Monday, March 13, 2006

Post War Iraq and Post War Japan, Contrasted

In an earlier
post, I made a brief comparison of the American government in planning and executing the postwar occupation of Japan following the Second World War, and its planning for post hostilities in Iraq. In reality, this is a somewhat unfair comparison.

Japan's population had truly been beaten into submission by the U.S. and its allies at the conclusion of World War II. Two of its cities had been destroyed in the first (and hopefully only) use of atomic weapons in warfare; a sea power, Japan's once powerful Navy was largely destroyed; and the allies had virtually cut Japan off from its crucial overseas resource bases as well.

Moreover, Japanese forces formally surrendered to the Allies. Hirohito himself, the Emperor of Japan and symbol of the nation state, cooperated with the surrender and occupation.

While corruption, crime, and black markets no doubt marred the occupation of Japan, no significant organized resistance ever arose during the time of occupation. Japan's geographic isolation (it is an island nation) as well as its cultural isolation (the Japanese are a homogeneous and unique people, different from the Asian nations that are physically closest to them. Also, at the time of occupation, the Japanese could not expect to receive much support from nations like Korea and China, which they had occupied during the war years), limited any of the key external support any would-be insurgent group could have expected to receive during the occupation.

The situation in Iraq, of course, is drastically different. The Baathist government dissolved and disappeared before offensive operations were completed, and the Fedayeen, dedicated Saddam loyalists, were using guerrilla-type tactics long before an actual insurgency erupted. Thus, combat operations never truly came to a definitive halt in Iraq, as they did in Japan.

Iraqi society is tribal, and consists of numerous religious sects and ethnic groups, many of them adversarial. Iraq's borders are porous, and many of the aforementioned ethnic groups have ties beyond Iraq's political borders with other members of their respective groups. Furthermore, at least two of the states bordering Iraq (Iran and Syria) have adversarial relationships with the United States.

All of the above factors make Iraq a vastly different contest than Japan. Iraq's geographical, social and political conditions increased the chances of an insurgency occuring, and make it that much more difficult for nascent Iraqi forces to quell.

There is one "take-away" from conducting the comparison between the occupations of these two countries however. The United States began planning for the occupation of a defeated Japan as early as 1939, TWO whole years before World War II ever began. The planning started at the State Department level, but as the War progressed the planning became a joint effort between the State and War (Defense) Departments.

And for Iraq? Up to this point, I have never heard of a detailed, comprehensive plan prepared by any part the United States Government to deal with a defeated, post-Saddam Iraq. I haven't seen evidence from the the occupation to convince me that we started with a strategic plan as a foundation for our actions and have been adjusting based on the situation, either. Perhaps one of Wilsonizer's readers will prove me wrong, and point me in the right direction on this front.

FOOTNOTES: I had a class last year called "Small Wars and Occupations". We read the following books for the course, which will be helpful for anyone looking for historical precedence for what the US is attempting to do now in the Global War on Terror:

1. Wofe, Robert, ed., Americans as Proconsuls: United States Military Government in Germany and Japan, 1944-1952, Carbondale and Edwardsville, Southern: Souther Illinois State University Press, 1984 .

2. Dower, John W., Embracing Defeat, NY: Norton, 1999.

3. Boot, Max, The Savage Wars of Peace, NY: Basic Books, 1999.

All of these are interesting books, well worth reading. Proconsuls is likely out of print and will require a hunt, no doubt. Boot's book deals more with short term occupations of places like Haiti and Nicaragua (in the 20s and 30s, NOT during the '80s), but is relevant to the topic nonetheless.


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