Power vacuum in Japan – collapse of the empire so power vacuum in the region and also within Japan itself. Japan was purged by SCAP. It affected over 200,000 people making heavy inroads into the Japanese leadership. Japan had no choice but to surrender. Their surrender was virtually unconditional.
The ultimate aims of SCAP for post-war Japan was to democratise and demilitarize the country. Led by General Macarthur, who became synonomous with SCAP itself, the US and, to a lesser extent the Allies, wanted to completely remove Japan as a threat in the Southeast Asian region.
Furthermore SCAP intended to remove the fundamental military tendencies and apparatus within Japan that could allow the country to pose aggressive again. This was to be accomplished by disarming the country and through the elimination of Japan’s feudal and authoritarian tendencies. The political agenda was to establish a establish a pluralist/liberal democracy based largely on that of the United States, in the place of Japan’s previous constitution which had modelled that of Germany hence allowing for the rise of rightwing forces and authoritarian military in the inter-war period.
Japan’s careening drive for military conquest was believed not to have been the fault of the civilian Japanese leaders but ultimately the responsibility of the Japanese Army, ‘the insular and arrogant military officers, particularly the young fanatics lately off the farms and their even more fanatical extreme nationalist supporters such as the blood brotherhoods, assassination societies and the rest1’. The Japanese military, therefore, was given the bulk of the blame for Japan’s expansionist policies during the 1930s that had led the nation into war.
However, Japan had a traditional tendency dating as far back as the Samari era to be united as a nation under a centralised military power. For SCAP to disgrace and ultimately remove the last thread holding the nation together at such a delicate and crucial time in Japan, could potentially result in complete social upheaval and disarray. For this reason, SCAP decided to resurrect the Emperor. The Emperor was restored to act as a figurehead representing a national, traditional and historical symbol behind which the Japanese population could stand united.
SCAP’s chief incentive for choosing to restore the Emperor in Japan was driven by the desire to encourage collaboration and popular support from the Japanese people in working with SCAP. SCAP had realised early on that a degree of cooperation from the Japanese towards the US reform programme would make the occupation easier, cheaper and much more successful in the long term. Collaboration from the Japanese would also help ensure that any reforms implemented by SCAP in Japan had more potential to become permanent changes once SCAP’s presence had left Japan. SCAP was under the impression that reforms which the Japanese had supported and worked on with SCAP would be far more likely to be long-standing than if changes had been forced apon the Japanese.
Although a hostile and aggressive Japan in south-east Asia was an important priority to the United States in 1945, the troublesome post-war setting meant that any cooperation from the Japanese towards SCAP which would make the occupation run more easily or more smoothly was overtly welcomed and encouraged. The costs of the Japanese occupation were extremely high and this was another reason for the United States wanted it to end as soon as possible and with as little opposition from within Japan. Cohen highlights the importance of a peaceful cooperation claiming ‘it was far more important for the Americans to impress the Japanese favourably than vice versa. The success of the occupation and the acceptance of the Japanese of the American objectives depended on it2’. Beasley, too, notes that Washington ordered SCAP to try and work through the existing Japanese political institutions ‘including the emperor3’ in order to guarantee minimum commitment of the American forces.
Hence, SCAP immediately sought to find some degree of support base for their cause within Japan. The power vacuum in Japan’s leadership therefore worked in SCAP’s favour, as they were able to promote to the Japanese population that the rightist forces; the military, was to blame for Japan’s predicament. The previously dominant military forces in Japan were increasingly widely accepted as having hijacked the country and leading the nation into international conflict. The army in particular were ‘completely discredited4’. This consensus worked to SCAP’s advantage. SCAP was then able to construct a new power base/constitution without military opposition and SCAP was also able to accomplish its other foremost aim to demilitarise Japan without facing any popular protest from the Japanese nation. Although SCAP initially freed many Communist forces in Japan to help drive the active labour reforms SCAP, standing as a representative of the Western Democratic powers, could not use leftist groups to support its reforms. The anti-communist thrust within SCAP was a reflection of a more general and increasing American fear of communism5. SCAP therefore turned to the Japanese Emperor as a means of unifying and gaining the trust and collaboration of the Japanese people.
The occupation of Japan was an unprecedented event in history. Therefore both SCAP and the Japanese people were tentative and The Japanese Emperor had played limited role during the rise of the military domination of Japan which had subsequently led the nation into war. This was decidedly important. Had the Emperor’s role or status been at all tainted then SCAP could not have used the Emperor as a means of control over the Japanese nation. In fact the Emperor had actually taken part in the Japanese surrender to the Allies in 1945 through a message of peace made to the nation.
The US Under Secretary Joseph Grew, a chief figure of supervising American policy towards Japan, was one of the main advocates in urging SCAP to retain the position of the Japanese Emperor. During the Second World War Grew had strongly believed the Emperor was the key to a cooperative Japanese surrender and that ‘in the rebuilding of the country afterward only the Emperor could hold the country together and prevent anarchy6’. Grew was proved correct on his first judgment when the Emperor himself took the initiative and announced to the nation over radio on 15th August 1945 that Japan had decided to surrender. Kawai believes that this gesture was a crucial turning point in the historic relationship between Emperor and the Japanese people which ‘indicated the emergence of a new attitude in which the people identified the Emperor with themselves so that he became a personification of the popular will instead of a manifestation of authority from on high7’. If this is true then it helped pave the way for the nation to accept the democratic government that SCAP was soon to present them with, for already the Emperor had began to be viewed as a more democractic and personable symbol rather than a remote diety. Kawai goes on to argue that the decision of SCAP to retain the Japanese Emperor was therefore ‘not only wise, but necessary. Any other course would have spelled irretrievable disaster for the occupation and Japan8’.
However, the decision to restore the Emperor was not straightforward and was shrouwded with controversy. Beasley emphasizes that ‘the position of the Emperor posed a special problem9’ as many people, both within and outside of Japan, believed the Emperor should accept a degree of responsibility for taking Japan into war. During the war there was widespread opinion in the Allied countries that the Japanese Emperor should be overthrown as he was viewed as being responsible for Japan’s militaristic aggression. There were calls for the Emperor to be tried as a war criminal or forced to abdicate, on the grounds that he had been party to the aggressive decisions taken during the 1930s. According to Kawai it was assumed by the Allies that the institution of the emperorship was the basic cause of the evils of Japanese life and that therefore only the destruction of this institution would enable a new democractic and peaceful Japan to emerge10. However, it soon became apparent to the occupation authorities and to the American Government the degree of sentiment the Japanese people actually attached to the Emperor in Japan in 1945.
The Japanese people wanted and needed something or someone to blame for the war and its consequences. SCAP had already provided this ‘scapegoat’ in the form of the Japanese military (namely the far-right radicals in the Army) whom which had been tried as war criminals and removed from any form of legitimate power. The role and status of the Emperor was different, however, and as Beasley points out, ‘most Japanese saw the fate of the “political” war criminals as a necessary sacrifice for their country’s sake’. By adding abolishment of the nation’s Emperor to this sacrifice could potentially arouse popular upheaval as would ‘make Japan impossible to govern11′.
Storry believes that the reestablishment of the Emperor was crucial to SCAP’ success in promoting democracy to post-war Japan. To many Japanese the concept of democracy was considered no more than unfettered egotism and the breakdown of family and social obligations12, therefore, without an institution that could symbolise a degree of continuity in an era of acute disruption, and promote a homogeneous union of the race in a time of social disarray, then the introduction of democracy could have resulted in complete social disintegration. Cohesion was only maintained by the Emperor backing of SCAP. Furthermore, the Japanese viewed the Emperor as being a direct descendant from the Sun Goddess. They believed that all Japanese people were in some way descended from the same line in a unique relationship; hence the entire Japanese nation compriese a great partiarchial family of which the Emperor is the father and his subjects are children13.
Returning power and authority to the Japanese Emperor had already occurred during the 1868 Meji Restoration. In 1945 SCAP followed this trend and gave back legitimate power to the Emperor. Much like the restoration of 1868, the power and function of the Emperor was to be subsidiary to use of the Emperor as a figurehead of the Japanese nation and as a means of making permanent reforms within Japan.
The new Japanese Constitution declared that the Monarchy would be retained, not abolished, and that the Emperor’s role was redefined as the ‘symbol of the State and of the unity of the people. Power was handed to the Diet which was granted as the ‘highest organ of the state’. The restatement of the Emperor’s position provided a starting-point for remodelling the monarchy in a different image, emphasising respect, rather than awe14.
However, although the Emperor was not forced to abdicate or be tried as a war criminal, the actual status and authority of the Emperor was different. In January 1946 the Emperor formally renounced his divinity and the constitution of 1947 declared him to be merely ‘a symbol of the state…deriving his position from the will of the people in whom resides sovereign power15’. This new status implied a democratic system. The Emperor would have no significant political authority. By resurrecting the Emperor but at the same time removing the channels of power, SCAP was creating the opportunity for a Japanese popular Government without destroying one of the nations most treasured and respected features.
Although SCAP restored the Emperor within Japan, it must be noted that the resurrection was based on the grounds of him being a figurehead of the state rather than as a primary, legitimate political power. The Emperor’s political status was largely removed to instead take the stance of a national symbol for the Japanese population to unite behind in an era when their world was in complete disarray and fluctuation. It can partly be viewed as a sort of ‘gesture’ by SCAP to encourage a peaceful occupation between the Americans and the Japanese. However, the alterior motives behind SCAP’s desire for such a peaceful cooperation were largely selfish.
The occupation was increasingly expensive to sustain and in the early years of the ‘first course’ of the occupation the Japanese question was not the number one priority of America’s foreign policy. Indeed it was an important situation but the US was also preoccupied by the threat of Germany and the devastating post-war condition of Europe. Hence, Washington encouraged SCAP to make the occupation run as smoothly and quickly as possible. It was also in America’s interest to collaborate, rather than impose reform, on Japan through force to ensure that the reforms would not disintegrate once the US occupation ceased. What Washington ultimately underestimated or failed to foresee was that Japan would soon become an absolutely crucial country to America in terms of strategics, geo-politics and economic value in the light of the cold war.
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