MacArthur and Hirohito: Destinies of Men and Nations

There has been some revisionist conduct going on about Japan, the dropping of the two nuclear devices, and MacArthur. They aren’t all from the Left either.

The only unfinished business revolves around people wanting to fight more wars after MacArthur already ended one. He was one of the keynote developers of the American Total War philosophy, along with Sherman. But that’s not enough for some people even though MacArthur’s plans for China were too much for Truman. This is a post about what people did and why they did it not. Not scavengers 62 years after the fact going on about should have would have fantasies.

Having decided to keep the Japanese national legislature (the Diet), the cabinet and the bureaucracy in place, MacArthur next faced the question of Emperor Hirohito. The Russians and British wanted Hirohito tried and hanged as a war criminal. MacArthur advised Washington against needlessly angering the Japanese by destroying the sacred symbol of their emperor. MacArthur later wrote in his autobiography: “…I would need at least one million reinforcements should such an action be taken … Military government would have to be instituted throughout all Japan, and guerrilla warfare would probably break out.”

The bloodlust of human beings for more death and destruction is quite insatiable. That is why leaders are required to curb these desires and turn them into something productive. The same was done in the American South. The price was continued discrimination and white southern power. That’s somehow not the same as what General MAcArthur did in his compromises for peace. There is no perfect solution to human problems. Only good or bad foundations.

I categorically deny snow’s views on this history for they would never have done anyone any good at all. It is destructive and revolutionary sentiments, having no part in order, progress, or stability. Such sentiments do MacArthur as well as Hirohito a great injustice.

A simple list then. A list of what MacArthur actually did.

Immediately after the Japanese announced their decision to surrender, Gen. Douglas MacArthur was appointed the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers to oversee the occupation of Japan. Although he was technically under the authority of an Allied Powers commission, MacArthur took his orders from Washington. Rather than establish an American military government to rule Japan during the occupation, MacArthur decided to employ the existing Japanese government. To do so, he would issue various direct orders to Japanese government officials but allow them to manage the country as long as they followed the occupation goals developed in Potsdam and Washington.


Having decided to keep the Japanese national legislature (the Diet), the cabinet and the bureaucracy in place, MacArthur next faced the question of Emperor Hirohito. The Russians and British wanted Hirohito tried and hanged as a war criminal. MacArthur advised Washington against needlessly angering the Japanese by destroying the sacred symbol of their emperor. MacArthur later wrote in his autobiography: “…I would need at least one million reinforcements should such an action be taken … Military government would have to be instituted throughout all Japan, and guerrilla warfare would probably break out.”

Certain aspects of the U.S. occupation policy carried out by MacArthur were very harsh. Wartime Prime Minister Tojo and six other leaders were tried and hanged for war crimes. The policies dismantled and abolished the Japanese military establishment and banned 200,000 military and civilian leaders from holding any public office, including the majority of existing Diet members. The large industrial monopolies that had fueled the war effort were broken up. Even government support for the official Japanese religion, Shinto, was eliminated.

Certain aspects of the U.S. occupation policy carried out by MacArthur were very harsh. Wartime Prime Minister Tojo and six other leaders were tried and hanged for war crimes. The policies dismantled and abolished the Japanese military establishment and banned 200,000 military and civilian leaders from holding any public office, including the majority of existing Diet members. The large industrial monopolies that had fueled the war effort were broken up. Even government support for the official Japanese religion, Shinto, was eliminated.

Before 1945, democracy as we know it had little chance to develop in Japan. No free elections or real political parties existed. Women were denied equal rights. From an American viewpoint, although the Meiji Constitution listed a number of individual liberties, few were meaningful. For example, even though free speech was protected by the constitution, the government prohibited what it considered “dangerous thoughts.”

Early in the occupation MacArthur saw the need to drastically change the Meiji Constitution. In his autobiography, MacArthur argued:

“We could not simply encourage the growth of democracy. We had to make sure that it grew. Under the old constitution, government flowed downward from the emperor, who held the supreme authority, to those to whom he had delegated power. It was a dictatorship to begin with, a hereditary one, and the people existed to serve it.”

MacArthur communicated his views to the leaders of the Japanese government who formed a committee to rewrite the Meiji Constitution. After four months’ work, by February 1, 1947, the committee had produced a revision with only minor word changes. For instance, in the rewrite the emperor became “supreme” rather than “sacred” as in the old constitution.

MacArthur refused to accept the Japanese revision. He gave his own people the task of writing a “model constitution” which would then be used by the Japanese in preparing another revision, which he wanted completed before the Japanese general. election scheduled just two months away. He saw the election as a test of whether the Japanese people would accept democratic changes in their political system.

Perhaps the most unique part of the “model constitution” was the “no-war clause.” According to Article 9: “…The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.” Article 9 went on to abolish all land, sea and air military forces. This article was included as the result of a suggestion made by Prime Minister Shidehara to MacArthur. Shidehara believed that this provision would show the rest of the world that Japan never again intended to wage aggressive war.

To the Japanese people, however, the most radical change from the Meiji Constitution was the removal of the emperor as the source of all government authority. In the “model constitution” the people, acting through the elected Diet, were supreme. MacArthur decided to preserve the position of emperor, but merely as “the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people.”

Has Japan’s democratic constitution been a success? MacArthur himself called it “probably the single most important accomplishment of the occupation.” Others have since criticized MacArthur for unnecessarily forcing the Japanese to renounce their political traditions and accept democracy too rapidly.

In 1952, the American occupation of Japan ended. The Japanese were again an independent people free to run their country as they wished. Since then, the Japanese have changed or done away with a number of the reforms instituted by MacArthur. One reform remains firmly in place: the “MacArthur Constitution.” For 40 years it has never been revised or amended. In the words of Japanese scholar Sodei Rinjiro: “Clearly the constitution has sunk its roots among the people. “

Now a list of the actual accomplishments of Emperor Hirohito.

At his first meeting with MacArthur, Hirohito assumed full responsibility for the wartime actions of Japan knowing that this admission could mean his execution. Eventually the U.S. and other Allied powers agreed with MacArthur not to treat Hirohito as a war criminal, but one condition was mandated.

On New Year’s Day 1946, four months after the occupation had begun, Emperor Hirohito renounced the belief that he was a divine or godlike being:

“The ties between us and our people have always stood upon mutual trust and affection. They do not depend upon mere legends and myths. They are not predicated on the false conception that the Emperor is divine and that the Japanese people are superior to other races and fated to rule the world.”

The job of writing MacArthur’s “model constitution” fell to the Government Section of his General Headquarters. A team, of about a dozen Army and Navy officers (all with special training in government) plus a few civilian experts met secretly to discuss, debate and write their model for a new Japanese constitution. The team members used a 1939 edition of a book on world constitutions as their main reference. Most of the final wording was drafted by three Army officers, all lawyers. This “constitutional convention” lasted a total of six days.

To the Japanese people, however, the most radical change from the Meiji Constitution was the removal of the emperor as the source of all government authority. In the “model constitution” the people, acting through the elected Diet, were supreme. MacArthur decided to preserve the position of emperor, but merely as “the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people.”

The Japanese government leaders were shocked by the radical changes proposed in the “model constitution.” In particular, they found it hard to accept the idea of “rule by the people” which conflicted with the Japanese tradition of absolute obedience to the emperor. After disagreeing among themselves, the Japanese cabinet went to the emperor. On February 22, Hirohito ended the deadlock by commanding that the “model” become the basis for the new constitution of Japan. “Upon these principles,” Emperor Hirohito said, “will truly rest the welfare of our people and the rebuilding of Japan.”

Others wanted something different to happen in history. But they weren’t the leaders of Japan nor were they in charge of the occupation as MacArthur was. It’s always easy for folks down the line with plenty of time on their hand, to criticize the decisions others had to make come hell or high water.

All the bolded quotes come from here.

I often talk about primary documents being the most useful tool for learning history. I will not go back on my words now. Here they are, the words of MacArthur himself. Not the man he was portrayed nor the heroic ideal others saw him as but just a man trying his best in a time of war and peace;retributions and forgiveness.

Two sources. One primary while another is a book about the life of Hirohito and MacArthur.

(4) In his memoirs General Douglas MacArthur wrote about his first meeting with Emperor Hirohito after the end of the Second World War.

Shortly after my arrival in Tokyo, I was urged by members of my staff to summon the Emperor to my headquarters as a show of power. I brushed the suggestions aside. “To do so,” I explained, “would be to outrage the feelings of the Japanese people and make a martyr of the Emperor in their eyes.

No, I shall wait and in time the Emperor will voluntarily come to see me. In this case, the patience of the East rather than the haste of the West will best serve our purpose.”

The Emperor did indeed shortly request an interview. In cutaway, striped trousers, and top hat, riding in his Daimler with the imperial grand chamberlain facing him on the jump seat, Hirohito arrived at the embassy. I had, from the start of the occupation, directed that there should be no derogation in his treatment. Every honor due a sovereign was to be his. I met him cordially, and recalled that I had at one time been received by his father at the close of the Russo-Japanese War. He was nervous and the stress of the past months showed plainly. I dismissed everyone but his own interpreter, and we sat down before an open fire at one end of the long reception hall.

I offered him an American cigarette, which he took with thanks. I noticed how his hands shook as I lighted it for him. I tried to make it as easy for him as I could, but I knew how deep and dreadful must be his agony of humiliation. I had an uneasy feeling he might plead his own cause against indictment as a war criminal. There had been considerable outcry from some of the Allies, notably the Russians and the British, to include him in this category. Indeed, the initial list of those proposed by them was headed by the Emperor’s name. Realizing the tragic consequences that would follow such an unjust action, I had stoutly resisted such efforts. When Washington seemed to be veering toward the British point of view, I had advised that I would need at least one million reinforcements should such action be taken. I believed that if the Emperor were indicted, and perhaps hanged, as a war criminal, military government would have to be instituted throughout all Japan, and guerrilla warfare would probably break out. The Emperor’s name had then been stricken from the list. But of all this he knew nothing.

But my fears were groundless. What he said was this: “I come to you, General MacArthur, to offer myself to the judgment of the powers you represent as the one to bear sole responsibility for every political and military decision made and action taken by my people in the conduct of war.” A tremendous impression swept me. This courageous assumption of a responsibility implicit with death, a responsibility clearly belied by facts of which I was fully aware, moved me to the very marrow of my bones. He was an – Emperor by inherent birth, but in that instant I knew I faced the First Gentleman of Japan in his own right.

(5) List of reforms that General Douglas MacArthur submitted to Emperor Hirohito and his Japanese government in October 1945.

1. The emancipation of the women of Japan through their enfranchisement – that, being members of the body politic, they may bring to Japan a new concept of government directly subservient to the well-being of the home.

2. The encouragement of the unionization of labor-that it may have an influential voice in safeguarding the working man from exploitation and abuse, and raising his living standard to a higher level.

3. The institution of such measures as may be necessary to correct the evils which exist in the child labor practices.

4. The opening of the schools to more liberal education-that the people may shape their future progress from factual knowledge and benefit from an understanding of a system under which government becomes the servant rather than the master of the people.

5. The abolition of systems which through secret inquisition and abuse have held the people in constant fear-substituting therefor a system of justice designed to afford the people protection against despotic, arbitrary and unjust methods. Freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of religion must be maintained. Regimentation of the masses under the guise or claim of efficiency, under whatever name of government it may be made, must cease.

6. The democratization of Japanese economic institutions to the end that monopolistic industrial controls be revised through the development of methods which tend to insure a wide distribution of income and ownership of the means of production and trade.

7. In the immediate administrative field take vigorous and prompt action by the government with reference to housing, feeding and clothing the population in order to prevent pestilence, disease, starvation or other major social catastrophe. The coming winter will be critical and the only way to meet its difficulties is by
the full employment in useful work of everyone.

In the end, the American military has been doing diplomacy, reconstruction, national reconciliation, and Constitution construction since WWII. Only the fact that OIF 1 went too quickly due to Saddam’s insurgency plan, prevented the US Army from making the proper preparations. That and having no MacArthur. We now have a Petraeus. Which is why America tends to need a couple of years before producing good war leaders. It takes America that much time to simply find them and charge them with our salvation and the salvation of others. I am sure in the future many others will paint Petraeus and his Iraqi counter-parts as those corrupted or on the take or just lackadaisical. But that will not change anything reallty. Heck, Reid is already saying Petraeus is going to be a liar. And history marches on.

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2 Comments on “MacArthur and Hirohito: Destinies of Men and Nations”

  1. Laer Says:

    Thanks,Y. That was very helpful and informative. If Iraq can turn out to be even a mere shadow of Japan, it will be defined as a success … by all but the Bush-haters.

  2. ymarsakar Says:

    Even the Bush haters will shut up when they face total defeat. They are nowhere near the caliber of the Japanese.


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