When talking about America and Japan at the end of World War II, most Americans feel guilt. We think of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, two of the greatest atrocities ever performed by America. Most Japanese respect America, and in general have high opinions of our nation as a whole. Japanese who speak with me generally respect me, and my origins, and so the idea of insulting the place I call home is against their very nature. When the topic of Nagasaki and Hiroshima come up, Japanese people will generally say something along the lines of “War is a terrible thing, atrocities were done by both sides.” It’s not a topic that is comfortable between an American and a Japanese, so the topic usually shifts to what happened after that.
I never really paid attention in history class when I was in elementary through high school (I actually really regret that now), so I don’t remember what we learned about after the war, and how both sides came to peaceful agreements. As I remember Americans went from WWII to being in a cold war with communist nations. Post WWII however was a reformative time in Japanese history; their entire ruling system was completely redefined. Most Japanese people can remember what they learned about the end of WWII, and when they do they remember MacArthur.
I don’t remember a thing about MacArthur from history class. I had to look up who he was after the first time I heard his name here in Japan. I didn’t really believe what I heard about him in Japan: an American General who ruled Japan after WWII, helped bring food to the people, and paved the way for Japan to become a self reliant and prosperous nation. I feel ignorant and bigoted when I think of how much this rattled my entire belief system around American Military, post-war Japan, and Japanese-American relations.
Until very recently I assumed that Japanese and Germans must harbor lasting resentment towards America due to WWII. My logic was, Americans still view Japan and Germany as the people who were their enemies during WWII. Americans still seem to associate Germans with Nazis, and Americans still associate Japan with Kamikaze and Pearl Harbor. I was sure that there would be a similar reaction from people of these countries towards America, they would have some reason to dislike America as a residual effect of their loss during WWII. I was narrow minded, and am now ashamed of the assumptions I made regarding this topic.
I will not speak of my newfound knowledge regarding German sentiments on post-war international relations, because although I have had enough conversations with Germans to change my perspective, I have never experienced German culture first hand. However, I do feel confident to speak on Japanese sentiments towards Americans, and Japanese opinions of how Americans handled the occupation of Japan. I have spoken to quite a few Japanese on this topic, some more in depth than others. I will write below to the best of my abilities what Japanese have to say on the topic:
When Japan surrendered, it was a different country then it is today. Years of war had devastated the people, and many people were starving. If Japan had not been aided, countless lives would have been lost due to starvation. At this time the Americans had very low opinions of the people of Japan. The countries had just spent such a long time at war, and for war you must learn to hate your enemy. Americans were not entirely wrong, Japan had done a lot of bad things, and it had lost the war. Japan was at the mercy of America. America could have ruined Japan, and in fact if it had been left up to the American president, Japan would have paid in many ways for what it had done during and before the war. MacArthur however knew the Japanese people, and made sure Japan got what was best.
When MacArthur was young he did a home stay in Japan. This shaped his view of the Japanese people, and helped him truly know what was best for post war Japan. Even during the war MacArthur would not react to Japan’s advances in anger, he would always devise a plan that would minimize casualties, but also destroy Japan’s grip in the Pacific Islands. When the war was over, MacArthur was put in charge of reforming Japan, and he did so with respect towards the Japanese people, and with foresight. He truly helped shape Japan into the peaceful, prosperous nation it is today.
MacArthur had the power to change Japan in whatever way he saw fit. He received a lot of pressure from the American government and people, but he always consulted with Japanese officials so that the reforms were always constructed in a way that was best for the Japanese people. His very first priority when he came to Japan was to feed the Japanese people. He changed land ownership laws, so that the Japanese people could be more productive, and he asked the American people to send aid. He worked on a new constitution in Japan, in it Japan was to renounce war and was forbidden to have its own military, and power was taken from the emperor and the nation was now a democracy. MacArthur made many changes, and still today his policies help make Japan the powerful and prosperous place it is today.
Since speaking with so many Japanese I have done a bit of my own research on him. He spent billions of dollars in food aid for the Japanese immediately after the war. He did not hold the emperor accountable for war crimes, and did not strip him of all his power. He looked at how the Japanese function, and how hierarchies worked within their society, and used that to build a constitution and ruling system that would function without foreign interference. MacArthur is a remarkable man for how he handled post war Japan.
“The Japanese people, since the war, have undergone the greatest reformation recorded in modern history. With a commendable will, eagerness to learn, and marked capacity to understand, they have, from the ashes left in war's wake, erected in Japan an edifice dedicated to the supremacy of individual liberty and personal dignity; and in the ensuing process there has been created a truly representative government committed to the advance of political morality, freedom of economic enterprise, and social justice. Politically, economically, and socially Japan is now abreast of many free nations of the earth and will not again fail the universal trust... I know of no nation more serene, orderly, and industrious, nor in which higher hopes can be entertained for future constructive service in the advance of the human race.”