Monday, March 17, 2014

Japan - The Empire

When we first started seeing the signs in both China and Japan we could not tell the difference between the Chinese characters and Japanese characters.  Both appeared similar at first, very intricate and seemingly complicated.  Now we have a much better appreciation of their unique visual characteristics.  Unlike the Chinese characters, of which there are over 4,000, the Japanese actually have a 51 letter alphabet.  The Japanese words are spelled out, much like in English only with more intricate character letters.  The Chinese characters are representative of more complex thoughts.  For example, three characters might take the place of two sentences written in English.  Very few Chinese citizens know all 4,000 characters but by the ninth grade, they have learned the meaning of up to 2,000 of them and can more than get by.  Don’t ask me why, but I just think that is fascinating.

O.K. so I promised we would talk a bit about the Occupation Period of Japanese history.  World War II ended badly for the Japanese.  The official surrender occurred on 9/2/45 aboard the aircraft carrier Missouri, which, ironically, was flying the same flag from Commodore Perry’s warship that had entered Tokyo Harbor 92 years earlier in search of trade agreements.  By that time over three million Japanese soldiers and civilians had been killed, most of the major cities had been destroyed and nine million were homeless.  Nearly 65 % of all urban homes had been destroyed and 35 % of all rural homes as well.  250,000 Allied troops had entered Japan by 8/28/45 and the occupation was underway.

At the Potsdam Conference, British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill; President Franklin Roosevelt and Russian Prime Minister Joseph Stalin met to determine Japan’s fate.  It was decided that Japan would be under extended military occupation, that they would be required to pay reparations to the countries they invaded and fought against and that democratization of their society would be accomplished.

General Douglas MacArthur was brought out of retirement and, despite few qualifying credentials and no involvement in the creation of the policies to be implemented, was appointed Commander of Allied Occupation Forces.

In short, a Constitution was drafted which called for the reformation of civil law, the economy, the education system and police activities.  Rearmament was forbidden and the right to solve future differences with other nation by declaring war was abolished forever.  The Emperor was retained in a form of constitutional monarchy but most other cultural norms were changed.  The Constitution established equality of the sexes, the right to inherit property and totally revamped civil legislation.  In the first free election, which occurred in 1946, women were given the vote and 3,000 candidates from dozens of different parties competed for 466 legislative seats in the Parliament and courts.  The Zaibatsu, those vertically integrated industrial giants of production, marketing and finance I mentioned last time, were systematically dissolved.  The families were given bonds for their interest in these companies, but the economy was struggling and those bonds ended up being worth a fraction of the original value.  There was 500 % inflation in 1946 and up another 335 % in 1946.

All land was subject to mandatory confiscation and then redistributed.  85 % of the land went to the peasants and over 5 million acres changed hands.  Three million tenant farmers became landowners virtually overnight.  There was massive educational reform.  In 1945 there were only 20 colleges in Japan.  By 1952 there were over 200 with compulsory education through the 9th grade.  Despite the ban on military force, a 75,000 man “police force” was authorized and without central control.

The world wanted to punish Japan for not only provoking the war and their aggressive occupation of the majority of the Pacific Rim countries but for the brutality with which they did it.  Even Japanese citizens were angry at the actions and behavior of their military.  An example:  only 6 % of prisoners of war died in German prison camps, while over 27 % died in Japanese prison camps.  This led to The Purges. 

During The Purges there were three levels of war crimes that were tried in the courts.  Category “A” represented bringing the major criminals who were responsible for the war to justice.  This included General Tojo, who was blamed for the war instead of the Emperor.  Category “B” represented individuals responsible for general war crimes against humanity.  Category “C” represented individuals who failed to prevent those same general war crimes against humanity.  In May, 1946 twenty-eight individuals were charged with Category A war crimes.  After a 31 month trial, Tojo and seven others were sentenced to death and 21 got life sentences.  In Categories B and C, 2,700 were indicted, 984 were sentenced to death and 475 received life sentences without possibility for parole although some terms were later reduced.

By 1948 President Truman wanted MacArthur to cut occupation costs and focus on fiscal, monetary and economic policy changes.  The trust busting stopped and the economy improved.  The Korean War was good for Japan as America pumped money into military bases and signed long-term leases for those bases.  Through a series of peace treaties signed with the U.S. and other countries, Japan was able to not only recover from the war but build an economy that became the envy of the world.  Almost against all predictions and odds, Japan, not China, became the United States primary Asian ally.

Next up, Hiroshima.  All I can say is….NOT TO BE MISSED!  Until then,

God Bless you all.

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