This is the question I’ve been mulling over since reading Norwegian Blogger’s excellent piece, The Hyenas and the Toothless Lion. In this analysis V. Valberg writes that America hasn’t yet faced the realities of the war that has been forced upon us. If you haven’t read this yet, do so now. I’ll wait for you…
The article got me to thinking about what it takes to turn a former foe into a friend, and no better example of this can be found in American history than in the case of Japan (note: there is a better example – Britain. Britain pretty much cleaned America’s collective clock in the War of 1812 but wisely decided to settle the war with advantageous terms for America by turning the USA into a possible ally against Britain’s natural enemy: France. But I digress.). Immediately after the Japanese surrendered, the occupation government began rooting out all signs of fascism – and fascists – within Japanese society. The idea was to move forward to quickly “de-nazify” Japan and rebuild the society along European democratic lines before Communism could take root – or fascism could resurge. Communist teachers who had been jailed under the governing junta were freed; a blanket free press was allowed to flourish. In general, the American government encouraged the nascent democracy in Japan to do the opposite of the fascist government it replaced, and backed up this encouragement with a half billion dollars of direct aid.
The only political organization that was not tainted by fascism were the Communists, and the party made inroads in the trade unions that the occupation authorities had encouraged to act as a bulwark against the zaibatsu (the large national conglomerates like Mitsui which had worked closely with the government during the pre- Surrender “Iron Rice Bowl” days of close cooperation between military, government and private industry).
And then something happened. One by one the Eastern European democracies began to vote Communists into power. This led to pressure in Washington on General MacArthur to move from the rebuilding of Japan and the uprooting of fascist elements within society towards the enlistment of Japan in the fight against the expansion of Communism. To that end occupation authorities began to reign in the unions and even encouraged strike breaking by the yakuza – a group which had thrived under fascism. The Communist Party would never again have as much power as it had during the first half of the occupation. Even today the Japanese transit workers strike for only one day, always in Spring, and their minuscule raises are always immediately agreed to after the strikers spend the day profusely apologizing to the foreigners who hadn’t read the morning paper and known to take the day off. Yes, kabuki lives in Japan.
Today Japan is a peaceful nation whose populace enjoys one of the world’s highest living standards even as they are cursed with one of the world’s worst democratic governments (it should be noted that the latter was modeled on the parliamentary systems popular in Western Europe). It’s threat to America is nil – and the chances of it sliding back into fascism are considerably less than Germany’s prospects of going Communist. Sure it’s economy is a basket case, but exactly what does that mean? Japanese unemployment is at a record level: 5.7%. American unemployment is at a “modest” 5.9%. Japanese companies are still leaders in their fields: Sony, Nintendo, Honda, Toyota, Nissan, and Mitsubishi are in better shape than many of their American and European competitors. The Japanese stock market is worth less than a quarter of its 1990 high – but most Japanese view the Nikkei in the same way Americans view betting on NCAA basketball. The Japanese economy may be in recession – but for the Japanese this means that they will no longer double their standard of living every decade as they had in the past. The poor in Japan are still better off than the United States and most European countries. So fifty-seven years after MacArthur’s team began rebuilding Japan their efforts remain a clear success and proof that the USA can build a nation without turning it into a colony (unlike the UK, France and Germany).
So what should American policymakers learn from the Japanese model? First and foremost that it is possible to turn an enemy into a friend while allowing it to remain culturally and politically independent. Secondly it provides a precedent and model for how the various American political, military and business institutions can work together to insure stability in a foreign land. Third, it shows the value of the so-called “experts”. MacArthur’s autocratic leadership of Japan was tempered by his willingness to listen to his support staff – many of whom had been Japan experts before and during the war. MacArthur’s master stroke to prevent the complete collapse of Japanese society, the retaining of Hirohito on the Chrysanthemum Throne even though he believed him to be a Class A war criminal had been proposed by a small cadre of men who recognized the important role the emperor played in Japanese society. The American civilians and military men who helped craft the Japanese institutions had a deep understanding of the Japanese people and their society, but also understood other systems as well as the limitations of their own institutions.
However there are limits. First free speech is a right only in the United States – a fact which most Americans do not realize. In Germany it remains illegal to advocate Nazism, and while the uyoku or Right Wing in Japan are allowed to stand on their RVs and make speeches that no one except foreigners listen to, they have been marginalized in Japanese society. In a postwar Iraq it would be imperative to stop all anti-Semitic and anti-American rhetoric – not easily done since the suppression of speech would make news in the anti-American press. Secondly, religion would have to be curtailed. The purpose of removing Saddam is not to create an Islamic republic ala Iran or and Islamofascist state like Saudi Arabia. Such religious prohibitions would also be newsworthy. Finally, it is going to cost a lot in terms of money and effort. The occupation of Japan lasted 8 years, but American involvement in Japan is considered by some to have been heavy-handed until the 1970s (the USA only grudgingly handed the island of Okinawa back to Japan in 1972 and the First Oil Shock of the 1970s is viewed by the Japanese as their first foray into foreign affairs independent of the United States).
Is it possible for the USA to repeat the success of Japan and to a lesser extent, Germany? Only if our leadership learns from these successes, educates Americans about what such successes entail, and publicizes to the Iraqi people what a post-Saddam future promises. A post-Saddam Iraq could prove to be the beacon of democracy along the edge of the abyss of the Middle East in the same way that Japan lit poverty-stricken, revolution-racked Eastern Asia through the Cold War. It is time for our policymakers to learn from American successes of the past – not just its failures.