24 June 2004

Spreading Democracy

I've been thumbing through a few chapters of John W. Dower's Pulitzer Prize winning, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II recently. It got me off to thinking about America's adventures in nation building in the last 60 years, from the nearly unmitigated success in Japan to the current muddle in Iraq. In both cases the Americans tried to give a Constitutional democracy to a people for whom the idea was very foreign. The difference between this approach and our own Independence movement is, of course, that we demanded a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Now, the postwar Japan and Iraq situations are wildly different, but there are some interesting parallels. In both cases we won the war and were left holding the proverbial bag of occupation. The Japanese weren't so intent on killing us and those in their own country who supported us as some Iraqis are, but in both cases our goal was the same: take a system of national polity which we found unbecoming to a modern nation and replace it with a Constitutional democracy which will uphold personal freedoms and the concept of popular sovreignity.

My first obvious question is, "Can this ever work?" Is it possible for a foreign power to impose its own view of the world on a country and expect it to take hold? Don't get me wrong, I'm not dabbling in PC-nonsense here: I firmly believe our (the free, Western world) system is better than most, but it seems very tricky to get it to work unless the actual people in question are pulling for it. In the end, the Japanese managed to take MacArthur's Constitution and make it their own. They wanted it badly enough to keep on trying after the occupiers went home. Do the Iraqis? I don't know. And it certainly doesn't help that terrorists are blowing up police stations across the country while they're taking their first stumbles toward electoral politics.

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