The U. S. Army as Democratizers: Hans Baerwald on Takemae Eiji

Review of Takamae Eiji's Inside GHQ, the Allied Occupation of Japan and its Legacy. New York: Continuum, 2002, xlv, 751 pp., ill., maps.

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Reprinted, with permission, in slightly edited form from Social Science Japan Journal, Vol. VII, No. 1, 2004.)


Takemae-sensei -- I use the honorific advisedly -- has produced the best single volume study of Japan’s Occupation. He has accomplished this monumental task with the assistance of two exceptionally dedicated and talented adaptors and translators, Robert Ricketts and Sebastian Swann.

In making this judgment it is neither my intention nor wish to denigrate John Dower’s brilliant Embracing Defeat (W.W.Norton, 1999), which covers the same historical period. Fortunately, the two books are very different. Dower writes from total immersion in Japan’s society, arts and literature as well as his path-breaking study of its popular culture. Takemae has spent decades steeping himself in the inner workings of “GHQ” (General Headquarters), MacArthur’s variegated commands during the war itself, and the Occupation of Japan that ensued. In doing so, he was assisted by his highly imaginative use of GHQ’s telephone directories, extensive and intensive interviews with some of the key players, and combing with care the mammoth American archives (available since the mid-1970’s in the Kokkai Toshokan, the National Diet Library). As a result, the book reads as if he had been a staffer in GHQ, SCAP (Supreme Command Allied Powers) instead of having been a university student during the Occupation. His book achieves a level of verisimilitude that is unfortunately all too rare. Moreover, he and Dower are good friends, as is reflected in the latter’s Preface (pp xix-xxiv). Not only are they friends, but they have the highest respect for each other. Anyone with a scholarly interest in the Occupation of Japan would do well by beginning his o her studies by reading both books.

Takemae begins with a chapter detailing the evolution of MacArthur’s GHQ during the military campaign against Japan, that he calls the “Pacific War,” in response to Japan’s efforts to fulfill its imperial ambitions by creating its “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.” The chapter ends with an overview of the climactic and costly battle over Okinawa, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the preparation for the military occupation of Japan’s home islands. The Occupation itself entailed reorganizing U.S. Army Forces in the Pacific (USAFPAC) and its Military Government Section into GHQ/FECOM (Far East Command) and GHQ/SCAP with its many specialized Staff Sections. All too often, this foray into structure is overlooked. Its inclusion attests to Takemae’s appreciation for administration and its influence over the achievement of policy objectives. MacArthur ended up at the apex of two major pyramids: Supreme Commander of FECOM, which controlled the Allied military forces, and of SCAP, which implemented the Occupation’s reform policies. (For overviews, please see Figure 5, p. 104, Figure 6, p. 118, and Figure 7, p.119.)

While the war was being fought, policy makers (mostly American, but with some input from its military allies, especially the British) had been working on successive drafts setting forth the basic goals and objectives that the Occupation was to achieve. Ultimately, they emerged as two sets of overlapping policy instructions to MacArthur. They were grandiose in their vision and basically similar, although somewhat different in their degree of detail. Chapter 5, “The Genesis of Reform (pp.202-34) provides an overview of what “Demilitarization,” including the “Elimination of the Old Order,” and “Democratization” actually meant. For the moment, it is worth remembering that the American Government had developed -- mostly behind closed doors in Washington, D.C. -- a set of instructions, the State War Navy Coordinating Committee (SWNCC) and Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Basic Policy Directives to MacArthur, that were to guide the Occupation.

Takemae provides a wealth of documentation in support of his analysis concerning the evolution of Occupation policy. By contrast, much of the debate inside the Japanese Government in the final weeks of war was between the hard-liners (mostly in the military) who opposed surrender and those who sought to achieve a negotiated peace. Apparently little thought was given to responding to the possibility of having to bear the “unbearable” by having to cope with a foreign occupation. Members of the Nihon Senryo-shi Kenkyukai complained to me personally (February 2002) about their Government’s limited and slow (gyuho senjutsu tactics, by my reckoning) declassification of its extant documents that might illuminate policy-making at the end of the war and during the Occupation itself.

In effect, there is a mountain of material about American/Allied Occupation policies, how they were formulated and how they fared, in comparison with the tiny hillock of documents about Japanese responses and how they were determined. This imbalance has serious consequences because much scholarship about the Occupation -- even that of Takemae, a master of the subject -- tends to be perceived from SCAP’s perspective. Ultimately, a companion to “Inside GHQ” needs to be written. One possible title might be “Inside the Imperial Household, Kasumigaseki, and Nagata-cho.” Such a book would be most helpful by illuminating the steps leading to the plea that SCAP rule indirectly, i.e., through the existing Japanese Government, as opposed to direct military government, as in Germany. None of the foregoing is intended as a criticism of Takemae’s scholarship. He cannot be held responsible for decisions in which he did not participate regarding the rules governing the declassification of relevant Japanese documents .

As noted, two organizations supervised the Occupation: under FECOM, the 8th Army (after it had absorbed the 6th) constituted the military force for the maintenance of law and order. Its Headquarters was located in Yokohama. SCAP included the Special Staff Sections that paralleled the major ministries in the Japanese Government. Its headquarters was located in the Dai Ichi Seimei Building in downtown Tokyo. (A miniscule error is in the caption of Photo 11 on p. 94. That picture was taken from the moat surrounding the Imperial Palace, not from Hibiya Park.) Both operated under MacArthur’s plenipotentiary authority. While professional military officers were dominant throughout, the Special Staff Sections had an increasingly large civilian staff as well as individuals who were in uniform temporarily but whose outlook was often at odds with those espoused by the career military.

For the sake of “truth in advertising,” I was a linguist in Government Section (one of the Special Staff Section) for two and a half years. Brigadier General Courtney Whitney, its chief, had been a civilian attorney in Manila prior to the war and had become a good and trusted friend of MacArthur’s. He and his brilliant deputy, Colonel Charles Kades (a Wall Street attorney), exemplified the coterie of civilians in temporary uniform. Government Section prided itself on being the major engine of reform. It became embroiled in many legendary battles with the Chief of Intelligence (G-2), Charles Willoughby (a career military Major General), who exemplified the forces of reaction. As Takemae notes, MacArthur sometimes referred to Willoughby as his “favorite fascist.”

One brief vignette may assist in removing some of the fog that periodically engulfed participants in policy implementation. On January 4, 1947, the first anniversary of the Political Purge, Government Section convened a meeting of local Military Government Team representatives to explain the expansion of the Purge into local government, major commercial and industrial enterprises, as well as into media of Public Information (publishing, journalism and film). We distributed copious explanatory materials and senior Government Section officers carefully explained the Purge’s arcane and complex provisions. All attendees were encouraged to assist in supervising the newly established Japanese local screening committees that were to do the real work. Any violations were to be reported to Government Section.

To the best of my recollection, no Military Government team ever contacted Government Section about derelictions. It is possible that some tried, but intervening layers of the chain of command within 8th Army as well as within the senior military staff inside SCAP became impenetrable obstacles to the easy transmission of vital information. (Please see Figure 6, “Organization of Eighth Army Military Government Headquarters,” p. 118, Figure 7, “Military Government in Japan,” p. 119, and Figure 8, “The Dual Structure of the Occupation,” p. 138.) Given the awesome complexity of organization and chains of command -- so beloved in the military -- it is amazing that some examples of coherence between policy and implementation actually occurred.

Anyone wishing to assess the Occupation of Japan is faced with a major and several related problems from which others have flowed. First, it was brief: six and a half years is a short blip in Japan’s recorded history that spans fourteen centuries; second, the Occupation itself was divided into two more or less equal periods. During the first phase, reformist elan often predominated, whereas during the second economic growth and making Japan into an ally of the United States in confronting “international communism” took precedence. Essentially, the shift in emphasis from “reform” to “recovery” that became palpable in 1948 meant that the initial three years constituted only half the Occupation’s overall length between Japan’s defeat in August 1945 and the formal adoption of the Peace Treaty in April 1952.

Not everyone would agree with the foregoing paragraph because it supports the belief that midway through the Occupation its overall goals underwent a substantial transformation. Takemae masterfully analyzes the elements of this change in emphasis in Chapter 10, “Changing Course,” especially in the section entitled “‘Reverse Course’ or ‘Shift of Gear’”? One of his most telling assertions is that “. . . the fundamental premises of the Occupation were conservative from the start because the Imperial institution and the civilian bureaucracy were retained.” That may be putting it too strongly. After all, the occupiers drafted the new Constitution including the altered status of the Emperor and tightly controlled the bureaucracy even if their mandates had to be funneled through the existing structure of the Japanese Government.

More significant, at least at the outset, were a series of reformist policy pronouncements and programs. They ranged across a wide spectrum: 1) the total demobilization of Japan’s Imperial Army and Navy; 2) SCAPIN 93 (shorthand for SCAP INdex, a listing of all official directives to the Japanese Government as contrasted with informal instructions) of October 4, 1945 that abrogated the repressive “Peace Preservation Law” and related ordinances and ordered the release of all “political prisoners.” Many of the latter were Communists who had opposed Japan’s imperialist forays into China and S.E. Asia; 3) Emperor Hirohito’s 1946 New Year’s message denying his divinity that should be seen in conjunction with the December 15, 1945 Directive abolishing governmental support of State Shinto; 4) the Political Purge Directive (SCAPIN 550, January 4, 1946) with the companion SCAPIN 548, which ordered the abolition of certain political parties and societies that resisted or opposed Occupation policies, had supported military aggression, or had used assassination or terrorist tactics to suppress opponents of expansionist and militarist policies. Each of the foregoing reflected the early zeal to alter Japan’s polity and to bring to the fore Japanese groups and individuals who wanted to build a new Japan.

Meanwhile, other reforms were in their gestation phase. It must be emphasized that all of them had their origins in the Potsdam Declaration and in the Initial Post-Surrender SWNCC and JCS policy papers previously mentioned. These documents need to be remembered as providing the framework within which MacArthur and his staff were to conduct the formulation of specific reforms. Numberless minor skirmishes were fought between those who took these guidelines seriously and those who dismissed them as largely irrelevant. Takemae, in Chapter 4, “Inside the Special Staff Sections,” provides many examples. He also melds details of the interactions between and among leading players into his presentation, thereby adding a quotient of real life to the neatly arranged small boxes on organization charts. In doing so, he goes well beyond the formal structure that is supposed to explain which Section was ostensibly in charge of what reform program. It is a tour de force that is often missing from accounts penned by participants or from more “scholarly” dissections which abjure the human dimension altogether. SCAP was not a well-oiled machine with all parts functioning in unison for the achievement of common goals. Examples of policy and ideological battles abound throughout the book.

Three major reforms dominated the effort to democratize Japan’s economy. By far the most successful was “Land Reform” -- that is, the near-total elimination of tenant farming. It was a radical program that combined near-expropriation of large landholdings with erstwhile tenant farmers being given the opportunity to purchase the plots that they had tilled by means of government-supported subsidized loans. Its justification rested on fear that unrelieved rural misery, unless ameliorated, would provide a seedbed for dissident movements. (China’s Civil War then coming to its climax, served as a constant reminder.) Fortuitously, land reform specialists were available among SCAP staffers. Representatives on the Allied Council for Japan (an international agency that was supposed to provide oversight of SCAP activities on behalf of the Allies) included members who were genuinely interested. Possibly most important of all, Japanese Government bureaucrats who had been proponents of reform produced their own plans that had long gathered dust. All of these disparate elements fathered a program that reduced tenancy from about 60-75% (depending on the inclusion of part-time tenants) to near zero.

Paradoxically, Land Reform’s success transformed rural non-mainstream political dissenters into staunch supporters of the still-governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). In all probability, that Party would have lost its dominance long ago had it not been for the support of the agrarian countryside and its conservative inclinations. Thus, the program validated the arguments of its early proponents who had favored radical intervention against one of the entrenched vested interest groups, the often absentee rural landlord class. Land Reform may not have solved all of Japan’s agricultural problems, but SCAP supported it to the end.

Also successful, initially, was the abolition of Japanese Government-controlled “Labor Fronts” and the promotion of a vibrant trade union movement. By February 1947, 19,000 unions had sprung up with over 5 million members. Miserable living conditions in urban areas (lack of food and housing) played their role in promoting the growth of unions, but so did staffers from Economic and Scientific Section’s Labor Division who taught the essentials of how to organize. Those efforts faltered after MacArthur, at the last moment, ordered that a planned coordinated general strike (February 1, 1947) be stopped.

Takemae has long been acknowledged as one of the pioneers in the study of Japan’s trade union movement. His publications on this subject have been required reading for specialists and his analysis in Inside GHQ illuminates SCAP’s alternating support and repression of Japan’s organized workers. One point he does not emphasize, however, is SCAP’s attitude -- reflective of American biases -- that unions were to promote “bread and butter issues” for their members, not to delve into the realm of politics. If more Europeans, who have long been familiar with trade union participation in electoral politics, had been directly involved, the ebb and flow of trade unionism during the Occupation might have been very different. In any case, SCAP’s early support was supplanted by interventions designed to control the unions’ activities, and should be categorized under “reverse course.”

“Deconcentration of Economic Power,” often abbreviated as zaibatsu dissolution, was to have been the third major reform to democratize Japan’s economy. It was based on two premises. First, Japan’s major commercial-industrial enterprises should bear partial responsibility for that nation’s imperial adventures on the Asian mainland as well as the island states of Southeast Asia. Second, an excessive concentration of economic power was, by itself, inimical to political democracy. The latter sounds quaint in the context of the growth of conglomerates in contemporary America, even though anti-trust legislation goes back to the beginning of the 20th century.

Resulting delays in the formulation of specific directives by SCAPINs vitiated the mandate in the SWNCC and JCS instructions to MacArthur. Precious months were lost during which the reforms became embroiled in endless controversies that allowed opponents to mount an increasingly effective campaign to diminish their original thrust. Tycoons of Japanese industry found allies among captains of American enterprises, who had shared common goals in the prewar period. In both countries, those who believed that the reforms were contrary to their interests proved to be too powerful, so that very little was accomplished.

In the end, two arguments against economic deconcentration proved decisive. First, it was alleged that zaibatsu dissolution would slow Japan’s economic recovery, thereby increasing the American tax payers’ burden. Second, it was argued that the goals, if achieved, would usher in an era of “socialism.” Just exactly how increasing competition in Japan’s economy would result in the appearance of that bogeyman was never spelled out in detail. Nevertheless, both proved to be highly effective arguments in the ideological wars that raged and were a tribute to the power of the “Japan Lobby” as exemplified by the American Council on Japan (p. 459). The failure of economic deconcentration also exemplifies the essence of what is meant by the “reverse course,” or if that is too strong, by a “a change in course.”

That negative designation also applies to the Political Purge. Its original intent was to remove those who had “misled the people of Japan to embark on world conquest” as set forth in the Potsdam Declaration that had spelled out the terms of Japan’s surrender in July, 1945. That goal remained foremost for the Occupation’s first two -and-a-half years. Some 210,000 individuals (almost 80% of whom were career military officers) were either barred or removed from positions of power. In sharp contrast, officials in Japan’s civilian bureaucracy were barely affected (1% of the total), in part because SCAP needed them, in part because, as the months went by, they actively participated in the formulation of the Purge’s specific provisions.

As the winds of policy change began to waft their way through SCAP in 1948, it became apparent (especially to those few of us, including myself, who worked on the Purge’s implementation) that its future was bleak. Almost no one seemed to care whether the designation of someone as a purgee would mean that his or, in a few instances, her exercise of influence and power had been eliminated. Ironically, that lack of interest coincided with the creation of an effective oversight mechanism in the Japanese Government. None of us, however, would have predicted that within two short years, the Purge would be directed against the leadership of the Japanese Communist Party and Akahata (the Party’s newspaper). That reversal of direction exemplifies the “reverse course” in all respects, especially as the so-called “Red Purge” remains far better known and remembered among the Japanese people.

None of the foregoing illustrations matches the dramatic shift away from complete demilitarization of Japan by demobilizing all of its armed forces in the fall of 1945. This had been one of the Occupation’s major goals and was a precursor to the inclusion of Article 9, the “No War” clause, in the new Constitution. Yet by mid-1948, barely three years later, the American Government began considering the rebuilding of Japan’s military, a fundamental shift that MacArthur initially opposed. This “reverse course” began in earnest with the creation of the National Police Reserve after the outbreak of war on the Korean peninsula in 1950 and has continued -- amid great controversy -- to the establishment of a major “Self-Defense Force.” No other policy reversal has led to such fractious disagreements between Japan and the United States, or within Japan itself. Indeed, rearmament has been the core controversy between the governing LDP and most of its opponents since 1950. On this issue, Takemae is most eloquent: “[I am] convinced that for most Japanese, non-belligerency remains a moral and psychological imperative” (p.526).

A kind of elegiac despair is barely beneath the surface of Takemae’s concluding Chapter 11, “The Legacy of the Occupation.” It is a feeling that I share, increasingly so as the years have gone by. Both he and I were young as we witnessed -- from disparate vantage points to be sure -- what happened to the early reforms that had lifted our spirits. Our hopes for a new and fully democratic Japan were unlimited. Now, it is necessary to recognize that circumstances have precluded their fulfillment. Learning that bitter lesson has been difficult for many of us.

Takemae-sensei’s magnum opus deserves to be widely read. For that goal to be achieved, one major problem needs to be addressed. The book is too long, but reducing its size is extremely painful to contemplate. Each and every detail is precious and adds its particular dimension to his overall presentation and vision. One possibility might be to write an “Introduction to Inside GHQ” that would emphasize those sections of the original dealing solely with the Occupation itself. It might also be worthwhile to consider reducing the copious endnotes (pp. 561-675) and the extensive bibliography (pp.675-713) which are of interest primarily to members of the scholarly community. (They will want to have the original version in their library.) Whoever might be willing to undertake this daunting and delicate task would have to consult closely with Takemae-sensei himself. These suggestions are made with the best of intentions and in full recognition that they might lead to my taking up permanent residence in some kind of jigoku.

In the meantime, I stand by my judgment that Takemae-sensei’s Inside GHQ, The Allied Occupation of Japan and Its Legacy is the best single volume study of that episode.


HANS BAERWALD, born in Tokyo in 1927, is professor emeritus, University of California, Los Angeles. Among his books is The Purge of Japanese Leaders Under the Occupation (University of California Press, 1959), He is a member of the board of advisers of JPRI and author of Occasional Paper #3 (May 1995), “Fund-Raising in Japan: A Sasakawa Saga,” and many other reports.