Posts Tagged ‘Japan#’
Seventy-three years ago today marked the beginning of a new era in world history.
After what President Franklin Roosevelt called a “dastardly attack” on our naval fleet at Pearl Harbor, the United States went to war with Japan. For the next four years, young Americans fought some of the most brutal air, sea and land battles in the nation’s history against a hardened and vicious enemy. Young Americans had to push Japanese soldiers off of the islands they had occupied from Wake Island and Midway to the Philippines and Iwo Jima. In Okinawa alone, more than 50,000 Americans were killed and wounded. Japanese casualties were more than twice that.
Fast forward 73 years and the future of the American relationship with Japan is again entering a new era.
Once the war ended after the emperor’s surrender in August 1945, the enemies in war became allies in building a new East Asia. The Japanese recognized that their effort to dominate the region had failed, and they turned to the United States for assistance in rebuilding their country. Americans recognized that a vibrant and democratic Japan was crucial for world peace and the containment of communism, promoted by the Soviet Union.
Japan became the anchor for capitalism in Asia. American investments financed new factories for automobiles, electronics and computers. The American military ensured Japan’s security and its access to food and industrial materials mostly acquired from neighboring Asian countries. Oil and other energy resources came from all over including Texas, Indonesia and the Middle East.
By the 1970s and 1980s, Japan emerged as the first “Asian tiger.” Its citizens were highly educated, productive and peaceful. They exported more to the United States and Western Europe than they imported, and they used their balance of payments surplus to invest abroad. In fact in the 1980s, many Americans worried that Japan was buying too much New York real estate. There were also concerns that they were unfairly “dumping” their electronic products on the American market, undercutting U.S. companies such as Texas Instruments.
That partnership has now changed radically.
With the opening of China to the international economy coupled with the precipitous decline of Japan, China has become the largest producer and consumer in all of Asia at breakneck speeds. Japan has fallen behind because of poor investment choices, corrupt government and population decline. Japan’s population is aging rapidly, and its closed immigration policies prevent the arrival of young and innovative people from abroad. Simply put, the center of Asian entrepreneurship has shifted to China.
Because of this, our relationship is markedly different from how it was during the decades after the Pearl Harbor attack. So what does the future hold?
Japan will remain a major producer of automobiles and high-end electronic items for the United States, and Japanese citizens will continue to purchase American products. But future growth for American businessmen is not in Japan. Nor does the security of Asia revolve around Japan. U.S. economic interests in China, along with India and Vietnam, will continue to grow, and Japan will get less American attention. The Japanese know this, and their government’s greater military assertiveness in recent years is an effort to become more self-reliant.
That does not mean the relations between the two former World War II adversaries will worsen. Americans will continue to trade with Japan and visit that country in large numbers, but more of these activities will include China and South Korea too. The special bilateral partnership between the United States and Japan will become a looser regional relationship with neighboring countries involved. There will be more independence, more compromise and tougher bargaining for all business and security deals between the U.S. and Japan.
If the 73 years of U.S.-Japanese relations since Pearl Harbor have been intensely close, the next few decades will be more distant and multilateral. That should still be good for business and democracy not only in Asia, but in the wider world.
This article originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle on 7 December 2014.
Today I had the opportunity to visit the site of the first atomic bombing, Hiroshima, and participate in the annual commemoration. Events began at 8:15am this morning, sixty-eight years after the world entered the atomic age. I have written and taught about the atomic bomb for more than a decade, but I never really understood the meaning of this powerful weapon until today. Everyone who thinks about international security, foreign policy, and nuclear issues should visit Hiroshima on August 6.
Numerous scholars have written excellent books about the American decision to drop the first atomic bomb in Hiroshima, the effects of the bomb on the ground, the geopolitical consequences, the distorted memories of the event, and the uses of Hiroshima for political purpose. The permanent museum in Hiroshima addresses these issues in a partial and often biased way, but that is to be expected.
The museum, the haunting Atomic Dome, and the Peace Park are not the things that moved me at the commemoration today. Nor did the speeches by the visiting dignitaries, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, accomplish very much. Standard words about “suffering victims” and the “imperative for peace” did not have much effect.
What moved me was the assembly of young Japanese and Americans this evening around the site of the atomic blast. I have been to many demonstrations, but I have never seen anything like this before. Thousands of men and women below forty (I am on the borderline) decorated candles, made paper lanterns, and played music that evoked a shared hope for peace. There were no political slogans, no efforts to assign blame, no calls for easy answers. This was just a moment of supreme and sincere solidarity.
It was also a moment of deep Japanese and American friendship. The Peace Park was filled with Americans: students, military servicepeople, businesspeople, tourists, and parents. I have not seen so many Americans in Japan before. They walked side-by-side with Japanese they had never previously met, engaged in friendly but serious conversation, reflecting on the meaning of this moment.
None of this was organized or contrived. The young Americans and Japanese came to remember the tragedy of August 6. They enacted a common bond. The young Americans and Japanese also assembled to imagine a better future. They advocated a shared mission.
Again, there were no simple slogans or efforts to assign blame. There were no pretensions to easy answers. This was a moment of aspiration, an unscripted cross-cultural performance of young people who recognized the tragic history in Hiroshima and wanted to make it real for themselves. They made it real by transcending, at least for a moment, the angry arguments of politicians, pundits, and scholars.
The men and women who visited the atomic bomb site tonight took clear inspiration from a monumental tragedy to find new ways to come together. They modeled dialogue, civility, forgiveness, and cooperation because of what happened here sixty-eight years ago. They made a very dark history into a forward-looking light of hope. You could see it on their faces: solemn and hopeful, cautious and confident.
The time has come for historians, including this one, to re-write our histories of the atomic bomb. Here is what I will say the next time I lecture on this topic: On 6 August 1945 the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, in hopes of ending the Second World War. The bomb caused enormous damage and suffering and it contributed to a Cold War. The experiences of the bomb, in both Japan and the United States, also brought these two warring societies together in startling, unpredictable, and enduring ways. The strength and depth of Japanese-American friendship since 1945 is a testament to how human beings can turn the worst weapons into catalysts for common action.
Contemporary leaders can learn a lot from this final insight. It was on display tonight, amidst all the partisan division in both Japan and the United States. Sometimes the best policy insights come from those who are concerned about the past, but not stuck in it.
This blog post originally appeared at http://globalbrief.ca