This August is all about 60th anniversaries: first we had the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and now we have the actual surrender of Japan. It was this week, six decades ago, that Emperor Hirohito addressed his nation over the radio — something that had never happened before — because citizens were never previously allowed to hear his voice. He did not use the word "surrender" but everyone within earshot knew what he meant. Two nuclear bombs had been dropped by the United States and the Soviet Union had just invaded Manchuria. It was over.
Let's take a moment to reflect on what followed the defeat of Japan — namely, a long-term occupation by the U.S. Army, under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. Occupation. Now there's a word with a little modern currency based on our experience in Iraq. Here are two more. Occupational hazards.
Of course, there are major differences between Iraq and Japan, not the least of which is the current desire to "stand up" Iraqi security forces as soon as possible while in Japan, at the time, the thinking was to keep them from having a military as long as possible. After all, the Japanese had initiated the Pacific conflict in World War II by their attack on Pearl Harbor four years earlier.
Still, some things are givens in an occupation As Newsweek asked on this October 1945 cover — the same question Americans are currently asking about our Army in Iraq — "How long will they stay?"
If you think all the discord over our Iraq policy is unseemly, well, you may be right, but it is hardly unprecedented. Following our victory in World War II against two villainous regimes — the German Nazis and Tojo's Japanese — you would think we'd be on top of the world and presenting a united front. Think again. Less than two months after the bombs dropped, Newsweek's inside article is called "American Diplomacy Loses Face Over Occupation Force Bickering" and the sub-title to the section is "Sharp Retort by Acheson to MacArthur's 200,000 Estimate Exposes Disunity to World." Yes, we are talking about troop levels, a subject that has bedeviled Iraq policy from the beginning. And it was the first Truman/MacArthur dust-up that would eventually lead to Harry firing Douglas years later.
The high-level planners of supervised revolution for Japan collided openly and angrily last week with the personality of America's most individualistic general — Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander on the spot... President Truman kept his own feelings within bounds. He was glad, he told a press conference, if MacArthur, having estimated his needs at 500,000 four weeks ago, and then having trimmed them down to 400,000, now thought that he could do with half that number. But the next day callers found on his desk a pasted-up cartoon by sardonic GI cartoonist Bill Mauldin. It showed ex-GI Willie looking at the headline: 'How MacArthur Beat Japan,' and cracking: 'Eisenhower was a piker. He needed an army to help him.'
There's also some tantalizing stuff here about "going it alone" — another issue that has cast a long shadow over the Iraq occupation.
The American decision to turn Japan upside down, alone if need be, was unmistakable. The leading Allies were 'welcomed and expected' to share the occupation job. Advisory bodies would be set up to try to harmonize polices but 'in the event of any differences of opinion...the polices of the United States will govern.'
There was, however, no insurgency to arise in Japan The people there knew that their government had picked the fight and they had lost. They simply wanted to get on with their lives. This is, practically speaking, what the majority of the Iraqis want now, too. But — unlike the Japanese — they have militants within their own borders, some from Iraq and others from surrounding countries, who would rather kill Iraqis than see this current occupation succeed. This latest occupation in the Middle East has lessons to be learned from the one in the Far East — but it's still very different.