Mark Selden - Bartle Professor of History and Sociology, The State University of New York at Binghamton and Professorial Associate, East Asia Program, Cornell University
President George W. Bush has repeatedly presented the United States’ occupation of Japan as the model for Iraq’s democratization. Does the Japanese occupation illuminate contemporary reconstructions in Iraq, Afghanistan and other contemporary war-torn societies? Certain similarities do stand out: as in Japan half a century earlier, the US has proclaimed its intention to return “sovereignty” to a democratic Iraq while preserving a dominant American military presence. Yet beyond this obvious similarity lie profound differences in American strategy, goals and commitments, as well as in the nations and peoples it seeks to “reconstruct” and the problems encountered in the two regions and two eras. Postwar reconstruction invariably serves the strategic interests of the external or occupying power. A critical question, however, is whether it also serves the interests of the nation and important sectors of the people who have borne the brunt of a destructive war. In examining the origins and experiences of half a century of postwar reconstruction, attention is paid to the framing of the political, social and economic development of war-torn nations, with particular reference to the nature and viability of reform agendas. These questions are shaped not only by the goals of the dominant power, but also by the state of war, unrest or peace that prevails during the reconstruction process.