Chances are that many of these people had been involved in right-wing activities; nevertheless, one cannot help but think that they were victims of timing. If they had left the mayor's or principal's posts in 1944, or had been slated to succeed in 1946, they would have avoided the purge.
Having cleared away these vestiges of militarism and ultra-nationalism, occupation authorities then set out to democratize Japan, but at the same time decided to govern Japan and to carry out their efforts at inculcating democracy from above by working through the existing Japanese government-not necessarily a bastion of liberal democratic thinking. The first step taken by the SCAP was to release all political prisoners from jail, a step that the Japanese governmental leaders opposed and SCAP later regretted. Most political prisoners in 1945 were members of the few organizations that had resisted Japan's road to militarism and emperor-centric ultra-nationalism; most important of these was the banned Japanese Communist Party. Many of the freed communists returned to the kind of work they had done before their prewar incarceration, organizing labor unions; they returned to this work in unions established under the auspices of SCAP's next important reform, the encouragement of labor organization. In December 1945, the Diet, at SCAP's urging, passed the Labor Union Act, a law modeled after the Wagner Act in the United States. The new law gave workers the right to create unions and bargain collectively without fear of reprisal from management. A series of subsequent acts, again passed by the Diet under pressure from SCAP, established working hours, overtime requirements, minimum pay rates, and minimum standards of working conditions. By the end of 1946, unions had recruited five million members, about one-third of all non-agricultural workers in Japan. The occupation authorities at first thought of this reform as one of their success stories-until some of the unions, under their radical leadership, began to challenge the legitimacy of the government and even of the occupation itself.
At about the same time, General MacArthur instituted a land reform to, in his words, "destroy the economic bondage which has enslaved the Japanese farmer to centuries of feudal oppression." In 1945, about 45% of the arable land in Japan was farmed by cultivators who did not own it. After rejecting a Soviet proposal for agricultural collectivization, SCAP had the Diet pass a land-reform bill on October 21, 1945. This and subsequent bills allowed farmers to own as much land as they themselves could cultivate; it required them to sell the rest to the government, which then sold it to the actual cultivators by long-term, low interest mortgages. Luckily for tenant farmers Japan underwent a severe inflation in the late 1940s that reduced the burden of repaying their mortgages by over 80% in three years. Land ownership by its cultivators increased from about 60% in 1946 to 90% in 1949. One American historian was surprised, when he interviewed a group of former Japanese soldiers, all of whom had been tenant farmers before the land reform, to be told, "Thank you for the land reform. You Americans and General MacArthur are great people."
In addition to labor and land reform, SCAP introduced another program to promote economic democracy, zaibatsu dissolution. According to the view of the occupation authorities, a small group of ten conglomerates, four large zaibatsu or networks of centrally-owned companies, and six lesser ones, controlled so much of the Japanese economy that they were a hindrance to competition. Thus, SCAP set out to destroy the holding companies that held the conglomerates together and to break up some of the larger subordinate corporations. The particular targets were the Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Sumitomo and Yasuda zaibatsu.