The American Jewish Soldier Who Brought Democracy to Japan

Charles_KadesColonel Charles Kades spent most of his overseas service during World War II in Europe. He landed in Southern France on D-Day, and participated in the multiple campaigns and the battle for Rhineland. But it was in Japan that Kades would leave his legacy.

A native of Newburgh, N.Y., he arrived in Japan one week before the Japanese surrender aboard the U.S.S Missouri. The Harvard-educated lawyer had served in FDR’s New Deal administration and more recently in the Army Civil Affairs Division. He was in Tokyo in 1945 to serve aboard General Douglas MacArthur’s staff. His title was Deputy Chief of the Government Section, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers. But he would come to be known by some as the “James Madison of Japan.”

In 1946, MacArthur perceived that the Japanese officials charged with creating a new constitution were doing little other than reviving the 1881 constitution which dictated that government power came from the Emperor. On February 1st, MacArthur ordered his staff to create a completely new document to establish a Japanese government. The task seemed nearly impossible: Create a document that would instill democratic rights and values that would be accepted by the Japanese government and people even though it was being dictated by foreigners and recent enemies. And do it in 10 days.

Kades was the head of the steering committee for the team formed under General Courtney Whitney. Kades directed a team of twenty-four who worked tirelessly for the next week and a half. When the team convened to assemble the final document on February 12, the marathon working session had created an extraordinarily effective draft of a new constitution.

While creating a parliamentary democracy, it explicitly stated that the Emperor’s role was symbolic. It ensured democratic elections, guaranteed freedoms of religion and expression and protected workers’ rights. Articles specified equal rights regardless of race or gender. Most notably, it included the renunciation of the right for Japan to go to war.

Kades accepted minor revisions suggested by the Japanese and the document was approved by the Japanese legislature on November 3, 1946. The constitution took effect on May 3, 1947. Many expected changes to the constitution when the military occupation ended and Japan regained full independence in 1952. But remarkably, the constitution has never been amended. The ideals and principles that Kades dictated were set forth in a way that became a cornerstone of a modern democracy.

In 1949, Kades returned to civilian life and practiced law in New York. Colonel Kades was an active member of the Jewish War Veterans and a leader in support for the establishment of the State of Israel. He died in 1996 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The impact of his work is felt every day by the citizens of Japan.


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