The task confronting MacArthur seventy years ago in Japan was absolutely staggering. As Supreme Commander Allied Powers, he found himself in charge of a devastated Japan. Most of its major cities were collections of rubble. The Japanese rail system was in shambles from Allied bombing. Most of the Japanese merchant fleet was now sailing the bottom of the Pacific. An immense famine was manifestly waiting in the wings. The Japanese shattered medical system was unable to cope with rampant disease. Finally, the Japanese economy was at a virtual standstill, awaiting the repatriation of millions of Japanese troops stationed overseas to add to the ranks of the unemployed. To top this off, MacArthur also had to fend off loud demands from politicians and ordinary American citizens that Japan be punished, anger at the unprovoked war still being raw in the United States. MacArthur, ever sensitive to public opinion, on September 14, 1945 released a statement to give some inkling to his fellow countrymen of the situation in Japan:
STATEMENT BY GENERAL MACARTHUR ON THE OCCUPATION OF JAPAN
September 14, 1945
New York Times.
I have noticed some impatience in the press, based upon the assumption of a so-called soft policy in Japan. This can only arise from an erroneous concept of what is occurring.
The first phase of the occupation must of necessity be based on military considerations which involved the deployment forward of our troops and the disarming and demobilization of the enemy. This is coupled with the paramount consideration of withdrawing our former prisoners of war and war internees from internment camps and evacuating them to their homes.
Safety and security require that all of the steps shall proceed with precision and completeness, lest calamity may be precipitated.
The military phase is proceeding in an entirely satisfactory way.
Over half of the enemy’s force in Japan proper is now demobilized and the entire program will be practically complete by the middle of October. During this interval of time, safety and complete security must be assured.
When the first phase is completed, other phases as provided in the surrender terms will infallibly follow. No one need have any doubt about the prompt, complete, entire fulfillment of the terms of surrender. The process, however, takes time. It is well understandable that in the face of atrocities committed by the enemy there should be impatience. This natural impulse, however, should be tempered by the fact that security and military expediency still require an exercise of some restraint. The surrender terms aren’t soft and they won’t be applied in kid-glove fashion.
Economically and industrially as well as militarily, Japan is completely exhausted and depleted. She is in a condition of utter collapse. Her governmental structure is controlled completely by occupation forces and is operating only to the extent necessary to insure such an orderly and controlled procedure as will prevent social chaos, disease and starvation.
The over-all objectives for Japan have been clearly outlined in the surrender terms and will be accomplished in an orderly, concise and comprehensive way without delays beyond those imposed by the magnitude of the physical problems involved.
It is extraordinarily difficult for me at times to exercise that degree of patience which is unquestionably demanded if the long-time policies which have been decreed are to be successfully accomplished without repercussions which would be detrimental to the well-being of the world, but I am restraining myself to the best of my ability and am generally satisfied with the progress being made.