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Framing Japan’s Constitution: An EAA Interview with Colonel Charles L. Kades

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On June 18, 1996, one of the leading figures in the framing of the Japanese constitution died peacefully at his home in Heath, Massachusetts. For more than 50 years, Colonel Charles L. Kades vividly remembered what happened when General Douglas MacArthur ordered American Occupation officials to produce a draft of what an acceptable constitution might look like.(note 1) Characteristically modest but also proud of what the Occupation accomplished, Colonel Kades recently gave what turned out to be his last interview with Associate Editor Peter K. Frost. The Editors hope that what follows gives some sense of Colonel Kades’s intense interest in helping historians understand this fascinating event.


Why do you think that General MacArthur asked the Government Section to produce an initial draft constitution in just 10 days (February 3-12, 1946)?


A meeting had been scheduled for February 12 at which General Whitney, chief of the Government Section at GHQ, was going to hand Foreign Minister Yoshida and State Minister Matsumoto, the head of the Constitutional Revision Committee, a memorandum explaining why the Japanese proposals were unacceptable. MacArthur stated that instead of such a memo, it would be more productive if Whitney gave them a model containing constitutional principles.


Were you under pressure to produce a new constitution quickly? For example, was General MacArthur afraid that the Allies might simply impose a new constitution on Japan?


Not as far as I knew. Some people now think that General MacArthur worried that the Allies might not be able to agree about what sort of constitution Japan should have, but General MacArthur never said that to me. It’s pure conjecture. (note 2) He did announce publicly that he wanted a constitution finished in time for the elections scheduled in the spring to be a plebiscite. I was surprised when we were told that we had a week to produce a constitution, but we always understood that the main point was to make a more effective criticism of the existing Japanese drafts before the February meeting.

“Not being a Japanese expert, I cannot say for sure, but I believe that it would be hard to demonstrate that democracy and freedom are alien concepts to the Japanese.”


1. On February 4, 1946, General Courtney Whitney, head of the Government Section of SCAP (Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, a term used both for the largely American Occupation government and General Douglas MacArthur) asked Colonel Kades and others to prepare a draft constitution. The draft was written between February 3 and 12, 1946, and presented to the Japanese on February 13. Technically an amendment to the Meiji Constitution of 1889, the draft was modified in subsequent negotiations, approved by the Privy Council and the Diet, promulgated on November 3, 1946, and put into effect on May 3, 1947. Two good English language sources are Charles L. Kades, “The American Role in Revising Japan’s Imperial Constitution,” Political Science Quarterly (summer 1989),  and Robert E. Ward and Sakamoto Yoshikazu, eds., Democratizing Japan: The Allied Occupation (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1987).

2. Theodore H. McNelly notes that on February 1, 1946, General Whitney urged MacArthur to act before the newly formed Far Eastern Commission started. See his article in the Ward and Sakamoto book, 79.