American Proconsul: How Douglas MacArthur Shaped Postwar Japan | HistoryNet

American Proconsul: How Douglas MacArthur Shaped Postwar Japan

By Stanley Weintraub
11/8/2011 • Military History

MacArthur arrived at Atsugi Air Base near Yokohama on Aug. 30, 1945, ready to put his imprint on postwar Japan. (U.S. Army Photo)
MacArthur arrived at Atsugi Air Base near Yokohama on Aug. 30, 1945, ready to put his imprint on postwar Japan. (U.S. Army Photo)

‘In his showily imperial way MacArthur became a substitute emperor figure, ensconced mystically atop Tokyo’s Dai Ichi building’

General of the Army Douglas MacArthur is an icon of American military history, a soldier who served his country for more than a half-century and is best known for his pivotal roles in World War II and the Korean War.

Yet in the years between those conflicts, MacArthur undertook one of his most challenging assignments: On Aug. 29, 1945, just days before the formal Japanese surrender aboard USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, President Harry S. Truman tapped MacArthur to oversee the occupation, rebuilding and democratization of Japan. Though his official title was supreme commander for the Allied powers (SCAP), he became in effect that defeated nation’s American viceroy.

Upon assuming command as SCAP—a position he had craved—MacArthur established his headquarters in the relatively undamaged Dai Ichi Insurance Co. building in Tokyo. From his spartan sixth-floor office he could gaze across a broad boulevard at the palace of Japan’s wartime emperor, Hirohito.

That MacArthur’s office overlooked the imperial moat and gardens suggests why he wanted the job. Although Truman despised the often imperious and arguably narcissistic general, the president recognized that MacArthur would be a striking alternative to the discredited and cloistered former demigod Hirohito. Also, keeping the perennially ambitious general far from the United States could dilute his political potential. From MacArthur’s perspective, there seemed no greater postwar position available than proconsul of defeated Japan. From that pinnacle he

, , , ,