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Home > Media Reiews > Weekly Review Last Updated: 14:57 03/09/2007
Weekly Review #98: June 17, 2003

Censorship in Iraq, Reminiscent of Occupied Japan

John de Boer (Research Associate, GLOCOM)

On the whole, the US occupation of Iraq cannot be compared with that of Japan between 1945-1952. In terms of ethnic and religious diversity Japan paled in comparison to Iraq today. Also, the level of armed resistance being experienced by US occupation forces in Iraq significantly outweighs that which took place in Japan. In fact, Japan's surrender to SCAP (Supreme Command for the Allied Powers) authorities was complete. During seven years of US rule in Japan, not one incident of armed rebellion against the occupation authorities was recorded. However, when reading accounts of what is transpiring in Iraq today, one cannot help but notice that certain occupation policies are being repeated.

One example of this is censorship. According to Robert Fisk's article of 11 June 2003 published in The Independent, Paul Bremer (the supreme civilian occupation authority in Iraq) has ordered his legal department in Baghdad to draw up rules for press censorship. Fisk's sources indicate that the policy will be to censor and possibly shut down newspapers that publish "wild stories, material deemed provocative or capable of inciting ethnic violence". Fisk admits that the Iraqi press needs some journalistic training, highlighting the fact that there is no tradition of checking reports in Iraq. However, his article also questions whether press censorship is in line with the objective of "democratization" so emphatically espoused by the US in Iraq.

US forces came to Japan under a similar slogan of democratization in August1945. Undoubtedly, in post-war Japan, the US did succeed in helping to create a democratic country with considerably more freedom than that which existed prior to Japan's surrender. Censorship was particularly harsh in Japan between 1928-1943. Historians indicate that tens of thousands of Japanese civilians were detained under the infamous Peace Preservation Law (see John W. Dower, "Sensational Rumors, Seditious Graffiti", in Japan in War & Peace, New York: New Press, 1993, p. 111). Nevertheless, by any standards, the extent of SCAP's censorship activities in post-war Japan was alarmingly restrictive and pervasive, forcing any reasonable person to question whether the US prevented the emergence of a more democratic Japan by eliminating voices of opposition.

The first occupation policies on censorship in Japan were introduced shortly after General MacArthur landed in the war-torn country. The "US Initial Post-Surrender Policy Related to Japan" was delivered to MacArthur in late August 1945 and spoke of the need for minimal censorship. This was backed up by a secret Joint Chief of Staff directive on post surrender policy (JCS 1380/15), which talked about "minimum control and censorship of the press, radio, film and private communications" by occupation authorities. SCAP's first directive on freedom of speech (10 September 1945), stipulated that, "there shall be an absolute minimum of restraint on freedom of speech so long as such expression adhered to the truth and did not disturb public tranquility".

Despite the explicit reference to "minimum control and censorship", SCAP authorities exercised what I would classify as excessive control and censorship throughout the occupation.

The authority responsible for censorship in occupied Japan was the Civil Censorship Detachment (CCD) located within SCAP General Head Quarters' Civil Intelligence Section. According to John W. Dower, the detachment employed over 6,000 English speaking Japanese nationals at its peak and surveyed close to 70 major daily newspapers, all books and magazines. Censorship was also enforced on cultural activities such as plays, music and artwork. In his book Embracing Defeat, Dower indicates that the average monthly volume of material flowing through the CCD was 26,000 issues of newspapers, 3,800 news agency publications, 23,000 radio scripts, 5,700 bulletins, 4,000 magazine issues as well as 1,800 books and pamphlets. Furthermore, over a 4 year period the CCD spot checked 330 million pieces of mail and monitored some 800,000 private phone calls (p. 407).

In June 1946, the CCD made available a list of banned discourse for which all published material would be subjected to censorship. These include but are not limited to: criticism of SCAP, criticism of the Tokyo war-crimes trials, criticism of SCAP writing the constitution, references to censorship, criticism of the US, criticism of Russia, criticism of Great Britain, criticism of Koreans, criticism of China, criticism of other allies, criticism of allies' pre-war policies, defense of war propaganda, divine descent nation propaganda, militaristic propaganda, nationalistic propaganda, Greater East Asia propaganda, black market activities, fraternization of Allied personnel with Japanese women, criticism of occupation forces, overplaying starvation, incitement to violence or unrest and inappropriate reference to SCAP.

Based on his studies, the Pulitzer Prize winning Dower likened US censorship policies in Japan to the Orwellian manner. However, depending on what Paul Bremer and his legal department in Baghdad come up with, George Orwell's legacy could easily be superceded by the one left by US occupation authorities in Japan and Iraq. With the situation getting increasingly out of hand in Iraq and in the greater Middle East, one would not be surprised if Paul Bremer's censorship list resembles, or even exceeds, the one highlighted above. No doubt there are individuals who would argue that censorship is needed to maintain order. However, not only is this reminiscent of Saddam Hussein's Iraq but it is also contrary to the very spirit of democratization where freedom of expression must be guaranteed.

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