How far were the aims of the American led Occupation achieved by 1952


The American led occupation of Japan started in 1945 at the end of the Second World War and lasted seven years, finally coming to a close in 1952, although initially it had been supposed by some that the occupation may remain for few decades at least. The occupation from the perspective of America was meant to serve two purposes, which were: demilitarise and democratise. In this, the American focus was on what they considered to be the problem of imperialism in Japan, which they also saw as being responsible for Japan’s war efforts. Therefore, at least two to three years before the war ended, Americans had already started planning about the imperial rule in Japan and how it was to be treated by America. In fact, “planned political change” was what the American led occupation set out to achieve in Japan at the beginning of its occupation.

This essay considers the nature of changes that were brought on by the American led occupation with a view to answering whether the realization of the aims set at the start of the occupation, was achieved. The essay argues that the American led occupation was partly successful in implementing some of the changes that it sought. The changes that it successfully brought about were limiting the imperial role, limiting military powers and encouraging democracy through constitutional processes.


Aims of Occupation

The occupation of Japan by the Allied Council for Japan was overseen by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP), General MacArthur and his staff, which was mostly American. Over a period of time, the SCAP came to take orders from the American government alone. Therefore, despite being an Allied occupation, it is more pertinent to term the occupation of Japan between the period of 1945 to 1952 as an American led occupation. Demilitarisation and democratisation of Japan were the two principal aims for

  • Ray A. Moore, “The Occupation of Japan as History. Some Recent Research”, Monumenta Nipponica 36(3) (1981): 317.
  • Andrew Gordon, A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).
  • Robert Ward, “Pre surrender Planning: Treatment of the Emperor and Constitutional Changes”, in Democratizing Japan: The Allied Occupation, eds. Robert E Ward, Yoshikazu Sakamoto (University of Hawaii, 1987).
  • Ibid, p.2
  • Andrew Gordon, A Modern History of Japan, p.227.

the American led occupation during this period of time. However, Japan was not always the subservient occupied territory but rather due to events in China and Korea, came to occupy a place of strategic importance for America, which distinguished it from other occupied territories later such as Okinawa and Korea.

The process for demilitarisation of Japan started with the disbanding of the Japanese Army and Navy on 30th November, 1945, however, the demobilising of the entire Japanese military was a daunting task due to the sheer size of the Japanese military. Moreover, due to the mobilisation of the military during the time of war, there were 6.9 million Japanese soldiers who were at the end of the war, located in Korea, Taiwan, China, Russia and other states. Therefore, the American led occupation was faced with a task of repatriating the soldiers back to Japan. This process was completed in 1948. The American led occupation also considered it to be important that those individuals or organisations who were encouraging of the war, such as the ‘Special Higher Police’, or individuals within the government, would also be removed from their positions within the government.

In the American point of view, it was important to reconstruct Japan as a democracy because militarism stemmed from monopoly, tyranny, and poverty, which were prevalent in Japan until the end of the war. Therefore, political and social reforms were required in Japan. The reforms were actually carried out in phases, with each phase having a different and new focus for an area of reform. The first reforms were implemented in October 1945, with a focus on provision of basic civil and political liberties, such as freedom of speech, assembly, press and the right to organize labour and farmer unions. In the next phase, the SCAP asked the Japanese government to undertake land reforms, allowing tenant farmers to finally buy out the fields.

In 1946, SCAP led the drafting of the Japanese Constitution, which was ratified in the Diet and the new Constitution became effective in May 1947. Under the new Constitution, the emperor became the symbol of the State and was no longer the absolute monarch. Contrary to its earlier planning, American government were not able to enforce the end of

  • Laura Hein, “Revisiting America's Occupation of Japan”, Cold War History 11 (4) (2011): 579.
  • Ibid, p.228.
  • Ibid.
  • Ibid.
  • Ibid, p.228.
  • Robert Ward, “Pre surrender Planning: Treatment of the Emperor and Constitutional Changes.”
  • Andrew Gordon, A Modern History of Japan, p.229.

imperialism in Japan because they realised early on that the Japanese people would not tolerate the enforced end of monarchy in Japan. Therefore, the Constitution was a compromise between what the Americans had hoped to achieve (end of imperialism) and what they had to settle for (diminished political powers and role of the monarch). Here, the influence of General MacArthur prevailed as he was against the idea of prosecuting the emperor for war crimes or even completely dethroning him. Rather, American occupation by the end of the occupation managed to create a symbolised monarchy.

In further signs of democratisation, all people in Japan were allowed certain fundamental rights and freedoms under the new Constitution. Women were given equal rights in context of marriage, divorce, property and inheritance as well as the right to vote. The special focus given to these reforms within the constitution signifies the American influence in the social sphere of Japanese life and culture in the name of democratisation. Women rights and individualistic civil and political rights were a contrast to the traditional Japanese culture, which is anti-individualistic and anti-egalitarian.

After 1948, the focus for SCAP shifted from democratisation to economic recovery, which was helped by the Korean crisis as well as spread of communism. At the beginning of the occupation, America had planned to bring an end to the zaibatsu. However, the outbreak of the Korean war in 1950 and the need to procure military equipment from Japan’s industry ironically led to the strengthening of the zaibatsu combines as well as the remilitarisation of Japan. Moreover, America came to view Japan as a strong ally in the prevention of spread of communism from China. At this time, Japan became to the Americans a link through which the latter could control much of Asia and Southeast Asia and Japan became part of the “great crescent”. A CIA report on the "Strategic Importance of Japan," also emphasised the idea that “whoever controlled Japan held the key to the Far East.”

One area that the SCAP reforms were not able to find firm ground was localization of certain areas of governance, particularly, policing and education. While the Americans favoured the

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  • Herbert P. Bix, “Inventing the "Symbol Monarchy" in Japan, 1945-52”, The Journal of Japanese Studies 21 (2) (1995): 319.
  • Akira Suehiro, “The Road to Economic Re-entry: Japan's Policy toward Southeast Asian Development in the 1950s and 1960s”, Social Science Japan Journal 2(1) (1999): 85.
  • Ibid, p.87.
  • Michael Schaller, “Securing the Great Crescent: Occupied Japan and the Origins of Containment in Southeast Asia”, The Journal of American History 69 (2) (1982): 392.
  • Ibid, p.400.

local authorities in the villages, cities or towns to be self-sustained in maintaining their police forces and schools, the Japanese were not in favour of these reforms. Therefore, after the end of the occupation, Japan went back to nationalized police forces.

The SCAP led by General MacArthur was not in favour of too much intervention in leading the political course. Ultimately, America implemented the controversial ‘reverse course’, that saw America scaling back on some of the measures that it had earlier planned for the democratisation of Japan, leading to the strengthening of the civil bureaucracy in Japan.


The essay discussed the American led occupation of Japan between 1945 to 1952 in the context of the successes of the occupation in achieving its aims of demilitarisation and democratisation of Japan. The essay argues that these successes were limited because some of the aims set by the Americans were not achieved and that in some respects Americans had to resort to reversal from its earlier aims. The most visible manifestation of the reverse course was the scaling back of plans to dissolve the former subsidiaries of the zaibatsu combines. Imperialism could also not be completely rooted out but a compromise was sought in symbol imperialism under the Constitution. The biggest successes for the occupation in democratisation was the provision of civil and political rights guarantees to the Japanese people.

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  • Bix, Herbert P. “Inventing the "Symbol Monarchy" in Japan, 1945-52”. The Journal of Japanese Studies 21 (2) (1995): 319.
  • Gordon, Andrew. A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.
  • Hein, Laura. “Revisiting America's Occupation of Japan”. Cold War History 11 (4) (2011): 579.
  • Andrew Gordon, A Modern History of Japan.
  • Howard Schonberger, “U. S. Policy in Post-War Japan: The Retreat from Liberalism”, Science & Society 46 (1) (1982): 39.
  • Moore, Ray A. “The Occupation of Japan as History. Some Recent Research”. Monumenta Nipponica 36(3) (1981): 317.
  • Schaller, Michael. “Securing the Great Crescent: Occupied Japan and the Origins of Containment in Southeast Asia”. The Journal of American History 69 (2) (1982): 392.
  • Schonberger, Howard. “U. S. Policy in Post-War Japan: The Retreat from Liberalism”. Science & Society 46 (1) (1982): 39.
  • Suehiro, Akira. “The Road to Economic Re-entry: Japan's Policy toward Southeast Asian Development in the 1950s and 1960s”. Social Science Japan Journal 2(1) (1999): 85.
  • Ward, Robert. “Pre surrender Planning: Treatment of the Emperor and Constitutional Changes”. In Democratizing Japan: The Allied Occupation, edited by Robert E Ward, Yoshikazu Sakamoto. University of Hawaii, 1987.

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