Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Crazy Karl

I have to admit that no major writer on things Japanese attracts my interest more than Karl van Wolferen. Since I first read his book, The Enigma of Japanese Power, in about 1992/93, I have always thought that what he writes just fits since it matches what I have seen and experienced here. I suppose that means he is all wrong.

His latest Japan Focus article was tremendously interesting. I was especially intrigued by his opinions about the US and its vision of Japan. I would say that there should be nothing radical about his thoughts as everything has been out in the open at least since the Futenma mess began. Did it not seem absurd that such a thing would cause a "crisis" in "the most important bilateral relationship in the world--bar none"? Did it not seem even more absurd since the US had a new, more internationally aware president than the old with us or agin' us fellow? Karl has certainly put the parts together so very well, as he always does.

The only thing that I would emphasize is that we do have to remember that Japan made the choice to submit its sovereignty in international affairs and defense back in the 60s.** And it benefited mightily from it---at least economically---in the short-term. There are other possible, but unprovable benefits too. Had Japan needed to provide fully for its own defense and foreign policy, would it have been a nuclear weapons free "peace country" today? What if some of the more extreme fringes had gotten into power? Would they have tempered their loud-mouths knowing that there weren't foreign watchdogs to provide cover for them? Or would they have acted on their words? If so, how would things have turned out?

On the other hand, had this perverted arrangement not been in place, would Japanese citizens have been more involved in politics knowing that the country would have to face the full consequences of military or diplomatic missteps? Could it have been a much more democratic country earlier? Then again, was any of this directly the business of the US?

Times have changed and the fact that Japan sold its soul for short-term benefit is no longer seen as so beneficial by many. Unfortunately, that does not seem to include those running the show in the US.

Previously, I had believed that if Japan really wanted to have an "equal relationship," or at least get out of the submissive role it placed itself in, it would do it. However, as we have seen since the DPJ came into power, and as mentioned in the article, things aren't that simple. The US can intimidate Japan (again, Japan is not blameless for putting itself in a position to be intimidated) and influence politicians through citizens and seems very willing to do it where security is concerned (less so where economic/trade issues are concerned. Wonder why?). Why else would the polls show so many Japanese concerned about Hatoyama's handling of Futenma? And we know that the US expected citizens to pressure the government---at least that was what I felt earlier this year when reading some of the US statements. Many seemed confident that Hatoyama would back down because of public reaction.

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety: Attributed to Ben Franklin. Perhaps Prime Minister Yoshida should have considered that before committing to his "doctrine."

*I read some of the reviews of his book several years ago and discovered he actually knows nothing. A Japanese professor has refuted all of his claims. So has a fellow I once knew personally, although he was never exactly specific about anything, except that only fools believed van Wolferen. Cool. The fool's view of Japan seems more accurate than any of the others.

**Apologies for the Wikipedia link. The Yoshida Doctrine (PM Shigeru Yoshida) should be easy to confirm elsewhere on the web, or, god-forbid, in a book or something.

Edited for corrections at 2030 and again later.


  1. Why do folk mistrust Wikipedia so? Because it is written by bloggers and comment leavers, er, like us?

    Don't fall into the snob's trap of slagging off something inherently democratic. It may well be wrong, being democratic, but not for long, being democratic. Enjoy your wilderness time.

  2. Point taken. There aren't any infallible sources anyway.