WASHINGTON. — Washington -- What person was most directly responsible for the broadest improvement of life for the largest number of women in this century? Douglas MacArthur, whose contribution to the liberalization of Japan should be remembered as America approaches the problems and possibilities of victory in another war.
Writing some of Japan's new Constitution on a yellow legal pad, MacArthur, as governor of occupied Japan, was in a position and a mood to insist on such radical reforms as the rights of organized labor, schools that taught democracy, abolition of the feudal aristocracy, and women's suffrage. Thirty-eight women were in the first Diet elected under the new constitution.
William Manchester, MacArthur's biographer, writes that before MacArthur's regency, concubinage and family contract marriages had been legal, women had no political or economic rights, public schools were segregated by sex with girls having a diluted curriculum, and there were no colleges for women. Adultery had been licit for husbands but illicit for wives. The Diet had to choose: punish both or neither. The crime of adultery was abolished.
Regarding Iraq, last summer the Wall Street Journal defined the maximalists' war aims: ''a MacArthurian regency in Baghdad.'' That seemed, then and now, like overreaching, politically and militarily. But with the war going well, we should think somewhat spaciously.
Today's talk about the New World Order has, so far, a conspicuous flaw: It stresses order, not freedom. However, the Reagan foreign policy had this premise: Domestic freedom conduces to international order. The idea, which would give needed substance to the Bush policy, was that democracy pacifies nations. Governments bound to popular sentiment will not be warlike. History contains counter-examples (for example, in Europe on the eve of World War I), but the theory is broadly confirmed by experience.
Thus, a sensible war aim is a new regime in Iraq. To that end, the United States has put a price on Saddam Hussein's head, a price that rises every time bombs drop another bridge into a river. The price is the potential value of United States aid for reconstruction of Iraq's infrastructure.
Such aid is unthinkable with Mr. Hussein on the scene. Furthermore, the Baath Party that churned up one Saddam Hussein is a likely source of another one. So Iraq's single-party state must be reformed if Iraq is to be tamed. Iraqis should do this but the allies can provide incentives by making the ending of sanctions and of the occupation of southern Iraq contingent on the re- placement of Mr. Hussein's regime.
America does not want to take the military measures and pay the political price of a protracted occupation and presence to install a regency or administer anything comparable to the de-Nazification of Germany. But America should keep visible to all Iraqis the cash value to Iraq of a revolution, or at least a coup. And America should be poised to spring to the assistance of democratic elements.
Furthermore, Iraq need not be the first place for a healthy infection of popular government in that region. There is always our new-found friend Kuwait.
Asked if Kuwait no longer opposes an American presence in in peacetime, Kuwait's ambassador here says only, ''I don't think now we are in a position to pronounce on this subject.'' Given Kuwait's position -- flat on its back, being resuscitated by American power -- perhaps Kuwait is just short of breath.
Perhaps America does not want such a presence on the ground. But it would be nice if Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other states would stop treating the United States as a corrupting influence except when there is dying to be done.
Kuwait's ambassador says ''the U.S. has been in the gulf for now 40 years.'' Yes, afloat, safely offshore, where the contamination of freedom and other American viruses cannot so easily unsettle Arab societies. (When the United States was serving Kuwait during the reflagging exercise of the late 1980s, U.S. military and intelligence units were based on barges.)
Secretary of State Baker, asked about the possible democratization of Kuwait, says: ''We know that democracy is the best system'' but if we were to say ''that the government of Kuwait has to change,'' we would be ''permitting aggression to effect political change, and that would be, I think, a terrible mistake.''
How is that again? It would be a victory for Iraq if Kuwait helped pay its debt to our democracy by practicing democracy? Kuwait owes the United States much -- indeed, everything, including its existence. The United States has earned the right strongly to suggest Kuwait's ruling class that the rules should change.
There are 21 Arab nations and not a single Arab Democracy. Let us not be rude, but let us say to Kuwait: ''Congratulations! You are going to be the first.''
George F. Will is a syndicated columnist.