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Those who do not learn history are condemned to go into engineering...

There's been a lot of navel-gazing recently, both from the right and the left about how we're failing in the war in Iraq. My old friend Martin never ceases to inform me that my belief in the analogy between nation-building reconstruction in post WWII Japan and the present situation is naive, and that it's all gone horribly wrong.

It's depressing to be right about uncheerful things, and so far my contentions that the 'peace processes' in Ireland and Israel would have neither peace nor process (a view I've held consistently since Oslo) have turned out to be fairly correct, with respect to Ireland at least inasmuch as the situation is not over. (I still think Ireland will begin breaking down more dramatically in the next few years.) So perhaps I can make a prediction a little more pleasant in nature:

By 2008, Iraq will be a stable, multi-party democracy in which women will have the right to vote. This democracy will look to the United States as its 'founders' with a certain amount of respect, although forces (primarily on the right) within this democracy will be busy rebuilding 'cultural' features of the prior order which had been forbidden during the occupation.

I say this simply because, whilst Martin keeps telling me things are going so much worse than during the Japanese occupation, I'm not so certain. While we're missing a MacArthur figure, certainly, I'd say that's about it. We're still in the first year--in the analogous case families were still scurrying out of cities to live with relatives in the countryside because they could be assured of some small amount of food; the script of the country was going to near worthlessness in an engineered hyperinflation; and a good part of the security of the city of Osaka had been devolved to the yakuza.

Indeed, if there's anything that might cause us to fail in the endeavor, it's not George Will's accusation of 'arrogance,' but rather a lack of ambition. Those men who, under MacArthur, broke down the zaibatsu, reformed the ownership of land, and instituted a system of government completely foreign to the 'feudal' ideals that pertained before the war were not timid men. In this case, if we set out to reform Baghdad, we must reform Badhdad.


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So in the Japanese case what (if anything) would you consider analogous to the rest of the Muslim world who are expected by some to take a dim view of US cultural and economic influence over Bagdhad ?
First, I'll state it's not a perfect, but a working analogy. One reason we don't have a MacArthur figure is that we don't really have a Hirohito figure. Hussein was feared as a leader but not revered, and he has not stepped down but instead gone into hiding (or has been killed). That and the fact that 'shock and awe' was nowhere near as awe-inspiring as the first and only use of nuclear weaponry in warfare changes the scenario somewhat. However, it's a change of degree. There were forces of conservatism during the Japanese occupation as well: owners of land (particularly absentee landlords); the zaibatsu families who owned the vast industrial conglomerates; the military leadership which had prosecuted the war and believed so strongly in Japanese exceptionalism. The difference is that not only were these forces weaker, but we made a conscious effort to make certain that if they were not annihilated, they were made increasingly irrelevant. The occupational forays into land reform and the breakdown of the zaibatsu were a deliberate attempt at not only nation-building but civilization-building. The moral relativism expressed in your question, Bateleur, simply was not there. The institutions that were particularly 'Japanese,' to the extent that they were seen to have contributed to Japan's behavior during the war, were not merely differences in how people might choose to live but considered to be wrong. I'm not sure I agree with the opinions of the Occupation, but they certainly had the courage of their convictions. To an extent, we're doing this in Iraq. We're putting forth women as judges, building new centers of power to take the place of the old. My concern is that perhaps in our case we do not have either the ambition or the courage.
I know too little about Japan to comment a lot, but I find it hard to share your optimism - at least until someone sends another 250k troops to restore order. Iraq seems to be turning into warlord country and no-one is setting a good example. The most powerful force in politics is conservative Islam (all flavours) and the biggest problem is not resistance but crime. All those reports of gunfire echoing around Baghdad at night - it's not the soldiers they're shooting at, it's each other. The one thing I do agree with you about is what must come next. Someones' got to sod consensus and impose something on the country until it settles down enough for democracy to be implemented (and if they elect an Israel hating theocracy well at least it's an elected one). After that what Iraq really needs is a Dr Deming for the 21st century. Incidently, your prediction currently fits Afghanistan, but it's pretty clear the job is far from done there. M

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