vietnam and japan -- 12/9/15

Today's selection -- from Altered States: The United States and Japan since the Occupation by Michael Schaller. The Vietnam War was justified to the American public based on the "domino theory," -- the fear that if Vietnam fell, communism would soon reach America's shores. However, that was not the genuine fear of many senior U.S. officials. Instead, with the fall of China to communism in 1949, the more immediate and realistic fear was that Japan would be next and thus all of the Asia-Pacific region would become a communist bloc. Since Japan's economy was still in shambles, and it had been dependent on China for the import of raw materials, most felt it would inevitably come under Soviet and Chinese Communist sway unless alternatives were developed. A key U.S. policy objective thus became to develop Southeast Asia as an alternative, non-communist supplier and trading partner for Japan. It was the only viable alternative of consequence in the region, and therefore, policymakers felt it imperative to keep communism out of Vietnam:

"To frustrate the [U.S.S.R.], Washington had to ease out the European colonial powers and work 'through a screen of anti-communist Asiatics' to ensure, 'however long it takes' the triumph of genuine nationalism 'over Red Imperialism.' The United States should 'vigorously develop the economic interdependence between [Southeast Asia] as a supplier of raw materials, and Japan, Western Europe and India as suppliers of finished goods.' Stability, [Secretary of State Dean] Acheson's aides concluded in April 1949, would allow Southeast Asia to fulfill its 'major function as a source of raw materials and a market for Japan and Western Europe.'

"The establishment of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949, made this question urgent. Few policymakers in the Truman admin­istration believed the 'loss' of China directly threatened American secu­rity. But many worried that the Communist victory would undermine Japan, whose industry had long drawn raw materials from northeast Asia. ...

"To assure future cooperation, [U.S. diplomat George] Kennan recommended keeping Japan on a short tether. A prosperous yet dependent ally would best serve American interests. This required imposing controls 'foolproof enough and cleverly enough exercised ... to have power over what Japan imports in the way of oil and other things.' Economic controls would give Washington 'veto power over what she does.' ...

Chinese communist troops marching through Beijing after taking over the city in early 1949

"If Japan were 'added to the Communist bloc,' Dean Acheson told British Ambas­sador Oliver Franks in December 1949, 'the Soviets would acquire skilled manpower and industrial potential capable of significantly altering the bal­ance of world power.' ...

After another trip through the region early in 1950, Stewart Alsop described the Kremlin's effort to 'organize another infinitely vaster Asiatic Co-Prosperity Sphere.' Citing a bowling analogy (which preceded the domino theory), Alsop wrote:

The head pin was China. It is down already. The two pins in the second row are Burma and Indo-china. If they go, the three pins in the third row, Siam, Malaya and Indonesia, are pretty sure to topple in their turn. And if all the rest of Asia goes, the resulting psychological, political and eco­nomic magnetism will almost certainly drag down the four pins of the fourth row, India, Pakistan, Japan and the Philippines.

"Alsop mentioned an interview with Japanese Communist leader Nozaka Sanzo as proof of this plan. Nozaka, he said, outlined a great cres­cent of Soviet power stretching from Siberia to New Guinea. With a 'broad, cheerful grin,' he told Alsop that 'it won't be long' before this 'immense new Russian empire' absorbed Japan. ...

"Most [U.S. officials] hoped to maintain influence over Japan by tethering it to American-controlled sources of critical imports. Access to Chinese raw materials might alter 'Japan's political and strategic orienta­tion.' By promising preferential trade access or threatening to withdraw favors already granted, Chinese leaders might pull Tokyo 'into the Com­munist bloc.' For example, if Japan's steel industry relied on Chinese cok­ing coal, what would prevent Beijing from abruptly cutting off supplies to force a 'serious economic crisis' for political purposes? By the same token, Japan might simply drift toward neutralism to avoid offending China.

"The Department of State advocated a two-track policy, permitting Japan limited trade with China as a 'breathing space before the develop­ment of better trade conditions for Japan in Southeast Asia.' Meanwhile, development aid to Southeast Asia should serve the 'dual purpose' of advancing American influence by 'providing insurance not only for Japan's future economic independence' but also for the degree of eco­nomic stability required for 'political independence throughout the Far East.' ...

"By solving the 'great ques­tion' of Japan's economic needs, [Acheson] told the senators, Asia could be saved from Communism. An economically desperate Japan, he warned, might resume aggression, turn toward the Soviets, or 'ask for bids back and forth between the two sides.' Because Southeast Asia could potentially supply so many of Japan's needs, Acheson testified later, the United States should concentrate on this region rather than China. For Stalin, he quipped, con­trolling 'China without Indochina and Siam and Malaya,' was 'like get­ting to third base and not getting to score.' Undersecretary of the Army Tracy Voorhees echoed the theme of linking aid to Japan and Southeast Asia. 'Continuing or even maintaining Japan's economic recovery,' he informed the National Security Council, depended on 'keeping commu­nism out of Southeast Asia, promoting economic recovery there' and developing the countries there 'as principal trading partners for Japan.' "


Michael Schaller


Altered States: The United States and Japan since the Occupation


Oxford University Press


Copyright 1997 by Oxford University Press


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