Sheathing the Sword: the demilitarisation of Japan 1945-52

Following Japan's unconditional surrender in August 1945, the Allies imposed on her a constitution by which the people of Japan forever renounced war. But did the Allies thereby succeed in exorcising the dark spectre of Japanese militarism? In Sheathing the Sword the authors trace the fall and rise of militarism in Japan since Hiroshima.

 

The story begins in Washington with a handful of State Department officials who, even as the Marines were struggling bloodily from Guadalcanal to Okinawa, sat bickering over Japan's future. With the surrender the scene shifts to Tokyo for the seven years of the Allied (primarily American) Occupation spearheaded by General Douglas MacArthur. Drawing on original source materials, the authors describe American efforts to demilitarise their former enemy - the 'humanisation' of the god-Emperor; the purge without trial of 200,000 militarists; and the disastrous prosecution, Nuremberg-style, of Hideki Tojo. But, while some Americans were battling to disarm Japan, others were secretly working to preserve the Imperial High Command, as a framework within which to rebuild Japan as an effective ally in the Cold War.

 

By the 1980s Japan had the world's eighth largest arms budget and her critics were scenting a return to militarist ways. The authors assess the capabilities of the unconstitutional 'Self-Defence Forces'; Japan's potential for manufacturing nuclear weapons; her relations with China and the Soviet Union; and the numerous incidents of right-wing fanaticism, of which Mishima's suicide was just one example.

 

Could the Americans succeed in undoing the effects of their own demilitarisation programme? Could they overcome the peace constitution? And, if they did, what would be the cost - to the people of Japan, the Asian region and the rest of the world?

© 2015 Susie Harries