General MacArthur and How He Changed the Nation of Japan

General Douglas MacArthur.
General Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War. (Image: via Wikimedia Commons)

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 General Macarthur’s 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.:

General Macarthur’s arrival in Japan

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.

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.

The constitution

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:

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:

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.

The seven years of governance under General MacArthur completely changed the socio-economic 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 goodbye. With tears in his eyes, MacArthur held the hands of his friend tightly.

At the time, Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida said of General MacArthur:

Whether you think he was one of the greatest soldiers in American history or not, the point is how he treated defeated nations, and how he converted them into loyal allies.

Translated by Yi Ming and edited by David Clapp

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