“Bataan,” the C-54 transport carrying Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Commander of Allied Powers (SCAP), landed at Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture, at 2:05 p.m. on Aug. 30. The general, wearing sunglasses and puffing on a corncob pipe, struck a dramatic pose near the top of the ladder for the more than 200 reporters and photographers.

He descended the ladder and shook hands with Gen. Robert L. Eichelberger, Eighth Army commander. “Well, Bob,” he said, “it’s been a long road from Melbourne to Tokyo, but as they say in the movies, this is the payoff.”

It was characteristic MacArthur — the props, the staged photo-opportunity, the exaggeration (he was not in Tokyo). His timing, dramatic flair, and patrician good looks might have made him a star of stage or screen — but pity his director. MacArthur would have been a prima donna. But he was no hollow man. He was of solid timber. His ego reflected an exalted confidence in self and in mission.

Since his baptism of fire in the Philippines in 1903, MacArthur had been decorated 22 times, including 13 medals for heroism — nine of them in France in 1918. His biographer, William Manchester, credits this warrior with “political omnipotence matching Caesar’s and Napoleon’s.”

It was that omnipotence, and the advice of Gen. Bonner Fellers, that convinced him to preserve the imperial system and rule not directly but through the government during the Occupation of Japan that ended 50 years ago, with the formal implementation on April 28, 1952 of the San Francisco Peace Treaty signed on Sept. 8, 1951 between Japan and 48 other nations.

He was, in theory, responsible to an Allied Far Eastern Commission in Washington and to an Allied Council in Tokyo. But his prestige and powerful personality — what the U.S. ambassador to Japan called his “gwizardry” — marginalized both organizations.

President Harry S. Truman told him: “You will exercise your authority as you deem proper to carry out your mission. Our relations with Japan do not rest on a contractual basis, but on unconditional surrender; your authority is supreme.”

On Sept. 27, 1945, Emperor Hirohito called on MacArthur at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. A photo commemorates the occasion. It ran on the front page of the next day’s papers. The Emperor stands rigid in morning coat. At his left MacArthur stands a head taller in khakis with a tieless open collar, his hands in his pockets. The photo shocked the public. It brought home that SCAP occupied a realm above the Son of Heaven. John Dower, author of 2000’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Embracing Defeat,” observes that the photo established “MacArthur’s authority and the fact that he would stand by the Emperor.”

MacArthur saw his mission as no less than Japan’s democratization. No other conqueror would have been as magnanimous in victory or as perceptive in realizing that Japan’s pacification lay in its democratization. The Aussies and Brits, the Filipinos, French and Dutch — all wanted harsher treatment of the conquered nation.

But General Headquarters (GHQ) was no echo of the British Raj. MacArthur’s casual dress set the tone. He refused to ban American fraternization with Japanese. He once saw from his car a GI embracing a Japanese girl in a doorway. “Look at that,” he said to Maj. Faubion Bowers, who was with him, “They keep trying to get me to stop all this Madam Butterflying around. I won’t do it. My father told me never to give an order unless I was certain it would be carried out.”

Nonetheless, gratification of the GI libido had worried the Japanese. Expecting GIs to behave in Japan as Japanese soldiers had behaved elsewhere, city governments urged women to flee. The Japanese government backed a consortium of brothel-keepers, the Recreation and Amusement Association (R.A.A.), in setting up facilities for GIs. But some prostitutes were unwilling to cater to men in possession of reputedly outsized organs; so the brothel-owners recruited “ordinary” women.

Guest facilities

The Japanese had a long history of satisfying the instincts of foreign male guests. The pleasure quarters in the 19th-century treaty ports had generally reserved a house for foreigners. However, the khakied and bell-bottomed bucks landing in Japan at the end of August were no 19th-century “guests.” On the 28th, several hundred arrived at an R.A.A facility under preparation in Omori, Tokyo. The sliding doors not yet in place, GIs and comfort women coupled in view of others.

Three days later, more than 100 GIs descended on Gorakuso, an apartment house in Yamashitacho, Yokohama, scheduled to open as an R.A.A center on Sept. 1. “The facility opens tomorrow,” explained an employee, whereupon a GI pointed a submachine gun at him. The GIs confined the employees. Then they set upon the 14 comfort women. One woman protested she would rather die than sleep with a black. Then, after she fled outdoors, stark naked, the spurned soldier caught her and beat her to death. He, in turn, died at the hands of the military police. The next morning the other women lay half-dead on the floor where soldiers had trampled them.

GHQ had tacitly approved of the R.A.A until January 1946, when U.S. authorities prohibited organized prostitution as a violation of the human rights of women. Unspoken was the real reason: troops’ high rate of venereal disease.

The U.S. military’s Stars and Stripes newspaper reported in its March 10, 1947 edition that by June Japanese women in the Tokyo-Yokohama district would have given birth to 14,000 Amerasian babies. Two years later Miki Sawada, the founder of the Elizabeth Sanders Home, an orphanage for mixed-race children, estimated U.S. servicemen had sired 200,000 babies in Japan. Masami Takada, head of the Children’s Bureau of the Welfare Ministry, put the figure at 150,000.

When the bureau conducted a survey in spring of 1952, though, it found a total of only 5,002 Amerasian babies. The Japanese public feared that mixed-race children threatened the cherished homogeneity of Japanese society. Various “scientific” studies had demonstrated that Japanese of mixed blood were inferior to Japanese of pure blood.

“Japanese people regarded abandoned racially mixed babies as a problem Occupation authorities or the ‘foreigners’ religion’ should bear responsibility for,” writes Yukiko Koshiro in “Trans-Pacific Racisms and the Occupation of Japan.” But U.S. anti-Asian immigration policy prevented large-scale American adoption.

The true number of illegitimate Amerasian children will never be known. In the early postwar years many would have died in obscurity. It was the sight of an Amerasian baby left dead on a train luggage rack in February 1947 that moved Sawada to establish the Elizabeth Sanders Home. Today, the remains of 900 Occupation babies lie in the Negishi Foreign Cemetery in Yokohama, according to Yasuharu Tamura, a historian of the city. Only three are in marked graves.

In other ways, too, the Occupation was not an ideal showcase for equality and democracy. White and black servicemen were segregated. Occupiers could display a sahib joie de vivre. Vincent W. Allen, a young officer in Hokkaido in 1945, recounts in “A Very Intimate Occupation” how, after a Japanese driver splashed mud on his khakis, he dragged the man from his truck, forced him to his knees, and made him shine his boots. Officers would run red lights on Ginza on their way home for lunch. Soldiers would get their kicks careering in Jeeps down crowded lanes making people scurry out of the way.

Nonetheless, in 1946, MacArthur succeeded in getting the Japanese government to adopt a Constitution embodying principles he had outlined that February. It enshrined the Emperor as the symbol of the state. It granted universal suffrage and ensured equal opportunity for education. Its Article 9 renounced war. The Diet approved the Constitution on Oct. 6.

Meanwhile, GHQ’s first education-related directive, issued in 1945, had been to prohibit militarist or ultranationalist activities. Votive pictures of the Emperor and Empress were removed from auditoriums. The churei-shitsu (room to fallen graduates), was disestablished. Martial arts were banned from the curriculum.

Education reforms

But rejection of chauvinist rites and symbols was not reform. At GHQ’s behest an American educational mission arrived in March 1946 to investigate Japan’s education system and propose measures for its reform. The mission, less than a month after their arrival, presented GHQ with a report recommending reforms. Among these, it urged the Japanese to replace kanji and kana by a Roman alphabet. Kanji took time to read and write that was time better spent otherwise, said the Americans, and a Roman alphabet would prove a tool for promotion of international ideologies among the people.

GHQ duly pestered the Ministry of Education with script-reform proposals. The ministry conducted an experiment in which pupils at an Osaka grade school used a math textbook written in romaji. But the children had to transliterate the romaji into kanji and kana before they began the math problem. Many gave up in mid-transliteration. GHQ decided to leave script reform to Japanese educators.

However, based on GHQ’s recommendations, the Japanese government established from April 1947 an education system that was coeducational and decentralized, and comprised six years of grade school, three years of middle school, and four years of high school. Coeducation boosted the status of women.

While parliamentarians debated adoption of the constitution, people planted sweet potatoes in the wasteland around the Diet Building. Deliveries of food rations, begun in wartime, slowed to a trickle during the postwar turmoil. People survived by black-market purchases. The food shortage continued for 2 1/2 years. Tokyo’s first May Day rally in 11 years took place in 1946. The 500,000-strong rally turned into a movement for increased rations. The demonstrators sat down in the plaza between Imperial Palace and the Daiichi Seimei Bldg. The demonstration spread. Alarmed, GHQ on May 19 permitted the government to release flour. The following day MacArthur warned of Occupation army intervention. The demonstrators dispersed.

MacArthur, though, not only wielded a stick — but also proffered a carrot. Between Nov. 1946 and Nov. 1947, GHQ supplied the Japanese with 1,613,315 tons of grains and 43,474 tons of canned goods. The jobs of 13 million Japanese, including soldiers, vanished at the end of the war. Over the next two years 4.13 million workers were discharged. But between January and May of 1946, only 970,000 people applied for 1.3 million positions through 540 nationwide employment agencies. Those figures bespeak the fact that the employed were little better off than the unemployed as inflation ate away buying power. Male industrial workers’ average real wages in the latter half of 1946 were 27.5 percent of those in 1934-36.

These circumstances prompted GHQ to encourage the formation of labor unions. The Communist Party spearheaded their organization.

The prewar government had driven communists underground, but GHQ legalized the party. Apparatchiks released from prison then skillfully organized unions. Red flags flew everywhere within a year of the war’s end. Unionization had boosted private-sector wages to where they were double those of civil servants. On Nov. 28, 1946, civil servants’ unions established the Labor Committee of All Public Workers. The committee demanded a large pay hike. The government, which was broke, balked. The committee announced a general strike to begin on Feb. 1, 1947.

The cabinet of Shigeru Yoshida was helpless. Until then, GHQ had generally preferred to be a passive observer. It had sought to rule through the Japanese government and had practiced discretion, terming its orders recommendations or advice. But it could be unambiguous when occasion warranted. Now was such an occasion. On Jan. 31 MacArthur issued a directive prohibiting the strike. Its gist was broadcast over the radio in late afternoon. The unions concluded they had no choice but to call off the strike because, although determined in the confrontation with the government, they felt powerless before the Occupation army.

MacArthur’s prohibition of the strike was a harbinger of a shift in the Occupation from an experiment in reform to the forging of an anti-Communist bulwark in the East. U.S.-Soviet relations had turned frosty. Truman had announced in March 1947 a doctrine of communist containment. The communists had reversed the tide of the civil war in China in 1948. On June 25, 1950, heralded by trumpets, North Korean soldiers charged over the 38th parallel. Washington saw red.

U.S. officials viewed Japan as a base, and GHQ emphasized cranking up industrial production over socio-political reform. Young Japanese idealists who had savored the Occupation’s early frisson could comprehend, but not forgive, the reversal of course. Washington appointed MacArthur Commander in Chief, Far East, in addition to SCAP, with instructions to “support the Republic of Korea.”

MacArthur was thrilled, but in Korea his hubris would bring his downfall. Truman sacked him for torpedoing a truce appeal. The Japanese were shocked by MacArthur’s dismissal. Prime Minister Yoshida required 30 minutes to compose himself.

By April 1951, though, the Japanese no longer needed SCAP — but the United States needed a stable, democratic, independent ally in the Far East. The Treaty of Peace with Japan conference (as it is formally known) convened in San Francisco in September 1951. The treaty went into effect 50 years ago, on April 28.

The Occupation perhaps effected the single greatest transformation of one nation by another in world history. MacArthur described the Constitution as probably its most important accomplishment. He could not have foreseen that revision of its war-renouncing article would become a principal goal of the conservative party that has ruled almost uninterrupted since shortly after the Occupation’s end.

The Emperor told the journalist John Gunther that Japanese democracy would endure after the occupiers went home, but that it would be sui generis. He was right. The Occupation was a grand success, but not one without pathos. In spring, Scotch brooms shed yellow petals over the graves of the infants buried at Negishi.

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