The U.S. Occupation of Japan

and how US-Soviet relations affected it, by Fed Scivittaro

As American occupiers worked to help Japan transition to democracy and independence, the Cold War was beginning. With communism wicking across the Far East, America’s leaders began to see a future alliance with Japan as critical to national security.

--Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken

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At the end of World War II, Japan was in shambles. Its cities had been bombed and burned to the ground, nearly reduced to a "stone age" existence. Its people were starving, tired, demoralized, and fearful. The economy was spent due to wartime production, and the majority of Japanese industry had been totaled. The militarist government of Japan was obsolete, and Emperor Hirohito was hanging on to his position by a thread.

Fast-forward to 1952:

The occupation of Japan is over. The Americans have left on cordial terms with the Japanese, who will become strong allies in the near future. The economy has rebounded and is on its way to incredible growth. A stable, democratic government is in place.

An incredibly successful occupation, to be sure. But how did the fear of communism influence the rebuilding process? And how did Japan contribute to pushing the US and Russia farther apart?

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US-Soviet Wrangling Over Japan

  • The use of the atomic bomb was in part done to end the war before the Soviets got involved (which partly worked)

  • By the end of the war, the Soviets had encroached on North Korea and a few minor Japanese islands like Sakhalin

  • With the Soviets so close, the US saw a Japanese alliance as a paramount deterrent to Communism in the region

  • Therefore, the occupation had to both rebuild Japan AND increase US support within the country at the same time

  • The US also more or less took sole control of the occupation to keep Soviet influence out of Japan, which angered Stalin

  • The US and the Soviets engaged in a battle of propaganda within Japan

  • The US, for its part, allowed free elections and political parties (including Communist parties) to go at it without restriction
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How did a fear of the spread of Communism affect the occupation?

  • fear of Communism in Asia gave the US strong reason to become Japanese allies

  • the US formalized an alliance with Japan in the wake of the Korean War

  • Japanese economic troubles in 1947 led to increased Communist popularity, forcing the US to respond by focusing on economic improvement

  • war crime trials, highly unpopular in Japan, were dissolved for fear of alienating the Japanese and pushing them toward the Soviets

  • Communism in Asia forced the US to shorten their occupation; also made them more lenient toward the Japanese in an effort to gain their support

  • the US expedited the processes of democratization and economic reform in Japan in an effort to avoid a lengthy occupation

  • the process was largely successful, and the threat of communism made Japanese occupation a high priority to the US

Works Cited

Hillenbrand, Laura. Unbroken. London: Fourth Estate, 2011. Print.

"Japan's Modern History: An Outline of the Period | Asia for Educators | Columbia University." Japan's Modern History: An Outline of the Period | Asia for Educators | Columbia University. Columbia University, 1 Jan. 2009. Web. 19 Dec. 2014. <>.

"MacArthur and the Japanese Occupation (1945-1951)." PBS. PBS. Web. 19 Dec. 2014. <>.

"Occupation and Reconstruction of Japan, 1945–52 - 1945–1952 - Milestones - Office of the Historian." Occupation and Reconstruction of Japan, 1945–52 - 1945–1952 - Milestones - Office of the Historian. U.S. Department of State. Web. 19 Dec. 2014. <>.

Smitha, Frank E. "The Occupation of Japan." Macrohistory and World Timeline. Web. 19 Dec. 2014. <>.