The Good Occupation

The Good Occupation

American Soldiers and the Hazards of Peace

Susan L. Carruthers

Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2016, 400 pages

Book Review published on: February 9, 2018

Susan Carruthers is a noted historian whose major publications include Cold War Captives: Imprisonment, Escape, and Brainwashing; The Media and War: Communication and Conflict in the Twentieth Century; and Winning Hearts and Minds: British Governments, the Media and Colonial Counter-Insurgency, 1944-60. Her latest offering, The Good Occupation, is well researched and free of difficult military language. It assumes that the reader has substantial prior knowledge of the occupations of Germany and Japan, as well as a basic understanding of stability and support activities. The author does not offer a model or primer for a successful occupation but rather seeks to identify the issues with the occupations of both Germany and Japan.

According to Carruthers, Germany and Japan following World War II are frequently held up as examples of how stabilization by occupation was done properly in the past and as possible examples for future generations. She examines the question: Were these postwar occupations as positive as our collective reasoning informs us?

Many challenges came with the occupations. The belief today that occupiers will be greeted as liberators was not expected by World War II planners. The author discusses preparations for occupation; relocation issues with refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs); and lawlessness/bad behavior of the occupiers, the occupied, refugees, and IDPs, including misdeeds such as fraternization, looting and theft, rape, alcohol abuse, and black marketing, all in context of the ending of one war and the beginnings of the Cold War. Added to these issues was the lack of cultural understanding by the occupiers, the haphazard denazification (in Germany), and the mismanaged economic policies, among others problems.

My assessment is that the author uses generalities and anecdotal evidence to support the premise that neither of these occupations are “good” examples. This project would have been better served by separating it into two different projects: one for Germany and one for Japan. The comprehensive research into what went correctly, what did not, and why, regarding how each occupation was planned, prepared and trained for, and executed, given the world events unfolding at the time would have been more valuable.

There seems to be judgements made without supporting data in the book. This supporting data would have added to the analytical assessment of the occupations. Instead, the reader is left to assume that these identified problems were widespread but with nothing to support the conclusions or to delve into their own research to prove or disprove the positions. Carruthers succeeds in identifying problems with the occupations, but without the detail of context and linkages, I found the “so what” lacking.

While this book identifies some issues and problems that the reader may not have thought about regarding the post-World War II occupations, I would not recommend this book as a definitive work on occupations in general, nor on the specific occupations of Germany and Japan. However, for the student of postwar occupations of either Germany or Japan, this may add to their understanding of the issues.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Terrance M. Portman, U.S. Marine Corps, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas