Under the guidance of General Douglas MacArthur, the “supreme commander” in Japan until 1948, the country adopted a new, democratic constitution and eliminated absentee landlordism so that most tenant farmers became owners of land. Thanks to American insistence, and against the wishes of most Japanese leaders, the new constitution gave women the right to vote for the first time in Japan’s history. (A century after the Seneca Falls convention, women’s suffrage had become an intrinsic part of American understandings of freedom.) Furthermore, Article 9 of the new constitution stated that Japan would renounce forever the policy of war and armed aggression, and would maintain only a modest self-defense force.

The United States also oversaw the economic reconstruction of Japan. Initially, the United States proposed to dissolve Japan’s giant industrial corporations, which had contributed so much to the nation’s war effort. But this plan was abandoned in 1948 in favor of an effort to rebuild Japan’s industrial base as a bastion of anticommunist strength in Asia. By the 1950s, thanks to American economic assistance, the adoption of new technologies, and low spending on the military, Japan’s economic recovery was in full swing.

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