by A.B. Abrams for The Saker Blog
Over a year ago I published the book Power and Primacy: The History of Western Intervention in the Asia-Pacific, which was an attempt to fill what I saw as a gap in scholarship on the subject. I found that while several scholars had covered individual cases of Western powers intervening in the region, from David Easter and Geoffrey B. Robinson’s works on the Western-engineered coup and massacres in Indonesia of an estimated 500,000 to 3 million people – to Bruce Cumings and Hugh Deane’s works on the Korean War, there were no major works assessing broader trends and consistencies in Western intervention. Power and Primacy was thus written to show the consistencies in Western designs towards the region and the means used to achieve them over a period of more than 70 years, from the Pacific War which began in 1941 to Western policies towards China and North Korea today.
This month marks the 75th anniversary of the dismantling of the Japanese Empire, and the famous declaration by General Douglas MacArthur that, with the region’s only non-Western military power and the world’s only non-Western naval power now defeated, ‘The Pacific is now an Anglo-Saxon lake.’ While the U.S. and its allies portrayed themselves as a benevolent and democratising force in the region, the darker aspects of East Asia’s time under the new hegemon, which starkly contradict this, have seen very little discussion or coverage. It is notable, for example, that after the Japanese Empire’s fall not only did living standards in southern Korea fall dramatically after it was placed under the rule of an American military government, but mass rapes, the use of comfort women, and serious human trafficking – the very things used by many to justify the American embargo on Japan which had started hostilities in 1941 – not only continued but were expanded under U.S. control. The government of Syngman Rhee, the Princeton-educated Christian radical the U.S. placed in power, killed 2% of its population at the most conservative estimate within five years, placing hundreds of thousands more in concentration camps and exercising a level of brutality not seen even under the Japanese Empire.
With Japan today having seen 75 uninterrupted years with tens of thousands of Western soldiers based on its territory, where they appear set to remain indefinitely, this is a suitable time to reflect on the nature of the relationship between the country and the West – which is very far from that of equal sovereign powers with shared goals and ideals. Evidence for this has ranged from massive involvement of American intelligence in the political process, including funding pro-Western political parties and supporting their election campaigns, to the testimonies of multiple officials. Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, for example, noted regarding his country’s inability to reach a deal with Russia over the Kuril Islands due to an effective American veto over all major foreign policy decisions: “I think it represents a big problem that when making foreign policy decisions, Tokyo is always guided by the United States’ approach. Japan depends on America.” He further stated: “The Japanese media and government… always take America’s side. Tokyo is dependent on the US’ views … Japan will continue to side with America and the G7 countries.” Prime Minister Ichiro Hatoyama, who in the 1950s had also sought to resolve the dispute with Moscow and sign a peace treaty on the basis that Japan would receive two of the four islands, was harshly threatened by the U.S. and was ultimately forced to concede to Washington’s demands not to go through with an agreement. Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori came to a similar conclusion regarding the country’s lack of effective sovereignty in an interview with Russian state media in 2018. 
Beyond these political indicators, however, are more human indicators of the nature of America’s place in post-war Japan which cannot be overlooked, and which contrast very strongly with portrayals in the vast majority of Western media including both documentaries and popular media. An extract from the book Power and Primacy, pages 66-69, given below, recently reached over 3 million viewers on social media and highlighted the true consequences for Japan’s population of subjugation by the United States. The full references are provided in the book itself. Perhaps most importantly, this is not presented as an isolated set of cases of U.S. and Western conduct towards an East Asian population placed under their power – rather it is part of a much wider trend which if anything was considerably more extreme in Vietnam and in both South and North Korea – the latter of which was briefly occupied by U.S. forces in 1950. An understanding of the past is key to comprehending the nature of Western involvement in the Asia-Pacific region today, which is why I found that this project was particularly essential now in light of the ‘Pivot to Asia,’ the North Korean nuclear crisis, the Trump administration’s recent ‘Tech War’ on China and other key events which have increasingly placed the region at the centre of determining the future of world order.
There was a far darker side to the U.S. and allied occupation of Japan, one which is little mentioned in the vast majority of histories – American or otherwise. When Japan surrendered in August 1945, mass rapes by occupying forces were expected… [despite setting up of a comfort women system which recruited or otherwise trafficked desperate women to brothels] such crimes were still common and several of them were extremely brutal and resulted in the deaths of the victims. Political science professor Eiji Takemae wrote regarding the conduct of American soldiers occupying Japan:
‘U.S. troops comported themselves like conquerors, especially in the early weeks and months of occupation. Misbehavior ranged from black-marketeering, petty theft, reckless driving and disorderly conduct to vandalism, assault, arson, murder and rape. Much of the violence was directed against women, the first attacks beginning within hours after the landing of advanced units. In Yokohama, China and elsewhere, soldiers and sailors broke the law with impunity, and incidents of robbery, rape and occasionally murder were widely reported in the press [which had not yet been censored by the U.S. military government]. When U.S. paratroopers landed in Sapporo an orgy of looting, sexual violence and drunken brawling ensued. Gang rapes and other sex atrocities were not infrequent […] Military courts arrested relatively few soldiers for their offences and convicted even fewer, and restitution for the victims was rare. Japanese attempts at self-defense were punished severely. In the sole instance of self-help that General Eichberger records in his memoirs, when local residents formed a vigilante group and retaliated against off-duty GIs, the Eighth Army ordered armored vehicles in battle array into the streets and arrested the ringleaders, who received lengthy prison terms.’
The U.S. and Australian militaries did not maintain rule of law when it came to violations of Japanese women by their own forces, neither were the Japanese population allowed to do so themselves. Occupation forces could loot and rape as they pleased and were effectively above the law.
An example of such an incident was in April 1946, when approximately U.S. personnel in three trucks attacked the Nakamura Hospital in Omori district. The soldiers raped over 40 patients and 37 female staff. One woman who had given birth just two days prior had her child thrown on the floor and killed, and she was then raped as well. Male patients trying to protect the women were also killed. The following week several dozen U.S. military personnel cut the phone lines to a housing block in Nagoya and raped all the women they could capture there – including girls as young as ten years old and women as old as fifty-five.
Such behavior was far from unique to American soldiers. Australian forces conducted themselves in much the same way during their own deployment in Japan. As one Japanese witness testified: ‘As soon as Australian troops arrived in Kure in early 1946, they ‘dragged young women into their jeeps, took them to the mountain, and then raped them. I heard them screaming for help nearly every night.’ Such behavior was commonplace, but news of criminal activity by Occupation forces was quickly suppressed.
Australian officer Allan Clifton recalled his own experience of the sexual violence committed in Japan:
‘I stood beside a bed in hospital. On it lay a girl, unconscious, her long, black hair in wild tumult on the pillow. A doctor and two nurses were working to revive her. An hour before she had been raped by twenty soldiers. We found her where they had left her, on a piece of waste land. The hospital was in Hiroshima. The girl was Japanese. The soldiers were Australians. The moaning and wailing had ceased and she was quiet now. The tortured tension on her face had slipped away, and the soft brown skin was smooth and unwrinkled, stained with tears like the face of a child that has cried herself to sleep.’
Australians committing such crimes in Japan were, when discovered, given very minor sentences. Even these were most often later mitigated or quashed by Australian courts. Clifton recounted one such event himself, when an Australian court quashed a sentence given by a military court martial citing ‘insufficient evidence,’ despite the incident having several witnesses. It was clear that courts overseeing Western occupation forces took measures to protect their own from crimes committed against the Japanese – crimes which were largely regarded as just access to ‘spoils of war’ at the time by the Western occupiers.
As had been the case during the war, underreporting of rapes in peace- time due to the associated shame in a traditional society and inaction on the part of authorities (rapes in both cases occurred when Western militaries were themselves in power) would lower the figures significantly. In order to prevent ill feeling towards their occupation from increasing, the United States military government implemented very strict censorship of the media. Mention of crimes committed by Western military personnel against Japanese civilians was strictly forbidden. The occupying forces ‘issued press and pre-censorship codes outlawing the publication of all reports and statistics “inimical to the objectives of the Occupation.”’ When a few weeks into the occupation Japanese press mentioned the rape and widespread looting by American soldiers, the occupying forces quickly responded by censoring all media and imposing a zero tolerance policy against the reporting of such crimes. It was not only the crimes committed by Western forces, but any criticism of the Western allied powers whatsoever which was strictly forbidden during the occupation period – for over six years. This left the U.S. military government, the supreme authority in the country, beyond accountability. Topics such as the establishment of comfort stations and encouragement of vulnerable women into the sex trade, critical analysis of the black market, the population’s starvation level calorie intakes and even references to the Great Depression’s impact on Western economies, anti-colonialism, pan-Asianism and emerging Cold War tensions were all off limits.
What was particularly notable about the censorship imposed under American occupation was that it was intended to conceal its own existence. This meant that not only were certain subjects strictly off limits, but the mention of censorship was also forbidden. As Columbia University Professor Donald Keene noted: ‘the Occupation censorship was even more exasperating than Japanese military censorship had been because it insisted that all traces of censorship be concealed. This meant that articles had to be rewritten in full, rather than merely submitting XXs for the offending phrases.’ For the U.S. military government it was essential not only to control information – but also to give the illusion of a free press when the press was in fact more restricted than it had been even in wartime under imperial rule.
By going one step further to censor even the mention of censorship itself, the United States could claim to stand for freedom of press and freedom of expression. By controlling the media the American military government could attempt to foster goodwill among the Japanese people while making crimes committed by their personnel and those of their allies appear as isolated incidents. While the brutality of American and Australian militaries against Japanese civilians was evident during the war and in its immediate aftermath, it did not end with occupation. The United States has maintained a significant military presence in Japan ever since and crimes including sexual violence and murder against Japanese civilians continue to occur.”
For Full Manuscript of Power and Primacy
For A. B. Abrams’ upcoming work, scheduled for publication in October 2018, titled Immovable Object: North Koreans 70 Years at War with American Power:
- ‘Indonesia’s killing fields,’ Al Jazeera, December 21, 2012. ‘Looking into the massacres of Indonesia’s past,’ BBC, June 2, 2016. ↑
- Weiner, Time, ‘C. I. A. Spent Millions to Support Japanese Right in 50’s and 60’s,’ New York Times, October 9, 1994. ↑
- ‘Stationing American troops in Japan will lead to bloody tragedy – ex-PM of Japan,’ RT, (televised interview), November 6, 2016. ↑
- ‘Ex-Japan FM: I Told Putin We Follow U.S. Policy as We’re Surrounded by Nuke States,’ Sputnik, May 22, 2018. ↑