A year into the occupations of Japan and Germany, supporters of World War II should have been having second thoughts -- at least if America then were operating by contemporary rules. In his provocative new book, "Colossus: The Price of America's Empire," historian Niall Ferguson recounts the troubled rebuilding efforts in Japan and Germany that lend perspective to the "disaster" that has been the American occupation of Iraq during the past year.
Has the Bush administration's Iraq occupation been ever-shifting, contradictory, beset by bureaucratic squabbles and undone by events on the ground? So were the occupations of Japan and Germany. Rebuilding a foreign country in the wake of a war is necessarily untidy business, and can only succeed if a wide berth is given for surprises and mistakes.
Ferguson outlines the stark contradictions of our Japan policy: "On the one hand, by a combination of war crimes trials and purges, the Japanese elites were supposed to be cured of their militaristic, undemocratic ways. On the other, MacArthur could not govern Japan without the assistance of the existing Japanese bureaucracy." In the event, only 1 percent of senior Japanese civil servants lost their jobs, so necessary proved their expertise. The echoes of Paul Bremer's on-and-off de-Baathification in Iraq are obvious.
Meanwhile, Japanese reality undercut America's best-laid economic plans. The United States initially sought to weaken the Japanese economy to keep it from ever again funding a military machine and to loosen the grip of huge monopolistic companies. In 1947, more than 300 companies were slated for dissolution. But the need to stoke economic growth to make Japan stronger in light of the budding Cold War waylaid these ideas.
Although purging Japan of its militarism was a significant accomplishment, Japan was hardly made anew, despite our ambitions. As historian John Dower has written, the new Japanese regime was based on a "tripod of big business, bureaucracy and conservative party."
The German occupation had similar fits and starts. As Ferguson puts it: "What was planned did not happen. What happened was not planned."