Washington Post Shows Historical Ignorance

A Washington Post story for tomorrow (Sunday, 14 August) demonstrates spectacular ignorance of American post-war histories, with a dollop of political bias added.

Here is the entire lead paragraph of “Sayonara to Japanese Pacifism?” by Ayako Doi and Kim Willenson:

“In 2002, as the Bush administration prepared to invade Iraq, Washington policymakers reassuringly insisted that once combat was over, they would repeat America's post-World War II occupation success story -- the reformation of Japan. The flaws in that design, though, were twofold: Not only did Iraq turn out to be a very different sort of country, but these days, the success of the postwar remaking of Japan itself seems to be partly unraveling.”

The writers cite no names of policymakers who compared Iraq to Japan. As I and other writers based in history have noted, the proper comparison was to Germany, not Japan. In Japan the Americans made the wise choice not to depose the Emperor. The Emperor, in turn, urged his people to accept and cooperate with the Americans. As a result, there were almost no incidents against General MacArthur’s occupation and reformation of Japan.

On the other hand, in Germany the Nazis created the werewolves to continue the fighting after Germany surrendered and the war officially ended. The werewolves conducted assassinations, sabotage, and attacks on occupying American, French and British troops for two years after the surrender, in May, 1945.

Capable reporters, meaning those with a reasonable education in American history including WW II, would have known the difference between post-war Japan and Germany. Those who don’t, including these two writers, should order on the Internet and read the definitive history of post-war Germany, “The US Army in the Occupation of Germany, 1944-1946,” by Dr. Earl F. Ziemke, now in its fifth edition.

Why did these reporters write this lead paragraph? The article is about Japan reconsidering its pacifism, enshrined in its MacArthur-installed constitution. With a hostile North Korea apparently possessing nuclear weapons, and having already fired a ballistic missile across Japan, such reconsideration makes sense. But the reporters here wanted to take a gratuitous slap at the Bush Administration, so they installed two errors in the lead.

The first was the false comparison of Japan to Iraq. The second was the assumption that Japan’s reconsideration of its military posture in the 21st century somehow indicates a failure of an American occupation that ended in 1948. Did these reporters, and their editors, think that none of their readers would be reasonably educated in post-WW II history?John_Armor@aya.yale.edu