rebuilding japan -- 10/12/15

Today's selection -- from Altered States by Michael Schaller. In the years after World War II, the Allies were concerned that the fragile economies of Germany and Japan would cause them to fall under the influence of the Soviet Union or Communist China. As a result, they took extraordinary steps to assist these economies -- for example, from 1947 to 1953, the U.S. and its Allies forgave essentially all of Germany's external debt, an amount estimated at 280% of Germany's GDP. Similarly, the U.S. gave Japan preferential status in trade and economic support, a strategy that worked so well that by 1970s, the U.S. considered Japan an economic threat and sought to open its doors to China as a counterbalance:

"Since the United States restored Japan's sovereignty in 1952, relations between the two nations have evolved in mostly unforeseen ways. For more than a decade after the signing of the San Francisco peace treaty, American policymakers worried that Japan's feeble economy required massive foreign assistance to prevent Tokyo from reaching an accommodation with China or the Soviet Union. The underlying concern, as John Foster Dulles, peace treaty negotiator and, later, secretary of state, often remarked, was that 'unless Japan worked for us ... it will work for the other side.' Unfortunately, Dulles believed, Japanese products had 'little future ... in the United States' since they were just 'cheap imitations of our own goods.' Survival as a member of the free world required that Japan limit trade with China and develop markets in 'underdeveloped areas such as Southeast Asia' under American protection. Much of what follows examines how this nexus of beliefs -- some accurate, some distorted -- fostered cooperation between the United States and Japan while leading to conflict with China, Korea, and Vietnam.

Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru signs the bilateral security treaty with the United States on
September 8, 1951. Secretary of State Dean Acheson (right) and special ambassador
John Foster Dulles stand directly behind him.

"Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the United States urged Japan to play a more forceful role in the cold war, such as expanding its armed forces and assisting American military efforts in Korea and Vietnam. Yet, the more Washington pushed, the more determined to resist these demands Tokyo remained. The ruling Liberal Democrats as well as their Socialist opponents stressed the constitutional prohibition on armed forces, their fear of revived militarism, Japan's economic weakness, and the danger of being dragged into conflict with China or the Soviet Union as reasons for going slow. Despite divisions over domestic priorities, the Liberal Democrats and Socialists forged a tacit alliance to resist American pressure.

"As Yoshida Shigeru, Japan's pivotal postwar prime minister, put it in the early 1950s, rearmament would come some day 'naturally if our livelihood recovers.' It was best to 'let the Americans handle [our security] until then.' Yoshida considered it Japan's 'god-given luck that the constitution bans arms.' He noted the irony that the American-inspired document provided him 'adequate cover' to deflect Washington's demands. Yoshida dismissed politicians who wanted to amend the constitution as 'oafs.' During the past half-century, nearly all Yoshida's successors shunned an activist foreign policy in favor of economic nationalism and commercial expansion made possible by the cold war.

"Takeshita Noboru, a conservative power broker who served as prime minister in 1988-89, remarked that throughout the cold war the 'Liberal Democrats had used the possibility of criticism by the Socialists to avoid unpleasant demands by the United States, such as taking a more active role internationally.' In that sense, 'there was a sort of burden sharing between' the rival parties that Takeshita characterized as 'cunning diplomacy.' And so it was.

"By the early 1970s, the economic pendulum had swung so far in the other direction that American political and business leaders considered Japan's export-driven economy a threat to U.S. security. A member of the Nixon cabinet complained in 1971 that 'the Japanese are still fighting the war,' with the 'immediate intention ... to try to dominate the Pacific and then perhaps the world.' Uncertainty over how to respond to Japan's trade onslaught, along with a desire to enlist Chinese power to contain the Soviet Union and end the war in Vietnam, prompted President Richard Nixon's journey to the People's Republic in 1972. In a remarkably nimble reversal of twenty years of cold war rhetoric, Nixon told Mao Zedong that the United States-Japan Security Treaty protected China from both Soviet and Japanese threats."


Michael Schaller


Altered States: The United States and Japan since the Occupation


Oxford University Press


Copyright 1997 by Oxford University Press


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