Some thought the longtime ACLU chief got bamboozled. Or at least that the five-star general exploited him, using his guest’s reputation as “Mr. ACLU” to paper over the manner in which he, the supreme commander of the Allied powers occupying Japan after World War II, intended to remake the former Axis state.
Others simply believed it was not possible: How could friendly, even affectionate, relations exist between a longtime self-professed radical and the man still recalled for using tear gas and tanks against thousands of protesting World War I veterans, known as the Bonus Army, at the height of the Great Depression?
Yet somehow the curious partnership between ACLU founder Roger Nash Baldwin and Gen. Douglas MacArthur not only occurred but thrived. Perhaps it did because MacArthur pulled a fast one over on Baldwin, using the latter’s reputation as the nation’s leading civil libertarian to strengthen the American-led postwar occupation of its defeated foe. Japan didn’t undergo the total transformation many of its own citizens thought was warranted, but it also avoided a hard turn to the right or left that other nation-states, including some in Asia, underwent after WWII. Meanwhile, a foundation was laid for a new Japan, one that proved enormously productive and at least moderately democratic in the early postwar period.