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The Political Adviser in Japan (Atcheson) to President Truman 6

personal and confidential

Dear Mr. President: Since my last letter (October 4, 19467) the new Constitution has been promulgated to go into effect in May; the Government has been formulating laws to implement it; elections of prefectural and municipal officials have been projected (this is something new in the history of Japan); the purge has been greatly extended to reach economic as well as new political fields; and the Japanese have continued to give the Occupation authorities good cooperation. On the other side of the ledger, the general economic situation has seriously deteriorated. There exists an accelerated currency inflation; the revival and reconversion of industry continues to be obstructed by non-settlement of the reparations question. We [Page 158]have had a strike crisis almost as serious as that in the United States. The aggressive minority which has been seeking with unfortunate success to control Japanese labor unions has injected a new element into the situation by encouraging labor unions to participate actively in political matters.

The Communist press in various countries and the “liberal” press in the United States have continued to criticize the Occupation authorities for allegedly supporting conservative elements in the Government. This criticism is unfounded; General MacArthur has adhered to the wise policy of non-intervention in domestic governmental affairs except in cases of necessity pursuant to his directives. The Yoshida8 Cabinet came into being as a result of the general elections of April 10, 1946. Those were the first really free elections ever held in Japan and were participated in by over 75 per cent of the electorate. Irrespective of the wisdom or political experience of the individual voters the elections were democratic and the small number of irregularities compared favorably with elections in western democracies. Out of the elections the conservative parties—the so-called Progressive and Liberal Parties—became the plurality parties and after the Liberal Party leader Hatoyama was eliminated by SCAP order the leader of the Progressives, Yoshida, was asked by the Emperor to form a Cabinet. Thus, whatever its limitations, the present Government came into being through a democratic process, and when the Cabinet was finally composed it received neither approval nor disapproval from the Supreme Commander—merely “no objection”. The Supreme Commander has been directed that it is not the responsibility of the Allies to impose upon the Japanese any Government which does not reflect the freely expressed will of the people. In the light of all circumstances, the present Government comes as close to reflecting the freely expressed will of the Japanese people as any Government could at the present time. It is a fact, unacknowledged by the leftists, that the great majority of the Japanese people are conservative in their political and social thinking.

About a year ago there was considerable sentiment in some foreign circles against holding general elections as early as April 1946 on the ground that the Japanese were not yet sufficiently educated for democracy. There was later similar sentiment in regard to the adoption of a new Constitution. Only time will tell whether democracy, which President Wilson so aptly described as a state of mind, will take firm hold of the minds of the Japanese people. But it seems to me that the sooner the Japanese try the tools of democracy the more quickly they will learn how to use them. China has just adopted a Constitution [Page 159]after 35 years of “political tutelage” during which the seeds of democracy sown by Sun Yat Sen did not flourish as he hoped. When the Japanese Constitution comes into effect the Japanese people, with our initial guidance and help, will have been given the essential framework for democracy and what they do with it eventually will in any case depend upon themselves. I believe that the average Japanese possesses his share of the average human being’s love of freedom. I believe also that the Japanese have turned their faces toward us and, in their knowledge that the past betrayed them, they look to a new kind of future and to the United States and American democracy as their example for that future. Democracy cannot be beaten into the mind nor can it be absorbed on an empty stomach. If we continue to treat the Japanese in a democratic way and if they can have hope of reasonable economic security—a decent livelihood as well as a free political life—there is good prospect that the American objectives of the Occupation will succeed.

I do not think that the importance of the economic considerations can be over-emphasized. It is apparently difficult for some of our foreign friends who do not see Japan at first hand to realize that, notwithstanding the happy condition of peace and order, Japan is facing desperate economic conditions wherein lie grave dangers to the accomplishment of our objectives. The Japanese economy is bankrupt and whether we like it or not Japan has become an economic responsibility of the United States. If there is a shortage of food the deficit is made up by the United States and by no one else. If Japan cannot support itself the burden falls upon us. Settlement of reparations and development of foreign trade are accordingly vital. The Japanese industrialists, as eager as they are to get to work, cannot afford to do so until they know what equipment will be left to them. Meanwhile the plants which constitute the principal assets in the home islands are deteriorating. I am told on competent authority that these plants are worth but one-sixth of the external assets in Manchuria, Karafuto and the Kuriles.

The Occupation authorities want to see Japan self-supporting because that is necessary for the accomplishment of our overall objectives and is in the interest of the American tax-payer who otherwise foots the bill. The United States has already imported into Japan over $300,000,000 worth of goods more than it has been paid in kind. If the Japanese do not produce exports they have no means of paying for imports.

There is no question of building up Japan to the disadvantage of any other country; the question is simply one of endeavoring to develop an economy by which Japan will be self-supporting (without cost to [Page 160]us), and will eventually participate in mutually beneficial economic exchanges with the United States and other countries.

I expect to be in Washington for consultation with the State Department in February. General MacArthur and I hope that it may be possible for you to let me have an opportunity of paying my respects, endeavoring to answer any questions which you may have and receiving such instructions as you may wish to give me.

Respectfully yours,

George Atcheson, Jr.
  1. Copy transmitted to the Department in letter of January 5, in which Mr. Atcheson stated: “We are hoping very much for the earliest possible settlement of the reparations question because that is one of the necessary factors for revival of industry and because the Japanese must manufacture exports with which to pay for necessary imports of food and other products.”
  2. Not printed.
  3. Shigeru Yoshida, Japanese Prime Minister since May 22, 1946.