In 1951, U.S. President Truman relieved General Douglas MacArthur of his post as Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) in post-World War II Japan. No one initially knew about his departure except for a few high ranking Japanese officials. However, when General MacArthur left the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, he discovered over 200,000 people standing on both sides of the road to the airport cheering him as he departed.
MacArthur (January 26, 1880 – April 5, 1964) was an American five-star general and field marshal of the Philippine Army. During World War II, he played a prominent role in the Pacific Theater.
Watch this video of General MacArthur’s departure from Japan and subsequent arrival in the U.S.:
On August 30, 1945, when General MacArthur arrived in Japan to oversee the formal surrender ceremony and to organize the postwar Japanese government, he did so without a formal entrance or a grand victory parade. Rather, when he landed at Atsugi Airport, he simply proceeded by car to the U.S. headquarters in nearby Yokohama.
Along the way, tens of thousands of Japanese soldiers lined the road, their bayonets fixed on him. One last act of defiance — for there was a real terror in their hearts, as most expected subjugation. However, over the next six years, General MacArthur brought peace, justice, and democracy to the Japanese people.
This video is of the final stages of the war in the Pacific and General MacArthur’s subsequent arrival in Japan:
After the war, Japan was a devastated nation. Its infrastructure and economy were all but destroyed, diseases were rampant, and hunger engulfed its people. Faced with this dire situation upon his arrival, General MacArthur exerted pressure on the U.S. government to immediately assist Japan; which replied with 3.5 million tons of food and $2 billion dollars of emergency aid.
General MacArthur not only retained the Japanese government, but also withstood pressure from some in the U.S. by forgiving Emperor Hirohito. He also responded to the millions of demobilized Japanese soldiers arriving back home by providing them with the means to be quickly re-integrated into civilian society.
After responding to the immediate needs of the Japanese people, General MacArthur next ordered the release of thousands of political prisoners, including members of the Communist Party. General MacArthur also lifted government-imposed censorship, allowing for freedom of the press and expression for the first time in the nation’s history.
This video is from the immediate aftermath of the war and General MacArthur’s social and political reforms:
On October 4, 1945, during a meeting with MacArthur, a high-ranking Japanese cabinet member had asked whether the supreme commander had any instructions “about the make-up of the government;” however, the translator had mistakenly used the word “constitution” for “make-up,” leaving the official thinking that MacArthur had commissioned him to draft a new constitution.
When the Japanese presented their efforts in early February 1946, MacArthur rejected them as “nothing more than a rewording of the old Meiji constitution.” MacArthur then took matters into his own hands, ordering his government section to draft a document themselves. Staff member Beate Sirota Gordon, then in her early twenties, still remembers the day well:
“And one morning I came in…, it was ten a.m. and General Whitney [head of the government section] called us into a meeting room. It was too small for all of us. Some of us had to stand because there were about 25 of us. And he said, “You are now a constituent assembly.” You can imagine how we felt. “And you will write the Japanese constitution.
“You will write a draft and it will have to be done in a week.” Well, I mean, we were stunned of course. But, on the other hand, when you’re in the army and you get an order, you just do it. You just go ahead.”
Mrs. Gordon then recounts how she raced around the still-decimated Tokyo in a jeep, collecting all of the foreign constitutions she could find to provide models for the new “constituent assembly.”
The new constitution acknowledged the emperor as the head of state; however, he was stripped of any real power. A bicameral legislature with a weak upper chamber was established, and all rights of peerage were removed, with the exception of the Imperial family.
There were 39 articles that dealt with what MacArthur called “basic human liberties.” Not only did they include most of the American Bill of Rights, but also universal adult suffrage, labor’s right to organize, and a host of marriage and property rights for women.
But the most unique and one of the most important provisions came in Article 9, which outlawed the creation of armed forces and the right to make war. In early March after negotiations, Japanese officials accepted the American draft with only minor revisions. What may have helped was General Whitney’s comment:
“If the cabinet (was) unable to prepare a suitable and acceptable draft… General MacArthur (was) prepared to lay this statement of principle directly before the people”
With guidance from General MacArthur’s staff, the government also established basic reforms regarding education. The reforms stripped the administration of Japan’s public school system away from the central government by establishing publicly elected boards of education. The selection of teachers, textbooks, and courses was now entirely up to the discretion of the people.
This video tells the experiences of the Japanese people after the war:
The seven years of governance under General MacArthur completely changed the socioeconomic structure of Japan by transferring state sovereignty from autocrats to the hands of the Japanese people, triggering fundamental reforms.
Ten years after General MacArthur’s departure, Japan emerged as the world’s second largest economy, with national prosperity, tremendous wealth, and social stability. On the morning that General MacArthur was scheduled to leave Japan, Emperor Hirohito arrived at the U.S. embassy to say good-bye. With tears in his eyes, MacArthur held the hands of his friend tightly.
At the time, Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida said of General MacArthur:
“General MacArthur, you have saved us from the fear of panic, uneasiness, and chaos by leading us down the path of post-war reconstruction and recovery. You have spread the seeds of democracy in every corner of our country and paved the way for peace. There are no words can express the feelings of the Japanese people.”
Translated by Yi Ming and edited by David Clapp.
Subscribe to our weekly email