U.S. PLANS FOR WAR AND OCCUPATION IN IRAQ ARE A HISTORICAL MISTAKE
An Urgent Appeal from Students of the Allied Occupation of Japan
The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has announced plans to occupy Iraq, following “pre-emptive” military strikes, based on the so-called Japanese model — the post-World War II Allied occupation of Japan. As students of the Japanese occupation, we protest this reckless and self-serving misreading of history and strongly urge the U.S. government to reconsider its ill-conceived project of war and occupation.
A careful look at the Japanese example suggests many reasons why that experience is inapplicable to U.S. plans for a post-invasion Iraq.
The U.S.-led occupation of Japan (1945-52) derived its legitimacy from a broad Allied consensus, as expressed in the Potsdam Proclamation, issued by Britain and the United States on July 26, 1945. Emperor Hirohito and the Japanese government agreed to accept the Potsdam terms, surrender unconditionally, and dismantle the Imperial armed forces. As a result, during the six years and eight months of the Allied presence, there were no armed clashes or serious incidents between American military forces and the Japanese people. The occupation was able to proceed peacefully and in a spirit of relative good will.
The Allied army of occupation relied on a staff composed largely of American civilian administrators who induced democratic reform by working indirectly through already existing governmental institutions and agencies. As a result, the emperor, the Japanese government, and the people cooperated in demilitarizing and democratizing the country.
The framework proposed for a post-invasion Iraq is radically different. There is no broad legal or moral consensus for the Bush administration’s Iraq project, which is opposed by world opinion and by most of America’s close allies. An occupation probably would be carried out unilaterally by U.S. armed forces acting solely on Washington’s authority. It is difficult to imagine Saddam Hussein doing a volte face and cooperating with the American occupier, as did Emperor Hirohito. Indeed, that is why President Bush is determined to overthrow the Iraqi dictator. The destruction of Hussein’s government, however, may also preclude the possibility of a peaceful occupation.
Japan’s Asian neighbors, victims of Japanese wartime aggression, supported the Allied occupation. Some, such as China and the Philippines, also participated in the Far Eastern Commission, the Allied policy-making body for post-defeat Japan. Iraq’s neighbors are Muslim societies sharing a common Islamic culture and history. They are strongly against American plans to topple Saddam Hussein and replace his government with a pro-Western regime and will oppose even more fiercely the presence of a large non-Muslim garrison force. Moreover, a U.S. occupation may further inflame the Palestinian problem, making peace in the Middle East difficult, if not impossible, to attain.
If U.S. plans for Iraq bear no resemblance to the Japanese example, why, then, does the Bush administration persist in such a spurious comparison? The Allied occupation of Japan not only reformed the nation’s political institutions, insuring the rapid transition from militarism to democracy, but revitalized the economy, laying the foundation for Japan’s emergence as an industrial superpower. At the same time, however, it subordinated the new political system and Japan’s foreign policy to U.S. strategic interests in Asia, producing, after the return of sovereignty, a long-term “subordinate independence.” This appears to be the real significance of the Bush administration’s disingenuous effort to resurrect the “Japanese model.” The current U.S. occupation project, as conveyed by the media, appears to be a cynical attempt to justify Washington’s bellicose Iraq policy and promote its post-invasion plans for the region.
The success of an American military occupation in Iraq is highly problematic. In Japan, the reform program moved ahead relatively smoothly due to a prewar democratic tradition, the absence of armed conflict, the maintenance of internal social order, and the survival of governing institutions, including the emperor. Iraq does not have a similar history of democratic governance. U.S. plans to kill or overthrow Saddam Hussein and place top Iraqi leaders on trial could lead to protracted fighting and internal disorder. Even Iraqis who hate Hussein may not welcome the destruction of their political and social institutions. In a worst-case scenario, the American attack is expected to kill or maim hundreds of thousands of civilians, ruin the economy, and disrupt food delivery, health services, and sanitation. Far from “democratizing” Iraq, U.S. military rule most likely will intensify tribal, ethnic, and religious conflicts. Lack of popular support and wartime control under conditions of belligerency will necessitate continuing authoritarian governance.
Moreover, the Pentagon has recommended the use of nuclear arms against Iraq in a battlefield emergency. Contingency plans for the use of weapons of mass destruction mock any suggestion of legitimacy for a “pre-emptive” war and occupation and further erode America’s claims to moral authority. Remembering Japan’s experience of atomic holocaust, we deplore such thinking in the strongest possible terms.
An occupation of Iraq seems destined to fail for another reason. Whereas Japan possessed few natural resources, Iraq has the world’s second largest proven reserves of petroleum. Iraqis may well conclude that the U.S. invasion and occupation are designed mainly to gain unrestricted access to their oil fields. Few are likely to collaborate with an occupation authority that is believed to covet this prime resource for its own use.
American occupying forces will encounter yet another obstacle. U.S. policy planning for postwar Japan began three years before the defeat. Thousands of Americans studied Japan’s history and language and, in the last year of the war, underwent intensive training in civil administration. The occupation succeeded due in part to the detailed knowledge these administrative experts acquired about Japan’s social and political institutions and culture. There is no evidence that the United States is now preparing a similar group of dedicated experts or developing comparable post-invasion policies consonant with Iraq’s history, political system, and culture.
Another striking difference is the preponderant role played by General Douglas MacArthur in effecting a positive outcome. The charismatic Allied Supreme Commander had an understanding of Japan’s history and cultural traditions. He earned the respect of ordinary people, enabling him to wield enormous civil authority effectively and implement liberal reforms quickly. MacArthur also attempted to propagate Christianity in hopes that Japan would become a Christian nation, but not even he was able to challenge traditional religious beliefs. Despite MacArthur’s best efforts, the small Christian community failed to grow during the occupation.
We see no military figure of comparable moral or intellectual stature in the United States today. With or without such an individual, however, it is absurd to imagine that an American military occupation can, in a short period of time, win the confidence and cooperation of the Iraqi people, bridge ethnic and religious differences, overhaul their national institutions, and bring about a change in thinking based on American political values and ideological beliefs.
Japan has a special obligation to warn its American ally against such folly. Yet, instead of offering wise counsel, the Japanese government is at work on a new law that will skirt the Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9 and send Self-Defense Forces to provide “humanitarian support” for American soldiers and sailors in the Persian Gulf. We call on the Japanese people and their elected representatives to remember Japan’s own tragic experience of war and occupation and to decide for themselves the most appropriate way to assist the Iraqi people .
If history is not to repeat itself, we who have lived through the horrors of this “century of war” have a moral duty to transmit its painful lessons to those who inherit the new century.
As students of the Japanese occupation, we believe that the Bush administration’s plans for war and occupation in Iraq are a historical mistake and strongly urge the United States to seek a peaceful solution to the present crisis.
January 24, 2003
AWAYA Kentaro (Professor, St. Paul’s University, Japan)
Hans H. BAERWALD (former Occupation official, Professor Emeritus, UCLA, U.S.)
Herbert P. BIX (Professor, Binghamton University, U.S.)
Bruce CUMINGS (Professor, University of Chicago, U.S.)
John W. DOWER (Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, U.S.)
Norma FIELD (Professor, University of Chicago, U.S.)
FURUKAWA Atsushi (Professor, Senshu University, Japan)
Andrew GORDON (Professor, Harvard University, U.S.)
Laura E. HEIN (Professor, Northwestern University, U.S.)
Glenn D. HOOK (Professor, University of Sheffield, U.K.)
HOSOYA Masahiro (Professor, Doshisha University, Japan)
KOSEKI Shoichi (Professor, Dokkyo University, Japan)
J. Victor KOSCHMANN (Professor, Cornell University, U.S.)
C. Douglas LUMMIS (Political scientist and writer, Okinawa, Japan)
Gavan MCCORMACK (Professor, Australian National University, Australia)
Richard M. MINEAR (Professor, University of Massachusetts, U.S.)
MIYAGI Etsujiro (Professor Emeritus, Ryukyu University, Japan)
Michael MOLASKY (Associate Professor, University of Minnesota, U.S.)
Joe B. MOORE (Professor, University of Victoria, Canada)
NAKAMURA Masanori (Professor Emeritus, Hitotsubashi University, Japan)
Robert RICKETTS (Professor, Wako University, Japan)
Mark SELDEN (Professor, Binghamton University, U.S.)
SODEI Rinjiro (Professor Emeritus, Hosei University, Japan)
TAKEMAE Eiji (Professor Emeritus, Tokyo Keizai University, Japan)
TANAKA Yoshiyuki (Professor, Hiroshima Peace Research Institute, Japan)
TOYOSHITA Narahiko (Professor, Kansei Gakuin University, Japan)
YUI Daizaburo (Professor, Tokyo University, Japan)
For more information, please contact Robert Ricketts: