Sunday, June 21, 2009

Forbes Misses the Big Story

I was going to discuss North Korea or the new Japanese politics of apology, but then I made the mistake of reading Tim Kelly's new dispatch from Tokyo. It is rare that I do read his pieces, and I now remember why. They make no sense.

The "Dispatch" is a ramble about how Japan feels unappreciated and insecure as an American ally. Although opinion polls in the US show that the Japanese are respected and considered dependable, Tokyo is unconvinced. Some believe it is time for Japan develop it own a nuclear option to defend itself.

Ok, but then how did he jump to World War II's legacy in the US-Japan relationship? He notes that the US Senate [sic] passed a resolution asking for an apology to the Comfort Women. Kelly did not check his facts as it was the House of Representatives, not the Senate that unanimously passed H. Res. 121 in July 2007.

Maybe he is trying to say that Washington is sending Tokyo mixed signals when it asks the Japanese government to become more accountable and responsible in its treatment of its war history. He does not make the connection that a good, dependable ally to the US is also one that does not antagonize other key allies or the allied fighting forces set to defend it.

The last paragraph was probably why he wrote the piece. But it is one that made the least sense and come to a contorted conclusion. He suddenly veers away from the discussion of American trust or Americans to a focus on the war crimes by Japan against non-American POWs. In fact, I doubt if Kelly is even aware that American former POWs of Japan share similar grievances.  Here he notes that a 
Former allied prisoner of war Joe Coombs came to Tokyo seeking an apology for the time he spent shoveling coal as a slave laborer in an Aso-family coal mine. Coombs' is one foreigner’s opinion Aso might choose to ignore.
Kelly clearly attended or just heard about the Friday, June 19th press conference in Tokyo held by the Australian Mr. Coombs and the son of a former British POW. There it was noted that the Aso Company refused to acknowledge or apologize for Coombs' slave labor and that PM Aso did ignore the former POW by refusing to meet with him. If Kelly had attended the press conference, he would have known the latter.

Kelly also clearly missed the big stories in his haste to craft a story defending the Aso government's reliability as an American ally and  partner. He failed to note the new and unusual situation that the press conference was hosted by a senior member of the opposition DPJ, Upper House Member Yukihisa Fujita. It was neither a Communist nor Socialist who was pressing on making historical responsibility a mainstream political issue in Japan. This is a surprising change and is reflected in the new committee the DPJ recently formed for the settlement of POW issues.

As a business reporter for Forbes, Kelly also failed to note that the Aso Company is now in a joint venture with the French building materials conglomerate Lafarge. This socially conscious European giant soon will be hard pressed to rationalize protecting an once slave-owning partner.

Kelly neglected to note that Upper House Member Fujita had received from the Prime Minister's office in February an official, formal, governmental apology to all former POWs. What is odd is that this apology has only appeared in blogs and in the Diet record. Why the PM's office and the Foreign Ministry and the Japanese press have not wanted to publish this important, historic apology in multiple languages is a mystery. A journalist's question is definitely in order here.

But, he missed it all.

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