Japan: Conquered Nation To World Power

Author: Wallbank;Taylor;Bailkey;Jewsbury;Lewis;Hackett
Date: 1992

Japan: Conquered Nation To World Power


After 1945 the old European empires disappeared, replaced by over 80 new
countries. These new states, primarily located to the south of the European
powers, were born into a difficult environment, buffeted by the Cold War and
economic upheavals. As of the last decade of the millennium, the "South"
contained most of the world's expanding population and grim challenges.

In east Asia, Japan recovered from its postwar devastation to become a
center of world finance. China participated in Cold War episodes from Korea to
Vietnam and fought its own ideological battles before entering a period of
rapid modernization after 1978. Indochina's fate was bound up in a series of
bloody, devastating proxy wars.

In the rest of Asia and in Africa, nations freed themselves from the yoke
of European dominance, but independence unleashed powerful ethnic and
religious antagonisms, most of which remain unresolved. Great power
intervention in the Middle East and in Africa exacerbated an already difficult
situation and led to increased bloodshed.

More than Cold War tensions, economic upheavals have affected the Latin
American states. The region's accumulation of massive debts and its dependence
on the export of oil or agricultural products left it at the mercy of the
North Atlantic powers. This economic domination provided a rich opportunity
for revolutionaries in Cuba and Nicaragua who profited from the obvious
exploitation of the population.

At the end of the twentieth century, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and
Singapore competed effectively in the world arena. Other countries, such as
Brazil, India, China, and Zimbabwe, showed signs of potential strength.
However, the vast majority of the nations of the "South" remain trapped by the
cruel forces of poverty and overpopulation.

Japan: Conquered Nation To World Power

On August 28, 1945, nineteen days after the atomic bomb was dropped at
Nagasaki, an advance party of 150 Americans, the lead group of a substantial
army of occupation, landed on Japan. Supreme Commander General Douglas
MacArthur soon arrived to preside over Japan's transition from one military
authority to another.

Postwar Japan

The terms of armistice took all territory outside the four main islands
away from Japan and imposed complete demilitarization on the Japanese. Key
wartime military leaders were placed on trial, and General Tojo, along with
six colleagues, was executed. Other militarist governmental and business
leaders were blocked from postwar activities. For a while, industries were
dismantled for reparations, but this practice was soon stopped.

In return, the allies gave aid to rebuild the shattered economy, while
insisting on democratic institutions in the government and society. The new
education system was based on the American pattern of decentralized public
schools, with textbooks rewritten to delete militant nationalism. A land
reform policy intended to reduce tenancy and absentee landlordism was
introduced. Unions gained the right of collective bargaining, and their
membership grew rapidly. American authorities tried with limited success to
reduce the great concentration of wealth in the hands of monopolistic
industries, the zaibatsu.

A new constitution, drafted in consultation with the occupation
government, came into effect in May 1947. It set up a democratic, two-house
parliamentary-cabinet system in which the majority party selected the prime
minister. Sovereignty rested in the people; the emperor, forced to renounce
his divinity, was referred to as "the symbol of state." No limitations were
placed on voting because of income or sex. War was renounced as a sovereign
right and "land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential will
never be maintained."

As a result of the Cold War in Europe and the communist invasion of South
Korea in 1950-1957, Japan became the United States' principal ally in the
Pacific. Despite Soviet opposition and without the participation of the USSR,
a peace treaty was signed in 1951 and went into effect the next year, giving
Japan full sovereignty. A security pact between Japan and the United States
allowed Americans to station troops in Japan.

Political And Social Change

Since 1945 conservatives have consistently, with the exception of two
brief periods, controlled the Japanese government. In 1955 two conservative
parties merged to form the Liberal Democratic party, which was friendly to the
west, favored modest rearmament, and backed the alliance with the United
States. Based on professional civil servants and business interests, it was
sufficiently strong to endure periodic charges of corruption. The Socialist
party, the major opposition, demanded nationalization of industry, opposed the
1947 security pact, and favored neutrality in foreign affairs. The small
Communist party was vocal but weak.

The new system was flexible enough to absorb the radical transformation
Japan has experienced in the past half century. Rapid urbanization posed the
greatest challenges. Rural areas lost population while city populations - and
consequent environmental problems - skyrocketed. With more than 11 million
people, Tokyo became the largest urban area in the world. Three great
concentrations of industry and population clustered around Tokyo, Osaka, and
Nagoya occupy only 1 percent of the country's land area but contain over
one-fourth of the country's population.

In the cities traditional values and attitudes have changed. Parental
authority and family ties weakened as young married couples, forsaking the
traditional three-generation household, set up their own homes. The stresses
and strains of urbanization were reflected in student riots and in the
appearance, for the first time in Japanese history, of juvenile delinquency.
Western influence - seen in fashions, television, sports, and beauty contests
and heard in rock music - clashed with the traditional culture.

Perhaps the greatest changes are those affecting women. Before World War
II there was little opportunity for Japanese women outside the family. After
1945 they gained the right to own property, sue for divorce, and pursue
educational opportunities. By the end of the 1980s, women constituted nearly
50 percent of the nation's work force, and more than 30 percent of women high
school graduates attended post-secondary institutions.

Economic Dominance

Japan faced serious obstacles in its path to economic development. It had
to import much of the food for its growing population (123 million by 1990)
and most of the raw materials for its industries. The Korean war gave Japan an
initial boost, as the American troops made large purchases. In 1950 the gross
national product (GNP) was $10 billion; by 1973, it had risen to $300 billion.
The 1973 oil embargo and subsequent price increases of more than 400 percent
by all of the OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) producers
severely affected Japan. Inflation skyrocketed, economic growth plunged, and
for a while the balance of trade was negative.

Japan's business managers made the necessary adjustments for recovery. By
the end of the 1970s the Japanese built half the world's tonnage in shipping
and had become the world's biggest producer of motorcycles, bicycles,
transistor radios, and sewing machines. The Japanese soon outpaced the United
States in automobile production and drove the American domestic television
industry virtually out of business. By the 1990s, the Japanese boasted one of
the world's strongest economies. Japan's per capita GNP was nearly $22,000 -
compared to the U.S. per capita GNP of $19,800. After the October 1987 stock
market slide, Tokyo became the world financial center, dominating banking.

In the late 1980s the Japanese began to watch uneasily as South Korea,
Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore using the Japanese formula of a strong and
disciplined work force and efficient use of new technology, became effective
competitors in the world market. South Korea especially launched a direct
challenge to Japan in high-technology and automotive markets.

 

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