Monday, July 13, 2009

Japan 2: Postwar Rebirth

On July 17, 1945, the Allied "Big Three" met for a conference at Potsdam. Germany. That phrase referred to the national leaders of the three main countries who had been allied in the recently-won war against Germany: the United States, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union.

The cast of characters was in flux throughout that year. Franklin Roosevelt, the American president who had represented his country at previous wartime conferences, died three months before the Potsdam Conference. Roosevelt's successor, Harry Truman joined the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, and the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, at Potsdam. Then, Churchill's electorate threw him out of office and, while the conference was going on, he was replaced by Clement Attlee.

Aside from the European matters that required discussion, the conferees discussed plans for bringing the war against Japan to an end. While he was at Potsdam, Truman was informed of the successful atomic bomb test in New Mexico. He told Stalin about it, but it's generally believed that the Soviet leader was already up to speed on the project, via his spy network.

The U.S., U.K. and China issued the Potsdam Declaration, which was an ultimatum to Japan, demanding its surrender. That document hinted at, but did not specifically describe, the atomic bomb:

The might that now converges on Japan is immeasurably greater than that which, when applied to the resisting Nazis, necessarily laid waste to the lands, the industry and the method of life of the whole German people. The full application of our military power, backed by our resolve, will mean the inevitable and complete destruction of the Japanese armed forces and just as inevitably the utter devastation of the Japanese homeland.

But, more to the point of this discussion, the Potsdam Declaration included the following statement describing plans for Japan's postwar domestic political structure:

The Japanese government shall remove all obstacles to the revival and strengthening of democratic tendencies among the Japanese people. Freedom of speech, of religion, and of thought, as well as respect for the fundamental human rights shall be established.

Allied military occupation of Japan, led by the American General Douglas MacArthur, enforced that intent. With the Soviet Union playing a minor role in Japan, democracy was virtually immediately introduced there. That is in stark contrast to Germany, where Soviet involvement delayed the complete implementation of democracy until 1990.

Next: Japan adopts a new constitution, under the watchful eye of the occupying forces.

Image: Truman Library

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