Relations between the United States and Japan more than 70 years ago were so bad that they changed the course of history since the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima in August 1945. Four years after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor sent the U.S. into World War II, it was reported only a week later that Japan would surrender.
America’s goal wasn’t just to make peace and rebuild Japan after the war. The process of getting along was challenging from the start. Faced with a new world order, the US tried to make the small but historically powerful Pacific island nation its Asian defense against the spread of communism. To do this, the Americans learned much from what happened after World War I. They used the Japanese people’s dire economic situation and disappointment with their government and military to implement democracy and change their Constitution.
But things are very different now. The Japanese government’s yearly Cabinet Office study showed that 84% of Japanese people feel “close” to the U.S., and a Gallup poll showed that 87% of Americans have a favorable view of Japan.
How Japan Brought the US Into World War II
Japan’s deadly attack on Pearl Harbor shocked not only Americans but also the rest of the world. However, historians traced back the roots caused back more than 40 years. As Japan became more developed at the end of the 19th century, it tried to be like the United States and the rest of the Western countries, which had set up bases in Asia and the Pacific to access natural resources and markets for their goods. On the other hand, Japan’s global growth brought it into conflict with the U.S., especially regarding China.
Historians explained that World War II can be traced back to when the Japanese army invaded Manchuria in 1931. However, the World War II National Museum mentioned that two things partly caused the war between the U.S. and Japan. These are the Chinese markets and natural resources in Asia.
Japan started as a power that took over the land in a small way. Japan next took over a few groups of small islands near its home country without having to fight for them. It moved slowly because its modern ships and army were still in their early stages.
On November 26, 1941, U.S. officials gave the Japanese a 10-point statement reaffirming their long-held stance. At the same time, the Japanese Imperial Navy sent out a fleet of 414 planes on six aircraft carriers toward Hawaii. The flotilla aimed to eradicate the US Pacific Fleet base at Pearl Harbor. Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku, who had studied at Harvard and worked as Japan’s navy attaché in Washington, DC, had devised the plan.
To surprise the Americans, the ships went 3,500 miles from Hitokappu Bay to a planned launch section 230 miles north of the Hawaiian island of Oahu without talking on the radio. On December 7 (6 a.m.), the first wave of Japanese planes took off from the carriers, and an hour later, the second wave did the same. Around 7:30 a.m., the pilots, with Captain Mitsuo Fuchida’s help, saw land and moved into attack positions.
Twenty-three minutes later, Fuchida broke the radio silence and yelled, “Tora (tiger!)” three times from his bomber, which was above the American ships tied in pairs along Pearl Harbor’s “Battleship Row.” The incident caught the Americans off-guard.
Japanese guns rained down on American ships and troops for almost two hours. Even though the attack caused much damage, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been because Japan didn’t destroy American repair shops and fuel-oil tanks. Even more importantly, on that day, there were no American aircraft carriers at Pearl Harbor. In addition, the Japanese attacked U.S. and British sites right after they attacked Pearl Harbor. They did this in Guam, Hong Kong, Malaya, Midway Island, the Philippines, and Wake Island. The Japanese took control of the Pacific in just a few days.
How This “Weapon” Played an Important Role in the War
One report mentioned that the United States used a hidden weapon against Japan during World War II. That is the first-generation Japanese Americans (Nisei) who worked as linguists for the Military Intelligence Service in the Pacific area.
Some Nisei who were born to Japanese immigrants spoke Japanese, especially those called Kibei and whose parents had sent them back to Japan before the war to get an education.
In case of a war with Japan, the U.S. recruited and taught Nisei to gather information before Pearl Harbor. After the attack and the subsequent incarceration of Japanese Americans, Nisei continued to serve their country. This is even after they were treated with more suspicion and discrimination.
During the war, Nisei linguists listened in on conversations, translated maps, and papers, and helped question enemy prisoners.
In 1944, intelligence head General Charles Willoughby said, “One ATIS language expert was worth a battalion of infantry.” He thought Japanese Americans who were good at languages had helped cut two years off the war.
The Nisei were also essential during the Allies’ capture and rebuilding of Japan. During the war, more than 5,000 people worked for the government. Many of them were on the military teams that were sent to each prefecture. The Kibei were significant because they knew more about the country’s history, politics, culture, religion, economy, education, and actual rules than anyone else.
During the first months of the rule, which were very important, the Nisei and Kibei worked behind the scenes on many complicated goals.
They tried to get American and Allied war prisoners back home. They also helped get political prisoners out of jail and took part in the search for war criminals and the gathering of proof against them. They watched the people for any sign of pushback that could stop the country from becoming more democratic.
In terms of money, they helped break up and destroy Japan’s war industries. It also tried to break up financial companies, black markets during the war, and organized crime.
Rewriting the Constitution
History.com mentioned that Nisei/Kibei also helped write Japan’s new Constitution, which may be the most important thing they did. Authorities put it into force on May 3, 1947, and it has about 103 Articles. Its general rules included land reform, women’s right to vote, freedom of speech, gathering, and religion, the creation of labor unions, and school systems like those in the U.S.
Article 9 of the new Constitution was the most essential part. It said that Japan would not use armed force against other countries. In addition, article 9 pointed out that the Japanese people renounce forever war as a sovereign right of the country. It also renounced the threat or use of force as a way to settle foreign conflicts.
Over the years, events in the Pacific and elsewhere have changed. Thus, many people discussed this piece in Japan and other places. The Constitution, however, has never been changed.
US-Japanese Relations Today
A Congressional Research Service’s research showed that the cost of Japan’s “host-nation support” to the U.S. is between $1.7 billion and $2.1 billion annually. This includes land, labor, and services for U.S. bases all over the country. The United States spends between $1.9 billion and $2.5 billion yearly. The funds are intended to run its bases, build military facilities, and pay for living in Japan. But there is disagreement about how much the U.S. and Japan each spend on the alliance. It depends on what costs are included in the balance sheet.
Experts told the Council on Foreign Relations that the United States gets a lot of strategic benefits from the bases, like being able to closely monitor China and North Korea and having ships and troops in the region.
Many experts think the relationship is now more balanced because Japan has improved its defenses. Japanese citizens have worked closely with US troops. When an earthquake and tsunami hit Japan’s Tohoku area in 2011, the two countries worked together to help. This became the most significant mission between the two countries in the history of the alliance.
** To learn more about re-arming Japan, click here.