World War II represents a series of events that led to the contemporary global society, raised numerous challenges for the cultures, brought many sorrows and defeats, and became a turning point in world history. Different countries experienced various post-war consequences, which depended on which side the nations were on throughout multiple confrontations. Japan was one of the members of Hitler’s coalition and was against the entities supporting communism. As a result, Japan ended up on the losing side of the world-changing war. By the end of 1944, many Japanese officers “knew that the likelihood of victory was becoming remote,” which was followed by the country’s capitulation (Craig 4). This paper aims to investigate the situation in which Japan found itself after the events of World War II and how it influenced its society and culture, economic development, and relationships with other nations.
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Japan went through substantial modifications after the end of World War II. The Potsdam Declaration represented one of the first significant events in the summer of 1945, which officially declared Japan’s unconditional surrender (Office of the Historian). Hence, the signed statement was an ultimatum in nature and implicated the elimination of Japanese powers and militarists’ influence and an immediate occupation of the country’s territories. After the Declaration came into force, the U.S. started to integrate various reforms in political, economic, military, and social sectors, which continued for almost seven years (Office of the Historian). It is possible to say that the occupation period brought new opportunities for the nation. Through rushing attempts by the U.S. to establish democracy, Japan was reborn and achieved new heights. The most robust actions were performed under the Supreme Command of Allied Powers (SCAP) with General MacArthur in charge, which conducted an enormous work of rebuilding the country (Office of the Historian). Japan entered a new phase under the command of foreign forces.
One of the first phases that require careful attention and that serve as a foundation for Japan’s further development is the period from capitulation to 1947. This stage can be characterized by the massive incorporation of war crime trials, Japan’s punishment for militarism, and the dismantling of the Japanese Army (Office of the Historian). In such a way, the Allies who occupied the country were implementing fundamental changes to restructure the nation and introduce new leadership methods.
That period was also critical for the economy because it was the beginning of substantial economic reforms. The land reform proposed by SCAP represented one of the first transformations. The change’s essence was to provide more benefits for tenant farmers and lessen the influence of wealthy landowners (Office of the Historian). One can say that the landowner system’s prevalence was hampering the development of agricultural production, which harmed the whole country’s economy. Thus, the poverty level in that area was extremely high, and social discontent raised numerous conflicts. At the same time, rich landowners were supporters of the Japanese expansionism policy in the 1930s, and many of them advocated for war (Office of the Historian). Consequently, the land reform brought radical transformations to Japan’s agriculture sector, which contributed to the recovery of the post-war economy and social issues.
The first years after World War II in Japan were full of various modifications implemented by the United States. General MacArthur made attempts to break up Japanese business conglomerates aiming to transform the nation’s economy “into a free market capitalist system” (Office of the Historian). One can suggest that those wealthy conglomerates that had enormous power in the pre-war economic activities in Japan also were the ones who were in favor of the war. Thus, it was one of the goals of the occupation administration to liquidate those businesses.
The occupation period’s primary focus was to reconsider the established policies and deliver a new system to the country’s population. One of the stages of reassessing the occupation principles is sometimes called the “reverse course” because Japan’s economic and social rehabilitation became central for SCAP (Office of the Historian). In other words, the country was in a weak position, and communism’s spread during war times deteriorated the situation. There was an urgent need to implement substantial changes and bring Japan to a new level. In combination with the land reform and disassembling business conglomerates, SCAP also introduced various education reforms, tax modifications, and techniques to control the rate of inflation (Office of the Historian). Those strategies were decentralizing the economy of that time and renovating Japan as a nation with new perspectives.
The next essential step in the country’s development was the introduction of a new constitution. In 1947, Allied advisors integrated the constitution to Japan’s leaders, which included multiple profound changes (Office of the Historian). Besides the efforts to eliminate old foundations, the constitutional development was also conditioned by the outside influence, which led to the synthesis of western political culture with the local traditions and institutions.
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Therefore, it is possible to say that one of the goals of establishing the new constitution was to bring stable democracy to Japan. One of the new legislation’s significant provisions was diminishing the emperor’s status and granting more power to the parliamentary system (Office of the Historian). Hence, the emperor lost all of his political and military influence and became a symbol of the government. The new constitution promoted equal wages and higher privileges and rights for women and removed all armed forces of non-defensive nature (Office of the Historian). The occupation forces brought substantial transformations to the economic, social, and political state of Japan. It is also crucial to mention one of the constitution’s parts unique to the country’s essence. Article 9, “peace provision,” became “one of the most innovative features of the document” (Hahm and Kim 814). One can say that peace provision declared the no-war anticipation and forbid the creation and maintenance of armed forces, as mentioned earlier.
So, the situation in post-war Japan was taking various twists under the control of the Allies. Nevertheless, the situation in the global arena was also changing with the tensions growing in the Cold War, which also had a substantial effect on the further course of Japan’s development. The San Francisco Peace Treaty signed by the members of the Grand Alliance and Japan terminated the country’s occupation and officially ended Japan’s state as an imperial power (Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training). It is vital to understand the reasons for a peaceful agreement. First, it was the only possibility for Japan to restore its sovereignty, and the U.S. sort of granted this favor to the country through the treaty (Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training). Consequently, it was a document that allowed Japan to return to its independence and come out of the occupied position with transformed politics, society, and economic reforms.
However, one can say that there were other explanations for why America allowed this agreement and implemented it. Cold War imposed new threats to the U.S., and the nation saw the possibility of making the defeated and occupied country, Japan, their ally (Hara art. 3739). Thus, the United States changed the focus of its politics from establishing democracy in Japan to building a new associate in the face of Japan and strengthening its economy. One of the Political Advisor’s Office members, Richard Finn, stated that the Japanese peace treaty was “the greatest contribution to American diplomacy” (Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training). Hence, under the conditions of tensed confrontation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, America shifted its concentration towards resolving the emerging issues and aimed to keep balance in the occupied territories by the agreement.
The significant aspect of the Treaty was its provisions in terms of the territories and requirements. The final agreement was not signed by the Soviet Union, Poland, and Czechoslovakia because they refused to promise not to do business with China, as it was forced on Japan (Office of the Historian). The fact that the Cold War was in action can explain the decisions of those nations. Moreover, the treaty allowed the U.S. to preserve the bases in Okinawa and other Japanese areas, and Japan was promised to receive bilateral security (Office of the Historian). Through those establishments, the countries both were on the winning sides, and the U.S. could ensure a certain level of support in eliminating the spread of communism in Asia.
Substantial reconstructions in Japan led to further changes after signing the peace treaty. The post-war occupation, with numerous reforms, accelerated the country’s economic growth. The next phase, which Japan entered after the end of the occupation, can be characterized by a robust increase in the economy. From 1945 to 1958, Japan had an average growth rate of around 7%, while it reached more than 9% from 1959 o 1970 (Beckley et al. 1). One can say that this remarkable escalation not only allowed the country to restore its position after the defeat and become one of the most influential economies. Japan’s post-war economic growth is referred to as the Japanese economic miracle (Beckley et al. 2). Different views on the explanations for such rapid growth exist. Some of the scholars argue that it is due to the “considerable state intervention,” while others suggest that “exceptional international circumstances” allowed that acceleration (Beckley et al. 2). It is possible to say that the combination of various conditions led to the economic miracle.
It is crucial to look at the relationships between Japan and the U.S. after the peace agreement. In the early and mid-1950s, the Japan’s economy was still on the low level, and discontent was rising (Beckley et al. 4). Therefore, America realized that its policies did not create a strong alliance with Japan, and it was time to make particular movements and take measures. The situation was that Japan did not consider itself an ally and started to make attempts to fix the relationships with the Soviet Union, also forging links with communist China (Beckley et al. 4). Those events generated tension between the U.S. and Japan, which multiplied the number of worries among American leaders that they were losing their primary associate in that part of the world.
All of this led to the efforts from the U.S. in designing strong collaboration with Japan. Along with other concessions, America opened the possibility to renegotiate the security measures and withdrew many troops from Japanese territories (Beckley et al. 4). One can state that the U.S. showed the desire to maintain robust relationships with Japan and keep it as one of the primary allies. Besides, different economic initiatives to boost economic growth in Japan were introduced. One of America’s primary factors was “the conviction that economic growth by strategic allies would defuse the potential appeal of anticapitalistic ideologies” (Beckley et al. 5). So, it became the foundation for the Japan’s economic miracle discussed above. An extreme growth with thrives in various industrial sectors made Japan one of the most influential nations globally.
In conclusion, the post-war period represents challenging times for numerous countries, and Japan went through different stages after its defeat in World War II. First, the Potsdam Declaration proclaimed Japan’s official surrender and the occupation. This event signalized the beginning of integrating various reforms, which aimed to restore the country’s social, political, and economic state. Some of the primary characteristics, like demilitarization or the land reform, made substantial contributions to Japan’s further development. The San Francisco Peace Treaty also became a significant event in the course of events. Later, Japan went through more transformations, and with its economic miracle, managed to occupy one of the leading spots in the world’s economy.
Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training. “Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship: The 1951 Treaty of Peace with Japan.” Adst,org, 2020. Web.
Beckley, Michael, Yusaku Horiuchi, and Jennifer M. Miller. “America’s Role in the Making of Japan’s Economic Miracle.” Journal of East Asian Studies, vol. 18, no. 1, 2018, pp. 1-21.
Craig, William. The Fall of Japan: The Final Weeks of World War II in the Pacific. Open Road Media, 2015.
Hahm, Chaihark, and Sung Ho Kim. “To Make “We the People”: Constitutional Founding in Postwar Japan and South Korea.” International Journal of Constitutional Law, vol. 8, no.4, 2010, pp. 800-848.
Hara, Kimie. “The San Francisco Peace Treaty and Frontier Problems in the Regional Order in East Asia: A Sixty Year Perspective.” Asia-Pacific Journal, vol. 10, no. 17, 2012, art. 3739.
Office of the Historian. “Occupation and Reconstruction of Japan, 1945-52.” History.state.gov, Web.