About the Japanese Occupation and Aftermath
"We have decided to effect a settlement of the present situation by resorting to an extraordinary measure," began the Emperor Hirohito on his first-ever radio speech -- given August 15, 1945 to announce Japan's unconditional surrender to Allied Forces in World War II. By that time, Japan had lost the lives of more than 2 million soldiers, 800,000 civilians and seen its historic cities and pastoral countryside reduced to broken shards of what they had once been. As that speech was made, a world shaken by years of global battles waited anxiously to see if Japan could make a peaceful transition into a new reality.
The day before Emperor Hirohito's speech, President Harry S. Truman had appointed General Douglas MacArthur as Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers. It was MacArthur who had the responsibility of leading an occupation that would allow the Japanese people the hope of rebuilding, while demilitarizing the nation, opening the way to democracy and addressing some of the root causes of the war. He arrived with an immediate understanding that he would have to find a way to break the intense psychological tension of a country taken over by its long-time enemy, a country in which 3.5 armed soldiers had just been told to surrender. For the next six years, the United States would remain in Japan overseeing a bold experiment that would not be without serious controversy and challenges but is still considered the foremost model of what an occupation might accomplish.
In those six years, feudal Japan became a modern democracy- a fresh constitution came into being, women were given the right to vote, land reforms and labor unions created opportunities and a starving populace fired up a new economy that would turn Japan into a technological powerhouse.
Once it was decided that the Emperor and other members of the imperial family would not stand trial, he became an asset to the occupation, backing the new constitution and referring to himself as "Japan's first democrat." On New Year's Day of 1946, Hirohito made a formal statement that the role of the Emperor had changed and that the divinity of the Emperor was a "false concept." He then continued to be an active public figure in Japan, often playing a diplomatic role with world leaders, while also conducting research as a marine biologist. Emperor Hirohito passed away on January 7, 1989 after a battle with cancer.
General MacArthur handed power back to the Japanese government in 1949, but remained in Japan until 1951. During this time he also became Commander in Chief of the United Nations Command, overseeing the war between North and South Korea. He butted heads with President Truman over the conduct of the war and when casualties mounted, he was relieved by Truman of his duties, ending 52 years of military service. Nevertheless, he came home to a hero's welcome. Despite long-running speculation that he would run for President, he never did, though he continued to counsel politicians on military matters. He passed away April 5, 1964.
Bonner Fellers left Japan in 1946, retired from the army and became active in Republican Party politics. He passed away in 1973.
As for Japan and the United States, the friendship forged in those difficult early days of 1945 has continued to this day with a profound impact on both nations.
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