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Australian participation in the occupation of Japan, 1945-1952

Shibuya, Iwane (2015) Australian participation in the occupation of Japan, 1945-1952. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis examines the Australian experience of the Allied occupation of Japan that followed World War II. Its primary focus is on what the occupation brought to Australia, rather than what Australia brought to the occupation. I analyse Australian participation in the occupation both at the level of government policy and the experience of the troops who went to Japan as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force. I argue that participation in the occupation was a key experience for the Australian government and for Australian society: it reinforced Australia's growing independence from Britain, its accommodation as a small nation with Pax Americana and the realities of the Cold War, and its creation of postwar agendas of democracy and reconstruction. The reality of the occupation experience revealed both the ambition of and the limits to these emergent national agenda. The experience of ordinary Australian soldiers in Japan, moreover, and their responses to the realities of postwar Japanese life, foreshadowed longer-term shifts in Australian attitudes to Asia.

As soon as Australian soldiers arrived on the ground in Japan, however, problems arose, often in the glare of the media. Amenities for the troops were at first inadequate, relations with US forces were sometimes strained, some troops behaved badly, and the official policy of 'non-fraternisation' with the Japanese population proved difficult to implement. Such problems led initially to a significant reconstruction of the occupation, involving a building program, an expanded role for female personnel, and the arrival of Australian families to join troops in Japan. These changes reflected the Australian government’s extraordinary commitment to the occupation even as other national contingents were winding back their involvement.

With the emergence of the Cold War, the Chifley government found less room to pursue its agenda in the international realm. Concerned about a potential confrontation with the Soviet Union that might involve Japan, it withdrew all but a small force from Japan in 1948. The latter stages of the occupation are marked by a decline in the Australian government’s expectations, a normalisation of its military and a focus on returning soldiers to civilian life in the postwar period. The limits of Australia’s role as a small power become much more evident, and the occupation experience reflected this limitation. The occupation nevertheless produced one final legacy, in the attempts by Australian soldiers to return home with Japanese war brides, at a time when the general postwar immigration program excluded Asian people.

Publication Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Arts
Supervisor: Wilson, Sandra and Layman, Lenore
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