Sunday, September 27, 2009

Bread or bullets: MacArthur in Japan

Jed Graham of Investor's Business Daily called last week to do a short interview about General Douglas MacArthur's role in the post-WWII reconstruction of Japan - a topic that Donna and I wrote about in our book, No Substitute for Victory: Lessons in Strategy and Leadership from General Douglas MacArthur (FT/Prentice Hall, 2005). Jed did a great job on the article. Here it is:

Gen. Douglas MacArthur Rose To Put Japan On Its Lofty Path by Jed Graham, Investor's Business Daily, posted 09/25/2009 07:22 PM ET

Three days before he accepted Japan's surrender on the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay, Gen. Douglas MacArthur landed at the Atsugi naval air station without big guns to intimidate a still-armed enemy.

Convinced the Japanese would honor the surrender and determined to set the right tone for the American occupation, MacArthur ignored the warnings of his fearful staff that he would be an easy target.

"While conventional wisdom might suggest that the United States enter Japan in force and prepared for treachery, MacArthur felt that peace could be attained more rapidly by a show of confidence," Harry Maihafer wrote in "Brave Decisions: Profiles in Courage and Character from American Military History."

Winston Churchill would later call MacArthur's landing "accompanied by only a small force of troops, and in the face of several million Japanese soldiers who had not yet been disarmed" the most impressive feat by any commander in the war.

MacArthur's strategic gambit reflected a grasp of the challenge he would face as supreme commander of Allied powers (SCAP) in Japan from 1945 to 1951. He knew that occupations rarely went smoothly. Centralized command threatened the people's self-governance and self-confidence.

Uplifting Aim
Upon his arrival after the surrender, the Army five-star assured the Japanese that his top concern was "not how to keep Japan down, but how to get her on her feet again."

And because the locals quickly accepted his word, his direction of the occupation stands out as an unparalleled success.

In a few short years, MacArthur (1880-1964) made changes that would transform Japan from a militaristic society facing economic devastation into a thriving democracy whose nonaggressive posture remains enshrined in its constitution.

MacArthur jumped into action. Contradicting Washington's post-surrender directive to avoid involvement in Japan's economic rehabilitation, he moved fast to ameliorate a rising food crisis.

"One of the first things I did was to set up our Army kitchens to help feed the people," he wrote in "Reminiscences." "Had this not been done, they would have died by the thousands."

His finger firmly on Japan's pulse, MacArthur forbade his forces to eat local food and had 3.5 million tons of Army food supplies in the Pacific moved to the island nation.

"The effect was instantaneous," he wrote. "The Japanese authorities changed their attitude from one of correct politeness to one of open trust," and a once-dubious press voiced "unanimous praise."

MacArthur's tactical moves furthered his strategic goals.

When Congress demanded that MacArthur justify the expense of shifting food to Japan, he said an occupation's goal must be extending victory, not presiding over defeat.

"Starvation breeds mass unrest, disorder and violence," he cabled Washington. Give me bread or give me bullets."

MacArthur understood that the most effective way to maximize his influence was by aligning the interest of potential rivals with his goals.

Unlike the occupation of Germany — divided between Western and Soviet zones of authority — MacArthur had the advantage of presiding over a unified Japan. But that wasn't initially an assured outcome.

When Gen. Kuzma Derevyanko, head of the Soviet mission, insisted that his forces occupy the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, MacArthur made it personal.

"If a single Soviet soldier enters Japan without my authority, I shall at once throw the entire Russian mission into jail, beginning with you, General," he threatened.

As 1945 drew to a close, MacArthur faced another threat to his sway over the occupation. Pressure from Allies who wanted a say in policy toward Japan culminated in the Moscow Agreement that gave the major powers a veto over directives involving constitutional structure.

At the crux was how to handle Japan's imperial institution. While MacArthur believed that the institution must be reformed and demythologized, the Allies were bent on trying Hirohito as a war criminal.

Going after the emperor, MacArthur believed, would cut to the heart of his strategic approach and fuel a rebellion. He warned Washington that 1 million troops would be needed, not the current 350,000.

Determined to head off a disaster in the making, MacArthur lit a fire under his occupation staffers.

His orders: Draft a Japanese Constitution in six days.

Why the haste? He had to strike before the newly empowered Far East Commission had time to organize and issue demands.

MacArthur outlined key principles for the constitution:
• The emperor would remain head of state, but his duties would be governed by the constitution and be responsive to the will of the people.
• Japan would renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation.
• The budget should be patterned after Britain's system.

Nine days later, Maj. Gen. Courtney Whitney presented to Japan's Cabinet members the document that provided essential freedoms to the Japanese and rendered the emperor "practically unassailable."

Whitney, a tough lawyer, didn't bother with a soft sell. He argued that embracing the American draft was the Cabinet's "only hope of (political) survival," because MacArthur would otherwise publish it and give the Japanese people a choice.

While going public would have sparked a backlash from the Allies, the Cabinet members didn't test whether MacArthur was bluffing. They acquiesced, and the Japanese Constitution that took effect in 1947 with slight revisions has gone six decades without amendment.

In an essay in "MacArthur and the American Century: A Reader," Japanese historian Ikuhiko Hata wrote that radical Japanese military officers organized an underground movement to resist the occupation through guerrilla war once the emperor system was outlawed. With MacArthur keeping Hirohito in place, "they
abandoned the project within a year," Hata wrote.

MacArthur's success depended not only on realpolitik, but also high ideals. The Japanese people "really were impressed with a man who was a man of war, who comes in and says ... 'You must become a nation of peace. This is how you can become a beacon in the world. You can become the Switzerland of Asia,'" John Dower, author of "Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II," told

Among MacArthur's earliest initiatives was directing Japan's leaders to enact women's suffrage, freedom of speech, unionization and the release of political prisoners.

MacArthur offered "a higher vision of the nation and what it could achieve that gave the Japanese something to rally around," said Theodore Kinni, co-author of "No Substitute for Victory: Lessons in Strategy and Leadership From General Douglas MacArthur."

At the same time, "he had a very practical approach to getting these things done," Kinni told IBD. "There was always this kind of back and forth."

When newly empowered unions threatened a national strike in 1947, MacArthur prohibited it. When Japanese leaders showed little inclination to reform their constitution, he gave them a shove.

Understanding the limits of his power to change Japan, MacArthur pushed through — but did not order — changes in a way that "reinforced the Japanese government's legitimacy (in) a masterful performance," Lt. Col. David Cavaleri wrote in "Easier Said Than Done: Making the Transition Between Combat Operations and Stability Operations."

Getting Buy-In
Wrote MacArthur: "Nothing that was good in the new Japanese government was going to be done because I imposed it."

He instructed his staff to "scrupulously avoid interference with Japanese acts merely in search for a degree of perfection we may not even enjoy in our own country."

He turned the odds in his favor by giving Japan's citizens a clear stake in the nation's — and the occupation's — success.

One reform MacArthur proposed was to democratize farmland ownership. He required absentee landlords to sell, with the government making the land available at a fixed price with low, long-term interest rates.

"Land reform is seen as the single most important factor for quelling rural discontent and promoting political stability in the early postwar period," James Dobbins wrote in "America's Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq."

MacArthur's Keys
As Allied commander in Japan from 1945 to 1951, he engineered the country's turnaround from a battered militaristic society into a thriving democracy.

"There is no security on this earth; there is only opportunity."

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Derailing healthcare reform

It seems crystal clear that a country that ranks first in healthcare costs and 37th in overall health system performance urgently needs healthcare reform. But based on the spam I've been getting, it's also pretty clear that the so-called debate over reform is setting new lows for public discourse. Death panels? Gimme a break!

The campaign against healthcare reform reminds me of this quote from Richard White's biography of Huey Long, Kingfish: The Reign of Huey P. Long(Random House, 2006):

In order to succeed, a mass movement must be superficial for quick appeal, fundamental for permanence, dogmatic for certainty, and practical for workability.
That seems to define the movement to derail reform in a nutshell and I can't help but believe that it is being orchestrated and financed by commercial interests. Follow the money, right?

By the way, Long's biographer found the quote in a 1935 Saturday Evening Post article published shortly after Long's assassination. It was spoken by a guy named Gerald L.K. Smith, a preacher who had a hankering for political power. He helped Long organize the Share Our Wealth Society, a scheme to take from the rich and give to the poor that Long cooked up during the Great Depression, which Smith tried to take over after Long was killed. Smith was a pro-Nazi white supremacist and a virulent anti-Semite who opposed labor unions. Unfortunately, like insurance companies and healthcare providers, he also knew how to get other people to do his bidding.