#Reviewing Architects of Occupation

Architects of Occupation: American Experts and Planning for Postwar Japan. Dayna L. Barnes. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2017.

The post-World War II U.S. occupation of Japan set conditions that continue to shape today’s dynamic Indo-Asia-Pacific security environment. Architects of Occupation: American Experts and the Planning for Postwar Japan, by historian Dayna L. Barnes, examines the wartime planning processes and resultant policy that enabled Japan’s postwar transformation into a stable international actor and strong U.S. ally.[1] This well-researched contribution to World War II literature thematically explores the policymakers, strategic planners, think tanks, media players and networks that influenced postwar outcomes and set the stage for modern U.S. foreign policy. Though the strategic reader will appreciate this generally persuasive volume’s bureaucratic politics lens, some of the author’s arguments about policy maker influence are imperfectly reasoned.[2]

For example, while Barnes’ opening critique of President Roosevelt’s lack of transparency has merit, it downplays his foundational influence over postwar outcomes and policy through engagements with Alliance leaders and his creation of a powerful informal advisory network.[3] The author portrays Roosevelt’s reliance on personal trusted agents, academia, and the media as harmful to the administration’s State Department-led planning process. In fact, while Roosevelt’s non-inclusive style frustrated planning efforts to some extent, vague direction from policymakers is not unusual or insurmountable. In the absence of guidance, professional planners must make necessary and valid assumptions to produce a menu of options that captures a range of desired strategic outcomes. Postwar planners did just that, leveraging inputs from an ad-hoc community of interested players while Roosevelt’s informal networks became increasingly effective.

Critical to this community of interest were industry-sponsored and academic think tanks such as the Council on Foreign Relations, the Institute of Pacific Relations, and the War and Peace Studies Institute. These newly-empowered institutions laid the groundwork for their modern counterparts’ influence over U.S. national security, and were a product of limited government expertise in Asian affairs and Roosevelt’s reliance on informal advisory networks.[4] Barnes describes how these organizations conducted much-needed research and facilitated informal networks and discussion forums to foster deliberation across disparate U.S. players with a stake in the postwar Indo-Asia-Pacific. For example, State Department planners leveraged think tank research into Japanese ideology to enable an information campaign that created an environment conducive to popular acceptance of American postwar leadership.

These newly-empowered institutions laid the groundwork for their modern counterparts’ influence over U.S. national security, and were a product of limited government expertise in Asian affairs and Roosevelt’s reliance on informal advisory networks.

Barnes details how this campaign capitalized on the media’s influence over policy makers and the public.[5] Broadcasters and publishers shaped Americans’ animosity toward the Japanese state and its people throughout the war, but were later relied upon to mold constructive public discourse over the ideological and conditional causes for Japan’s bellicose behavior. Powerful media figures such as Walter Lippmann and Henry Luce encouraged debate about America’s postwar leadership role, often contradicting the nation’s post-World War I isolationist tendencies. This embedded isolationism caused Congress to initially challenge plans for increased American regional leadership, viewing the State Department’s postwar strategy as unacceptably soft on Japan and overly reliant on U.S. leadership and resources. Barnes convincingly argues the national debates stoked by enmeshed State Department, think tank, and media networks changed popular perceptions of America’s appropriate postwar role.

Hideki Tōjō  takes the stand at the  Tokyo war crimes tribunal .

Hideki Tōjō takes the stand at the Tokyo war crimes tribunal.

By the war’s end, Congress was convinced the United States should act as the guarantor of a peaceful and stable global economy, and the nation would set a renewed Japan on the path to regional and international responsibility while it concurrently executed the Marshall plan in Europe. Upon Japan’s capitulation, the State and War Departments leveraged stylistic and temporal seams between Presidents Roosevelt and Truman to have modified postwar plans approved and implemented amid an increasingly unstable Pacific alliance. Here, Barnes softens President Truman’s contributions to final occupation policy by painting him as a Johnny-come-lately victim of Roosevelt’s lack of transparency, but she also offers contrary evidence when she describes Truman’s principled, transparent approach to shaping postwar policy; to include his employment of nuclear weapons to force Japan’s unconditional surrender.[6]

Barnes closes by exploring the pertinence of Japan’s occupation to modern strategy. The author argues the formula for Japan’s postwar transformation can be successful only in a specific context, the aftermath of a total war involving a completely devastated nation buying into its own occupation and reconstruction with little resistance. While strategic thinkers are indeed well advised to use caution when applying lessons from postwar Japan to modern conflict, useful lessons can be drawn. For example, circumstances in early 2000s post-conflict Iraq and Afghanistan differed markedly from occupied Japan, but concerted planning for post-invasion reconstruction combined with proactive efforts to foster credible and early buy-in from key defeated populations may have led to better outcomes.[7] Such insight is increasingly pertinent, as modern U.S. foreign policy evolves amid increasing competition and rapidly changing regional and global security conditions prone to miscalculation and military escalation.

Architects of Occupation is a meaningful and generally convincing primer for anyone with an interest in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region and the underpinnings of its current dynamic nature and the wider contemporary international security environment. Barnes explores networks of policymakers, strategic planners, think tanks and the media as intertwined themes that hold value as standalone vignettes for those interested in the thematic subject at-hand, and the entire work is worthy of the modern strategist’s attention.

Rob Snow is a U.S. Army Strategist. The opinions expressed are his alone and do not reflect those of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

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Header image: Franklin D. Roosevelt, General MacArthur, and Admiral Nimitz in Pearl Harbor | Wikimedia Commons.


[1] See Post-Surrender Policy for Japan (SWNCC 150/4) and Post Surrender Directive to Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers for the Occupation and Control of Japan (JSC 1380/15).

[2] Graham Allison and Philip Zelikow. Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (New York: Longman, 1999).

[3] Barnes explains that key U.S. officials and planners were unaware of FDR’s offer of postwar control of the Kuril and Ryuku Islands to Stalin and Chiang Kai Shek respectively, among other agreements made with Allied leaders without prior consultation or post-agreement notification.

[4] Andrew Rich. Think Tanks, Public Policy, and the Politics of Expertise (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

[5] Doris A. Graber. Mass Media and American Politics (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage CQ Press, 2017).

[6] Takemaie Eiji. The Allied Occupation of Japan (New York: Continuum, 2003).

[7] Alicia Wittmeyer. “What Went Wrong in Afghanistan?” Foreign Policy, accessed December 16, 2017, http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/03/04/what-went-wrong-in-afghanistan/; Flavin, William. “Planning for Conflict Termination and Post-Conflict Success.” Parameters 33, no. 3 (Autumn, 2003).