The Cold War: Country Trends--Japan

Figure 1.--Until very late in the Pcufic war, the Japanese people weretold that they were winning. They were also told that the Americans were a brutal, pitiless enemy. (They were not told that this was an accurate desription of their own soldiers.) Then in the space of two weeks, the Emperor spoke in the radio to tell his subjects, 'the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage' and that they were surrendering. Soon the Americans arrived. Many Japanese were terrified of the Americans because of what they had been told. They soon found out that they had been lied to by their Goverment. Boys were the first to find this out. (Parents kept the girls at home.) Japanese boys quickley figured out that not only were the Americans not a threat, but they were an endless source of Hershey bars abd bubble gum. Candy had long since disappeared in Japan. Here we see a G.I. with some of his local friends. Notice the baseball cp. The boy had undoubtedly put that on justfor the photigraph. Japan both during and after the occupatiom would play an important American partner in the Cold War, although not playing a military role in blunting Communist agression.

Japan like Germany began the Cold War as an occupied country. There were, however, some basic differences. Japan unlike Germany did not prove to be central to the Cold War--rather the focus at first shofted east to China and Korea. The Japanese unlike the Germans never accepted the war guilt and responsibility for horrendous and widespread war crimes. The Japanese also did not surrender unconditionally--the Emperor was not arrested and tried as war criminal. Also the country was not divided into Allied occupation zones. The United States was solely responsible for the occupation. Actually this and not just the atomic bombs had been a major reason for the Japanese surrender. The Soviets were rapidly moving through Manchuria and down the Korean Peninsula. The Japanese realized that a Soviet invasion of the Home Islands might result. The Japanese Government had suppressed the Communists and a Soviet invasion would mean the inevitable introduction of Communism. The American occupation meant change--but not Communism. General MacArthur oversaw the occupation. He introduced a new democratic institution, gave women the right to vote, made the Emperor a constitutional figurehead, allowed the organization of labor unions, promoted a free press, and made other major changes. Japan was transformed from a militarist, authoritarian society to a modern democratic nation with a vibrant capitalist economy. As in Germany, at the heart of the outcome in Japan was the Japanese Economic Miracle. The strongly statified society which had been unraveling with the military's rise to power was also transformed. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) dominated post-War elections. The Communists who were allowed to organize and achieved some influence in labor unions were essentually defeated by the economic successes of Japan's capitalist economy. Japan while accepting American military protection and allowing continued American use of bases in Japan, did not participate militarily in the Cold War. There were Constitutional prohibitions on war, although Japan did build a competent, albeit military for self defense. The American occupation was one of the great success stories which influenced the outcome of the Cold War. Given the World War II disster, Japan did not become involved militarily, but the failure of the Communists to achieve any success in Japan was an important Cold War developoment. The Japanese economic success was largely ignored in the rest of Asia, especilly with the Communist military victory in China. Economic success would prive a very different matter. New Asian leaders with decolonization tended to employ socialist, central planning policies. Only slowly with the success of the Asian Tigers did the vitality of market capitalism as first demonsrrated in Japan become increasingly apparent to Asian leaders. Japan limited its military involvement in the Cold War beyond developing defensive forces to defend the Home Islands. But its importnce in the military sphere was much more important because it provided forward basing facilities fot the U.S. Pacific fleet. With out these bases, the United States would have found it dificult to respond to the North Korean invasion of South Korea (1950). In addition, without Japanese bases, the Pacific Fleet would have had to be much larger to conduct its Pacific Maritime Strategy. Bsically three ships are needed for every forward deployment. [Winkler] With the Japanese bases this was not necessary. In addition, Japan qnd American naval vessels in the sea of Japan posed a major problem for Vladisvistok as the Soviet's pricipal Pacific naval base. Japan also provided the U.S, Navy the ability to challenge the Soviet Navy in its Sea Okhotsk bastion. American military thinking during the Cold War was that the U.S. Navy's abilty to operate in the Sea of Okhotsk was a sobering realization to the Soviets making Soviet military aggression less likely. [Swartz] There were criticisms of this strategy. The Soviets labeled in provocative and left-leaning politicans and academics in America agreed. Axtually, Soviet naval activity tended to be more provative, actions like bumping ships, pointing guns, ad air overflights. [Michiahita] A problem here was the tremendous expansion of the Soviet Navy mean that aot if very yong and irresponsible commanders were in place. So not all of this aggressive behavior was ordered by the Kremlin. [Winkler] There were two basic issues that developed between the Japanese and American military. These were primarily public relations incidents. One was issues associated with interactions between civilians and the American bases. The issue of nuclear weapons was also substantial. The American respose was that the this could 'neither be confirmed or denied'. This satisfied the Government, but not public opinion and the press. [Winkler]


Michiahita, Naruahige. "United States & Japan Cold Warvmaritime strategies," Woodrow Wilson CenteSeminar C-Span 3 (March 7, 2016).

Swattz, Peter. "United States & Japan Cold Warvmaritime strategies," Woodrow Wilson CenteSeminar C-Span 3 (March 7, 2016).

Winkler, David. "United States & Japan Cold Warvmaritime strategies," Woodrow Wilson CenteSeminar C-Span 3 (March 7, 2016).


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Created: 4:45 PM 2/5/2015
Last updated: 5:33 PM 3/27/2016