The Effect of the Nuclear Bomb on US-Japan Relations

Art by Dorothy Zhang

On August 6, 1945, a US B-29 bomber aircraft dropped the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, putting an end to one of the deadliest wars in history and becoming the first and only country to this day to utilize nuclear weaponry. Even now, the ethicality behind President Truman’s decision to drop the bomb is debated. According to the Radiation Effects Research Foundation, the initial bombing and the nuclear radiation following killed between 90,000 and 166,000 people within the first few months. The health effects of the nuclear bomb are still evident in the descendants of its survivors today. Despite the devastating effects of the bomb, the US and Japan are now significant trade partners who cooperate in a broad range of global issues. The damage caused by the nuclear bomb cannot be undone, so it’s important to observe what happened afterwards — how Japan rebuilt itself and its relationship with the US.
Japan surrendered exactly six days after the bombing of Hiroshima, signifying the end of World War II. Then, the Supreme Command of Allied Powers (SCAP), led by General Douglas MacArthur and consisting of the US, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the Republic of China, occupied Japan from 1945-1952. This occupation mainly focused on reforming and rebuilding Japan, including punishment for its past crimes and demilitarization. SCAP held war crimes trials in Tokyo, dismantled the Japanese Army, and forbade former military leaders from taking positions in the new Japanese government. Political power shifted from the emperor to the parliamentary system. Land reform was made to reduce the power of the rich landowners who supported the Japanese expansionism.
SCAP feared that a weak economy would cause Japan to fall under the influence of communism, especially since the victory of the Chinese Communist Party in China’s civil war seemed imminent, and therefore made a big effort to introduce free market capitalism to Japan’s economy. The biggest problem was the shortage of raw materials required to feed Japanese industries and markets for finished goods. However, this problem was solved with the United Nations’ (UN) involvement in the Korean War, as Japan was established as the principal supply depot for UN forces.
The Japanese occupation officially ended in 1952 with the signing of the Japan-US Security Treaty, also known as the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security Between Japan and the United States of America, in San Francisco. The treaty was a ten year renewable contract that stated that the US was allowed to have forces remain on Japanese soil even after Japan regained sovereignty. Japan was a pacifist state at the time, meaning it was opposed to war, and it was able to rely on the US for security as it focused on rebuilding its economy.
Over time, Japan began to increase its participation in military affairs again. In the Gulf War (1990-1991), Japan was able to provide funds, but did not send troops. Japanese government officials were frustrated towards their inability to participate in the war and resolved to change the country’s pacifist constitution. Japan’s first overseas military action during a combat operation was in November of 2001, when the Maritime Self-Defense Force was dispatched to the Indian Ocean to provide logistical support for US military operations in Afghanistan. Japan also sent forces to aid Iraq’s postwar reconstruction efforts in 2003. In 2015, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s reinterpretation of the constitution, Japan sent troops to defend allies for the very first time, and has been slowly widening the scope of its military cooperation with the US since.
Over time, reconciliation between the US and Japan progressed more and more. In 2016, President Barack Obama visited Hiroshima, Japan, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, becoming the first US President to do so. Currently, the US and Japan consider each other to be close allies. A 2017 poll from Japan’s Cabinet Office revealed that 84% of Japanese people report feeling close to the US. Similarly, according to a poll from Gallup in 2018, 87% of Americans have a favorable view of Japan. The ethics behind the bombing of Hiroshima are still being discussed today, and no matter which side of the debate one is on, it is an undeniable fact that war is like a disease that tears people apart, leaving only tragedy and destruction in its path. Even so, the relationship between Japan and the US, though shaky and even hostile at times, can serve as proof that, with effort, reconciliation will always be possible.

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