated the private claims of its individuals" to pursue Japanese private interests to settle claims. The Dutch felt that they lacked the constitutional authority to waive such private rights-- and in fact, there is considerable debate about whether the United States also lacked the constitutional authority to waive the rights of its citizens to pursue justice from private parties in Japan. In contrast to the other major powers that refused to sign the treaty for mostly geostrategic reasons, Europe mattered to Dulles, who feared that a Dutch exodus could lead to the U.K., Australia and New Zealand dropping out as well. Thus, on the day before and the morning of the actual signing ceremony, John Foster Dulles orchestrated a top secret exchange of official letters between the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands Dirk Stikker and Prime Minister Yoshida in which Yoshida pledged "the Government of Japan does not consider that the Government of the Netherlands by signing the Treaty has itself expropriated the private claims of its nationals so that, as a consequence thereof, after the Treaty comes into force these claims would be non-existent." And yet Article 26 of the San Francisco Peace Treaty unambiguously states that "should Japan make a peace settlement or war claims settlement with any State granting that State greater advantages than those provided by the present Treaty, those same advantages shall be extended to the parties to the present Treaty."

In other words, John Foster Dulles preserved the rights of Allied private citizens to pursue private Japanese interests for claims relating to the war, but did so deceptively and covertly. His diplomatic tradecraft produced a result in which the explicit language of the peace treaty was undermined and changed by a secret deal of which no one in the broad American or European public was informed. Yoshida's signed letter to the Dutch Foreign Minister on September 8th became the legal benchmark for the rights of Allied citizens to pursue claims against Japan in the actual peace treaty signed that same day. However, these letters were not declassified until April 12, 2000-- forty-nine years later.

At the 50th Anniversary celebration of the San Francisco Peace Treaty a group of American POWs protested the conferences and galas while they are attempting to pursue financial relief for having been enslaved by certain Japanese pre-war conglomerates, particularly the firms of Mitsui and Mitsubishi. The POWs have already lost one case in California courts in which the presiding judge decided that because of the success of the San Francisco Peace Treaty and John Foster Dulles's vision in rehabilitating Japan as a strong ally and partner of the United States, the waiver of individual rights to pursue private parties in Japan was indeed justified.

This is the problem with the cult of secrecy that exists in the conduct of America's foreign policy. Just because a judge rationalizes fifty years after the fact that the "ends" John Foster Dulles had in mind in erasing Japanese war liabilities were sound does not mean that this was a just or even the best course of action. In fact, the failure to support claims against Japanese private parties that enslaved and murdered Allied soldiers or forced into service Korean and other foreign women to be sexual outlets for Japanese servicemen is one of the reasons that Japan is still convulsively struggling with other nations over its history. In contrast to German society, which has engaged in five decades of public debate about Hitler and the Holocaust, Japan has not engaged in broad soul-searching nor witnessed the kind of court cases and public debates that would help shape a shared understanding of history among citizens both within Japan and around the Asia Pacific region. Prime Minister Koizumi's August visit to Yasukuni Shrine, which honors the souls of Japan's war dead, including indicted war criminals, and the relentless efforts of Japanese textbook writers to rewrite and redefine Japanese aggression against Korea and China during the war have further aggravated this tension over Japan's official history. Because Japan is so ill at ease with domestic debate about its national history, other nations understandably refuse to trust a more empowered Japan.

What we know only today is that John Foster Dulles arranged a deal that clearly preserves the rights of American POWs and others to pursue personal claims against private Japanese firms, but tried to make sure that the tools to pursue such claims were kept beyond the public's reach. And in order to maintain the stability of America's relationship with Japan, the State Department has regularly sided against legal challenges to the treaty, going so far as to file briefs in the California court against the former American POWs.

Japan clearly deserves criticism for its inability to engender healthy debate and discussion within its society about its past and institutions, particularly the role of the emperor and the nation's actions in the war. However, it is increasingly clear that the United States, as evidenced by the emerging controversy about the terms of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, is complicit in and has been a primary architect of Japan's historical amnesia.

STEVEN C. CLEMONS is executive vice president of the New America Foundation and director of the Japan Policy Research Institute. A version of this article appeared in the New York Times on September 4, 2001.



Anniversary of A Satellite
by Chalmers Johnson

At the present time, when the U.S. once again has an unprepared and internationally novice president surrounded by unelected officials with agendas that may lock the country into dangerous positions for years to come, it may be useful to look back 50 years to the so-called peace treaty with Japan wrought by John Foster Dulles. More than any other American, Dulles created the post-World War II system of American satellites in East Asia and committed the American people to cold and hot wars against nationalistic communists in China, North Korea, Indochina, Indonesia, the Philippines, and elsewhere around the world, including Cuba. As Secretary of State he fired, marginalized, or turned over to the tender mercies of Senator Joseph McCarthy every American diplomat who knew anything about China in order to protect his paranoid view that the communists came to power in China because of disloyal American officials.

The jewel in the crown of Dulles's East Asian empire was Japan, which he converted from a defeated but nonetheless sovereign nation into a satellite in permanent orbit around the United States. This he did through the Peace Treaty, signed at San Francisco's opera house on September 8, 1951, and more importantly, through the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, signed a few hours later at the Presidio of San Francisco, appropriately enough then a U.S. military base. Former Prime Minister Yoshida and other Japanese leaders always liked to claim that they had gotten a good deal from Dulles, but fifty years later, with Japan's economy stifled by its old Cold War arrangements with the United States, the Asian countries damaged by World War II still hating Japan for its arrogance and brutality, and a million-three-hundred-thousand Okinawans still forced to live with 27,000 American troops and their camp followers, Yoshida's claims are questionable.

The original Security Treaty gave the U.S. military the right "to put down large-scale internal riots and disturbances in Japan" and required the U.S.'s prior consent for the forces of a third country to stay in or pass through Japan. It took the largest upheaval in postwar Japanese history, the Security Treaty struggle of 1960, to get these offensive clauses eliminated without ever actually changing the substance of the relationship. Dulles totally outmaneuvered Yoshida on Japan's relations with China, which were after all the root cause of Japan's war with the World War II allies. Dulles did not invite either Beijing or Taiwan to the peace conference and forced Japan to recognize the Chiang Kai-shek regime on Taiwan even though mainland China had been Japan's leading prewar trading partner. The arrangement was so odd that in order to make Japan's restored sovereignty even slightly viable the U.S. had to open its markets to any and all Japanese exports and to tolerate Japan's protectionism. This in turn exposed Japan to the shock of Nixon's 1971 opening to China, which the U.S. kept secret from Japan, and to the present-day conundrum of Japan's still trying to work out a mutually advantageous relationship with China, the world's fastest growing economy.

The peace treaty itself gave Okinawa to the Pentagon as its own private colony, an imperium that lasted for twenty years until Japan and the U.S. altered its legal status into that of a de facto colony of the United States disguised by a fa?ade of Japanese sovereignty. It is extremely doubtful that the island's current thirty-eight American military bases have anything at all to do with "peace and security" in the Pacific, but there is no doubt that the U.S. and Japan have conspired to turn the Okinawans into Japan's poorest citizens. The wealth of Taiwan, only a few miles further south, is evidence of what Okinawa might have achieved without Dulles's peace treaty.

On April 19, 1952, Hanson Baldwin, the military correspondent of the New York Times, described the treaty as inaugurating "a period when Japan is free, yet not free," which is a perfect definition of a satellite. It would undoubtedly astound Yoshida that Japan's subordination to the United States still persists fifty years after he signed the treaty. At San Francisco, Yoshida alone signed for Japan because the conservative opposition Democratic Party and the Socialists were opposed to any military alliance with the United States and because he wanted to indicate to the Japanese people that he alone was taking responsibility for it. Yoshida assumed that the Security Treaty would be a transient affair. Yoshida's daughter later told the Australian scholar John Welfield, "It was the only thing that could be done at the time, really. Yet he always knew that it was a very unnatural position for us to be in." According to John Dower, only about twenty Japanese showed up in front of the Imperial Palace to shout "banzai!" when the peace treaty went into effect.

The Bush administration wants to abrogate the treaty that outlaws defenses against ballistic missiles because it is outmoded, anachronistic, and belongs to the bygone era of the Cold War. If these American leaders really want to get rid of treaties that have outlived their usefulness, I nominate the Japanese-American Security Treaty. A change in Japan's "unnatural position" is long overdue.

CHALMERS JOHNSON is president of the Japan Policy Research Institute. This article appeared in the Japan Times on September 8, 2001.

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