A forgotten event of American history, the Occupation of Japan was, “a military order to remake a society,” and democratize the militant nation.1 In his book Remaking Japan, Theodore Cohen recounts his personal experience as a member of MacArthur’s team supervising the occupation of Japan. Cohen brings his knowledge and the intimate details of the occupation from his time deep in the workings and policies of the General Headquarters. As a primary source, Remaking Japan is invaluable to the study of America’s foreign policies as a whole and as an account to America’s attempt to convert nations to democracy.
The Japanese Occupation was the first of its kind, an exploration into the unknown in an attempt to, “remake 70 million Japanese, to that time ‘feudalistic’ and violently ‘militaristic,’ into a democratic and peaceful nation.”2 As the spirit of America transformed after the war, it became the mission of America to completely eliminate militarism and the causes of such a danger. Placed at the helm of the JCS, the military directive from Washington, was General Douglas MacArthur, who would become, “worshipped... as a ‘living god,’ the reincarnation of the Emperor Jimmu.”3 MacArthur’s personality and take-charge attitude completely encompassed all of the occupation policies. No decision was ever made that MacArthur did not approve. MacArthur and his men would become the guiding hand of Japan and its people. In 1945, Treasury Secretary Morgenthau developed a hard peace policy for German reparations that opposed re-industrializing Germany. This policy would affect the JCS directive in Japan and Morgenthau’s plan appeared in the draft of Japanese occupation. MacArthur who cared for Japan and its people as his own people would secretly sabotage Morgenthau’s plans of stripping Japan of its industrial machinery. In a sense, MacArthur’s dominance over Japan was natural as he was the strong leader that the Japanese could rely, and thus brought on an almost cult of personality around the general. Cohen describes how MacArthur saw, “himself as a latter-day Washington.”4 He led the occupation with a military mindset, and was able to place himself in the shoes of Japanese peasants and empathize with their problems. This ability would later bring on the land reform, arguably the greatest reform brought forth by the Occupation.
As the American soldiers first came pouring into Japan, the Japanese were fearful of these strange men whom they had been indoctrinated to hate. The striking contrast to what they had been led to believe created such a stir in Japanese culture that the Japanese quickly absorbed Americanism. From the kindness shown by Americans, the Japanese learned to trust and befriend the American people, creating a lasting bond that extended far beyond the Occupation. Infatuated with MacArthur and, “driven by an accumulation of resentments against the snobbery, restrictions, and injustices of the old order,” the Japanese people easily turned to minshu-shugi, democracy. 5 Surprisingly to his superiors, MacArthur was willing to play along with democratizing Japan, and when orders from the top told him to dismiss economic recovery as his duty, he couldn’t accept it. Believing that all aspects of Japan’s future were his duty, he became protective of his policies and of Japan’s well-doing. One force that threatened to hurt MacArthur’s Japan was the Soviet Union. With America only providing the bare minimum for food, MacArthur, “warned that ‘starvation...renders a people an easy prey to an ideology that brings with it life-sustaining food.’”6 The Soviet Union, wanting to insert their dominance on the Japanese, saw an opportunity in the dire situation that the Americans had placed themselves in. With the rise of democracy also came the rise of the Communist Party of Japan led by Tokuda Kyuichi. MacArthur seeing the danger, demanded increased food minimums at a cost of $100 million a year and it saved democracy in Japan. For years after the war, inflation ran rampant through the nation and the economy seemed in danger. With the inflation however, MacArthur finally gained the opportune moment to implement his land reform which would win the peasants, half of Japan’s population, to democracy. Knowing that the most nationalist and militant of Japanese came from rural families, MacArthur knew by satisfying the peasants, he could have a chance to eradicate violent nationalism from Japan. Land prices plummeted allowing the government to buy and redistribute land and give peasants economic freedom, allowing them to be able to be more productive and help Japan develop.
Possibly one of the most dangerous aspect to democracy in Japan, was the Japanese labor movement. As chief of the Labor Division of the Occupation, Cohen had experienced first handedly such dangers. Japanese labor unions had been around since before the war, but had been reborn under the Occupation. As a major political force, the labor unions commanded serious power from the populace. The moderates of the non-communist labor union were soon faced by the formidable Communist Tokuda who saw freedom for the first time after eighteen years of imprisonment. The Soviets had backed another communist,Nozaka, but upon arrival in Japan, Nozaka realized Tokuda was superior and Nozaka and his 200 agents were absorbed into the JCP, Japanese Communist Party, and Tokuda remained the boss. Determined to keep the labor process democratic, MacArthur made no move against the Communist Party even with their attempts to dominate Japan. In an effort to gain more control, “The Communists typically went after second- and third-rank union headquarters office jobs that no one else wanted. There they were free from public scrutiny but possessed unsuspected leverage.”7 By infiltrating other unions and obtaining these low level jobs, the Communists successfully sabotaged many efforts of the unions to push out the Communists. In 1946, the biggest crisis faced came at the Yomiuri newspaper. Shoriki Matsutaro, president of the large newspaper, had taken a military stance and had contributed to wartime policies with his paper. A fierce nationalist, Shoriki, “made the Yomiuri into the spokesman of Japanese military imperialism.” 8 Shoriki had been determined to run the Yomiuri as if the Japanese were not defeated and continue with militarism. When Shoriki was inevitably removed from his position and put in jail, the newspaper began the gradual slide towards the left and fell into Communist hands. The Communist Party adopted the tactic of sitting-in the newspaper headquarters and occupying the building. Eventually the Communists were voted out and evicted, some in chains, but Japan remained split by Communism and anti-Communism. The Japanese people had begun to return to their suspicious nature of Americans, especially after traumatic events made them wary of democracy.
Nearing the end years of the Occupation, life in Japan had become more normal and relaxed. The Japanese had accommodated to American ways and accepted consumerism. In this time, the Occupation headquarters carried out two more reforms: the de-feudalization of Japanese bureaucracy and the deconcentration of big business. One of the main goals of MacArthur had been the, “‘reversal’ to the intensifying ‘cold war’ and new American strategic interests.”9 The de-feudalization of Japan brought in the sense of democracy that Americans had hoped to instill in the common people of Japan, especially the peasants. Given land and economic opportunity, the lower classes had gladly adapted to the new policies of democracy and abandoned traditional ways. Along with change in Japan’s society, was change in the policy of the Occupation. Some believed that the Americans had overstayed their welcome and those in Washington, “wanted to know what we were doing pursuing New Dealish policies in Japan when the American people had decisively rejected them at home.”10 MacArthur had reached his goals of the reforms he wanted implemented and had only some “house cleaning” issues to deal with by now. One of the problems left were the zaibatsu, financial and business conglomerates that dominated Japanese industry. Under the SCAP (Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers) administration, several zaibatsu were dissolved. Ultimately, with the help of MacArthur’s programs, the Japanese transformed into a consumer-oriented society, a result of economic democratization. When Japan was reconstructed, the new business power that had been carefully guided by Occupation policies would become the core for Japanese economics. The new age of Japanese workers and intellectuals had grown into a powerful beast that demanded the destruction of traditional feudalism. By the end, the Japanese people had united in demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Kishi. The strength in the people would cause, “to all appearances, the government [abdication]. It was the nearest thing to a revolution [Cohen] had ever witnessed.”11
Written as a memoir, Remaking Japan, was intended to inform readers of the American Occupation of Japan which had long since been forgotten in the annals of history. The importance that Cohen tries to bring attention is that, “The American Occupation of Japan certainly ranks as one of, if not the proudest, achievements of postwar American foreign policy; it was, among other things, central to the development of Japan’s ‘modern miracle.’”12 This Occupation had been an example of America’s success in its foreign policy and its ability to reconstruct an era of peace. As Cohen describes himself, the book had been brought from his mind onto paper as a way to remember, “The story of how it came about... of Douglas MacArthur the Occupation Commander... and of the consequent rebirth of Japan in a new form, an astonishing Phoenix among the nations...”13 This book is a memory of the great achievements that America accomplished in postwar Japan.
Theodore Cohen, a Russian-Jew from New York, stumbled onto the issue of Japanese labor by accident. He had obtained his undergrad at City College of New York and later went on to Columbia University. Being, “twenty-eight years of age, the youngest chief of a major division in the Occupation,” Cohen had no real life experience in this field.14 What he did have however, was a culmination of intellect over his years working from a low city college to even higher education, allowing him to be appointed to MacArthur’s staff. Cohen had decided to do his masters thesis on Japanese labor on a whim, and would later make a career out of it. His expertise on this topic made him an expert on the Occupation and is what lent Cohen his professionalism in spite of his lack of experience. After he completed his graduate studies, Cohen went through several careers, most noticeably becoming the Washington specialist on the nonmilitary aspects of the Japanese. He would also work in military government planning on foreign affairs and became the Civilian Chief of the Labor Division in the General Headquarters in Japan. All these led to him being nominated to MacArthur’s staff as an expert on the Japanese. Literally a stranger in a foreign land, Cohen at first may have been out of touch with Japanese business and labor. But throughout his time in Japan and working with the Labor division, he saw the potential in the recovering nation of Japan and its strength. He would come to respect the Japanese people and also believe in their ability to democratize and build up from their ashes. This book was the work of a lifetime for Cohen and was actually finished by a friend of his, Herbert Passin, after his death. For a large part of his life, the Cold War had created strained relations and a rivalry between Communists and anti-Communists. This desire for the U.S. to contain Communism may have found its way into this book which describes in detail how close Japan came to becoming dominated by Tokuda’s Communist Party.
Professional critics have called Cohen’s Remaking Japan, “sophisticated, polished, and even at times lively personal recital that belongs on the ‘must read’ list...”15 In the Political Science Quarterly, reviewer Michael H. Hunt credits Cohen as being a professional well qualified to discuss the Occupation. Hunt praises what Cohen brings to the table in terms of the intimate details and topics that emerged from his participation in the Occupation inner workings. The reviewer claims that Cohen’s view of MacArthur may, “interest historians of U.S. policy and will unsettle some.” 16 Another reviewer, Leon Hollerman from St. Olaf College, writes that Cohen brings new interesting information about the Occupation to readers. Hollerman commends the book as one of the most revealing of its subject. In addition, he casts Cohen as a revisionist who had grandeur views of MacArthur. In all, Remaking Japan received widespread acclaim at providing insight on a subject that was relatively unknown before. His work has proved to be an invaluable tool for those in the study of America’s Occupation of Japan and even in America’s overall foreign policies.
As a book meant to educate readers on the subject of the American Occupation of Japan, Remaking Japan did its job thoroughly. Cohen’s insight on the little details in the workings of Japanese government was intriguing and well thought out. However, the reader does have to wonder if Cohen does not write with a bias on the greatness of America. It seems Cohen had developed an obsession himself on the cult that was MacArthur. In almost every example, Cohen describes MacArthur in a positive light saying, “MacArthur himself had unlimited authority or was a kind of American Caesar...”17 It leaves the reader to wonder if MacArthur actually was so greatly lauded as Cohen describes. In short, Remaking Japan is a book that recounts Cohen’s memories which may have become rose tinted or fuzzy in his own mind. Still, Remaking Japan is undeniably a great book on the subject of the Occupation and policies in post-war Japan. The book is able to express the emotions, fears, and optimisms of the Japanese people as they stepped forward into an unknown world clouded with mistrust, fear, and hope.
Remaking Japan as a whole believes that the American Occupation of Japan in this era had a huge impact on what historical events that would become a watershed in American history. Cohen, as a Cold Warrior, was an ardent endorser of democracy and it comes out in his book when he says that, “democratization... had irretrievably transformed the social structure of Japan and in the course of doing so helped create a far more prosperous land than ever before.”18 Cohen believed that America had created the modern Japan and brought it to the forefront of world politics and as a world power. This goes to show the author’s belief that America as a world influence was true and that the 1940s was a watershed in American history.
Ultimately, Cohen writes Remaking Japan as, “an ‘insider’s story,’ an account of those phases of the Occupation...”19 He brings years of personal experience and knowledge to educate readers of the long forgotten accomplishment that was the Occupation of Japan. As an actual participant in the policies of occupied Japan, Cohen brings his readers stories of America and MacArthur at its greatest.
1. Cohen, Theodore. Remaking Japan: The American Occupation as New Deal. The Free Press,1987.11.
2. Cohen, Theodore. 6.
3. Cohen, Theodore. 54.
4. Cohen, Theodore.69.
5. Cohen, Theodore.137.
6. Cohen, Theodore.145.
7. Cohen, Theodore.208.
8. Cohen, Theodore.242.
9. Cohen, Theodore.307.
10. Cohen, Theodore.309.
11. Cohen, Theodore.397.
12. Cohen, Theodore.xi.
13. Cohen, Theodore.xi.
14. Cohen, Theodore.xii.
15. Hunt, Michael H. "Political Science Quarterly." PSQ: Political Science Quarterly. Political Science Quarterly, Nov.-Dec. 1988-1989. Web. 05 June 2013.
16. Hunt, Michael H. "Political Science Quarterly." PSQ: Political Science Quarterly. Political Science Quarterly, Nov.-Dec. 1988-1989. Web. 05 June 2013.
17. Cohen, Theodore.10.
18. Cohen, Theodore.462.
19. Cohen, Theodore.xx.