American Diplomacy
Commentary and Analysis

September 1999

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Alliance in Doubt
American Reaction to the 1960
US-Japanese Security Treaty Crisis
(Part II)

by Nicholas Evan Sarantakes
 Elsewhere in this issue:


Focus on

Ralph D. Sawyer on Chinese Warfare: The Paradox of the Unlearned Lesson. "From any reasonable perspective China’s continuity has been cultural rather than political, its heritage throughout one of incessant conflict as different peoples, states, and popular movements fought to control its populace and resources."

Minxin Pei asks, Is China Unstable? "China... will face rising instability if the regime fails to undertake significant political reform in the next decade."

Carl Fritz on China in 1945: One Man's Experience. "My unit was an air service group, and when the war ended members of the unit were widely scattered all over China."

Thomas D. Grant on Taiwan Trouble. "Taiwan had almost all the traits of a separate state, except that it never claimed to be a separate state."

Joseph J. Borich on US-China Relations: Springtime Ice Beginning to Melt. "Since mid-June, there have been several signs that bilateral relations may be gradually improving."

Other articles in this issue:   

David Brown on policy implicataions for the US one year after the outbreak of the financial crisis in Southeast Asia:
"The Treasury Department has played too prominent a role . . . . The Secretary of State should be [more] visibly involved in defining and implementing U.S. policy."

Other recent articles in American Diplomacy:

Walter A. McDougall, in Religion in Diplomatic History, took a different look at the Westphalian system of nation-states and the role played by religion: "Americans have been prone to justify their behavior abroad in Protestant Christian terms, however much they may disagree about what constitutes right and wrong." [Summer 1999]

Elsewhere in this issue:

The bulk of the American public paid little attention to the new treaty, but the attentive, interested section of the populace was generally quite supportive of the new agreement. The editors of the Los Angeles Times argued, “Terms of the treaty formalize the entrance of the two nations into a new era of co-operation, recognizing not only their common stake in free world security, but also the need of joint economic efforts.” The editorial board of the New York Herald Tribune wrote, “The essential point, however, recognizes that the destinies of the United States and Japan are bound up inextricably together in the Far East.” The official editorial position of the Hearst newspaper chain was that “the United States will be stronger for having Japan as a voluntary ally in the far east instead of an occupied nation. All the nations of the west will benefit from the change, and so will the general cause of friendship among nations.” Various publications across the country agreed, citing the agreement as an important sign that the bilateral relationship between the two nations had entered a new phase.11

More importantly, reaction in the Senate suggested that the administration would have little problem in getting the new treaty ratified. In a summary of the new agreement that went to members of the Foreign Relations Committee, a staff member described the treaty as “defensive" in character. It has been opposed most forcibly—at moments hysterically—by the Sino-Soviet bloc because it will serve to strengthen Japan’s security by discouraging aggressive action against Japan. As one of the four great industrial complexes in the world, Japan and her vigorous, enterprising people represent a great prize; none perhaps ranks higher on our adversaries’ list, certainly none in Asia.” In another memo, a congressional analyst noted that the new agreement was important mainly as a political instrument. “The new treaty formalizes the fact of Japan’s rebirth as a sovereign nation. This acknowledgement is found in the tone of the preamble, which brings Japan into alliance with the United States as an equal partner.” Both studies agreed that the United States had an interest in offering this status to the Japanese. “The old treaty had become a severe political liability, and was making our country’s position in Japan extremely difficult. The new treaty is fair, unburdensome.” The Status of Forces agreement was also revised, making it similar to others signed by representatives of the United States. “In general, the new Administrative Agreement is closer in spirit to the Status of Forces agreement with the NATO countries, which was ratified by the Senate in 1953.”12

The Foreign Relations Committee staff favored ratification even though in doing so they directly challenged the view of some Senators. Russell Long, the Louisiana Democrat, complained that that the treaty was unequal, requiring the United States to come to the assistance of Japan without any reciprocal commitment. “This is not realistic,” a staff study declared. “If the U.S. is attacked, it is likely that a general nuclear conflict will result. This is the war that both the Soviets and ourselves regard as inadmissible. If it should occur, Japan’s assistance, or lack of it, would be completely irrelevant.”13

Japanese bitterly debate treaty ratification
While the treaty faced no real problems in ratification in the United States, such was not the case in Japan. The pact, despite the American concessions, was extremely unpopular among the political left because it perpetuated the alliance with the United States. Despite representing about a third of the electorate, the opposition parties were never much of a force in Japanese politics due to deep internal divisions. Almost all Japanese to the left of the political center agreed that the treaty should be opposed and organized the People’s Council for Preventing Revision of the Security Treaty (Ampo Jyaku Kaitei Soshi Kokumin Kaigi). The membership of the People’s Council included the socialist parties, labor unions, and the communist party, and was, up to that time, the closest thing to a united front that postwar Japan had seen. Differences and divisions remained among the member organizations, limiting the effectiveness of the People’s Council. Nevertheless, the debate in Tokyo over ratification of the treaty was extremely bitter. One member of the Diet circulated before and after photos of Kishi as a member of the Tojo cabinet and as a prisoner during the occupation. Public interest in the treaty issue was extensive and the media provided intense coverage. The LDP had the votes in the Diet to force the treaty through, even though such action would have run counter to elements of Japanese culture that encouraged consensus.

Far more important, many faction leaders in the party had misgivings about Kishi’s honesty and honor. Since many suspected that he would make some effort to use the treaty to seek an third term as party president, the support that his opponents within the party offered him in confrontations with the left was qualified. The People’s Council organized a large rally in Tokyo that began on April 26. This date was key, because it was the last day that the Prime Minister could have a vote on the treaty without seeking an extension of the current legislative session. Ratification required a vote in both chambers of the legislature. If the upper chamber refused to act, approval would occur automatically thirty days after the House of Representatives vote. The Diet had to be in session for this authorization, but in this case was set to recess on May 26. The rallies continued to grow in size throughout April and into May as this date neared. An assembly estimated at 600,000 gathered in Tokyo on May 1.

In the wake of public sentiment, which was beginning to turn against the treaty, the anti-Kishi LDP faction leaders insisted that the prime minister take a soft approach on ratification and continue to allow the Diet to debate the treaty. Needing the votes these politicians controlled and still hoping to secure the support of one of the socialists parties, Kishi agreed. The Diet continued to argue over the treaty and Kishi now faced the double task of extending the legislative session and ratifying the treaty. Then, on May 1, the U-2 incident galvanized an already intense debate. Soviet air defense forces shot down a Central Intelligence Agency photo reconnaissance plane while it was over the Soviet Union. The pilot, Gary Powers, survived. The Soviets had living proof that the United States had violated their airspace on a national holiday and on the eve of a summit meeting between Eisenhower and Premier Nikita Khrushchev in Paris. Khrushchev flaunted the evidence, shattering the U.S. cover story about a missing weather plane, a story that humiliated Eisenhower before he canceled their meeting. This episode stunned the Japanese and made many rethink their relationship with the Americans, especially since such planes flew missions from air bases in Japan.14

In the middle of May, Kishi faced a series of difficult choices and decided to seek an extension of the legislative session and have the House of Representatives vote on the treaty. The decisive day came on May 19. The Liberal Democratic Party formally proposed an extension of the current legislative session. The Socialists, in an effort to prevent a vote on extension which the left had no chance of winning based simply on numbers, staged a massive sit-down strike in front of the office belonging to the Speaker of the House trapping him inside. At 11:00 p.m., after being stuck in his office all day, the Speaker ordered the police to forcibly remove the Socialists. The opposition party legislators responded with a boycott of the plenary session that met just before midnight. With only the LDP members present, the Diet authorized a fifty-day extension and then six minutes after midnight approved the treaty. The treaty would go into effect the day Eisenhower arrived in Japan. Kishi and the LDP had won a parliamentary victory, but the public was stunned. Commentators and editorial writers in the press roundly condemned him and his followers for their antidemocratic actions. The left refused to participate in Diet proceedings, protest rallies grew even larger in size and labor unions organized nationwide strikes.15

The American public had little good information about these events. American journalists in Tokyo generally did a poor job of giving their readers a nuanced understanding of the factors behind the protests, particularly after May 19. Most newspaper editors in America put the developments in Tokyo on the front page, but were dependent on Associated Press or United Press International news stories. The quality of AP stories was bad; those of UPI, even worse. These reporters presented the maneuvering and protest rallies in terms of a simple pro- and anti-U.S. dichotomy. Projecting the nature of the U.S. two-party system on the Japanese and ignoring the operational structure of the LDP, these journalists suggested that if Kishi were driven from office this development would give politicians of the left wing opposition parties control of the cabinet. Copy editors in newsrooms across the country put these articles under dramatic headlines that promoted an exaggerated sense of confrontation. Some of the papers with the largest circulations in the country, such as the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the New York Herald Tribune, had their own reporters in Tokyo and these journalists did an adequate job of putting the events in Tokyo into the appropriate political context. These papers, however, like those in smaller markets did use accounts from the news services that contained the same blemishes.16

Despite the Tokyo mobs and the sensational reporting in the United States, ratification still seemed certain. The hearings of the Foreign Relations Committee on June 7 were almost pro forma. The Senators asked questions about treaty provisions based on suggestions that staff members prepared. Secretary of State Christian Herter gave fairly predictable answers to these inquiries. There was little concern among the American people about the treaty. Religious and peace organizations did oppose the agreement. “The United States has not by this treaty strengthened her position in the Far East,” the executive secretary of the Arkansas Council of Churches wrote in the Arkansas Gazette. The committee even heard critical testimony from two witnesses, but their objections were never seriously considered by the Senators. The protests in Japan appeared to have had little impact.17

Only once was ratification ever brought into doubt. Tennessee Democrat Albert Gore, Sr., asked Herter whether, in light of current events, it be wise to delay confirmation. “Would the security of Japan or the United or the United Nations or international peace be in any way jeopardized if the Senate considered ratification in 1961?” Herter responded to this issue in a forthright manner: “I don’t think necessarily,” he said. “I frankly don’t know why there should necessarily be a postponement. We feel it is a desirable matter on both sides. It is of mutual interest to go ahead with this treaty. The question of a delay would not necessarily be a fatal thing. On the other hand, there might be some real doubts in Japan as to whether we intended to go ahead with it or not if there were an extreme delay.” Later, behind the closed doors of the executive session of the committee, Gore offered a candid explanation for his query. “I raised the question as to timing of ratification because I thought it might possibly be helpful to have a little show of critical questioning, if not possible opposition. If that would be helpful to play this little game out a little bit, I will be glad to cooperate. If it would be helpful for a show of unanimity I shall not raise a question further.”18

President's proposed trip to Japan questioned
The main issue in executive session, when the Senators were more candid, was the question of timing and the wisdom of the President going forward with his visit. Once Fulbright gaveled the committee to order, he told Herter, “We want to be reassured, I suppose, about that matter. I know they are all interested in it. Would you discuss both of these questions?” Comments he had made the day before on the President’s trip appeared prominently in that morning’s issue of the New York Times just under the paper’s masthead. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it might be wise to defer the visit until sometime in the fall,” he told the reporter writing the story. Senators John C. Stennis of Mississippi and Mike Mansfield of Montana were quoted and listed as other legislators expressing wariness about the excursion.

The Secretary of State discussed the complicated political scenario in Japan and told the legislators that he expected the Japanese to ratify the treaty four days before Eisenhower arrived. He also said that MacArthur had already raised with Kishi the possibility of delaying the President’s trip until the late summer. “Mr. Kishi reacted very strongly against a postponement and he reacted strongly against it for fear that if it were announced prior to the complete ratification of the treaty that it would indicate a doubt as to whether the government could survive or those who were proponents of the treaty could hold on.” Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs J. Graham Parsons added that tinkering with Eisenhower’s travel plans could undermine democracy in Japan. “If the President were to cancel out at a particular time in a way it would lend force to the proposition that all these agitators have to do is try hard enough and they can achieve just the result of mob rule and minority decision, and the results for a Japanese democracy in the future would be unfortunate. I think the fate of parliamentary democracy in Japan is really the basic issue which is being thrashed out at the present time.”

Several senators agreed with this line of reasoning. “Mr. Chairman, I just want to say that I think the reasoning stated is absolutely correct,” John Sparkman of Alabama remarked. “It seems to me if the President canceled or delayed his trip it would encourage a continuation and the buildup of these activities not only in Japan but any other country that he might want to go to.” George Aiken of Vermont agreed, “I don’t see any way how the President can avoid going to Japan now unless there is greater danger involved than is indicated at the present time. It seems as if he avoids going on the demands of possibly 2 percent of the people of Japan that the President will be just prohibited from traveling anywhere from now on because in almost any country a minority can organize 1 or 2 percent of the people to protest.”19

That afternoon in a telephone conversation with Herter about the hearing, Eisenhower said he was more than a little offended that Fulbright and his committee had the gall to contend that they had a say in his travel plans. According to a White House summary of the conversation, “The President said what he is worried about is this thing building up in Japan; that he was not disturbed by the people in Congress or on TV who think they know better, but that he was disturbed as to whether Kishi may be making a mistake in using the President for an internal thing.” He was not worried about any threat to his person, but that organized mobs might end up embarrassing him, which would be a national humiliation since he was traveling as the representative of the American people.

Eisenhower then admitted that the critics in Congress might have some well-founded concerns. “The President said he was almost getting to the point of feeling that he ought to see whether his own country feels he is making a mistake.” If the trip were to be canceled, he told Herter he wanted it done before he departed for the Far East. If he had to remove Japan from his itinerary once he had departed, he expected there would be a considerable deal of recrimination back in the United States about how he had ignored good advice. Eisenhower then mentioned Fulbright’s comments in the New York Times. Herter told him not to worry; the committee had been supportive of the decision to go forward with the junket. The President had said he wanted his trip to be a way of paying respects to a sister democracy, but noted as he closed the conversation that his presence might end up highlighting Japanese political shortcomings. The White House scribe’s notes read, “The President said he was trying now to get together a speech for the Diet, but it is a sorry thing when you think you are going in there with armed guards at the doors.”20

The differences about the Presidential journey were taking on signs of a partisan division. Two days after talking with Herter, Eisenhower had a meeting with the Republican leaders of the House and Senate. After two and half hours, the President raised the issue of his pending trip to Asia and the Pacific. He expected that there would be some protesters, but on the whole he assumed he would receive a warm welcome from the Japanese people. Eisenhower also told the legislators that if they were asked about his trip that he wanted their standard response to be that the President should never be prevented from taking action because of a little harsh rhetoric from a small minority.21

Continue reading Sarantakes 1234 Bibliography

End Notes (Part II)

11. Los Angeles Times, January 21, 1960; New York Herald Tribune, January 20, 1960. The same editorial appeared in Hearst papers on January 20, 1960. This citation is to the issue of the Chicago American for that day. For editorials voicing similar views see The Atlanta Constitution, January 20, 1960; The Washington Daily News, January 18, 20, 1960; St. Louis Globe-Democrat, January 20, 1960; Baltimore Sun, January 20, 1960; Fort Worth Star-Telegram, January 20, 1960; The Washington Post, January 18, 1960; Washington Evening Star, January 18, 1960; New York Herald Tribune, January 18, 1960. For a dissenting voice that saw little new in the treaty and disagreed with the idea that the accord ushered in a new era in U.S.-Japanese relations, see the Chicago Daily News, January 20, 1960. A front page article in the January 19, 1960 issue of The Wall Street Journal also questioned the importance of the new agreement.

12. “Summary of Main Points of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security with Japan,” no date; Staff memorandum, “Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security Between the United States of America and Japan,” no date, envelop 2 of 3, Sen 86 B-B5, box 41, Treaty File, Records of the Committee on Foreign Relations, Records of the U. S. Senate, Record Group 46, U.S. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

13. “Summary of Main Points of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security with Japan,” no date, envelop 2 of 3, Sen 86 B-B5, box 41, Treaty File, Records of the Committee on Foreign Relations, Records of the U. S. Senate, Record Group 46, U.S. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

14. Packard, Protest in Tokyo, 82, 105-124, 182-236.

15. Ibid, 237-270.

16. This assessment is based on a sampling of the various newspapers cited in the notes of this paper on key dates throughout the late spring and early summer.

17. Arkansas Gazette, January 31, 1960; Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security with Japan, June 7, 1960, Eighty-Sixth Congress, Second Session, 1960. (Washington, 1960).

18. Ibid, 28; “Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security with Japan,” June 7, 1960, Executive Sessions of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Historical Series) vol. 12, Eighty-Sixth Congress, Second Session, 1960. (Washington, 1982), 410.

19. Ibid, 405-409, 411; The New York Times, June 7, 1960.

20. “Memorandum of Telephone Conversation Between President Eisenhower and Secretary of State Herter,” June 7, 1960, FRUS, 1958-1960, vol. 18, 327-328.

21. Notes on Legislative Leadership Meeting, June 9, 1960, Whitman File, Legislative Meeting Series, box 3, Papers of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Abilene, Kansas (Hereafter referred to as DDEL).

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