On War, Part II: Occupied Japan and the End of Empire

For those of you who missed the last blog post:
A couple of weeks ago I spent the day attending the fifth annual “On War” military history symposium at the Pritzker Military Library. This was the third time I’ve attended and the third time I’ve come away with a notebook full of ideas, factoids, and hot leads that I want to track down—complete with stars, arrows tying ideas together, and an occasional streak of highlighter. It was the first time I came away feeling like I was there as part of the community rather than an interested outsider. By day’s end I was both exhausted and energized. Most importantly, I was ready to write.

In previous years I’ve written reports on the conference as a whole. This year I’m exploring a couple of the ideas that caught my attention over the next few blog posts.

For those of you who read the last blog post:
Muzzle-loading cannon barrels were swabbed out between each round to eliminate the possibility of sparks/hot embers remaining in the breech before the powder charge was loaded for the next round, causing the cannon to go boom prematurely. Swabbed, not swapped. Funniest/most embarrassing typo I’ve committed in a while.

Moving forward:

The second panel at this year’s On War symposium was a freewheeling conversation between Allan Millett, who specializes in the Korean War, and Gerhard Weinberg, who is one of the Big Names in World War II history, about the Allied occupation of Japan after WWII .

The big point of the panel was the differences between the occupations of Japan and Germany after the war, which was all news to me. Unlike Germany, Japan was never divided into zones of occupation and the Japanese administration was left in place. Also unlike Germany, the occupation was largely peaceful. I must admit, the part of this discussion that I enjoyed the most, and that gave me the clearest understanding of the occupation, was Gerhard Weinberg reminiscing about his experiences as a young soldier in the occupying army. (I won’t try to reproduce this here—if you’re interested this will probably show up on Pritzker Military Presents at some point in the future.* ) My two favorite lines:

  • “If three two-star generals don’t see someone, he isn’t there.”
  • “Latrine-o-grams tend to be accurate”


The part of the discussion that had me sitting up and madly taking notes was almost a sidebar to the main discussion: how the liberation of areas occupied by the Japanese affected anti-colonial movements after the war. At war’s end, Commonwealth forces rushed in to release POWs from Japanese camps (a good thing by any standard) and then held the metaphorical doors open for the return of British and French colonial armies to return (not a good thing from the perspective of the occupied). In many cases they were met by heavily armed resistance movements, courtesy of the Japanese. In what Millett referred to as a “regional transfer of weapons,” surrendering Japanese troops, fearing retaliation from the occupied “bought their way out” by turning over weapons to local resistance movements. In many of the areas the Japanese had held, World War II was over, but it was not replaced by peace.**

*Blatant Self Promotion Alert: You can also watch my program on Civil War nurses on Pritzker Military Presents.
**We’re going to come back to this idea in a future post. Don’t touch that dial!

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