Global Policy Forum

Few Parallels with Germany and Japan

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By Alejandro Landes

Miami Herald
November 9, 2003

Seven months after Baghdad fell, the Bush administration is confronting critics of its occupation strategy in Iraq by recalling U.S. triumphs in postwar Germany and Japan. But some historians say those are different stories. The postwar reality in Germany and Japan, scholars say, was very different from today's Iraq. Historians point out that while more than 240 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq since Bush declared an end to major hostilities on May 1, the total number of postwar American casualties in occupied Germany and Japan was zero.


While campaigning in New Hampshire last month, President Bush nevertheless repeated the comparison with postwar Germany and Japan, nations that have since blossomed into affluent, stable democracies, and posed no military threat to anyone in 50 years. ''America did not run from Germany and Japan following World War II. We helped those countries become strong and decent democratic societies that no longer waged war on America. That's our mission in Iraq,'' Bush said.

John Dower, a professor of Japanese history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, takes issue with the president's comparison. ''Policy makers are using historical analogies comparing occupied Germany and Japan to Iraq the way a drunk uses a lamp post, not for illumination but for support,'' he said. American GIs were so safe in Japan that they could move their families there and Gen. Douglas MacArthur lived in Tokyo with his wife and son. ''I can't imagine this happening in Iraq,'' Dower said.

Recognized Defeat

In Germany, also, the Americans met cooperation, not violence, said Harvard's German history professor Charles Maier. Maier and Dower say U.S. forces in Germany and Japan met no armed resistance because their populations felt legitimately defeated and their leaders had surrendered unconditionally.

''Not all former Nazis became democrats overnight, to say the least, but they realized how totally Germany had been defeated and that there was no point in a resistance campaign,'' Maier said. ``Iraq was defeated too easily for the same consciousness to pervade.'' In Japan, Emperor Hirohito even ordered his subjects to cooperate with the occupiers -- a far cry from the situation today in Iraq, where many people have never accepted defeat and former President Saddam Hussein's whereabouts remain unknown.

Academics also warn that the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq seems to lack the long-term planning and groundwork necessary for a successful occupation. In contrast, Washington had been preparing for the occupation of Germany and Japan for several years before the end of the war, Maier said, even training soldiers in civil affairs schools starting in 1942, three years before the end of the war.

Populace, Neighbors

There are other major differences, experts say:

* In Iraq, U.S. troops face a nation with a history of conflicts among Shiite and Sunni Muslims, Kurds and Turkomans, unlike the largely homogenous Germany and Japan.

* Iraq's neighbors pose problems for U.S. rebuilding efforts, with Syria and Iran accused of failing to secure their borders against infiltrators. By comparison, U.S. troops in Germany and Japan enjoyed the cooperation of neighboring nations that had been invaded by the defeated armies.

* Perhaps more importantly, Iraq lacks the democratic experience of pre-war Germany and Japan, making it harder to implement a U.S.-led democratization process, historians say. German history professor David Hamlin of Brown University added, ``German politicians could look back on their own past for a German model of democracy in a way that Iraqis cannot.''

* Unlike World War II, when the world applauded the U.S. war effort, the U.N. Security Council refused to endorse the preemptive U.S. strike on Iraq and protesters around the world denounced it as illegal and immoral.

* Finally, the U.S. rebuilding policy in occupied Iraq is quite different from the one promoted in Germany and Japan, the historians added. While the Bush administration has been inviting foreign companies to help rebuild Iraq's infrastructure, the U.S. occupation of Germany and Japan preferred to issue reconstruction contracts to national companies.

By limiting the role of Iraqi companies in their economy, Dower added, the U.S. occupying authorities might be alienating Iraqi professionals, whom he sees as a key ingredient for a successful and cost-effective reconstruction. Despite the differences, Harvard's Maier said, ``This doesn't mean we can't make it work. But it will take a long time, and much skill and will.''


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FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C ß 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.