The Good Occupation is one of those books that you are surprised hadn’t already been written. Fortunately, Susan Carruthers has elegantly and capably taken it on. Indeed, though there is no shortage of books on World War Two, little has been written about the “after armies,” the men and women left to clean up the mess of war. According to Carruthers, the postwar occupations of Japan and Germany have become little more than “hollow abstractions,” defined by the same mythical “goodness” that has long marked descriptions of American involvement in World War Two. Her goal is to correct that oversight. With great empathy and restraint, Carruthers shows the awkward, halting, and often reluctant work of occupation. In both Japan and Germany, American troops were uncertain of their roles and unclear of the objectives. Sometimes they were flat out bored. As Gen. George S. Patton scribbled in his daily dairy while occupying Bavaria, “nothing of importance happened.” The American GIs discovered that peacetime soldiering could be harder than combat. There were few markers of success, no clear victories to savor. That the work done in Japan and Germany would latter (and still) be held up as exemplars of postwar reconstruction thus deserves our deepest attention. The Good Occupation is organized chronologically with thematic chapters. The first three chapters examine preparation for occupation and the realities that greeted the Americans when they arrived as victors and occupiers. These chapters focus mostly on a handful of months from 1945 to 1946 and trace the planning for occupation, early days in Germany, and conquest in Japan. Carruthers importantly highlights the deep ambivalence American civilian and military personnel felt about the very idea of occupation. What did occupation suggest about American power in the postwar world? The middle of the book addresses American interactions with locals, including fraternization and issues of sexual relations (chapter 4) and the treatment of Displaced Persons (chapter 5). Finally, the book turns to the ways that occupation became normalized—or, to use Carruthers’s preferred term—domesticated. While military planners anticipated demoralization after the fighting ended, they were nonetheless surprised at how fast servicemen and servicewomen ceased being soldierly. Military planners had to confront the twin—and often contradictory—realities of trying to increase morale while coping with disciplinary problems within an army of men who just wanted to go home. Yet, given the emerging Cold War, U.S. leaders understood that the American boys were not going home anytime soon. They were digging in. Rumors of caddish behavior filtered home. Mass demobilization protests rocked bases around the world. In the field, the Army tried to cope with poor behavior by creating opportunities for healthy recreation and entertainment. This included well-stocked PXs, movie houses, sporting events, and entertainment. Local tourism was encouraged. Abundance was to inoculate GIs against low morale and ennui. Wives and families were imported as the final act of domesticating occupation. The perils of the postwar order thus led to the construction of little Americas around the world. To get to the intimate story of occupation Carruthers mined archives around the country, from Knoxville to Madison, New York to Atlanta. Carruthers seems to have read thousands of letters, memoirs, and diaries from servicemen and servicewomen—she calls the authors “soldier-writers” (62). Yet rather than overwhelm the reader with anecdote and example, the great strength of The Good Occupation is its restraint. Carruthers is willing to allow the words and actions of the GIs—these soldier-writers—themselves to build and explain. The result is a fascinating and, at times, uncomfortable narrative. American GIs were halting and uncertain, unsure in matters ranging from the critically important to the utterly mundane. Were they to be victors or benefactors? Did they still have to tuck in their shirts? How were they to treat former enemies? Could they talk to women? Was it bad that they felt repulsed by the squalor they found all around them? Could they requisition enemy homes for their own? Could they let Jewish survivors live in German houses? How were they to feel about sleeping in someone else’s feather bed? Could they take Nazi paraphernalia back home? Little guidance was given from above; official regulations were often capricious. Despite the fact that U.S. policymakers had planned for occupation before the end of the war, the task at hand was so enormous that much was made up as they went along. Strict non-fraternization orders, for example, were eventually rescinded in Germany and on Okinawa as it became clear there was little means of policing such relations. Carruthers’s nuanced approach to her sources comes through in her treatment of Displaced Persons (DPs). While the UNRRA was established in 1943 precisely to deal with the problem of postwar refugees, in reality the immediate task fell to military and occupation governments. American servicemen and women had to build and manage DP camps, act as guards, plan transport, and sort human beings. The reality, as they reported home in letters, was messy and inspiring; gratifying and horrific; frustrating and gruesome. As one soldier reported: “plans were made, unmade, remade … Nothing, absolutely nothing, was simple or turned out as expected” (155). There are no heroes or villains here, just men and women far from home having to cope with a humanitarian crisis few were emotionally or mentally prepared to witness, let alone participate in. While the U.S. government had a stated policy of automatic repatriation, American soldiers in occupied areas quickly realized the near-impossibility of the task. For one, many people did not want to be repatriated. Two, it was hard to figure out precisely who was displaced and needed assistance. Not even clothing could help determine who was in need: people wore uniforms in disguise or out of necessity; not even the striped fatigues of concentration camps could be a guarantee of DP status since Nazi guards were rumored to wear them to blend in as internees after the war. Indeed, this process of “unmixing” was far harder than it appeared and in general the Americans lacked the historical and geographic context to get it right. Millions of Japanese—both military and civilian—were scattered throughout East Asia. Ukrainians found in Germany protested being sent to the Soviet Union. Koreans in Japan were repatriated, only to be found months later aboard smuggling boats trying to get back in. These stories shed light on the conflicting and colliding views of race and ethnicity that Americans brought with them, but also confronted anew. Carruthers’s story is a vivid and beautifully crafted reminder of how even careful planning cannot account for all contingences. War and after-war are messy. Even the best intentions cannot lead to strictly good outcomes: occupying soldiers were guilty of rape, violence, and graft. They were also capable of great acts of kindness and self-sacrifice. The individuals who made up the after armies tended not to care so much about the lessons they were leaving or the precedents they unwittingly set. For most it was usually enough to do a job and just go home. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Diplomatic History – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 1, 2018
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