POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica


by David Trumbull

March 23, 2007

At this point in the war, our most important mission is helping the Iraqis secure their capital. Until Baghdad's citizens feel secure in their own homes and neighborhoods, it will be difficult for Iraqis to make further progress toward political reconciliation or economic rebuilding, steps necessary for Iraq to build a democratic society. --George W. Bush, March 19, 2007

Now we enter the fifth year of U.S. military presence in Iraq, and the Democrats in Congress and liberals in general demand withdrawal from our commitment to rebuilding Iraq as a nation that is no longer a threat to its neighbors and to us. Let's get some historical perspective. Let's look at some American occupations of defeated foes.

The People of Japan lived under American military occupation for seven years following World War Two. Japan did not enjoy sovereignty as an independent state until April 1952. And the occupation continued in some places, with Iwo Jima remaining under U.S. control until 1968 and Okinawa until 1972.

By way of digression: in Japan the ceramics industry was one of the first to recover and begin exporting products after the war. Porcelain bearing the "Made in Occupied Japan" mark is a popular collectors' item in the U.S. due to the association with the grand conflict of the twentieth century.

Germany, likewise, was under military occupation from 1945 to 1949. The U.S. and Allies continued a civil occupation of West Germany until 1955 when the Federal Republic of Germany finally became a sovereign state. The last American high commissioner for Germany was James Bryant Conant, a Dorchester native and president of Harvard University.

Interestingly, in view of President Bush's statement about staying the course in Baghdad, the Iraqi capitol city, is what happened in Germany's capitol. The city of Berlin remained under Allied occupation until 1990.

On our own soil we know the experience of occupation. Following the end, in 1865, of the war to preserve the Union, the eleven Confederate States were put under United States military occupation until they could be reconstructed and readmitted to the Union. The last four were not readmitted until 1870, five years after the end of overt hostilities.

In every one of these occupations the local population's resentment rose to violence against the occupiers. And in each case there were Americans saying that we were losing the peace and calling for withdrawal. Those critics miss the point. It is precisely because the occupied territory is not fully pacified and ready to operate under locally chosen civil government that foreign occupation is call-for. As president Bush reminds us:

Four years after this war began, the fight is difficult, but it can be won. It will be won if we have the courage and resolve to see it through.