Thursday, May 21, 2009

Finally, A Normal Country

For quite a while, Japan's elites have wanted their country to be a "normal" country. They want to be like all the other major powers with a voice in international organizations, money that gets respect, and a legitimate military. They complain that they are not an equal partner with the United States, and say they yearn to be the Great Britain of Asia.

Ok, and so the Obama Administration has begun the process of treating Japan like Great Britain and like a normal nation. It is about to nominate for ambassador to Japan a presidential crony and big money fundraiser--just like the traditional emissaries to the Court of St. James or France or Italy or Bermuda.

Tokyo is now like any other "glamourous" posting. A politically savvy First Friend will guide the "relationship" with parties and chamber of commerce meetings. Out of the hands of a small coterie of managers, American diplomacy with Japan will strive to treat Japan like all the other G-7 countries. No more specially trained diplomats like we send to trouble spots and Third World countries.

Japan has finally arrived, and finally, almost like a second chance, it is the 1950s:
U.S. ambassadors do more than-talk to foreign ministers. They are also public-relations men with a whole nation for a client. They make speeches, inspect public works, judge flower shows, organize charities. They talk to labor leaders, opposition politicians, businessmen. And while they talk, they listen. For the other side of their job is to be the U.S.'s eyes & ears. On their reading of tempers and political moods Washington bases much of its timing and many of its decisions. [Time Magazine, December 1951]
But somehow I don't think that Japan's elites and America's Japan managers are too happy. Exotic Japan cannot be understood by a personable, loyal confidante. There are special circumstances for Japan that allow it to keep out foreign investment, inhibit foreign imports, deny asylum to refugees, continue child porn, refuse to sign the Genocide Convention or the Hague Treaty on child abduction, and allow it to celebrate the lives of its worst war criminals in the middle of its capital. Would an average American understand this?

Again, I do not know how Tokyo is reacting. I can only guess from what the newspapers are saying. And that reaction is tepid and guarded. My one good resource for these sorts of answers "defriended" me six months ago, today. It was a bit like that Burger King promotion: you got a Whopper if you defriended ten of your "friends" from Facebook. In other words, you were worth 1/10 of a fast food hamburger.

Simply bewildering.

And this is probably how MOFA and the rest of Japan's elites feel for not being special any more.


  1. No change. Tom Schieffer was a major political fundraiser for Bush.

  2. "Would the average American understand this?"

    Oh, I expect so.

    After all, there are special circumstances for the United States that allow it to engage in racial profiling, inhibit foreign agricultural imports, deny due process, continue the sale of magazines titled "barely legal", refuse to sign the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or the treaties banning land mines or cluster munitions and allow it to celebrate in its capital the lives of people like Henry Kissinger, Curtis LeMay and, let's not forget, the succession of Washingtonian "alliance managers" who should bear their share of the blame for the support of more murderous regimes than the current one in Tokyo.

    Or perhaps there are differences that the good Mr. Roos may not understand. For example, though their apologies may be tepid and not perhaps issued by the people who you would like them to be issued by, at least some in the Japanese government are willing to apologize for that nation's atrocities. Maybe in that sense Japan is quite exotic, compared to the United States.

  3. Agreed.
    So it is even more interesting that the Japanese are so upset about this. "Normal" is now a pattern.
    It is likely that the source of their concern is that the Alliance Managers, who are ALL members of Team Armitage are now ALL out of the loop. It is finally the great unknown, just like a normal country.

  4. I can assure you that Curtis LeMay is not celebrated in today's Washington. Indeed, it was Emperor Hirohito that awarded LeMay The order of the Rising Run.

    Apologies? Washington and the States are rife with apologies. The apology and settlement with the Japanese Americans is the best known. But there have been apologies to Hawaiians, Indians, Slaves, and all sorts of aggrieved groups and people from those wrongly incarcerated to those thoughtlessly experiemented upon.

    But this is not a contest. The 21st Century is about righting wrongs and states trying to be more accountable and responsible.

    It is simply to say, that the Amb will not have the traditional filter and much of what is expected of a 21st Century G-7 country is not happening in Japan.

  5. "The apology and settlement with the Japanese Americans is the best known. But there have been apologies to Hawaiians, Indians, Slaves, and all sorts of aggrieved groups and people from those wrongly incarcerated to those thoughtlessly experiemented upon..."

    Sure, but how about those atrocities outside its borders? Let's talk about Korea, shall we, as you seem to be rather insistent about a Japanese apology for its actions there, and rightly so too.

    However, I seem to recall it was the Japanese who built dams in Korea and the Americans who blew them up when such an action served no strategic purpose but to starve Koreans and drown Korean farmers. And then there were the concentration camps inside the Pusan perimeter, and oh yes, and the general indiscriminate slaughtering of unarmed civilians by "U.N. troops," the preparation of mass graves and all. All very well documented by reporters on the ground and official sources.

    I bet they keep that particular episode out of the history books in America.

    But you are right. The 21st Century should be about making amends, and we should expect some sort of gesture on the part those that should bear responsibility. It is a shame that some people merely choose to take sides instead.


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