eli5: How Did Japan and America Go From Enemies to Allies So Quickly?

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I’m trying to wrap my head around how the USA and Japan shifted from being fierce enemies during World War II to becoming close allies in just a few decades. It seems like a huge turnaround in international relations from an American perspective. What happened and why this dramatic change?

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29 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

It’s complex, and what I’m about to say is very oversimplified, but the US occupied Japan after the war and essentially turned its government into an American -style democracy, but at the same time let its emperor keep his role albeit as essentially a figurehead not too unlike the British Monarchy.

Anonymous 0 Comments

• 1. The USA aided Japan’s reconstruction, fearing Soviet expansion or rather to keep them in check.

• 2. Shared interests and mutual concerns about communism solidified the relationship too perhaps.

Anonymous 0 Comments

It’s a mix of successful post-war reconstruction efforts, Japan’s willingness to demilitarize, and the building of strong economic relations between the two nations.

The U.S. needed an ally on the Eastern front given the impending Cold War against the USSR (or even a hot one at that point), and had significant incentive to rebuild Japan. The US wanted to introduce capitalism and democratic policies to help offset the eventual spread of communism by the USSR. It’s much easier to influence the policies of a broken nation than an established government, and the US held all the cards after Japan surrendered, making it a good option. Japan was open to these ideas, and the nations developed economic relations that stand to this day.

Not the best eli5, so to simplify it a bit:

The US needed help against Russia, so they put a lot of effort into getting Japan rebuilt, allowed them to avoid blame (very important in their culture at the time, probably still now, but I can’t speak to that), and basically said “let bygones be bygones we have bigger things to worry about – here, have some capitalism and democracy you will like it.” Japan agreed to become a peaceful nation with the promise that the US would help them out when needed. Turns out this was good for both countries, so over the decades, their relationship continued to improve.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Two things happened quickly. First and foremost the USSR detonated their atomic weapons. Suddenly, the US wasn’t the only one in the world with atomic capabilities. Second, the Chinese civil war ended with the communist faction claiming control over mainland China. Japan, became an important way the US could keep communism “contained” and away from the US’ Territories in the Pacific.

It’s important to note that the US was already helping Japan to rebuild. They knew the value of Japan as an ally in the Pacific. But the events of 1948 and 1949 saw their efforts doubled. The US stopped the war crimes trials and started helping Japan with sweetheart trade deals that would see Japan’s economy rapidly recovering and becoming one of the largest in the region…at least while communist China was still struggling to pick up the pieces from their civil war.

Anonymous 0 Comments

After the war the US provided a ton of humanitarian assistance to Japan. Airdropping food, supplies, medicine, etc… all to keep Japan from experiencing a major crisis. This wasn’t just benevolence, the US wanted to turn Japan into a democracy they could use to influence that side of the world to prevent further spread of communism.

It’s like when you have a little sibling that bothers you and you go a little too far and make them cry, and you give them treats or toys to appease them.

Anonymous 0 Comments

After the US won the war the nationalists unexpectedly lost the Civil War in China and the US needed a base of operations in East Asia, most notably to fight the Korean War. Japanese companies like Toyota made tons of money supplying the US military with goods and services and this kickstarted the Japanese economy. After that point the Japanese elites saw they had common cause with the US and the Americans saw Japan as a stable next best option to running Asian operations out of China.

There are other factors that helped but this was the most important one that ensured the US-Japan relationship became so solidly cooperative after the war. There was no Marshall Plan for Asia and until China went Communist the US occupation authorities were still considering stripping Japan of industrial equipment as a punitive measure for the war to make sure it was too poor to cause problems for them. The Korean War was basically the Marshall Plan for the Japanese.

Anonymous 0 Comments

When the US defeated Japan the US did not make the mistake of treating Japan like Germany post World War I. The Japanese military did an exceptional number of horrific things during the war and it’s part of the reason why China and Japan don’t get along. They attacked first, and we’re willing to sacrifice millions of lives, knowing they could not win the war, if anything, Japanese military and politicians at the time probably understood that the atom bombs saved countless lives.  

Yes Japan was forced to demilitarize, but the US assisted Japan in rebuilding and didn’t try to starve Japan out like how the allies did to a  postwar Germany.  There was little attempt to humiliate the Japanese people, the war was over and it was time for both countries to go back to living. 

It wasn’t that different with West Germany, the Americans and the Europeans helped West Germany rebuild, while the Russians turned East Germany into a Gulag of sorts. Once the Berlin wall fell east Germany was rebuilt. Germany has good relations with most countries, despite committing horrific atrocities like their ally the Japanese. Because, in both cases, the vast majority of their citizens were not perpetuating these crimes against humanity.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Lots of good answers here, but another piece of historical context for rebuilding Japan: Political experts already knew the consequences of ignoring a country they defeated and demilitarized during a war since that is exactly what caused WW2 in the first place. There was zero desire for that mistake of WW1 to be repeated

Anonymous 0 Comments

I think it’s because they have sushi and Toyota. My grandfather (who fought in WW2 and frequently got drunk and cursed about the “goddamn Japs”) would disagree but you can load me up a plate of nigiri and all is forgiven. Grandpa was a bastard and I’m sure he deserved to die with that shrapnel in his shins.

Anonymous 0 Comments

One additional factor is that Japan had not been a democracy previously, so most of the people didn’t feel like they had been part of starting the war.  Attacking the USA wasn’t something they had felt personally invested into.  It was just a command they needed to obey.