John McMahon, Victoria Regional Meeting.

I will illustrate achievements of peace activists in Japan, from this country’s unconditional surrender in 1945 until 30 April 2019, when Akihito abdicated the Chrysanthemum throne.

The Japanese Emperor, Hirohito wanted a woman to teach his eleven-year-old son after Japan’s unconditional surrender in 1945, to bring some feminine influence into Akihito’s life. He required a Christian tutor, but not a fanatic. At her appointment, Elizabeth Gray Vining, an American Quaker teacher, said her instructions were: to open windows to a foreign way of life for the crown prince. She said that she did not want to view the job as “selling America” to Japan’s future leader but saw the need to “set him free –  to teach him how to have fun.” She tutored him privately, and at the elite school he attended. During this task she read with him, discussed Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence; they shared hopes for world peace while also becoming friends. In these ways Vining as a peace activist helped Akihito to free himself from the shackles of cruel Shinto-supported Japanese war ideologies and their violence. During his thirty years as emperor, Akihito followed Vining’s peaceful advocacy and became a loving and peaceful activist for his country. He got away from the palace to help Japanese people in distress. Vining’s efforts in setting Akihito free culminated when he married Michiko Shodo, following a love affair between the crown prince and a commoner.

Emperor Akihito announces his abdication

Another peace maker was Akihito’s father, Emperor, Hirohito.  In early 1945, listening to debates between Japanese peace and war factions in the protective bunker attached to his palace, Hirohito made an historic and peaceful decision: to agree to the Allies’ request for unconditional surrender. At this time Tokyo was one of six major Japanese cities, devastated by firestorms that American napalm bombings had created. Historian Paul Hams recorded that “most of the inhabitants of these cities were either dead, wounded, or forced to flee to the countryside, and Japan was utterly defeated but had not yet surrendered.” In these circumstances, Hirohito, although hampered by a coup, and the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, constructed his peace-seeking message. Speaking to his people through radio tapes, in the upper-class Japanese language, he claimed that unconditional surrender would take place, and would prove to be difficult for his people. Japanese were surprised at Hirohito’s peaceful decision, because it was different to what they expected from their Government’s combative ideology, and the weapons hidden in Japan to repel fighting invaders.

Other peace advocates were the Allied Powers. Prior to 1945 they had met at Potsdam and decided on terms for the proposed Japanese surrender. Their Proclamation included peaceful pathways for a Japanese unconditional surrender, with some restrictions. For example, “we insist that the  new order of peace, security, and justice will be impossible until irresponsible militarism is driven from the world,”  “Japanese military forces, after being completely disarmed, shall be permitted to return to their homes with the opportunity of leading peaceful and productive lives, with freedom of speech, religion and thought.” The Proclamation implied that the traditional, hierarchical social system would, under the Proclamation survive.

Following Japan’s unconditional surrender, an American General, Douglas MacArthur, became Supreme Commander of Allied Powers (SCAP), for the Occupation of Japan. Some Japanese found the task of accepting an occupied Japan difficult, but many embraced MacArthur’s emerging peace proposals with enthusiasm. Kazuo Kawai, a Japanese scholar, in August 1945 wrote about why most people in war-torn Japan, the “hungry, homeless, and shame-laden Japanese” were eager for peace:

They were disillusioned, demoralised, and paralysed…war   had reduced many of the Japanese to an inner state bordering on panic. Surrender came to them as a heaven-sent relief; a welcome … deliverance from annihilation.

Kawai further claimed that the character and presence of MacArthur influenced the Japanese to accept the occupation fully. He believed that MacArthur’s “dedicated sense of mission, the sincerity …of his vision resonated with the Japanese people.” MacArthur insisted that the occupation be used to reform Japanese social and political life, to accord with democratic and Christian principles. As SCAP he organised the repatriation of three million Japanese who were fighting abroad at the end of the war. MacArthur also promoted the development of democratic reform for Japan. Taking other strong steps towards a peaceful occupation, SCAP used the existing national political legislature, to exercise control. This was the traditional way in which Japan had previously been governed. He ordered the release of all Japanese political prisoners. SCAP forced the Emperor to renounce his divinity but supported him remaining as the symbolic leader (promoting peace) for his people. The new Showa Constitution, in which MacArthur played an advocate role, guaranteed that the Japanese military forces were only to be raised for the defence of Japan, rather than renewal of their global military expansion. In such ways SCAP’s demands enabled Japan to embrace more peaceful pathways for many following generations.

In addition, MacArthur decided to supervise humane and peaceful social ways for Japan. In 1946, noticing that the Japanese people were dying of starvation, he did something about it. As SCAP he stated, “lack of food for the defeated people was the main problem, making all other problems seem trifles.” So SCAP demanded that food be sent from America. Shunsuke Tsurumi, a Japanese historian wrote: “tons of flour were released by the occupation: flour, corn and milk were the main items.” He thought in 1987 it had generated peaceful friendships in the seven years of the occupation that are still felt by Japanese living today.

Also, MacArthur’s intervention for health improvement, possibly resulted in Japan experiencing the most rapid eradication of deaths from preventable diseases for any country in history. The SCAP team, headed by Brigadier General Crawford Sams organised 8000 Japanese to staff 800 district health centres, where American doctors organised the mass immunisation of the entire population. “Thirty-five million people were vaccinated by 1950: a 40% reduction from tuberculosis deaths; and there were reductions ranging from 76% to 90% for diphtheria, dysentery, typhoid and paratyphoid death rates, reductions from Japanese encephalitis and endemic typhus diseases.”

MacArthur’s motivation for peace-making achievements in 1945 arose from his visit to Germany after the end of World-War I with his father Colonel Arthur MacArthur. He observed the social and medical plights of the German people, in the Allies ill-fated occupation of Germany.  He didn’t wish to see the Japanese nation suffer loss of self-respect and self-confidence evident in the conquered German people he had seen. It predisposed him to proclaim more positive outcomes for the Japanese. William Manchester, a historian of the General’s motivation in all his peaceful actions quoted MacArthur: “I was brought up a Christian and adhere entirely to its teachings.”[i]

Another American, the lone Quaker, Floyd W. Schmoe, a professor of dendrology, promoted a peaceful reconciliation. He decided an apology to the Japanese people for dropping the bomb on Hiroshima was insufficient.  Schmoe, driven by deep urges for expiation and reconciliation, in 1949, against the wishes of his Quaker Meeting, came to Hiroshima, and with carpenters assembled with his own hands and theirs, 212 Japanese-style houses for victims of the bomb.

In January 1946 soldiers of the Australian-led contingent, together with Great Britain, New Zealand, and India, formed the British Commonwealth Occupation Force, (BCOF), to join the American occupying force. Australia occupied the Chugoku region of Honshu Island. It included the Prefecture of Hiroshima, and Ita Jima Island, where they established the 130th Australian General Hospital (130 AGH), with my late aunt Monica McMahon as its Matron[ii]. The wrecked city of Hiroshima with its high levels of radioactivity made it a dangerous BCOF location for Australia’s contingent.

Australian contingent and American occupation commanders had opposed views about their country’s fraternisation with the Japanese. Lord Louis Mountbatten wanted Australian personnel to adopt a stern attitude towards Japanese people. He demanded that Northcott, the Australian commander draw up a non-fraternisation policy to be implemented by troops and the 130th AGH staff. Northcott demanded the Australian BCOF to conduct something like a cold war against the Japanese. He wrote “you must be formal and correct” and “you must not enter their homes or take part in family life.” Northcott’s negative views limited financial and social support that Australians could provide for the demoralised, starving Japanese. Non-fraternisation became a policy too strict for some Australian soldiers and nursing staff to peacefully obey.

Female members of the 130 AGH decided to act in a more loving and peaceful manner. Nurse Lorna Weir wrote about meeting Japanese women, some of whom had never seen a white woman before, when buying souvenirs:

At first, they looked sad; but somehow, with gestures and chatter, we always left them smiling… We visited several places and the second time around were greeted with bright smiles and happy chatter…On these occasions our limited supply of sweets was never enough.

Also, the Australian Army provided an opportunity for nursing Sisters to make peaceful friendships with Japanese women. Using reparation funds, the Army paid Japanese women to do the laundry for the Australian nurses and perform other menial tasks at the 130 AGH. They were poor widows, grateful, working hard, and with excellent relationships with sisters, and service men. Australian women’s peace-making friendship meant providing them with food that was left over, such as porridge for breakfast and discarded newspapers which these impoverished women used to line the walls of their homes.

Some soldiers of the Australian Army also showed compassion for Japanese children. Colonel Michael Conners wrote about his encounters with homeless children. He wrote: “the kids of Hiroshima were always courteous, they appreciated small luxuries (which he gave them) more than in other areas, probably because they had less.” Also, one unnamed British soldier wrote that abandoned children of Kure found it necessary to form vital survival relationships with Australian soldiers, soldiers who had become activists for peace, about food:

I have only respect and admiration for the Australians. They always made sure that there was part of their meal left untouched to give to the kids. Men did it as naturally as breathing…Mascots in the form of animals showed more emotion (gratitude) than these children…We had blokes with us who were good linguists. Every attempt to talk to these kids was left with some blank stare. The consensus was that these children were somewhat shell-shocked and terrified to the stage of muteness from the bombing and strafing that occurred at Kure and its environs.

Sisters and nurses became aware of the carnage caused by the atomic bomb and its lethal radiation effects. Encouraged by Matron McMahon, sisters ignored the non-fraternisation rules and volunteered to visit Hiroshima where they offered friendly help and professional nursing skills to Japanese nursing sisters, working with Dr. Saski at the Red Cross hospital. In 1946, nurse Jean Waddell, a constant volunteer, was shocked by the partial destruction of the hospital and the smell of burnt human beings she experienced. L. Lacey in An Unofficial History of the BCOF claimed that the percentage of these women who later died of cancer in Australia was a horrendous figure.

Akihito was on the Japanese throne for only the last 30 of Japan’s 74 peaceful years. But he and peace activists helped to verify Mari Yamaguchi’s report as: “the first modern emperor whose reign had not seen a war”. Inspired by Christianity, the Quaker peace testimony, love, and friendship achieved this great miracle. Authors Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s book, The Spirit Level,[iii] claimed that Japan in the twenty-first century became one of the most economically developed countries, which had the best longevity, with a greater capacity than other highly developed countries, for healing of social and political predicaments, such as teenage pregnancy, obesity, poverty, homicide, but with the exception of the status of women. They ranked Japan as arguably the happiest country in the world. These were the fruits of peace in the twenty-first century, following Japan’s seventy-four years without waging war.


[i] Manchester, William, 1978. American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964. Published by Little, Brown & Company (Boston/Toronto) ISBN 9780316024747

[ii] McMahon, John, 2016. Monica’s War  Published by Boolarong Press ISBN 9781925236453

[iii] Wilkinson, Richard and Pickett, Kate, 2009. The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better Published by Bloomsbury Press. ISBN 1-84614-039-0


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