What a Difference Half a Century Makes

MacArthur and Hirohito

One of the iconic images of the American occupation of Japan (1945-1952) is the photograph of General Douglas MacArthur and Emperor Hirohito taken at MacArthur’s headquarters. The photograph is a striking symbol of American dominance and Japanese submission, a brilliant propaganda move by MacArthur. The 44-year-old emperor, previously rarely photographed or seen by the public, appears nervous and awkward next to the 65-year-old MacArthur, who seems to tower above him and deliberately strikes a casual pose in his open-necked khaki shirt. Further, it was the emperor who paid audience to MacArthur, and not vice versa. Hirohito did have reason to be nervous: the Occupation authorities were in the midst of deciding whether to retain the imperial institution, or whether to have Hirohito tried as a war criminal and quite possibly executed, something that much of the American public and many of Japan’s other enemies were quite in favor of.

Historian John Dower writes in Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II (1), that “Rigid royalists like the [Japanese] Home Ministry’s censors immediately saw the photo as an appalling sort of lese majesty” (p.293). Nevertheless, it was published, serving as a demonstration of American-style freedom of the press as well as as a reminder of the Japanese defeat.

And yet, the photograph was not as injurious to the emperor as it might seem. Writes Dower: “The photograph is often said to mark the moment when it really came home to most Japanese that they had been vanquished and the Americans were in charge. At the same time – and this is what the censors and the more overwrought superpatriots missed – it also made it plain that SCAP [Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers] was hospitable to the emperor, and would stand by him” (293). MacArthur’s audience with the Emperor was followed by a campaign, engineered by General Bonner Fellers and strongly supported by MacArthur, to prevent the criminal prosecution of the emperor. The preservation of the imperial household of Japan as a national symbol of a democratic nation came to be accepted by the Americans and by most Japanese.

I couldn’t help seeing the ironic resemblance of a recent photo containing similar elements, but taken and published under very different circumstances:

Jong-Il and Bill

While the height difference between the white man and the Asian man is the same, the other important elements have been reversed, and the American – a former president, no less – is the subordinate and the one being made a fool of. Of course, the photos differ completely in their particulars. The first shows a moment in history when America, having decisively defeated Japan in a total war that culminated in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, commenced an occupation with a firm sense of her own rightness. The second incident is infinitely trivial by comparison: Asian-American female journalists put themselves in harm’s way and were nabbed by the enemy; the Obama administration decided to allow Kim his desired PR coup by providing him with a real U.S. president (and, Charles Krauthammer thinks, other forms of aid) in exchange for the release of the hostages. It is just one of the sharper illustrations of the results of a fifty-year breakdown of the American sense of identity and national interest.

It is easy, from a position of safety, to make fun of Kim Jong-Il, (yes, I think the linked video is funny) and Clinton’s own history has inevitably led to to jokes about the incident. However, the reality is not funny. I have no solution to propose for our relationship with the Koreas, but the permanent posting of 28,000 troops in the South to protect it from the North, even as the South becomes increasingly anti-American, is unacceptable. As is any policy, whether regarding North Korea or Iran or the admission of Muslims as graduate students in the sciences, that does not put as its highest priority, and minimum acceptable outcome, the prevention of a nuclear attack against the United States.

There are other intriguing threads between the two pictures. In both cases the possession of nuclear weapons is the source of the victor’s power. Another link is the figure of MacArthur himself, who became the commander of UN forces during the Korean War, and was dismissed by Truman for insubordinate behavior. He seems to have been both more aggressive and more idealistic than his administration in his Korea policy. And the occupation of Japan that he headed, while by any standard a historically unique and massive success, set the precedent for the U.S. policy of trying to help and democratize other countries, including our defeated enemies. The liberal universalist rationale of the American occupation has become standard in all our foreign military activities, and continues to distort our understanding of the Korean situation. Finally, the contrast between America’s wartime propaganda against the emperor and the eager fraternization of occupation authorities with Japanese court circles (described by Dower) gives pause for thought.

MacArthur’s America was strong, though flawed. Today, America “no longer exists,” as Lawrence Auster put it in his commentary on the reason for our tepid response to the Chinese capture of the personnel of a U.S. spy plane in 2001. That is, we have lost a sense of being part of a larger national entity whose identity transcends that of the individuals who belong to it. As a result, when a hostile nation like North Korea commits an act of aggression against us as a nation, we respond solely in terms of the welfare of individuals. From this point of view, Clinton’s mission to North Korea was a resounding success, praised even by Republicans like Douglas Paal, who in an opinion piece for the New York Times, supports the Clinton visit. His approval is based on the simple belief that Clinton’s visit was the only way to free the journalists, mixed with some wishful thinking that Kim “may be ready now to turn a more cooperative face to the outside world.” Lee and Ling themselves have expressed emotional thanks to the U.S. government and the individuals who supported them, but don’t appear to be conscious of the considerable burden they placed upon their nation.

Meanwhile, the palpable humiliation of America, in the person of our former president, is recorded on film for posterity, quite visible to the rest of the world and to the North Koreans, though suppressed from the consciousness of most Americans. There is no way to escape the daily humiliations and increasing threats to our physical safety until we recover a historically rooted sense of who we are as Americans.


(1) John Dower, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II, New York : W.W. Norton & Co., 1999.


9 Responses to What a Difference Half a Century Makes

  1. Old Atlantic says:

    Great pairing of photos. The visual says so many things. It also stimulates much thought. The second photo reeks of moral decay and the victory of barbarians. It is a humiliation of us as you point out. Its a humiliation we have brought on ourselves by self-indulgent choices. Our misleaders have engaged in self satisfied breast beating on race and let in alien peoples to permanently occupy this land.

    Our misleaders have done everything to us that the Japanese people feared MacArthur would do to them, colonize them, humiliate them, and degrade them. Make them bow down to their occupiers and give up their communities and way of life. Make them apologize constantly for their very nature, the way they look, talk, act and organize themselves.

    The occupation we suffer now is one of the worst in history and is getting worse. The invaders strut around like conquerors and occupy the positions of privilege and power. We are humiliated. Clinton now plays the role of humiliated white man. One he is well suited for it is true, but still not good for us as you point out.

  2. stephenhopewell says:


    “The second photo reeks of moral decay and the victory of barbarians.” Perfectly put.

    The changes being forced on us are, indeed, indistinguishable from those that normally follow a defeat in war or military invasion.

  3. Dr.D says:

    Stephen, this is a very fine post. You have really hit the nail on the head here regarding the way in which we are currently humiliated in exactly the ways that the Japanese feared they would be treated. They were spared, but we are getting the full treatment and it is getting worse by the day.

    We really should not expect this current administration to send someone who represents America, because they do not represent America. They do not think like America, and they certainly have no respect for America. They delight in the humiliation of America, as demonstrated by Zero’s constant apologies on his overseas trips.

    The America that won WW II lies prostrate in the ditch today while the world spits on her.

  4. stephenhopewell says:

    _____ – Stillwell sounds like an interesting figure. Yes, totally different from today.

    Dr.D – Thank you. Actually I had not taken the thought as far as comparing our situation at home with occupied Japan; that was Old Atlantic. But obviously, all roads lead to immigration when we discuss the current crisis.

    The British tabloid account I linked (I have no idea whether it’s accurate) portrays Clinton as having been eager to perform this act of diplomacy to show his importance. Regardless, the photo shows his humiliation. In an ironic way, he DOES represent white America.

    The ethnicity of the journalists is another important aspect of this case.

  5. Takuan Seiyo says:

    Allow me to provide a frame for this discussion, and an inspired one it is:

    The stupid coddling of the Chateau d’Yquem-swilling toxic leprechaun has been a hallmark of the Clinton Administration, and it continues in Albright’s activities at CFR. And CFR is where they send American colonels for some indoctrination before they give them the first star.

  6. “Lee and Ling themselves have expressed emotional thanks to the U.S. government and the individuals who supported them, but don’t appear to be conscious of the considerable burden they placed upon their nation.”

    It’s not a coincidence that these two women of Asian descent just happened to be interested in Korea. I truly doubt that they see this country built by white men as their “nation.” Sure, they like the economic benefits and the assurance that if they do something stupid the American embassy (or ex-president) will bail them out, but to expect them to feel loyalty to a majority that is so racially different from themselves is unreasonable.

  7. stephenhopewell says:

    Seiyo, thanks for the link. I’d heard that David Zucker was reputed to be (shudder) conservative. We do need to laugh sometimes!

    Richard Hoste, you are right that it’s not a coincidence. There is a lot one could say on this issue, including the fact that China and North Korea feel emboldened to arrest Americans whose ancestry is from their country. And yes, clearly Lee and Ling’s interest in the issue of prostitution in Asia is related to their ancestry. Lee, of course, is not American, but a Korean to whom we have awarded citizenship. As for Ling, I didn’t know enough about her to comment on her loyalty to the U.S. It’s safe to say that she relates to the liberal, not the traditional, U.S.

    Obviously East Asians have assimilated pretty well and don’t seem to be anti-white most of the time. Nonetheless, their lack of European roots leads to friction and a sense of something missing for them in this society. Indications are that as their numbers increase so will their sense of separation from white America.

  8. Fr. John says:

    So, sir. Do you think the reason for the lack of an “American consciousness” lies in the fact that America has lost her RACE Consciousness? Or is that something you don’t wish to discuss.

    I mean, let’s call a spade a spade- umm Obama, being case in point #1. How could a racially aware America, as it was in 1945, have even elected this bastard son of an underage whore in the first place, save for the fact that the two Jews behind the Kennedy/Humphrey inspired ‘Immigration Reform Act of 1965 KNEW that the racial makeup of the USA would FOREVER be changed if that legislation passed? (Note- it did, and it has) But until we acknowledge and talk about the ‘elephant in the room’ it’s not going to make much difference…I believe.

  9. stephenhopewell says:

    Fr. John,

    I may not be discussing it in terms you prefer, but my answer to your question is yes. My writings are largely concerned with recovering a healthy understanding of American identity which includes a restored, normal racial consciousness for white people.

    Personally, I do not exclude Jewish Americans as allies in such an endeavor; and (full disclosure) my lineage even includes some Jewish blood. But I am not generally interested in writing about the “Jewish Question.” To me, recovering the health of the Christian or cultural Christian mainstream is far more urgent.

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