Densho Digital Archive
gayle k. yamada Collection
Title: Gordon Yamada Interview
Narrator: Gordon Yamada
Interviewer: gayle k. yamada
Location: Monterey, California
Date: July 1, 2000
Densho ID: denshovh-ygordon-01-0003

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Gordon Y: And the job that I had, we were immediately assigned to capturing the factories. That's what I did, I captured the factories. Because when we went into Japan, you had to capture all of the industrial potential of Japan so they couldn't be doing anything, making bombs or whatever. So we captured all of the factories in Japan which were, there were 840 factories in Japan.

gky: What kind of factories? And when you "captured," what do you mean by "captured"?

Gordon Y: Well, they were bombed out. Almost as I visualize it now, it almost seemed like the smoke was still coming out of the factories. So we went to places like where they made this zero aircraft, Nakajima aircraft, Mitsubishi plants, manufacturing, big manufacturing plants, big auto, tank manufacturing plants, ordinance plants, steel, ball bearing, forging plants, shipyards, all of that came under Allied control. They were given the order: "do not operate those plants." Now, who goes in there and captures them, put them under Allied control? That's what we did. We went out with teams of, in jeeps and arms, and went out to these plants in Tokyo. I was in charge of the Tokyo area. I think we had about 140 plants in Tokyo. Like Nikon camera, they were making precision optics for the military, so we had to capture that plant. So I remember going down there and putting that plant under Allied control. There were aircraft plants, many, many aircraft plants, maybe a couple dozen in Tokyo. We captured 'em all in the sense that we put them under Allied control. And then I would talk directly to the Japanese government people who were responsible, and I'd tell them, "This is what we want you to do." And the idea was to remove all the machinery from Japan. Well, is kind of, when you think about it today, it's a pretty stupid idea, to remove the industrial potential of a country and ship it to another country. But here were eleven claimant nations -- that's what we called them, "claimant nations" -- who were entitled at the time to reparations because of the war that Japan caused. So all of this machinery and everything was going to go to the eleven claimant nations: India, Russia, Canada, Australia, France, England, Philippines, U.S... eleven nations that fought Japan. And so the idea was to capture the plants and to inventory all the machinery, maintain it, bring it back to the useable condition, 'cause some of it was hanging in the rafters in the plants and been blown up in the rafter, steel rafters. We had to have them get those down and line 'em all up and clean them all up and number them and put inventory numbers on. That's what we were doing. And then the whole idea was to find out the numbers and types of machinery, then the eleven claimant nations, they wanted a hundred lathes, five hundred lathes, we would know where to get those five hundred lathes. And the intention was in the next few years -- this was 1946 when we started the program -- the next few years was to inventory all the machinery and ship it out of Japan. And when you think about it now, that doesn't work. It doesn't work because what are the people supposed to -- seventy million people in Japan, what are they supposed to do? You take the whole industrial potential and ship it out of the country, they have no way of supporting themselves?

gky: So what did happen?

Gordon Y: So what happened was -- this program lasted about five years until the peace treaty in 1951. And what happened was, America was the first one to recognize after about three years of this, we're shipping machinery out of Japan. America never got any of that machinery because by the time, second, third year of the program, reparations program, U.S. realized that this wasn't the way to do it. And the same thing was happening in Germany. And the four countries, Russia, India, Philippines and China, wanted the machinery. So we did make shipments to those four countries, and I was responsible for making sure that this company gave up a hundred machines of this type and another company gave up fifty whatever, types of machine tools. And they were maintained and put into shipping condition so that they could be shipped to those countries. We did make shipments to the four countries I mentioned. But the U.S. realized it around three years after the program started that this was not the way to do it. So the funny part of it is, so the U.S. started making noises that among the Allied powers, it was called the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, and General MacArthur was the head and I was assigned to his headquarters in the reparations section, we called it reparations section. Somebody was responsible for education, somebody else is responsible for economic recovery or finance or whatever for the country. Our intent in being there was to capture the country and now turn it into a restoration of the country, 'cause you can't allow it to be like that. So our section was to capture this potential, the war making potential in Japan, and Intelligence Service was assigned to this duty. And about three or four years after this period, the U.S. realized that it wasn't going to work. You don't ship all the machinery out of the country and expect the country to survive. So the U.S. started making overtures of, "Let's give up the reparation program." And the four countries that I mentioned resisted, seven countries said, "Go ahead. Give the machinery back to Japan." But '46, '47, '48, '49, '50, just before the peace treaty, the U.S. position prevailed and the machinery was, decided to end the reparation program, which the peace treaty was in 1951, so the peace treaty was right around the corner, 'cause that what another part of SCAP was trying to do was get ready for the peace treaty with Japan.


Gordon Y: The interesting part of this episode is that by the time the decision was made to forego the reparations program and to give the machinery back to Japan, the Japanese didn't want any of the machines. They said, "We don't want it," because it was all old machinery. And so Japan by that time had started recovering economically, and they decided to buy machinery from foreign countries to replace the ones that they had used during the war because condition of this equipment was pretty bad. It was worn out. In fact, they didn't have grease, for example, on the ball bearings in the machinery, industrial machinery, was being lubricated by some other means than grease, because they didn't have grease in Japan at that time, during the end of the war. And they were using peculiar stuff to lubricate the machines, and they were in terrible condition. I remember taking a lathe and going like this, and you could hear the ball bearings shaking because they were so loose. At any rate, the machines were given back, the program was suspended, terminated, and Japan was given the machines back. I don't know what happened to 'em, I guess some of them were used.

gky: And you say that the United States helped Japan become the industrial power it used to be.

Gordon Y: Yes. And by this time -- I think this is true in Germany as well, in Europe. By this time, the U.S. had taken the position that the machines were not desired, and seven nations out of the eleven said, "That's a reasonable idea. We don't want the machinery either." Canada didn't want it, England didn't want it, Australia didn't want it. So the machinery was given back to Japan and I guess they put whatever they could back to use, and the bad machines were melted down and something else was done with them. And in the meantime, the country had to survive. In order to survive, they started buying machinery, oxygen smelting plants, fancy new techniques. And in the U.S., for example, we were still using the old techniques for smelting iron ore using coal. The Japanese were using oxygen, I mean, it's a different kind of production. So they were starting from ground zero to rebuild the industrial potential. This was in the 1950s, after '50s, '60s. And so here they're building, all of their production capability was being designed around new machinery, new techniques, and Germany as well, and the U.S. was still using old techniques, hundred year old techniques for processing steel. So that's how we -- the U.S. -- helped Japan build an industrial, new industrial potential that was superior to what existed in the United States.

gky: Kind of ironic, isn't it?

Gordon Y: It's ironic as hell when you think about it. It's just crazy. And Germany's the same way. You look at the German machinery and Japanese machinery, "How did they do those, make the cars and the cameras and electronics and whatever else they had? How did they do that?" We helped them. We helped them set up new factories. So that's what happens as an aftermath of a war like this. Interesting things happen.

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