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Soldier of God: MacArthur’s Attempt to Christianize Japan (review)

From: The Journal of Japanese Studies
Volume 39, Number 1, Winter 2013
pp. 168-172 | 10.1353/jjs.2013.0005

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In recent years, historical writing on the postwar occupation of Japan by the United States has been dominated by a critique of U.S. actions in Japan. From John Dower’s powerful and penetrating analysis to other critiques of U.S. treatment based on gender and racial superiority, historians have attacked the American effort. In the midst of this proliferation of works emphasizing U.S. hegemony and the limitations of the occupation, the generally positive result of the occupation has been lost. In the broad scope of the history of military occupations worldwide, the Allied occupation of Japan was a tremendous success. Both the Japanese and Americans very quickly put aside the fierce race war they waged against one another and cooperated in rebuilding Japan. The Japanese people made great sacrifices in acquiescing to the occupation. Finally, the Americans aggressively reformed Japan, resulting in a prosperous and peaceful Japan with relatively few lingering resentments. Which brings us back to two enduring questions of the occupation: why did the Japanese people accept it so readily, and why did the Americans punish the Japanese so lightly while reshaping Japan? Ray Moore’s Soldier of God, while not focused directly on these questions, gives us a new context to address them.

Even after so much study, these questions still have the power to shape research agendas and to produce new ideas and new scholarship on Japan. This is partly because their transnational scope is very large, focused not just upon Japan but also on the role of Americans and their ideas and agenda for Japan. The success of the occupation became an affirmation of American self-identity, and this fueled interest in an American success story, unlike so many other occupations in which the victor brutally punished the vanquished and the defeated power resisted the will of the victor.

Japan’s ready acceptance of its defeat and of U.S. hegemony over it led to a postwar era of peace for Japan. This stability under U.S. dominance created conditions for Japan’s unprecedented economic growth and economic development in other parts of Asia and has led commentators to name the twenty-first century the Pacific Century for the stunning success of the Asian economies. While it would be an overstatement to suggest that Asian prosperity stems from the Allied occupation, it is undeniable that the success of the occupation in Japan laid the groundwork for later achievements in Japan and elsewhere in Asia.

The answers to the puzzle of this cooperative occupation range from traditional political analyses pointing to the U.S. decision to allow the Japanese government to continue to rule under American supervision to Japanese war exhaustion to a gender hierarchy under which Americans supposedly assumed the male superior pose and the Japanese a female condition of submission. Nevertheless, there are problems with each of these answers. Political continuity under U.S. rule might have been a recipe for long-term stability but it also hindered the growth of Japanese democracy. War exhaustion on its own is not an adequate explanation because there have been other occupations where the loser was exhausted and yet there was open resistance to the occupation. Think of the aftermath of the American Civil War when the South, on the brink of collapse, openly resisted Congressional Reconstruction and forced a military occupation by the North. The gender argument is theoretical and therefore difficult to prove or disprove.

Another potential explanation, the role of religious connections between the United States and Japan, has received little scholarly attention. This is changing with Ray Moore’s new book Soldier of God, a study of General Douglas MacArthur’s interest in Christianizing Japan and the role of Christianity generally in the occupation. More of an introductory examination of the role of American Christianity and MacArthur than the final word, Moore’s work nonetheless offers a new explanation for U.S. and Japanese cooperation in the occupation.

Moore uses Christianity’s prewar history in Japan to bring context to the postwar story. But the significance of prewar Christianity is much more than just background, and Moore is less successful in laying the groundwork in the prewar period. His prewar discussion...



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