The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus

The Asia-Pacific Journal- Japan Focus2

What Was the Cold War? Imagined Reality, Ordinary People’s War, and Social Mechanism

Hajimu Masuda


What was the Cold War? Cold War Crucible: The Korean Conflict and the Postwar World (Harvard University Press, 2015) is an inquiry into the very nature and meanings of the conflict. It traces the Cold War’s metamorphosis during the Korean War from a diplomatic stand-off among policymakers to an ordinary people’s war at home through examining not only centers of policymaking, but seeming aftereffects of Cold War politics during the Korean War: The Red Purge in Japan, the White Terror in Taiwan, Suppression of counterrevolutionaries in China, the crackdown on “un-Filipino” activities in the Philippines, and McCarthyism in the United States. Why did such similar patterns of domestic repression occur simultaneously around the world? Were there any similarities among these repressions? What would happen if we were to remove the Cold War lens? What were the implications of such a worldwide phenomenon?

While these events have usually been examined separately and are commonly considered aftereffects of the global Cold War, the book re-defines these events as parts of a global phenomenon of nativist backlashes—a sort of social conservative suppression—that operated to silence various local conflicts that surfaced in the aftermath of World War II. It shows how ordinary people throughout the world strove to silence disagreements and restore social order under the mantle of the global confrontation, revealing that the actual divides of the Cold War existed not necessarily between the Eastern and Western blocs but within each society, with each, in turn, requiring the perpetuation of such an imagined reality to maintain order and harmony at home. Exploring such social functions and popular participation, Cold War Crucible suggests that the Cold War was more than an international and geopolitical confrontation between the Western and Eastern blocs. It was also a social mechanism for purity and order, which functioned in many parts of the world to tranquilize chaotic postwar and postcolonial situations through containing a multitude of social conflicts and culture wars at home. This article draws on and extends parts of Chapter 8 and 9 concerning Japan’s Red Purge and China’s Suppression of counterrevolutionaries.

Reconsidering the Red Purge in Japan

At 3 p.m. on July 28, 1950, thirty-one workers at Mainichi Shinbun in Tokyo were called to their bosses’ offices, most of them individually, and told that they were fired, on the spot. The only reason that they were given was that the news media had an important responsibility in driving out communists and communist sympathizers from the company. Similar notifications were conveyed simultaneously at other major newspapers, such as Asahi Shinbun and Yomiuri Shinbun. This was the beginning of the waves of mass dismissals, conducted first through General Douglas MacArthur’s directive to remove communists from the newspaper industry. Based on this directive, fifty newspaper companies nationwide unilaterally notified a total of 704 employees that they were being terminated. These ranged from major newspapers like Asahi Shinbun (104 dismissed out of 5,200 staff), Mainichi Shinbun (49 of 5,000), and Yomiuri Shinbun (34 of 2,200) to small local newspapers such as Nihonkai Shinbun (9 of 90) in Tottori, as well as Shinyo Shinbun (1 of 50) in Matsumoto.

This wave of mass dismissals in the newspaper industry then spread to other companies on a much larger scale. In the fall of 1950, roughly 13,000 people were fired from industries including coal, steel, shipbuilding, chemistry, railways, and mining—a phenomenon commonly known in Japan as the “Red Purge.” As the name suggests, these waves of mass dismissals have conventionally been viewed through a Cold War lens. The traditional understanding is that this was a purge of communists, conducted primarily under orders from the U.S. occupation forces. Under such a presumption, there has not been much discussion of who actually planned and conducted this so-called Red Purge. In the existing literature, the answer has almost been taken for granted.4 It was the Americans. It was the GHQ and Washington. Their reason for the Red Purge was, it is commonly argued, to make Japan a fortress against the threat of Soviet expansion in East Asia. By the same token, not much attention has been paid to who the actual victims were; that they were communists and communist sympathizers or innocent victims dismissed due to false charges has also been taken for granted. In short, the Red Purge has been commonly understood as an aftereffect of the Cold War—an inevitable result of the global confrontation.

However, this grand narrative has prevented us from inquiring further into the meaning of the Red Purge and the Cold War. Once we raise questions about the Cold War framework itself, the mass firings of 1950 seem more than just a Red Purge. Rather, they look more like part of a global phenomenon of domestic purges that raged in many places during the Korean War.


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