Published Date

June 1, 1945

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From What Shall Be Done about Japan after Victory? (1945)

Nearly everyone is agreed that our first and indispensable goal is: to keep Japan from starting another war. This would be accomplished if Japan were unable to go to war or if the Japanese people were to experience a change of heart and become unwilling to start a fight.

Only a very small minority of Americans would put their trust in any declaration to the effect that defeated Japan will want nothing but to be let alone.

Most students of Japanese politics and history are convinced that the Japanese will try it again if they are permitted, to recover enough strength to make the attempt. It is argued that the younger generation has had complete indoctrination from the cradle in Japan’s “divine mission” and that older people share that view with more or less intensity. The inevitable results of defeat will be widespread poverty, unemployment, and hunger. Public utilities, factories, and homes will be in ruins; industry and business at a standstill.

It is a safe bet that the Japanese will blame us, not themselves, for what they have suffered. Their desire for revenge will be intense, since defeat, because of their highly emotional patriotism, will be very painful.

This point of view does not, of course, exclude all hope of future improvement in relations between Japan and the rest of humanity. But we and our allies cannot risk our security on the chance of Japan’s taking defeat lying down. What means, then, are proposed to guarantee that Japan will be unable to fight again?


Must Japan be disarmed and occupied?

To teach Japan that war does not pay, its military power must be not only broken, but smashed beyond repair. The Japanese in past conflicts escaped most of the horrors of war. United Nations leaders are resolved that this time the war must be carried into the Japanese homeland.

It is important that the Japanese army and navy should be stripped of power and prestige not only on the field of battle but in the minds of the people. How is it to be done? Should the responsibility for accepting the terms of unconditional surrender, demanded in the Cairo Declaration, be placed squarely upon Japan’s military leaders so that there can be no doubt as to who brought disaster upon the nation? Should conscription be abolished and the armed forces be completely demobilized? Should all instruments of warfare be confiscated or destroyed? Can aims be accomplished short of invasion and military occupation of Japan?

How long should occupation last?

Most authorities are agreed that we must invade Japan as a necessary last step to achieve total victory. But there are strong differences of opinion on the value of a long-term military occupation for the purpose of keeping Japan from rearming. Some experts insist that the invasion of the Japanese home islands should be limited to the time needed to destroy the enemy army and navy.

After surrender, they say, the allies should make a peace treaty with whatever government the Japanese set up to replace the militarists. Thereafter, acts of aggression by Japan should be prevented by controls from without, rather than by attempting to make over Japanese politics, industry, and education. It is maintained that an attempt to reform Japan by long-term occupation would be very costly to the allies and would drive the entire people to plot rebellion and revenge.

Other authorities urge a military occupation long enough and complete enough to impose sweeping economic, political, and cultural changes: They point out that the surrender of the Japanese armed forces in the field will lop off the branches of militarism but leave the roots untouched. Advocates of this plan recognize that it would be costly and would present serious administrative difficulties. Some of these problems are discussed further on pages 33–37 of this pamphlet.

A third point of view might be considered a compromise between extended occupation and immediate withdrawal after surrender. It would leave Japan to straighten out its political problems, but would prevent its rearming by a system of “detection and coercion.” The allies would watch carefully for any signs that the Japanese were attempting to restore their military strength and would apply strong disciplinary measures to check any such move. This system might be supplemented by the control of imports needed for munition-making and the strict limitation of such industries as the building of planes and ships.

Are the details all decided?

Plans for occupying Japan have gone beyond the stage of discussion in only a few details. In anticipation of military occupation of Japan, Army and Navy officers are being trained to administer occupied territory and are studying the Japanese language. In a number of American universities, training schools in civil affairs have been preparing skilled personnel to establish civil order in Japan following invasion.

The United States will, of course, share this responsibility with our allies in the Pacific war… Indeed, it has been suggested that the Chinese, because of geographical, political, and language factors, are best fitted to take the lead in the pacification and occupation of Japan. Russia has definite interests in the Far Eastern settlement—especially in the island of Sakhalin and in Japanese-occupied areas bordering on Siberia.

It is possible that Japan may be administered by a joint United Nations commission. Or Japan may be divided into zones, each under a different allied power. Germany may prove a valuable laboratory for working out the problems which will confront the United Nations again, under somewhat altered conditions, when we have defeated Japan. In conclusion, it may be said that even after the details of the occupation are carefully determined, fast-moving events may alter the picture overnight.

Will collective security answer the need?

But there are other ways, besides disarmament and occupation, of making it impossible for Japan to succeed in any future attempt at aggression. Perhaps by the end of the war or soon after, a system of collective security may be established. The law-abiding nations of the world may pledge themselves to place at the disposal of an international organization armed forces more powerful than those of any single aggressor nation or probable combination of aggressors.

Because of the failure of the League of Nations there is a good deal of doubt about the effectiveness of such an international organization for preserving peace. But many hold that the League did not fail because its basic idea was unsound but rather because, among other things, its members would not risk the use of force against aggression even when international crimes were committed by Japan, Italy, and Germany.

The will to use force against an aggressor is more important than the machinery for doing so. The experience of the past decade may have convinced the peoples of the United Nations that protests against aggression need to be backed up by prompt military action. It seems probable that the international organization evolved at Dumbarton Oaks and later conferences will be provided with teeth in the form of pledges of armed forces to be supplied by the member nations. Even if the United States, Great Britain, and Russia retain the right of veto in cases which involve their own interests, it seems unlikely that any one of the three great powers would oppose disciplinary measures directed against an unrepentant Japan.

It is doubtful, however, that collective security alone will be sufficient guarantee of Japan’s future good behavior. Japan, it is generally maintained, cannot be left to its own devices after defeat, to rearm if its government sees fit. The nations which have suffered at its hands will probably demand the double security of international cooperation to maintain peace and continued Japanese disarmament.

What will happen to the Empire?

Breaking up the Japanese Empire as a safeguard against Japan’s “trying it again” has already been decided on by the United States, Great Britain, and China—at the Cairo Conference of December 1943. Japan is to lose not only the American, Dutch, British, French, and Chinese territory seized since 1931 but also its colonial possessions, some of them held for fifty years. The Cairo Declaration implies the end of all Japanese control in China, political and economic. Manchuria, Formosa, and Pescadores islands, between Formosa and the mainland, are to be restored to China. Korea, annexed by the Japanese in 1910, will eventually become an independent nation.

We may as well recognize that these measures to right old wrongs and weaken Japan’s military position will arouse strong resentment among the Japanese people. Losing possessions into which they have poured vast amounts of labor and wealth will not make them more willing to let bygones be bygones. But even though Japan is embittered and revengeful, it may at last come to realize through this hard lesson that aggression does not pay.

The mandated islands which Japan received in trust under the League of Nations after the first World War constitute a special problem. Various plans have been suggested for disposing of these “anchored aircraft carriers.” They might become United States possessions for reasons of military security; they might be assigned to the United States under mandate by the new international organization; or they might be controlled by that body directly. What really matters is that these potential naval and air bases be held as insurance against future violations of the peace by a resurgent Japan.

The fate of Sakhalin and the Kurile islands may depend upon whether Russia remains neutral or takes an active role in the war against Japan.

Next section: Should Japan Pay Damages?