My problem with this theory has long been that the difference between Iraq and Germany or Japan is not simply a difference of apples and oranges, but apples and aardvarks. They aren't even in the same phylum, class or family. This week I decided to go to some of the real experts on the subject and arranged a pair of original interviews. For the topic of Japan, I spoke today with Dr. John Dower in the first of a two part interview. (Look for a full interview transcript next week here on TMV.) Professor Dower is not some political hack or pundit. He is a historian and expert on the history of post-war Japan, the author of many numerous books on the subject, the recipient of multiple Pulitzer Prizes, National Book Awards and the Bancroft Prize, all on Japanese history in the modern era. In our brief introductory session this week I asked him if there was any evidence of an insurgency against Americans by the Japanese during the occupation period of 1945 to 1952, similar to the Iraq insurgency. His answer was short and to the point.
Zero. There was zero evidence of any form of insurgency against the Americans in Japan during that period.
He went on to describe some of the key differences between the two scenarios. They fall into three areas, which are also mirrored in the conditions we find in post-war Germany. First, there is the matter of how America treated the invasion and post-war occupation of these countries. The United States had pummeled Japan's major cities with air bombardments long before the nuclear bombs hitting Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After the surrender in 1945, America treated Japan as a defeated nation. No dissent was tolerated and control was absolute.
The second area is the response of the defeated country to the occupiers. Japan was in great danger of being totally destroyed by the Chinese. They had been fighting with China since 1931 and China's death toll at the hands of the Chinese is estimated to have been in excess of 15 million. China was ready, willing and able to wipe Japan off the face of the Earth and America was the only force standing in the way of that. Combined with the Emperor's orders to obey the Americans and recognize the surrender, we were very nearly welcomed with the "flowers in the streets" which we never received in Iraq.
The third factor is in the inherent national identity of the Japanese. They were already an incredibly ancient culture, dating back well past the time of Christ. There were certainly periods of internecine warfare in their feudal era, but there had been a national sense of "being Japanese" for ages unimaginable in comparison to the brief history of the United States.
None of these conditions apply to Iraq. Dr. Dower published a piece in the Boston Review back in 2003 (prior to the invasion of Iraq) titled "A Warning From History: Don't expect Democracy in Iraq." It turned out to be frighteningly prescient. Here's a brief piece, but be sure to read the entire piece to see exactly how well Professor Dower saw the future of an American occupation in Iraq.
Starting last fall, we began to hear that U.S. policymakers were looking into Japan and Germany after World War II as examples or even models of successful military occupations. In the case of Japan, the imagined analogy with Iraq is probably irresistible.
The problem is that few if any of the ingredients that made this success possible are present—or would be present—in the case of Iraq. The lessons we can draw from the occupation of Japan all become warnings where Iraq is concerned.
In a second interview we will have, which can not be disclosed yet, we find the same conditions mirrored in Germany. There was a vestigial insurgency in Germany, called Operation Werwolf, which was composed of The Heer and the Hitler Youth. However, it was immediately disavowed by Hitler's successor, Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz, and was widely considered a fiasco producing no notable results. The Germans, like the Japanese, are an ancient culture dating back to their struggles against the Roman Empire and beyond. And the American occupation of Germany was initially a brutal one, not even allowing the German police force access to guns. The Germans, like the Japanese, were in great fear of the Russians who they had slaughtered to the tune of tens of millions.
Again.. none of these conditions exist in Iraq. Our history of attempts at military occupation of Muslim nations has been dismal by comparison to our experience in Germany and Japan. And our methods today are much more "care bear" policies of rescuing the hapless Iraqis from their dictatorial ruler than imposing the iron fist of martial law.
John McCain's attempt to compare Iraq to these two historical periods should be pointed out to the public by the media. He is either being incredibly disingenuous, or he is demonstrating a shocking and dismaying lack of understanding of military history and its implications for our continued presence in Iraq.