Letter from George Atcheson, Jr. to the President dated November 5, 1945.

In reply refer to File No. 800
Department of State

of the


Tokyo, Japan, November 5, 1945.


Dear Mr. President:

You may find of interest some general observations based upon my six weeks sojourn here.

Like the occupation, the strategy used in implementing American governmental directives has been politically successful beyond expectation. At present it looks as if our political policy will continue to meet with far greater success than we could have hoped and that if there arise important obstacles to that success they will be primarily economic in character.

Two factors have brought about the success so far attained. General MacArthur has proceeded with caution, restraint, wisdom and far-sightedness. The surrender and immediately subsequent events caused a complete psychological somersault in the Japanese population, especially in the urban centers. This arose in the first place from profound relief that the war was over and in the second from the startling realization that the people were not to be murdered, raped and beaten by our troops who have made a splendid record by their conduct and natural kindliness and have set an example which speaks highly for their bringing up and for the American way of life.

While many Japanese are still bewildered and apathetic, what resentment they feel is rather toward their own poor government and inept officials rather than toward us. Most of the so-called common people have had little background for political thinking; they are nevertheless generally in a mood for reform and change, and this is apparent from the ready manner in which they have absorbed the shocks of the various political directives. Contrary to most predictions, they were not horrified to learn that they may now discuss the Emperor. They were startled when the Emperor called on General MacArthur; but the humiliation over that was felt chiefly by the officials. It is not going too far to say that at least the urban people are even beginning to feel some hope that they will eventually have a better life -- if their rather desperate economic problems can be solved.

There is naturally divergence between the attitudes toward American occupation and aims exhibited by the higher Japanese officials and the career bureaucracy, the intelligentsia, the men of big business, and "the common people." Practically all categories of Japanese show or pretend a desire to cooperate with our military, but the civil officials and bureaucracy are the least sincere and effective. There is an appalling lack of leadership, partially because the military backbone and driving force of the government is gone. And in any serious effort toward reform, Cabinet ministers who may overcome their near incapacity to adapt themselves to the progress of events are confronted, often to the point of helplessness, by the obstructionism of the unregenerate and deeply intrenched bureaucrats. They carry out directives but seem incapable of solving many of the administrative and most of the serious economic problems with which the government is faced. We can probably expect a series of ineffective, short-term cabinets. The present Cabinet is a slight improvement over that of Higashi-Kuni -- but it is also only a stop-gap.

There is, of course, more real liberalism among the intelligentsia than among other classes, but those deserving the name of liberal are almost all timid men timidly feeling their way, their spirits still chained by past repression, still haunted by undefined fears, still unable to realize that they are at last really free to speak and act. And among them, as among other classes, there are men who have merely (as the Japanese put it) repainted their signs. Kagawa, the so-called Christian leader, is unfortunately widely known among Japanese as one of these.

The big business people are among the most obvious sign-repainters. They are fundamentally conservative and reactionary; since the days of the Meiji Restoration they and the military have been mutually dependent; but as their chief interest is the making of money they are inclined toward such reforms as will tend to stabilize the situation and get things back to some kind of business "normalcy."

Among good political signs are: outcropping of various new political parties; steps being taken toward revision of the Constitution and election and other laws; the Emperor's apparently serious consideration of the desirability of abdicating in due course. It is unlikely that much can be expected from the new parties for some time but they are a beginning. Unfortunately, the most aggressive and vocal is the communist group. The vigor of some of the communist leaders is evidenced in the circumstance that, after eighteen years of imprisonment including solitary confinement which would have broken the bodies and spirits of ordinary men, upon their release they began making speeches before they were outside the prison gates. It is not unlikely that the communist party will become a problem and while it disclaims any connection with the Soviets, the presence here of Soviet occupation forces would undoubtedly give them indirect encouragement and would facilitate any liaison that may exist with Russian communists.

As for the Emperor, there would certainly be advantages in having him continue in office until the Constitution is revised and launched in order that revision may be expedited through his influence and given sanction under the existing legal framework. His abdication, if it occurs, will increase political instability in the Government, and it may take a long time before an appropriately revised governmental structure takes solid root. But as between a long period of political confusion and the imperial institution, the latter is undoubtedly the greater evil, and there seems little question that the Japanese people will never learn and follow the fundamental ways of democracy so long as the imperial institution exists.

There is a curious story behind the activities of Prince Konoye which have caused press criticism in the United States and in Japan as well. I was present on October 4 when he called on General MacArthur on his own initiative. The General mentioned that the "administrative machinery" of the Government should be reformed and Konoye's interpreter (who verified this to me later) could not think of the correct Japanese translation and passed the statement off with the only thing that came to his mind -- "the constitution should be revised." Konoye came to me three days later to ask for "advice and suggestions" in regard to constitutional revision, and I told him and his companions, in a general way, what I thought was wrong with the constitution. Subsequently, he got himself designated by the Emperor to work on the matter. This may cause some problems in the future but so long as we are using the Japanese Government to accomplish what we wish -- or are permitting it to make its own efforts toward that end -- it would not seem the part of wisdom to interfere at this juncture with an individual so engaged who is in the confidence of the Emperor and carries weight among the reactionaries because he himself is a feudal lord, especially as he was not arrested in the beginning. He is, of course, trying to save his own skin and the ethical question of using him for a very important purpose and then turning on him later is one which I myself would prefer not to try to solve.

The economic problems I have mentioned are real and serious. Not only has the government failed to provide even temporary shelter for many thousands of people in the cities whose dwellings and shops were destroyed, but it has failed to get production of exports sufficiently started even to begin to pay for the imports of rice that will be needed to ward off widespread malnutrition and, for many, starvation. Food riots have been familiar occurrences in Japanese history. Very few Americans here are so pessimistic as to believe that such disturbances will create for us a military problem, but the political effects are almost certain to be bad, and it may come to the point where we will have to provide relief supplies, whether we wish to or not, in order to maintain sufficiently solid ground on which to push forward with our political objectives.


(sgd) George Atcheson, Jr.

The President,

The White House,

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