Comparative Insights: Marshall Plan, Japan, and Iraq

author: John W. Dower, Department of History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: Charles S. Maier, The Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, Harvard University
published: March 7, 2013,   recorded: March 2005,   views: 2859

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John Dower sees a world of difference between a shattered Japan that accepted U.S. occupation, and fractious Iraq, which continues to buck under American leadership. The U.S. did succeed in Japan, in ways that seem improbable in Iraq. For instance, an intact Japanese government surrendered unconditionally to America, lending legitimacy to the occupiers. The Japanese had suffered war since 1937, and were “liberated from death.” Going in, says Dower, the U.S. clearly explained its goals of demilitarization and democratization, and changed national laws within two years. Plus, there was no appearance or reality of profiteering by Americans. The Japanese were expected to pick themselves up by their bootstraps. Human resources once directed against the enemy were redirected toward industrial and commercial ends, such that “Japan emerges as a sophisticated country technologically and technocratically.”

Charles Maier describes how the Marshall Plan arose as a way of dealing with the threat of Communism in Western Europe: “It was a battle for the hearts, minds and votes of the European working class.” With America’s peace dividend, the Marshall Plan helped 16 countries emerge from war debt, and rebuild their economies. “We did no carpet bagging in the Marshall Plan,” says Maier. “There was no Bechtel or Halliburton.” The notion was that “healthy economies will resist Communism.” Unlike contemporary Iraq, Europe did not suffer from religious or cultural divisions, but from class and party conflict. There was also little energy left for “polarizing violence.” Says Maier, “Prosperity has its virtues and can dissolve a lot.” He’s not sure whether Iraq, or an entire Middle East made prosperous, can smooth over “age-old hatreds.”

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