Tom Hanks recently said “They were out to kill us because our way of living was different. We, in turn, wanted to annihilate them because they were different.” Hanks’s opinion seems to be based on the American propaganda at the time, much of which would be considered racist today. But setting aside the Japanese genocidal campaign in China, let’s take a moment to consider what Japan would look like today if what Hanks said is true.
If Hanks was correct, there would be no independent Japan today; it would be an American state populated by white Americans. Instead Japan is completely true to its 2500 year history and character.
This came about due to the conscious efforts by the American military and Foreign Service. Starting around 1943 Americans were debating what a post-war Japan would look like. It was decided that after the war the country would have the militarized elements of its society stripped out (most of these had crept in during the late 1920’s and early 1930’s as Japan’s history was romanticized by the militarists so it wasn’t tinkering with Japan’s “DNA”) and returning the country to its pre-militarist democracy: the Taisho period at the turn of the 20th century. Japan would be rebuilt as if the 1930’s and 1940’s had never happened – just without the modernizing military (that would be provided by the USA).
The Japanese were stunned. They even kept their Emperor – although the Occupation Authority made sure that the laws passed by the Japanese Diet made him a figurehead along the lines of the British Monarchy. The Americans just pulled the military out of civilian life and left the rest of Japanese society alone. I personally believe that it was this treatment which allowed the Japanese economy to recover so quickly after the devastation of the war more than America’s open market – but that’s a debatable point and impossible to prove.
In the end, however, I view our rebuilding of Japan – and Europe under the Marshall Plan – as truly America’s Finest Hour. It’s what separated us from other conquering empires, and which even today causes me to laugh whenever I hear some lefty rant about “American Imperialism.”
Bookworm Room goes into more detail and does a better overall job explaining how Tom Hanks’s comments shows a disturbing lack of historical knowledge for someone who has made his career at least partly on historical narratives.