Published Date

June 1, 1945

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

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

Can Japan become a free and peaceful nation? It is understood that the present leaders of the Japanese people must fall with the defeat of the armed forces. But who will take their place? The future peace of Asia, perhaps of the world, may depend upon the answer.

If a peaceful and democratic government were established in Japan, most Americans would be reassured about the future. Democracies have, on the whole, been far less inclined to aggression than totalitarian states. But are the Japanese ready for democracy? Some Western observers claim that Japan made encouraging progress in representative government from the close of the first World War until 1931. It is, they say, possible that this progress might be resumed after the war lords are thrown out.

On the other hand, democracy may be less suited to the psychology of the Japanese people than is a strong constitutional monarchy. The position of the emperor after Japan’s defeat is a hotly debated problem. Opinions vary from demands for his immediate elimination to suggestions, that he be used as an instrument for maintaining law and order in the wake of invasion. The allies have not yet announced an official policy concerning the emperor, and the question is assumed to be still undecided.


How about Hirohito?

Those in favor of keeping Hirohito on the throne argue that he has a reputation for good character and personal mildness and that he submitted to the militarists only because his position as a venerated figurehead left him no choice. They point out that his influence might be sufficient to force acceptance of the unconditional surrender terms without a costly last-ditch defense.

It is further suggested that the Japanese people might be persuaded that the Emperor was led astray by his military advisers. Then, if he and his court officials have the welfare of the people at heart, he might be willing to use his influence to help establish a government which would cooperate with .the victors. Another proposal would replace Hirohito on the throne with his son or some other “suitable” member of the imperial family:

But students of Japan who are opposed to making use of Hirohito declare that the imperial family and Japanese militarism are so entwined that they cannot be separated. The emperor is the symbol of the “divine race.” The people’s fanatical devotion to him stands in the way of the development of representative government.

These critics claim that leading Japanese aristocrats, industrialists, and financiers are reaping enormous profits from the war and are closely united with the militarists. The forces in Japan which can be counted on for cooperation in building a peaceful, law-abiding nation are to be found, it is maintained, among the common people of Japan, industrial and white-collar workers, peasants, and small businessmen, who have borne the burden of losses and hardship.

As for the Emperor’s personal character, we lack reliable sources of information concerning his present views, wishes, and recent activities. We do know that he offered no effective opposition to the militarists, and that he rubber-stamped, or was compelled to rubber-stamp, their various acts of aggression with his “divine” approval.

What can we do about it?

Whatever form of government may be best for Japan there is general agreement that it should be peaceful, law-abiding, and not opposed to international cooperation. It should also work for the welfare of the peasants and factory workers, combating hunger and unemployment, and not for the benefit of a minority of government officials, bankers, industrialists, and large landowners.

How far shall we go in attempting to impose this kind of government on the Japanese? Can we assist the more liberal elements in the country in organizing good government? Some people believe that the only way to approach the situation is to take an active hand in reforming Japanese politics and education.

During the period of military occupation, something might be done to help the Japanese who are opposed to militarism. There is much disagreement as to the number, ability, and potential influence of these “good Japanese.” Certainly they did exist at one time; but just as certainly they were completely silenced by the present government. When the Japanese army and navy are out of politics, former leaders, both of the old “moderate” aristocratic and big-business groups and those representing democratic or popular elements, may offer their services to head a new government.

It has been proposed that loyal Japanese Americans, qualified persons chosen from Hawaii’s 160,000 Japanese Americans in particular, might be valuable in the occupation and re-education of Japan. But most experts hold that education can be successful only if conducted by native teachers.

Will reform under pressure work?

Those opposed to such a program point out that reform measures imposed with foreign backing would be resisted by a fanatical and stubborn people, smarting under the shame of defeat. Persons of Japanese blood cooperating with the allies would be hated and despised as quislings, and might be the first objects of a bloody revenge. Another objection is that military occupation of Japan cannot continue indefinitely. Eventually, control of their own affairs must be returned to the Japanese and then the enforced reforms might be speedily undone.

An alternative to supervision has already been mentioned. This program calls for destruction of Japanese cities, industries, and communications by bombing, crushing defeat on all fronts, and invasion of Japan proper to force surrender.

Japanese surrender would be followed by our withdrawal to let the Japanese work out of their own political problems. The benefits of democracy cannot be forced upon a people. For the immediate future, at least, security will rest upon positive measures to prevent Japanese aggression, rather than upon hopes for a friendly and honest “new Japan.”

Next section: Can Japan Get in Step with a Peaceable World?