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Daniel Nassim separates the prejudice from the analysis of Japan's national resurgence

Merchants and samurai

  • 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, £14.99 hbk

  • Underground in Japan, Rey Ventura, Jonathan Cape, £7.99 pbk
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 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 air force.

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 nations'.

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 Japanese schoolchildren.

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 300 000.

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, p10).

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 tensions.
  • Post-War Britain: A Political History New Edition 1945-92, Alan Sked and Chris Cook, Penguin, £7.99 pbk
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'.
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.

Alan Harding
  • To End All Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for the New World Order, Thomas J Knock, Oxford University Press, £27.50 hbk
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 today.

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 has revealed.

Charles Longford
  • Pandaemonium: Ethnicity in International Relations, Daniel P Moynihan, Oxford University Press, £17.95 hbk
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).

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.

Andy Clarkson
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 57, July 1993

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