Sunday, January 17, 2010

General MacArthur, the Philippines, and Japan

I just finished posting my notes on Ameican Caesar, a biography of Douglas MacArthur by William Manchester. This is part of my Asian War book project. So the notes are not particularly for military buffs, or MacArthur history junkies. They reflect my interest in the historic relations (mainly war) between the United States and the nations of Asia.

General MacArthur's story is most relevant to the history of the Philippines. His father, Arthur MacArthur, Jr., would now be classified as a war criminal by any fair-minded person. The U.S. invaded a nation, which is a war crime, and Douglas MacArthur killed both Filipono independence fighters, and civilians, for daring to not go along with the conquest. The Filipino upper class, themselves exploiters of their lower classes, were happy to collaborate with American occupiers just as they had collaborated with Spain. When Douglas MacArthur in turn became military commander of the Philippines he had good relations with these upper-class Filipinos. Guerrilla insurgents were a minor problem for America by the 1930s.

Before World War II every Asian nation had an independence movement. All these movements felt betrayed by the League of Nations, which was dominated by the British Empire and which, in practice, supported "national self-determination" only in white-majority nations. U.S. presidents often used independence rhetoric, but always supported colonial powers like Britain, France, and the Netherlands in practice. Of the Asian nations only Japan was truly independent. China was a particular trouble spot. It had numerous governments, including one run under Japanese protection and the government (if you can call it that) of Chiang Kai-shek, who was essentially an American puppet, but whose government really was just a collection of war lords.

MacArthur's job was to defend the Philippines against Japan. Because the U.S. had about ten times the industrial capacity of Japan, President Franklin Roosevelt knew that Japanese civilian leaders did not want war with the U.S. By insulting and bullying Japan, however, Roosevelt was able to bring the Japanese military leaders to greater influence. If Japan had not gone to war, the U.S. would have been in a position to take over Japan and China at a minimal cost.

Men like Roosevelt and MacArthur were, however, overconfident of easy victory. They were shocked by the successful military strategy and tactics of Japan in the opening days of the war. The Japanese quickly liberated Vietnam from the French, the Philippines from America, the British from Singapore and Burma, and the Dutch from the East Indies (later Indonesia). The problem for the Japanese was that they probably needed another decade of eocnomic development to make this new "Co-prosperity" sphere into something that could stand up to the imperialist powers in a war. In America, even before Pearl Harbor, planes, tanks, and war ships were rolling off assembly lines in numbers the Japanese could not match. Only the need to train new recruits and to send most military material to help the British Empire fight the new German Empire prevented the U.S. from quickly kicking the Japanese out of their new possessions.

Within two years of Pearl Harbor, U.S. submarines had sunk almost all Japanese merchant shipping. The Japanese military, for all its faults, did not think any honor accrued to commanders that killed civilians or sank civilian shipping. So they failed to create an effective submarine fleet. With almost no internal deposits of iron, oil, or coal, and no ships to bring those materials in, the Japanese could produce planes and battle ships only from reserves already on their islands. At first the Japanese sank more U.S. Navy vessels than vice versa, but those were hollow victories. When a Japanese vessel sank, it could not be replaced. Every American vessel that sank was quickly replace by three or four more.

In the end, we had Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Strangely, General MacArthur, usually thought of as a right-wing zealot, wrote a very liberal constitution for Japan and even did a land redistribution program that was right out of the communist handbook. His motives, however, were not liberal. He wanted to weaken Japan's military capability and military culture.

Meanwhile, America's military culture was greatly stengthened by our victory in World War II. We quickly betrayed the peoples we made promises to during the war. No one got immediate independence except Burma. But in the Japanese wake the independence movements were much stronger. The U.S. granted the Philippines independence. Then the Netherlands decided the cost of war was too high, after trying it, and granted independence to Indonesia. Mao and the communists created an independent China. Vietnam, however, was returned to colonial status under the French.

Another interesting note for me was having to add another senior policy advisor to those who opposed using atomic weapons on civilian cities in Japan. I already knew that Eisenhower opposed using the atomic bomb. According the Manchester, MacArthur also opposed using these weapons of mass destruction. So, for all of you who want to get out your partisan scorecards, all Democratic Party senior officials involved favored committing these war crimes. The two Republicans who were consulted, Eisenhower and MacArthur, were against committing these particular war crimes.

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