Today’s recalled as the anniversary of America’s atomic strike on Nagasaki in 1945. But it should also be recalled as the start of one of history’s most amazing and unexpected friendships.
General MacArthur after the surrender and the start of his reign over Japan’s occupation remarked that, after a brutal USA invasion instead of the atomic strikes, reconciliation between the two nations may have been almost impossible. Such an invasion may have consumed months, perhaps longer, killing hundreds of thousands of Americans (MacArthur guessed 500,000 casualties), and perhaps millions of sometimes suicidal Japanese.
MacArthur led a peaceful occupation in which he led Japan towards many social and political reforms, commanding widespread Japanese reverence and appreciation. Would the same have been true had he led a vicious and prolonged invasion? Would Americans have been open to helping Japan towards an economic and political recovery had half a million Americans been killed and wounded during that invasion? Imagine the 10 year Vietnam War compressed into months, with 20 or 30 times the casualties.
Even today, 72 years later, many Asian populations still fear and loath Japan, recalling their brutal occupation by the Japanese empire. It’s said Vietnam under four years of Japanese rule may have suffered more than during 20 years of subsequent war involving America. China lost at least 17 million dead to Japan and was the biggest beneficiary of the atomic blasts. Such memories die hard.
About 160,000 Americans died fighting Japan. We haven’t forgotten. But America relatively quickly adopted Japan as a democratic ally in our own mold early during the Cold War. Japan happily adopted much of American culture. American military forces have been based on Japan for much of eight decades with no end in sight. Prime Minister Nakasone, a friend to Reagan, famously, and controversially, likened Japan to a giant USA aircraft carrier pointed at the Soviet Union. It’s hard to find such friends.
Today Japan continues to live under the American nuclear umbrella, as it did during the Cold War, but now protected from North Korea and China. Absent that umbrella Japan presumably would itself develop nuclear weapons. The Japanese-American strategic partnership is one of the most important, longest standing and most unique in the world today and in history, preceded by Pearl Harbor and brutal war, consummated by atomic blasts and occupation.
Christians interested in peacemaking should more closely examine the ingredients of Japanese-American partnership, composed of mutual interests, respect and genuine friendship. Japan is today a key partner in addressing the North Korean nuclear threat. Let’s pray someday there is friendship with North Korea similar to America’s with Japan, but achieved without war, atomic blasts and occupation.