Sunday, January 09, 2005

Failures of 1948 echoed in Iraq?

One of the contributors to Cliopatria is blogging from the annual conference of the American Historical Association in Seattle. Here's part of one of his posts:
JONATHAN DRESNER: AHA Day Three: Oligarchs and Patriarchs

I also went to the Marshall Lecture by Ronald Spector: normally I'm not much for military history, but this was about the post-1945 occupations and demobilization of Japanese territories. This was a huge and complex challenge, as the Japanese Empire had been huge and complex, complicated by the fact that we went into the job with too few troops and no clue about most of the societies we were occupying. Spector didn't make direct comparisons to Iraq, but he did say that we could draw our own conclusions.....

One of the fundamental problems faced by US military authorities is that they had a variety of what Spector described as contradictory jobs to accomplish:

* disarm Japanese soldiers and repatriate military and civilian Japanese to their homeland
* maintaining law and order in liberated territories
* locate and release Allied POWs
* reestablish civil governments, including colonial rules
* avoiding conflict with local nationalist movements
* another priority he listed elsewhere in the talk was the Cold War priority of resisting local communist movements.

Anyway, it's worth noting that, for a variety of reasons including

* our failures of planning and resources
* our belief that we were acting as apolitical neutrals when we were in fact taking sides
* using Japanese as anti-communist forces and regional experts, which belied our role as liberators and their role as defeated and demobilized
* British and French colonial beliefs that their former subjects would be sufficiently tired of Japanese rule that previous masters would be welcomed back with open arms.

by 1948, every territory released from Japanese rule was at war, mostly some form of civil war. The occupations of Japan and Germany, though successful, were only a part of a world-wide project which included some spectacular failures and ongoing challenges.


In the news: CBS reports of more grandstanding by US politicians. This account comes from Cliopatria:
Nice to see that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has his priorities straight: on a "fact-finding" mission to Sri Lanka, he and his staff took up two of the five military helicopters available for relief efforts; he then concluded his visit by having staffers photo him, with the following advice: "Get some devastation in the back."

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