Over the past 150 years, the United States and Japan have developed one of the United States’ most significant international relationships, marked by a potent mix of cooperation and rivalry. After a devastating war, these two states built a lasting alliance that stands at the center of US diplomacy, security, and economic policy in the Pacific and beyond. Yet this relationship is not simply the product of economic or strategic calculations. Japan has repeatedly shaped American understandings of empire, hegemony, race, democracy, and globalization, because these two states have often developed in remarkable parallel with one another. From the edges of the international order in the 1850s and 1860s, both entered a period of intense state-building at home and imperial expansion abroad in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These imperial ambitions violently collided in the 1940s in an epic contest to determine the Pacific geopolitical order. After its victory in World War II, the United States embarked on an unprecedented occupation designed to transform Japan into a stable and internationally cooperative democracy. The two countries also forged a diplomatic and security alliance that offered crucial logistical, political, and economic support to the United States’ Cold War quest to prevent the spread of communism. In the 1970s and 1980s, Japan’s rise as the globe’s second-largest economy caused significant tension in this relationship and forced Americans to confront the changing nature of national power and economic growth in a globalizing world. However, in recent decades, rising tensions in the Asia-Pacific have served to focus this alliance on the construction of a stable trans-Pacific economic and geopolitical order.
Jennifer M. Miller
After World War II, Okinawa was placed under U.S. military rule and administratively separated from mainland Japan. This occupation lasted from 1945 to 1972, and in these decades Okinawa became the “Keystone of the Pacific,” a leading strategic site in U.S. military expansionism in Asia and the Pacific. U.S. rule during this Cold War period was characterized by violence and coercion, resulting in an especially staggering scale of sexual violence against Okinawan women by U.S. military personnel. At the same time, the occupation also facilitated numerous cultural encounters between the occupiers and the occupied, leading to a flourishing cross-cultural grassroots exchange. A movement to establish American-style domestic science (i.e., home economics) in the occupied territory became a particularly important feature of this exchange, one that mobilized an assortment of women—home economists, military wives, club women, university students, homemakers—from the United States, Okinawa, and mainland Japan. The postwar domestic science movement turned Okinawa into a vibrant theater of Cold War cultural performance where women of diverse backgrounds collaborated to promote modern homemaking and build friendship across racial and national divides. As these women took their commitment to domesticity and multiculturalism into the larger terrain of the Pacific, they articulated the complex intertwining that occurred among women, domesticity, the military, and empire.
Second-generation Japanese Americans (Nisei) in the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) were engaged in critical work during the US-led Allied Occupation of Japan from 1945 through 1952. After Japan’s surrender in August 1945, Nisei in the MIS played an important role in areas such as interpretation, translation, and Cold War intelligence gathering in Occupied Japan. They have often been called the cultural bridge that was crucial to the success of the occupation of Japan and development of close ties between Japan and the United States after 1952. Their upbringing in areas like Hawaii and California and military training prior to their deployment in Japan provide insight into the nature of their contributions in key areas of the occupation, such as censorship, repatriation, and the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. Their work and experiences illuminate the complex dynamics of both Japanese American military history and the postwar occupation of Japan more generally.
Crystal Mun-hye Baik
Korean immigration to the United States has been shaped by multiple factors, including militarization, colonialism, and war. While Koreans migrated to the American-occupied islands of Hawai’i in the early 20th century as sugar plantation laborers, Japanese imperial rule (1910–1945) and racially exclusive immigration policy curtailed Korean migration to the United States until the end of World War II. Since then, Korean immigration has been shaped by racialized, gendered, and sexualized conditions related to the Korean War and American military occupation. Although existing social science literature dominantly frames Korean immigration through the paradigm of migration “waves,” these periodizations are arbitrary to the degree that they centralize perceived US policy changes or “breaks” within a linear historical timeline. In contrast, emphasizing the continuing role of peninsular instability and militarized division points to the accumulative effects of the Korean War that continue to impact Korean immigration. With the beginning of the American military occupation of Korea in 1945 and warfare erupting in 1950, Koreans experienced familial separations and displacements. Following the signing of the Korean armistice in 1953, which halted armed fighting without formally ending the war, the American military remained in the southern half of the Peninsula. The presence of the US military in South Korea had immediate repercussions among civilians, as American occupation engendered sexual intimacies between Korean women and US soldiers. Eventually, a multiracial population emerged as children were born to Korean women and American soldiers. Given the racial exclusivity of American immigration policy at the time, the US government established legislative “loopholes” to facilitate the migrations of Korean spouses of US soldiers and multiracial children adopted by American families. Between 1951 and 1964 over 90 percent of the 14,027 Koreans who entered the United States were Korean “war brides” and transnational adoptees. Since 1965, Korean spouses of American servicemen have played key roles in supporting the migration of family members through visa sponsorship. Legal provisions that affected the arrivals of Korean women and children to the United States provided a precedent for US immigration reform after 1950. For instance, the 1952 and 1965 Immigration and Nationality Acts integrated core elements of these emergency orders, including privileging heterosexual relationships within immigration preferences. Simultaneously, while the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act “opened” the doors of American immigration to millions of people, South Korean military dictatorial rule and the imminent threat of rekindled warfare also influenced Korean emigration. As a result, official US immigration categories do not necessarily capture the complex conditions informing Koreans’ decisions to migrate to the United States. Finally, in light of the national surge of anti-immigrant sentiments that have crystallized since the American presidential election of Donald Trump in November 2016, immigration rights advocates have highlighted the need to address the prevalence of undocumented immigrant status among Korean Americans. While definitive statistics do not exist, emergent data suggests that at least 10 percent of the Korean American population is undocumented. Given this significant number, the undocumented status of Korean Americans is a critical site of study that warrants further research.