Cabbages and Kings
This morning, five years after they bombed Pearl Harbor, the Japanese people are going to the polls in a democratically conducted election under the tutelage of an Allied occupation. The election, and especially the bored but watchful GIs who will be in charge, are symbolic of phases of the occupation that have been all too soon forgotten in America, where geisha houses, fraternization, and the war crimes trials are the bulk of newspaper coverage of Japan. To fill this gap in our knowledge, presumably, "Life" last week spewed forth a "Report on Japan" by a Senior writer called Busch. Sweeping his eyes quickly over the Japanese scene and General MacArthur's office, the Senior Writer concludes that the occupation is "sensationally successful"--nothing at all is lacking, no mistakes have been made, and everything will be all right.
"Senationally successful" is probably a fair evaluation of the occupation, as occupations go. But anyone who has watched it steadily at close range or has studied it thoroughly can see grave defeats, in present tendencies as well as recent mistakes. Those first, clean-sweeping, dragon-slaying days of '45 are over, and since the re-introduction of some self-government in Japan a retrogressive policy that comes of wild fear of Russia has been in evidence.
The initial measures, once de-armament was accomplished, were refreshing abolitions and reforms. The democratic leaders and groups so long in either prison or retirement, began to reappear. But at the same time a pervasive fear of Russia was growing among American military and civilian officials. Many went so far as to adopt the idea, beloved of Japanese die-hard militarists, of Japan as an American Gibraltar against Rusia. At very least, the Soviets became suspect of designs on Japan; all communist, and indeed all leftist, activity in the country was seen as Russian-inspired, and Russian interest that paralleled our own began to look like espionage.
When MacArthur planned to hold the first free elections to the Diet (lower house) last spring, Russian representatives on the advisory Allied Council objected. Holding that carly elections would play into the hands of the old, machine, rightist parties and candidates, they asked for postponement. MacArthur went ahead anyway. As the Atlantic Monthly says, "held too soon, the election... put back into power the old industrial, banking, and conservative interests... which had in fact organized the sinews of war." Their Diet has slowed down reform, and left-wing parties are resorting in disgust to demonstrations and strikes while the legislators haggle about female succession to the throne.
Meetings of the Allied Council, meanwhile, grow more farcical daily. Every suggestion of the Russian representatives is taken as a personal insult by George Atcheson, U. S. Delegate, who cries "Communist propaganda" at Russian suggestions which the British, even, are willing to accept.
In fine, the United States is suceumbing to its favorite occupational disease. Afraid to death of Russia and Communism we have supported rightist governments everywhere. By failing, however, to offer a dynamic, democratic program to counter Communism, we discourage liberals and left-wingers and thereby encourage Communism. We did it in Italy, we are doing it in the Philippines, China, and Japan. The last is the most inexcusable; for there we started clean, have a growing democratic consciousness to work with, and are muffing the opportunity. In common opposition to Russia, Mr. Atcheson is now lined up with the same Japanese who lined up with Tojo five years age this morning.