Saturday, August 25, 2007

Opinion (Matthew Yglesias): Don't know much about history

Above: One of two specially-marked Mitsubishi G4M-1 ("Betty") aircraft lands at an airfield on the Ryukyu Islands on August 19, 1945, carrying a Japanese delegation who were flown on to Manila in a USAAF C-54 transport to receive instructions concerning the surrender and occupation of Japan. Though the country surrendered following the two atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, much of the infrastructure of the rest of the country, including Tokyo, had been devastated by conventional bombing.

Today, it seems, was "Asian Wars Analogy Day" in the Bush administration, as the president uncorked a whole series of odd historical analogies in defense of his Iraq policy. "In the aftermath of Japan's surrender," he reminded an audience of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Missouri, "many thought it naive to help the Japanese transform themselves into a democracy. Then, as now, they argued that some people were not fit for freedom."

In fact, it seems rather doubtful that any substantial body of opinion actually did argue this about Japan.

Perhaps some people argued that it was more important to the United States that Japan be a reliable ally against the Soviet Union than that it be a democracy. Which, of course, is precisely what American policy was. As former Tokyo CIA station chief Horace Feldman is quoted in Tim Weiner's new book Legacy of Ashes "We ran Japan during the occupation, and we ran it a different way in these years after the occupation," ensuring the Liberal Democratic Party a basic monopoly of political power in exchange for deference to American security policy in Asia. Despite this meddling, Japan did emerge from the post-war occupation with the basic scheme of a liberal democracy in place, which was all to the good. Elsewhere in Asia, however, things didn't work out so well, and countries like Taiwan, South Korea, and the Philippines were subjected to America-friendly military dictatorships that only became democratic decades later as a result of popular protest.

Read the rest at the Guardian