2 July 2003

Lessons From Japan About War's Aftermath

My desk sits next to the coffee machine and water cooler. It is a window seat though, so I'm not going to complain. Try as I might to block out the chatter from gathering co-workers, their conversations still seep into my small cube. Yesterday, two chaps were puzzling over why the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq is not proceeding like the post WWII history in Germany and Japan, and is deteriorating into a quagmire. As they speculated in jest, I wanted to blurt out some answers, but I didn't, and instead, returned attention to my work load.

Just about everything about our presence in present day Iraq differs from post WWII Japan:

  • Iraq was a preemptive strike where speculative ruminations motivated invasion while in the case of Japan, it was the righteous defeat aggressive foe.

  • Moral and legal legitimacy with support from all the region and globe. More importantly, the Japanese occupation had legitmacy with the Japanese people. Emperor Hirohito endorsed the conquerors and the Japanese people laid blame at their fallen leaders for their state.

  • The influence of a charismatic leader in McAuthur.

  • Japan is physically isolated while Iraq is surrounded by nations hostile to the west. Also, Japan was deficient in valuable natural resources and was spared the influence of private interests manipulating policy (i.e., plentiful reserves of oil in Iraq).

  • The administrative bureaucracy was kept in place in Japan and were receptive to the vision of rebuilding a better nation.

  • Iraq is a country artificially divided into three opposing factions - Kurds in the north of the country, Arab Sunnis in the center, and the Arab Shiites in the south.

  • The Japan occupation was better planned, dictated by the Potsdam Proclamation of July 1945 in contrast to the hasty policymaking by the Bush administration today. The objectives were clear in Japan - democratization and demilitarization. In Iraq, U.S. goals are far wider.

Here is a good writeup by pulitzer prize winner John Dower that was published last October in the New York Times goes into detail on these points.


I think something can also be said for the Japanese people and their culture. The differences between the religious zealots wagging a holy war in the Middle East (even the average Iraqi so easily influenced by the various religious leaders) and the dutiful and polite Japanese makes for a much more volatile situation in Iraq.