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Japan’s Changing Role in East Asia 1945-1950 Research Paper


Japan played a significant role towards redefining the history of the Second World War. During the period, the United States concentrated on the war in Europe. This was possible because China was busy fighting the Japanese in East Asia. Historians argue that many Chinese soldiers died in the hands of the Japanese. The ongoing war in the region made it easier for the allies to conquer Germany in 1945 (Ohtomo 19). However, the most unexpected occurrence was the tension that developed between United States and China after the war. At the same time, the US and Japan became allies thus changing the country’s role in East Asia. The defeated enemy eventually became an ally and subsequently supported the United States throughout the Cold War. This discussion therefore gives a detailed analysis of this changing role between 1945 and 1950.

Thesis Statement

The political changes experienced in East Asia throughout the late 1940s forced the US to reconsider its relationship with Japan in order to win the Cold War and fight the wave of communism.

Historical Background

The Second World War brought many countries together in order to secure peace in Europe and Asia. The outcome of the war dictated the political relationships established between the United States and other countries such as Japan, Russia, Germany, and China. The defeat of Japan towards the end of the World War II (WWII) marked a new beginning for the nation. The United States (together with the Allies) began a new journey to occupy, transform, and rehabilitate Japan. History shows clearly that the American forces managed to enact new economic, social, and political reforms. Such reforms would eventually propel the country’s economic performance. These initiatives “were led by General Douglas A. MacArthur” (“Milestones: Occupation and Reconstruction of Japan: 1945-52” par. 3).

The main objective after the WWII was to disarm Japan. This strategy would ensure Japan was no longer a threat to the surrounding nations. As well, the Allies were focusing on new efforts to ensure the country’s economy was stabilized. These efforts were implemented in such a way that the country would never be a threat in the coming decades. After Japan’s unconditional surrender in August 1945, the Allies outlined new strategies in an attempt to achieve the above objectives.

MacArthur was the person in charge of the Supreme Command of Allied Powers (SCAP). He was also “the person to make the final decisions for Japan” (“Milestones: Occupation and Reconstruction of Japan: 1945-52” par. 3). His efforts led to the first phase of occupying Japan. This phase was characterized by different strategies aimed at punishing postwar soldiers and reforming the country. SCAP focused on specific strategies that could punish individuals who committed various war crimes. This move was undertaken in order to change the country’s political structure and military strength.

SCAP prohibited former soldiers from engaging in the country’s political affairs. The country’s army was also “weakened through a serious of military changes” (“Milestones: Occupation and Reconstruction of Japan: 1945-52” par. 4). The Allies also introduced new land reforms in order to weaken some of the rich landowners (Huff and Majima 12). The effort was also critical towards empowering more peasant farmers in this nation.

The other important strategy was to transform the country’s economy. MacArthur achieved this goal by “breaking up the existing conglomerates and creating a free market” (“Milestones: Occupation and Reconstruction of Japan: 1945-52” par. 4). The created free market echoed most of the principles advocated by capitalists. Such changes and transformations would play a major role towards redefining the position of the country in East Asia. The new changes weakened many landowners who had supported the country’s expansionism agenda throughout the 1930s and 940s.

The constitution of 1947 presented new changes and opportunities for Japan. The country’s political system also changed significantly. For instance, the constitution “reduced the powers of the nation’s emperor” (Huff and Majima 12). At the same time, the constitution “allocated more power to the country’s parliamentary system” (“Milestones: Occupation and Reconstruction of Japan: 1945-52” par. 4). The document also presented new privileges and opportunities to different citizens. Many Japanese women were endowed with greater privileges and rights. The constitution also “renounced the right to wage war by eliminating every non-defensive armed force” (Price 18).

Making Japan an Ally

The economic crisis encountered from 1947 forced the United States to reconsider its role and position in Japan. During the same time, the Soviet Union was posing new threats to the Allies. The “spread of communism across the globe was also a major issue threatening the success of capitalism” (Wei 8). Some historians have “nicknamed this period as the reverse course” (Wei 9). The Allies decided to consider new efforts and strategies in order to rehabilitate the country’s economy. This move was indispensable because the weakening economy could force many Japanese to embrace the power of communism. The future of East Asia was also uncertain because China was also becoming a communist nation. Chances of having a civil war in China were also very high.

The Allies reconsidered their occupation policies and presented new incentives to address the country’s economy. The first approach was to “use powerful tax reforms to deal with the increasing rate of inflation” (“Milestones: Occupation and Reconstruction of Japan: 1945-52” par. 5). The country was also experiencing a major shortage of industrial materials. As well, most of the finished goods could not get new markets (Price 19). Finally, the Korean War promoted new ideas towards establishing positive relationships with Japan. Historians also argue that the fall of the People’s Republic of China led to new policy reversals (Huff and Majima 12).

Many war criminals in Japan were released during the period. This move was embraced in order to secure the country’s future. The postwar criminals were allowed to undertake various administrative roles in the country.

The above measures were aimed at supporting the nation’s reconstruction. As well, the United States believed that the move would strengthen its relationship with this Pacific nation. The United States also argued that a strong bond between the nations would determine the fate of the Korean War. The war forced the United Nations to intervene. That being the case, the US collaborated with the country’s leaders in order to deal with the Korean War. During the time, Japan “became the principal supply depot for the US and UN forces” (“Milestones: Occupation and Reconstruction of Japan: 1945-52” par. 5).

Japan also benefited from the new alliance established between these two nations. For instance, Japan was placed squarely within the confines of the UN forces. The forces were operating from Japan thus promoting the country’s stability. The country’s leader was certain that the country could never be attacked by China or Russia. This new climate was essential towards promoting the country’s economic development. These rapid changes created new opportunities for both the US and Japan (Wei 3). The two countries were able to benefit from each other. The alliance would strengthen throughout the course of the Cold War.

By the year 1950, many policies and changes had been implemented in Japan. These achievements and changes led to the third phase of the Allies’ occupation of Japan. During the same year, SCAP was convinced “that the economic, military, and political future of Japan had been established” (Ohtomo 23). These establishments ensured that the intended goals had already been achieved. These achievements also encouraged SCAP to secure a new peace treaty with the Japanese people. The purpose of the proposed treaty was “to end the occupation of the country” (Wei 9). The signed treaty ended the occupation of Japan thus making it an ally.

According to different historians, the United States realized that its threats and enemies had changed tremendously especially after the end of the World War II. That being the case, the US strongly believed that Japan was no longer a threat. The US was also convinced that any rearmament of Japan could not affect the already-established relationship. As well, a militant Japan would never pose a major threat to the United States. Many “US officials also realized that the major threat affecting the country was the emerging wave of communism” (Wei Wei 10). The end of the Second World War resulted in new allies and friends (Chanlett-Avery et al. 16).

The Soviet Union was focusing on the best strategies to populate communism in different parts of Asia and beyond. This new threat forced many US officials to stand strong against the wave of communism. The threats of the Cold War also encouraged the country to focus on the best practices and strategies.

That being the case, the agreement signed between the two nations allowed the United States to have a military base in the country. The US was also “allowed to retain its bases in Okinawa” (Ohtomo 25). As well, the US “promised Japan a bilateral security pact that would ensure the nations were prepared against any form of aggression” (“Milestones: Occupation and Reconstruction of Japan: 1945-52” par. 6).

The Cold War was characterized by “numerous political, technological, and economic struggles between the West and the East” (Okihiro 82). The Soviet Union had suffered numerous losses throughout the Second World War. Many “Russian cities had been destroyed by the Nazis during the war” (Chanlett-Avery et al. 14). Many countries across East Europe had suffered similar problems and losses during the war.

The continued level of instability in Eastern Europe forced the Soviet Union to create a strong empire. The empire would be founded the concept of communism. The important goal was to make these nations politically and economically stable. An alliance with Russia was seen as one of the best approaches towards achieving the above goals. However, the Soviet Union began to seize or steal numerous resources from the occupied nations. Such resources would mainly be used to support the country’s military operations during the Cold War.

In 1950, the United States realized that “the Cold War was an ongoing upheaval that could not end any time soon” (Okihiro 89). The Cold War also presented new threats that could eventually affect its stability. As well, Russian’s success would be a major blow to the welfare of many capitalist nations across the world. The situation experienced in the world during the period forced the country to reconsider its relationship with Japan.

The US also reconsidered its policies with Japan. A new treaty would make Japan an ally and eventually support its military operations in East Asia. The “region was also threatened after China fell to communism” (Okihiro 92). The new changes experienced in the region could trigger new social and political upheavals. The outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 convinced the Allies and the UN that the region would encounter numerous problems in the future.

The above explanation shows clearly that numerous events and changes dictated the nature of the Cold War. This war was complex because it focused on political, economic, and social strengths. The war had produced two economic systems. These “systems were capitalism and communism” (Chanlett-Avery et al. 23). According to the United States, the important goal was to ensure the war against communism was won.

The Aftermath

It is agreeable that the end of the Second World War forced the US to use altruistic policies against the Japanese. This effort was intended to disarm the nation and reduce its warheads. This goal would make it impossible for the country to engage in any military combat. However, the changing positions of different postwar allies led to new political climates in East Asia. China was no longer an ally after embracing the wave of communism (Huff and Majima 18). The presence of the United States in Japan opened a new chapter that redefined the relationship between the two nations. The United States realized that it could use the relationship to pursue its interests. The country would find it easier to address most of the issues associated with the Cold War.

At the same time, Japan would become a free nation especially after the outbreak of the Korean War. The two countries became strong allies thus promoting the continued exchange of skills and technologies. Throughout the 1950s, the two countries exchanged their technologies thus supporting their respective economies. The US was able to establish new military bases in the country (Huff and Majima 24). Such bases made it easier for the US to monitor and confront every Russian military operation in East Asia.

Concluding Remarks

Japan would eventually become the best friend in the region. Japan also found it easier to export its products and services to different American markets. These practices made the nation one of the best performing economies in the world. The new relationship between the nations was also essential towards promoting Japan’s military strength. The country would also “get the best military protections from the US for the next six decades” (Okihiro 94). As well, the US was able to focus on its goals in East Asia. The United States’ presence in Japan increased its possibilities of emerging victorious. The established friendship between the two countries would play a decisive role towards dictating the outcomes of the Cold War in the 1990s. In conclusion, the above events changed the position of Japan as a defeated enemy to an important ally in the Cold War.

Works Cited

Chanlett-Avery, Emma, William Cooper, Mark Manyin and Ian Rinehart. “Japan-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress.” Congressional Research Service 1.1 (2014): 1-38. Print.

Huff, Gregg and Shinobu Majima. “Financing Japan’s World War II Occupation of Southeast Asia.” Working Paper 1.1 (2013): 1-39. Print.

. 2015. Web.

Ohtomo, Takafumi. “Understanding U.S. Overseas Military Presence after World War II.” Journal of International and Advanced Japanese Studies 4.1 (2012): 17-29. Print.

Okihiro, Gary. “Japan and the Second World War: The Aftermath of Imperialism.” Rikkyo American Studies 31.1 (2009): 77-100. Print.

Price, David. “Lessons from Second World War Anthropology.” Anthropology Today 18.3 (2002):14-20. Print.

Wei, Huang. “Relative Weakening of the Post-Cold War Japan-U.S. Alliance.” Japanese Study Seminar 1.1 (2014): 1-20. Print.

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"Japan’s Changing Role in East Asia 1945-1950." IvyPanda, 2 July 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/japans-changing-role-in-east-asia-1945-1950/.

1. IvyPanda. "Japan’s Changing Role in East Asia 1945-1950." July 2, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/japans-changing-role-in-east-asia-1945-1950/.


IvyPanda. "Japan’s Changing Role in East Asia 1945-1950." July 2, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/japans-changing-role-in-east-asia-1945-1950/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Japan’s Changing Role in East Asia 1945-1950." July 2, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/japans-changing-role-in-east-asia-1945-1950/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Japan’s Changing Role in East Asia 1945-1950'. 2 July.

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