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The Dai-Ichi Seimei Building which served as SCAP headquarters, c. 1950

Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) (originally briefly styled Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers[1]) was the title held by General Douglas MacArthur during the Occupation of Japan following World War II.

In Japan, the position was generally referred to as GHQ (General Headquarters), as SCAP also referred to the offices of the occupation, including a staff of several hundred U.S. civil servants as well as military personnel. Some of these personnel effectively wrote a first draft of the Japanese Constitution, which the Diet then ratified after a few amendments. Australian, British, Indian, Canadian, and New Zealand forces under SCAP were organized into a sub-command known as British Commonwealth Occupation Force.

These actions led MacArthur to be viewed as the new Imperial force in Japan by many Japanese political and civilian figures, even being considered to be the rebirth of the Shogun style government[2] which Japan was ruled under until the start of the Meiji Restoration Period.

Immunity given to Imperial family and bacteriological research units members

Douglas MacArthur and his SCAP staff played a primary role to exonerate Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito) and all members of the imperial family implicated in the war such as Prince Chichibu, Prince Tsuneyoshi Takeda, Prince Asaka, Prince Higashikuni and Prince Hiroyasu Fushimi from criminal prosecutions before the Tokyo tribunal.[3]

As soon as 26 November 1945, MacArthur confirmed to admiral Mitsumasa Yonai that the emperor's abdication would not be necessary.[4] Before the war crimes trials actually convened, SCAP, the IPS and Shōwa officials worked behind the scenes not only to prevent the imperial family being indicted, but also to slant the testimony of the defendants to ensure that no one implicated the Emperor. High officials in court circles and the Shōwa government collaborated with allied GHQ in compiling lists of prospective war criminals, while the individuals arrested as Class A suspects and incarcerated in Sugamo Prison solemnly vowed to protect their sovereign against any possible taint of war responsibility.[5]

As Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, MacArthur also gave immunity to Shiro Ishii and all members of the bacteriological research units in exchange for germ warfare data based on human experimentation. On 6 May 1947, he wrote to Washington that "additional data, possibly some statements from Ishii probably can be obtained by informing Japanese involved that information will be retained in intelligence channels and will not be employed as "War Crimes" evidence."[6] The deal was concluded in 1948.[7]

According to popular historian Herbert Bix in Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, "MacArthur's truly extraordinary measures to save the Emperor from trial as a war criminal had a lasting and profoundly distorting impact on Japanese understanding of the lost war."[8]

Apology rebuffed

Toward the end of the occupation, Emperor Hirohito let it be known to SCAP that he was prepared to apologize formally to U.S. Gen. MacArthur for Japan's actions during World War II – including an apology for the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.[9]

Patrick Lennox Tierney had an intimate perspective on events which unfolded in SCAP headquarters. Tierney's office was on the fifth floor of the Dai-Ichi Insurance Building in Tokyo, the same floor where MacArthur's suite of offices was located. He was there on the day the Emperor came to offer this apology; but when the emperor arrived, MacArthur refused to admit him or acknowledge him. A pivotal moment passed. Many years later, Tierney made an effort to explain his understanding of the significance of what he had personally witnessed: "Apology is a very important thing in Japan."[9] Issues which might have been addressed were allowed to remain open, and consequences unfolded across the decades which followed.[10]

Media censorship

Above the political and economic control SCAP had for the seven years following Japan’s surrender, SCAP also had strict control over all of the Japanese media, under the formation of the Civil Censorship Detachment (CCD) of SCAP. The CCD eventually banned a total of 31 topics from all forms of media.[2] These topics included:

  • Criticism of SCAP (individuals and the organization).
  • All Allied countries.
  • Criticism of Allied policy pre- and post-war.
  • Any form of imperial propaganda.
  • Defense of war criminals.
  • Praise of “undemocratic” forms of government, though praise of SCAP itself was permitted.
  • The atomic bomb.
  • Black market activities.
  • Open discussion of allied diplomatic relations (Soviet Union–United States relations).

Although some of the CCD censorship laws considerably relaxed towards the end of SCAP, some topics, like the atomic bomb, were taboo until 1952 at the end of the occupation.

End of SCAP

MacArthur was succeeded as SCAP by General Matthew Ridgway when MacArthur was relieved by President Harry S. Truman during the Korean War in April 1951. With the Treaty of San Francisco, the post of SCAP lapsed.


  1. We, the Japanese people, p. 360, Dale M. Hellegers, Stanford University Press, 2002
  2. 2.0 2.1 Dower, John W. (1999). Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II, p. 341.
  3. Dower,[page needed]; Bix, Herbert P. (2000). Hirohito and the making of modern Japan,[page needed].
  4. Dower, p. 323.
  5. Dower, p. 325.
  6. Hal Gold, Unit 731 Testimony, 2003, p. 109
  7. Drayton, Richard (May 10, 2005) "An Ethical Blank Cheque: British and US mythology about the second world war ignores our own crimes and legitimises Anglo-American war making, The Guardian.
  8. Bix, p. 545.
  9. 9.0 9.1 "MacArthur aide: U.S. must learn from errors," Salt Lake Tribune. December 7, 2006.
  10. Lind, Jennifer. "The Perils of Apology: What Japan Shouldn't Learn from Germany," Foreign Affairs. May/June 2009; Ayako Doi, Letter to the editor: "It's Never too Late to Say You're Sorry," Foreign Affairs. September/October 2009.

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