THE MARXIST REVIEW OF BOOKS
Daniel Nassim separates the prejudice from the analysis
of Japan's national resurgence
Merchants and samurai
There is an enormous gap between the importance of Japan and the quality
of the Western literature on the subject. Japan has the world's second largest
economy and a growing political profile. Yet many studies of the country
consist of little more than prejudice.
- The Japanese Question: Power and Purpose in a New Era,
Kenneth B Pyle, AEI Press, £14.50 hbk
- Pacific Rift: Adventures in Big Business where Japan Meets
the West, Michael Lewis, Hodder & Stoughton, £9.99 hbk
- People and Power in the Pacific: The Struggle for the Post-Cold
War Order, Walden Bello, Pluto Press, £7.50 pbk
- The Secret Sun, Fred Hiatt, Simon & Schuster,
- Underground in Japan, Rey Ventura, Jonathan Cape,
The Japanese Question and People and Power in the Pacific
stand out as serious studies of Japan and its relation to the wider world.
In particular Kenneth Pyle, a professor at the University of Washington
in Seattle, has written a book with some important innovations in the treatment
of Japanese national identity. The Japanese Question is an unusual
study of how the world looks from Japan's point of view and an examination
of what he calls Japan's sense of 'national purpose'. His aim is to show
how Japan's understanding of its position in the world is being transformed.
This approach enables Pyle to link such apparently disparate themes as foreign
policy, controversies about the school curriculum and discussions of Japanese
culture. Walden Bello, a Filipino who is the executive director of the Institute
for Food and Development Policy in San Francisco, has produced auseful primer
on Japan's relationship to East Asia.
Japan's dilemma today lies principally in the tension between its economic
power and its political and military weakness. That can be seen in the strains
internal to Japanese politics between its postwar pacifist constitution
and outlook and the growing recognition that Japan will have to become more
assertive internationally. It can be seen too in the strains upon the alliance
with America; the division of labour established during the Cold War, during
which America guaranteed the peace while Japan rebuilt its economy, is coming
apart at the seams.
Pyle starts his examination of Japan's national purpose with a fresh look
at the postwar era. He suggests that 'much more than has been commonly recognised,
Japan's purpose in the postwar world was the result of an opportunistic
adaptation to the conditions in which the Japanese leadership found their
nation, and a shrewd pursuit of a sharply defined national interest within
the constraints that the postwar international order placed upon them' (p20).
The phrase 'opportunistic adaptation' is an important one. Immediately after
the war the USA demilitarised Japan and redefined it as a pacifist state,
a concept enshrined in Article 9 of the constitution. Japanese leaders expressed
public support for the 'peace constitution', while seizing the opportunity
to concentrate on economic growth. In the view of many American commentators
the Japanese hitched a free ride at the USA's expense.
The postwar sense of purpose was codified in what is generally called the
'Yoshida Doctrine', after the conservative prime minister Shigeru Yoshida
(1946-47 and 1948-54). The three main tenets of the Yoshida Doctrine as
defined by Pyle (p25) were: Japan's economic rehabilitation must be the
prime national goal; Japan should remain lightly-armed and avoid involvement
in international political-strategic issues; to gain a long-term guarantee
for its own security, Japan would provide bases for the US army, navy and
The conception of Japan as a 'merchant nation' was the dominant one in the
postwar period. Japan was to concentrate on economic growth while 'samurai
nations', like the United States, would ensure global security. Not everyone
accepted the metaphor of samurai and merchant, but most Japanese conservatives
agreed that Japan would be an economic rather than a military power.
Naohiro Amaya, a top bureaucrat at MITI (the Ministry of International Trade
and Industry) was one of Japan's leading exponents of the merchant nation
theory. In acontroversial article published in March 1980 in the Bungei
Shunju, Japan's leading conservative magazine, he explained how a merchant
nation had to behave in a world dominated by warriors. 'For hares to multiply
in the jungle, and for merchants to prosper in the warriors' society, it
is necessary to have superb information-gathering ability, planning ability,
intuition, diplomatic skills, and at times whining sycophancy'. He went
on to say that 'if circumstances compel, Japan must grovel before the military
Amaya did not believe that Japan should be prepared to grovel under all
circumstances. He warned that if Japan's security was threatened, 'the time
will have arrived to forsake our merchant past and become a warrior nation'.
But on balance he believed that Japan should preserve its merchant role
for as long as possible.
Amaya's restatement of the longstanding merchant nation thesis provoked
uproar, because it was written at a time when Japan was beginning to re-examine
itself. In the late seventies and the eighties, the Yoshida doctrine came
under attack. For the far right of Japanese politics, a marginal force throughout
the postwar years, Article 9 of the constitution had always been an abomination.
But the main movers in the conservative renaissance of the eighties were
two prime ministers: Masayoshi Ohira (1978-80) and Yasuhiro Nakasone (1982-87).
The intellectual foundation for the right-wing resurgence was laid by Ohira.
He commissioned nine study groups, consisting of the country's leading conservative
intellectuals and bureaucrats, to examine various aspects of Japanese society.
These included Japan's national security, culture, the economy and its relation
with the Pacific Basin.
Ohira died before the study groups presented their final reports. It was
not until Nakasone's premiership that many of the ideas were implemented.
Pyle defines the four main elements of Nakasone's grand design: Japan would
no longer be a follower nation; Japan would be prepared for global leadership
by being remade into an international state; Japan would develop a new liberal,
rather than traditional, nationalism; Japan would assume an active role
in global strategic affairs.
Some of Pyle's terminology is misleading. For example, the call for a 'liberal
nationalism' means that Japan should be less parochial. Nakasone believes
that the Japanese should not just concern themselves with economic growth.
In his view they also need a sense of self-confidence based on the quality
of the nation's tradition. The main reason for reforming the education system
was to gear it more towards inculcating a sense of national pride among
One of the consequences of the growing tide of nationalism that Nakasone
tried to promote is clearly drawn out in Underground in Japan. As
an illegal migrant worker in Japan for almost a year, Rey Ventura experienced
the growing force of Japanese racism at first hand. He was one of a growing
army of illegal migrant workers in Japan, now estimated to number about
That nationalism - and consequently racism - is growing in Japan is clear
to see. The more interesting question is why is it happening now? Pyle fails
to spell out why Japan's leadership felt the need to start forging a new
national identity. He tends to take the debates at face value rather than
relate them to broader developments in the real world.
The conservative resurgence in Japan coincided with a growing perception
of American decline. Often this was experienced as a failure on America's
part to defend Japan from communism or from third world nationalism. For
almost three decades the Japanese economy had boomed while the US, playing
the role of world policeman, had ensured a relatively stable global environment.
But in the seventies the Japanese economy began to lose its dynamism just
as America's world power began to falter.
By far the most important indicator of American decline was its defeat in
Vietnam. It was not the loss of Vietnam itself that was so devastating.
It was that it proved the US to be no longer all-powerful. The fall of Saigon
in April 1975 was a symbolic event in Japanese history as well as American.
For Japanese conservatives it meant that their nation would have to become
more assertive and self-reliant.
The defeat in Vietnam coincided with growing economic problems inside America
and foreign policy reverses overseas. The report commissioned by Ohira on
national security noted in 1980 that 'the most fundamental fact in the changing
international situation in the 1970s is the termination of clear American
supremacy in both military and economic spheres' (quoted in Y Nagatomi [ed],
Masayoshi Ohira's Proposal: To Evolve the Global Society, Foundation
for Advanced Information and Research, p232).
Even Amaya's 1980 article, while holding to the merchant nation concept
of Japan, spelt out a positive litany of American failures: 'On top of Vietnam
came the Watergate affair, the Arab-Israeli war and the oil crisis of 1973,
uncontrollable inflation combined with the loss of American industry's competitive
urge, the decline of the dollar, the exposure of the embarrassing gap between
the promise and reality of president Jimmy Carter's human rights diplomacy,
and the incredibly swift fall of the Shah of Iran. Against this backdrop
there were menacing Soviet advances into Angola, Ethiopia, South Yemen and
Afghanistan, the decline of US influence in the Middle East peace negotiations,
and the erosion of American military superiority over the Soviet Union to
the point of actual inferiority in some respects.'
Japan has been trying to come to terms with American decline for almost
20 years. In response Japan has gradually taken a more activist role in
the world. Gone are the days when, as one former ministry of finance official
recalled, 'Japanese delegations to international conferences were ridiculed
as 'triple S' delegations: smiling, silent, sometimes sleeping' (P Volcker
and T Gyohten, Changing Fortunes: The World's Money and the Threat to
American Leadership, p57).
As long as the Cold War existed, the basic relationship between the USA
and Japan remained intact. Japan's growing world role from the 1970s was
more of a modification than a rejection of the previous relationship. Anti-communism
provided a justification for an alliance in which the US was still the senior
partner. The existence of the Soviet Union provided legitimacy and coherence
to the relationship between the USA and Japan.
Even the best authors on Japan have failed to come to terms with the implications
of the end of the Cold War. The more far-sighted, like Pyle and Bello, recognise
that some modification is needed. But they do not fully grasp that none
of the old rules apply any longer. Any attempt to preserve the old US-Japan
relationship, even if in a modified form, is doomed to failure.
Pyle's answer to these tensions is that the USA should take a more far-sighted
view. Rather than cling on to existing relationships the US should give
Japan some leeway to develop a broader role in the world. The two should,
in his view, be tied into a multilateral relationship with other countries
in Asia, with the USA still playing a leading role.
If Pyle had explored the changing context more fully, he would see that
reforging US-Japan relations cannot be so straightforward. It is not a simple
question of clever diplomacy and new multilateral institutions. The US-Japan
relationship was stable after the Second World War because it was tied with
a bond of common interest. In today's world the forces of conflict are greater
and the ties of mutual interest are weaker.
Walden Bello describes a region in which the USA is the leading military
power and Japan the economic giant. America became a power in the Pacific
at the end of the nineteenth century. By the 1880s American planters had
taken control of Hawaii. After the Spanish-American war of 1898 the US took
over the Philippines and Guam in the Western Pacific. General Arthur MacArthur,
chief of the American army that colonised the country, described the Philippines
as the 'finest group of islands in the world'. Its strategic location gave
its captors 'a means of protecting American interests with the very least
output of physical power, that has the effect of a commanding position in
itself to retard hostile action' (People and Power in the Pacific,
It was MacArthur's son Douglas, the US Pacific commander in the Second World
War, who most clearly expressed America's vision of the Pacific after the
war with Japan. 'The strategic boundaries of the United States were no longer
along the western shore of North and South America; they lay along the eastern
coast of the Asiatic continent.' (p13) And the boundaries have stayed there
ever since 1945, with the USA retaining a massive military presence.
Yet Japan is the leading economic player in East Asia today. It has the
highest levels of investment, the largest trade flows, is the main source
of high technology and the chief provider of bilateral aid. Japan has established
a division of labour in which Japanese goods are produced on a regional
basis. In this set-up, the capital-intensive functions are usually performed
in Japan, while labour-intensive functions are carried out in countries
where labour is cheaper.
Bello underestimates how unstable this gap between economic and military
power makes the region. The situation he describes is relatively new. Japan
only began to play an economically dominant role in the eighties. As Japan
extends its economic reach and the US suffers more domestic problems, the
geopolitical set-up in East Asia will become more fragile. To make matters
even more complex, both Russia and China have at least some capacity to
play a regional role.
The growing power of Japan has led some Americans to make outspoken comments
against what is ostensibly an ally nation. The top US marine corps general
in Japan, Henry C Stackpole III, told Fred Hiatt in an interview that 'The
Japanese consider themselves racially superior. They feel they have a handle
on the truth, and their economic growth has proved that. They have achieved
the Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere economically, without guns.' He added
that American troops should remain in Japan for years 'largely because no-one
wants a rearmed, resurgent Japan. So we are the cap in the bottle, if you
will'. (Washington Post, 27 March 1990, quoted in The Japanese
Question, p16) Although the general was rebuked by the Bush administration,
there is no doubt that his views are widely held.
Stackpole's interviewer, Fred Hiatt, was the Washington Post correspondent
in Tokyo from 1987 to 1990. He has packaged American fears into the plot
of his novel, The Secret Sun. His hero, an American journalist (naturally),
has unravelled a plot by Japanese scientists to use miniature atomic weapons
against the US. The combination of prejudice against Japanese micro-electronics
and the fear of revenge for Hiroshima are characteristic of the new genre
of Japan thrillers.
The Secret Sun does have a few redeeming features. One of them is
a cameo character called Theo Zarsky: 'A magazine editor from New York who
had spent three months in Tokyo and then written a book telling the world
everything that was wrong with Japan and the Japanese.' (p44-5) Zarsky is
evidently based on one of America's leading 'Japan experts'. The Secret
Sun also has the dubious merit of containing the most ludicrous sex
scene that I have read in years, but I won't spoil it for you.
A real life Theo Zarsky can be found in the shape of Michael Lewis, an associate
editor of the Spectator and best-selling author, whose Pacific
Rift tells us in all seriousness that 'anyone who has seen one of the
17 (and counting) Japanese-produced Godzilla movies has also seen, in miniature,
the Japanese view of the world' (p17). You might just as well try to understand
the British view of the world from watching an episode of Thunderbirds.
Lewis' tale focuses on a Japanese businessman in New York and an American
businessman in Tokyo. As well as interviewing his two subjects, he has evidently
made a short trip to Japan, read a few books and skimmed some press cuttings.
Unfortunately he seems to believe this has turned him into an instant expert.
Like many other books on the subject, Pacific Rift and The Secret
Sun are examples of the growing American paranoia about Japan. Although
both books are ostensibly about Japan, they tell us more about American
fears and anxieties. Indeed it is to anti-Japanese chauvinism that Rey Ventura's
otherwise fine Underground Japan owes its publication. Whatever the
realities of discrimination in Japan, the charges of racism that Americans
like General Stackpole make against the Japanese are cynical in the extreme.
The most striking feature of Ventura's story is how familiar it sounds.
Ventura describes a routine of discrimination by employers, harassment by
indigenous workers and coercion by the police.The privations that he endured
are common to migrant workers everywhere, whether Mexicans in the USA, Turks
in Germany or Bengalis in Britain.
For American thriller writers, the image of Japanese racism is an excuse
for their own Japanese-bashing. For those serious about understanding Japan,
these developments are best understood in the context of greater international
This is a fine introduction to postwar British history. The first edition
was published in 1979 and this new version takes the story up to the fall
of Margaret Thatcher and the Major premiership. The strength of the book
remains the firm narrative and good prose which enable the authors to impart
a great deal of material without overwhelming the reader. For anyone familiar
with this history and especially the political views of Alan Sked, Euro-sceptic
candidate in the Newbury by-election, the most interesting sections are
both new and short: the new introduction and Chapter 15, 'From Thatcher
to Major', and in particular the last three pages - 'A Final Judgement on
the Thatcher Years'.
- Post-War Britain: A Political History New
Edition 1945-92, Alan Sked and Chris Cook, Penguin, £7.99
In the introduction Cook and Sked claim that they have 'striven to resist'
making the book an analysis of Britain's decline. Yet their concluding section
begins with the insight that the hope that the Thatcher government had reversed
decline between 1985 and 1988 was no longer credible. The same section ends
with their comment on the Major/Hurd acceptance of the Maastricht treaty:
'Great Britain had not merely declined. She had now given up.'
Sked and Cook hope that the one British institution to survive intact is
the monarchy. Time to start writing the fifth edition.
Woodrow Wilson was the US president who took America into the First World
War and sought to shape the new order which emerged from it. In the preface
to this book, Thomas Knock, an associate professor of history at the Southern
Methodist University, argues that with the end of the Cold War and the talk
of a New World Order, 'Wilson's message still awaits its realisation by
the makers of American foreign policy.' (px) As far as Knock is concerned,
Wilson's message, his 'progressive internationalism' with its central appeal
for collective cooperation and disarmament institutionalised through a League
of Nations, can act as a point of departure for American foreign policy
- To End All Wars: Woodrow Wilson
and the Quest for the New World Order, Thomas J Knock, Oxford University
Press, £27.50 hbk
Knock's thesis is that Wilson's ideas have become more relevant today. George
Bush's proposed New World Order, for example, with its emphasis upon international
cooperation through the United Nations, suggests that Wilson's time may
have, belatedly, arrived. There are other apparent parallels. At the end
of the First World War, Wilson's America had to renegotiate its role in
the international capitalist system; today Bill Clinton's USA faces a similar
problem, albeit in very different circumstances.
Knock's concern is to celebrate how he believes history has vindicated Wilson
and condemned his critics and detractors. The Wilsonian project, as Knock
says, is apparently still before us (p275).
The enthusiastic endorsement of Wilson today by those who criticised him
in the past suggests that this renewed debate has been motivated, not by
historical interest, but by the changing contemporary situation - the quest
for a coherent US foreign policy with which to negotiate the post-Cold War
world. And if there is one lesson to remember about Woodrow Wilson, it is
that his quest for a new world order foundered on the rock of rivalries
among the Western powers - the same tensions that the end of the Cold War
Democratic senator Moynihan argues that ethnicity has always been the driving
force in international politics, and, until Washington accepts this, it
will be unable to construct a viable foreign policy. To substantiate his
case, Moynihan claims that as far back as the seventies, he predicted that
the Soviet Union would collapse into the current ethnic cauldron (p23).
- Pandaemonium: Ethnicity in International Relations,
Daniel P Moynihan, Oxford University Press, £17.95 hbk
Moynihan's more perceptive foreign policy colleague, Stanley Hoffman, in
his kind review of Pandaemonium in the New York Times, correctly
points out that ethnic conflicts resulted from Soviet disintegration but
were not the principal cause of it (4 April 1993). In any case, Western
ethnologists like Moynihan, Richard Pipes and Hélène Carrère
d'Encausse had always placed their hopes on a Soviet Muslim uprising against
the Kremlin, whereas in fact the central Asian republics have proved even
more loyal to Moscow than most Muscovites.
The interesting aspect of Pandaemonium is the fear of nationalism
that Moynihan betrays. This represents a trend that until recently was well
hidden in the West, where nationalists used to be held to be good or evil
depending on which side they took in the Cold War. Pandaemonium by
contrast locates the source of modern barbarism in ethnicity. Looking for
villains in the past, Moynihan castigates both the First World War US president
Woodrow Wilson and the Bolsheviks for unleashing the Pandora's box of nationalist
emotions with their slogans for self-determination. Wilson may be forgiven
for his 'fit of absent-mindedness' but 'from the outset communist politics
were the politics of ethnicity' (p110). With his crusade for self-determination
for the Sudeten Germans, Hitler apparently merely carried on where Wilson
and Lenin left off.
Today, Moynihan finds his nationalist scapegoats mainly in the third world
and Eastern Europe. To impose some order in an age of chaos, the newer nations
of Africa and Asia may have to be deprived of fuller political rights like
self-determination and democracy: 'It will be necessary for the United States
and the democracies of Western Europe to reconsider...the idea that democracy
is a universal option for all nations.' (pp168-9) With ideas like these
abroad in the American senate, Lenin's support for the right of nations
to self-determination is more apposite than ever.
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 57, July 1993