William M. Leavitt is associate
professor in the Department of Urban
Studies and Public Administration at Old
Dominion University. His teaching and
research interests are in the areas of
customer service and service delivery, public
sector pay, human resource management,
organizational design, social marketing, and
business process reengineering.
General Douglas MacArthur: Supreme Public Administrator of Post–World War II Japan 315
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 75, Iss. 2, pp. 315–324. © 2015 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
W. Henry Lambright, Editor
William M. Leavitt
Old Dominion University
Abstract: is article examines General Douglas MacArthur’s six years as Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers
in post–World War II Japan. MacArthur was appointed by President Harry S. Truman in 1945 to preside over and
administer the reconstruction of postwar Japan. No American serving in the role of a public administrator has ever
had a more diffi cult task than the one MacArthur took on in Japan. At the end of World War II, Japan was devas-
tated, and the entire population faced starvation. MacArthur’s administrative style and his successes and failures in
Japan are examined in this Administrative Profi le. Fifty years after his death, the infl uence of MacArthur’s policies
during his tenure as Supreme Commander are still felt in Japan.
the Allied Powers, but in eff ect, he was the supreme
public administrator of Japan for six years follow-
ing the end of the war. As MacArthur recalled in his
memoirs, “ e pattern of government was unique in
modern annals. I, as a professional soldier, had the
civil responsibility and absolute control over almost
80 million people, and I would maintain that control
until Japan had once more demonstrated that it was
ready, willing, and able to become a responsible mem-
ber of the family of free nations” (1964, 280–81).
Winning a war is one thing; it is clear when the mis-
sion is accomplished. Winning the peace is an entirely
diff erent matter—it is, as Rittel and Weber (1973)
defi ned it, a “wicked problem.” It is not clear how to
defi ne winning the peace, and it is diffi cult to know
when the task is accomplished.
Japan offi cially surrendered on September 2, 1945,
which brought an end to World War II. At the end
of the war, Japan was in very bad shape. Sixty-six
major cities had been heavily bombed during the war,
including the fi rebombing of Tokyo and the destruc-
tion of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by atomic bombs.
Every major city was described as a “wilderness of
rubble.” Between two million
and three million people had
lost their lives, and that number
included around 600,000 civil-
ians who were killed in the air
raids, the fi ghting on Okinawa,
and the atomic bombings.
ere was little phone or train
service, and virtually no power
plants were in operation. Cities
General Douglas MacArthur: Supreme Public Administrator
of Post–World War II Japan
Could I have but a line a century hence credit-
ing a contribution to the advance of peace,
I would yield every honor which has been
accorded by war.
—General Douglas MacArthur
The year 2014 marked the fi ftieth anniversary
of the death of General Douglas MacArthur.
He was granted more authority and discre-
tion serving in the role of a public administrator
than the nation has ever seen or is likely to see again.
MacArthur’s role as Supreme Commander for the
Allied Powers (SCAP) in Japan at the end of World
War II was not only an administrative one but one
that also involved political, policy, and leadership
responsibilities. is profi le is not intended as a com-
plete recounting of MacArthur’s six years as Supreme
Commander; historians have written volumes about
MacArthur and postwar Japan. Rather, it is intended
to highlight MacArthur’s style and administrative
accomplishments in Japan during his tenure.
Japan in the twenty-fi rst century is a prosperous,
democratic country with the
world’s third-largest economy.
e path to Japan’s success
as a democratic nation and
economic powerhouse began
with the occupation of Japan
in 1945 at the end of World
War II. General Douglas
MacArthur’s offi cial title was
Supreme Commander for
General Douglas MacArthur’s
offi cial title was Supreme
Commander for the Allied
Powers, but in eff ect, he was the
supreme public administrator of
Japan for six years following the
end of the war.