Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers

The Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) (originally briefly styled Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers[1]) (連合国軍最高司令官, Rengōkokugun saikōshireikan) was the title held by General Douglas MacArthur during the United States-led Allied occupation of Japan following World War II. It issued SCAP Directives (alias SCAPIN, SCAP Index Number) to the Japanese government, aiming to suppress its "militaristic nationalism".[2] The position was created at the start of the occupation of Japan on August 14, 1945.

The Dai-Ichi Seimei Building which served as SCAP headquarters, c. 1950

In Japan, the position was generally referred to as GHQ (General Headquarters), as SCAP also referred to the offices of the occupation (which was officially referred by SCAP itself as General Headquarters, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (連合国軍最高司令官総司令部, Rengōkokugun saikōshireikan sōshireibu, abbreviated as GHQ–SCAP)), including a staff of several hundred US civil servants as well as military personnel. Some of these personnel effectively wrote a first draft of the Japanese Constitution, which the National Diet then ratified after a few amendments. Australian, British Empire, and New Zealand forces under SCAP were organized into a sub-command known as British Commonwealth Occupation Force.

These actions led MacArthur to be viewed as the new Imperial force in Japan by many Japanese political and civilian figures, even being considered to be the rebirth of the shōgun-style government[3]: 341  which Japan was ruled under until the start of the Meiji Restoration. American biographer William Manchester argues that without MacArthur's leadership, Japan would not have been able to make the move from an imperial, totalitarian state, to a democracy. At his appointment, MacArthur announced that he sought to "restore security, dignity and self-respect" to the Japanese people.[4]

MacArthur was also in charge of southern Korea from 1945 to 1948 due to the lack of clear orders or initiative from Washington, D.C. There was no plan or guideline given to MacArthur from the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the State Department on how to rule Korea, resulting in a very tumultuous 3 year military occupation that led to the creation of the U.S.-friendly Republic of Korea in 1948. He ordered Lieutenant General John R. Hodge, who accepted the surrender of Japanese forces in southern Korea in September 1945, to govern that area on SCAP's behalf and report to him in Tokyo.[5][6]

Transforming JapanEdit

A major land reform was conducted, led by Wolf Ladejinsky of MacArthur's SCAP staff; however, Ladejinsky himself stated that the true architect of the land reform was Hiroo Wada [ja], then-Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries from the Japan Socialist Party.[7] Between 1947 and 1949, approximately 4,700,000 acres (1,900,000 ha), or 38% of Japan's cultivated land, was purchased from the landlords under the government's reform program, and 4,600,000 acres (1,860,000 ha) was resold to the farmers who worked them. By 1950, 89% of all agricultural land was owner-operated and only 11% was tenant-operated.[8] MacArthur's efforts to encourage trade union membership met with phenomenal success, and by 1947, 48% of the non-agricultural workforce was unionized. Some of MacArthur's reforms were rescinded in 1948 when his unilateral control of Japan was ended by the increased involvement of the State Department.[9] During the Occupation, SCAP successfully, if not entirely, abolished many of the financial coalitions known as the Zaibatsu, which had previously monopolized industry.[10] Eventually, looser industrial groupings known as Keiretsu evolved. The reforms alarmed many in the U.S. Departments of Defense and State, who believed they conflicted with the prospect of Japan and its industrial capacity as a bulwark against the spread of communism in Asia.[11]

Japan's hereditary peerage, called kazoku, that lasted for over a millennium in different but essentially similar forms, was abolished by the new Japanese constitution that was heavily influenced by MacArthur. This was similar to the European peerage system involving princes, barons and counts that were not part of the royal family. Also, the extended royal family, called ōke and shinnōke, was abolished and stripped of all rights and privileges, transforming into commoners immediately. The only Japanese that were allowed to call themselves a part of royalty or nobility after the U.S. occupation were the emperor and about 20 of his direct family members. This action by MacArthur and the writers of the constitution helped transform Japan drastically by abolishing all of the old extended royal family class and the nobility class.[12]

MacArthur ruled Japan with a very soft-handed approach. He legalized the Japanese Communist Party despite reservations from the United States government out of a desire for Japan to be truly democratic and invited them to take part in the 1946 election, which was also the first ever election to allow women to vote. He ordered the release of all political prisoners of the Imperial Japanese era, including communist prisoners. The first May Day parade in 11 years in 1946 was greenlit by MacArthur also. On the day before the May Day celebrations, which would involve 300,000 Japanese communists demonstrating with red flags and pro-Marxism chants in front of the Tokyo Imperial Palace and the Dai-Ichi Building, a group of would-be assassins led by Hideo Tokayama that planned to assassinate MacArthur with hand grenades and pistols on May Day were stopped and some of its members were arrested. Despite this plot the May Day demonstrations went on. MacArthur stopped the Communist Party from gaining any popularity in Japan by releasing their members from prison, conducting landmark land reform that made MacArthur more popular than communism for the rural Japanese farmers and peasants, and allowing the communists to freely participate in elections. In the 1946 election they won only 6 seats.[13][14][15]

Welfare programsEdit

One of the largest of the SCAP programs was Public Health and Welfare, headed by US Army Colonel Crawford F. Sams. Working with the SCAP staff of 150, Sams directed the welfare work of the American doctors, and organized entirely new Japanese medical welfare systems along American lines. The Japanese population was in a poor state: most people badly worn down, doctors and medicines were very scarce, and sanitary systems had been bombed out in larger cities. His earliest priorities were in distributing food supplies from the United States. Millions of refugees from the defunct overseas empire were pouring in, often in bad physical shape, with a high risk of introducing smallpox, typhus and cholera. The outbreaks that did occur were localized, as emergency immunization, quarantine, sanitation, and delousing prevented massive epidemics. Sams, who was promoted to Brigadier General in 1948, worked with Japanese officials to establish vaccine laboratories, reorganize hospitals along American lines, upgrade medical and nursing schools, and bring together Japanese, international, and US teams that dealt with disasters, child care, and health insurance. He set up an Institute of Public Health for educating public health workers and a National Institute of Health for research, and set up statistical divisions and data collection systems.[16]

War crimes issuesEdit

SCAP arrested 28 suspected war criminals on account of crimes against peace, but it did not conduct the Tokyo Trials; the International Military Tribunal for the Far East was responsible instead.[17][18] President Harry Truman had negotiated Japanese surrender on the condition the Emperor would not be executed or put on trial. SCAP carried out that policy.[19]

As soon as November 26, 1945, MacArthur confirmed to Admiral Mitsumasa Yonai that the emperor's abdication would not be necessary.[3]: 323  Before the war crimes trials actually convened, SCAP, the IPS and officials from Hirohito's Shōwa government worked behind the scenes not only to prevent the imperial family being indicted, but also to slant the testimony of the defendants to ensure that no one implicated the Emperor. High officials in court circles and the Shōwa government collaborated with Allied GHQ in compiling lists of prospective war criminals, while the individuals arrested as Class A suspects and incarcerated in Sugamo Prison solemnly vowed to protect their sovereign against any possible taint of war responsibility.[3]: 325 

As Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, MacArthur also decided not to prosecute Shiro Ishii and all members of the bacteriological research units in exchange for germ warfare data based on human experimentation. On May 6, 1947, he wrote to Washington that "additional data, possibly some statements from Ishii probably can be obtained by informing Japanese involved that information will be retained in intelligence channels and will not be employed as "War Crimes" evidence."[20] The deal was concluded in 1948.[21]

According to historian Herbert Bix in Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, "MacArthur's truly extraordinary measures to save the Emperor from trial as a war criminal had a lasting and profoundly distorting impact on Japanese understanding of the lost war."[22] MacArthur's reasoning was if the emperor were executed or sentenced to life imprisonment there would be a violent backlash and revolution from the Japanese from all social classes and this would interfere with his primary goal to change Japan from a militarist, feudal society to a pro-Western modern democracy. In a cable sent to General Dwight Eisenhower in February 1946 MacArthur said executing or imprisoning the emperor would require the use of one million occupation soldiers to keep the peace.[23]

Media censorshipEdit

Above the political and economic control SCAP had for the seven years following Japan's surrender, SCAP also had strict control over all of the Japanese media, under the formation of the Civil Censorship Detachment (CCD) of SCAP. The CCD eventually banned a total of 31 topics from all forms of media.[3]: 341  These topics included:

Although some of the CCD censorship laws considerably relaxed towards the end of SCAP, some topics, like the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were taboo until 1952 at the end of the occupation.


When MacArthur was relieved by President Harry S. Truman during the Korean War on April 11, 1951, he was succeeded as SCAP by General Matthew Ridgway. Ridgway remained as SCAP until the end of the occupation of Japan, which occurred on April 28, 1952, when the Treaty of San Francisco came into effect. However, the United States continued to administer some Japanese islands after that with, for example, Okinawa being continually under US administration until 1972.

All branches of the United States military forces are still present in Japan today. They primarily function in a support role, providing defense for Japan and the surrounding region, per the agreements of the Treaty of San Francisco.[24]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Hellegers, Dale M. (2002). We, the Japanese people. Stanford University Press. p. 360. ISBN 9780804780322.
  2. ^ S.C.A.P. (Jan 4, 1946). "Removal and Exclusion of Undesirable Personnel from Public Office". The National Diet Library (Japan). Retrieved 2019-02-20.
  3. ^ a b c d Dower, John W. (1999). Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II. New York: W. W. Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-04686-1. OCLC 39143090.
  4. ^ Manchester, William (1978). American Caesar. Little, Brown and Company. p. 472. ISBN 0-316-54498-1.
  5. ^ Retrieved 26 March 2021. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. ^ "CHAPTER II:The House Divided". Retrieved 26 March 2021.
  7. ^ Ness, Gayl D. (1967), "Review of the book Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World", American Sociological Review, 32 (5): 818–820, doi:10.2307/2092029, JSTOR 2092029.
  8. ^ James 1985, pp. 183–192.
  9. ^ James 1985, pp. 174–183.
  10. ^ Schaller 1985, p. 25.
  11. ^ James 1985, pp. 222–224, 252–254.
  12. ^ "Occupation of Japan and the New Constitution | American Experience | PBS". Retrieved 18 April 2021.
  13. ^ Morris Jr., Seymour. Supreme Commander: MacArthur's Triumph in Japan. Page 169-173
  14. ^ "MacArthur Plot Alarms Japanese; They See Possible Repercussions; JAPANESE FEARFUL ON M'ARTHUR PLOT Timed for Demonstration Plotters Still at Large". The New York Times. May 1946. Retrieved 18 April 2021.
  15. ^ "Gettysburg Times - Google News Archive Search". Retrieved 18 April 2021.
  16. ^ Sams, Crawford F. (1998). "Medic": The Mission of an American Military Doctor in Occupied Japan and Wartorn Korea. Routledge. ISBN 9781315503714.
  17. ^ Maga, Timothy P. (2001). Judgment at Tokyo: The Japanese War Crimes Trials. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 9780813121772.
  18. ^ Tanaka, Yuki; et al. (2011). Beyond Victor's Justice? The Tokyo War Crimes Trial Revisited. BRILL. pp. 149–50. ISBN 9789004215917.
  19. ^ Ham, Paul (2014). Hiroshima Nagasaki: The Real Story of the Atomic Bombings and Their Aftermath. St. Martin's Press. pp. 79–80. ISBN 9781466847477.
  20. ^ Gold, Hal (2004). Unit 731 testimony. Boston: Tuttle. p. 109. ISBN 978-4-900737-39-6. OCLC 422879915.
  21. ^ Drayton, Richard (May 10, 2005). "An Ethical Blank Cheque: British and US mythology about the second world war ignores our own crimes and legitimises Anglo-American war making". The Guardian. Archived from the original on January 11, 2012.
  22. ^ Bix, Herbert P. (2000). Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan. New York: HarperCollins. p. 545. ISBN 978-0-06-019314-0. OCLC 247018161.
  23. ^ "How the Emperor Became Human (And MacArthur Became Divine)". 11 November 2015. Retrieved 18 April 2021.
  24. ^ USFJ (May 13, 2022). "United States Forces Japan". US Forces Japan. Retrieved 2019-02-20.

Further readingEdit