Monday, December 29, 2014

Breakfast in Yokohama

MacArthur arrives in Japan on Aug. 30, 1945.

Kamakura's 50-foot Buddha
On Aug. 30, 1945, Gen. Douglas MacArthur flew to Okinawa in a C-54, passing over the serene whiteness of Mount Fujiyama, Kamakura’s 50-foot bronze Buddha and a newly surrendered nation.
His officers weren’t entirely sure about that. Roving bands of young diehards wearing white bands around their heads were engaging in violent clashes in the cities down there, and who knew what the humiliated Japanese troops might do? But when the officers started to strap on handguns, MacArthur said no.
“Take them off,” MacArthur said. “If they intend to kill us, sidearm’s will be useless. And nothing will impress them like a show of absolute fearlessness. If they don’t know they’re licked, this will convince them.”
Landing, they were driven past rubble and ruin on a dusty road lined by 30,000 Japanese infantrymen, their backs turned deferentially and as a security measure. The generals settled in to Yokohama’s New Grand Hotel, where they were served steaks.
“(Gen. Courtney) Whitney thought MacArthur’s might be poisoned and suggested that a Japanese taste it first,” wrote biographer William Manchester. “MacArthur laughed and shook his head: it was good meat and he didn’t want to share it with anyone. The gesture did not pass unnoticed. The hotel staff had anticipated Whitney’s suspicion and expected a tasting of the General’s food. (Hotel owner Yozo) Nomura reappeared at his table to express his gratitude for this demonstration of ‘great trust.’ He and his employees, he said, were ‘honored beyond belief.’
“MacArthur was obviously delighted with this little speech. His officers wondered why. It seemed a very small matter. But the General knew that word of everything he said and did would quickly spread throughout the country. He was determined that the occupation be benign from the outset.
“Moreover, remembering his tour of duty in Germany after the 1918 Armistice, he realized that in a war-torn, defeated country, food would be at a premium. He sensed that the acquisition of these steaks had been no small matter, that all Japan must be hungry, a surmise which was confirmed at breakfast the next morning, after the commander of the 11th Airborne ruefully reported that his division had searched all night and found exactly one egg for the Supreme Commander’s breakfast.
“MacArthur immediately issued an order at odds with the whole history of conquering armies in Asia. Occupation troops were forbidden to consume local victuals; they would eat only their own rations.
“An hour later, he canceled the martial law and curfew degrees (Gen. Robert) Eichelberger had imposed on the city. The first step in the reformation of Japan, he said, would be an exhibition of generosity and compassion by the occupying power.”

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