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The Big-Lie Technique Among Japan-Bashers : Trade: Their prose may be artful, but Tokyo's sour-spirited detractors haven't a clue about how Japanese society works. Take heed, President Bush.

November 19, 1989|David Williams | David Williams is an editorial writer for the Japan Times and the author of "Public Policy in Japan , " published in Britain

TOKYO — On the occasion of the burial of Emperor Hirohito last February, the Japan Times published an editorial, "A Time for Sadness--and Amends." It declared, "The Showa Era (1926-89) must not close without the Japanese people, particularly Japan's leaders, acknowledging the sins of the 1930s and 1940s. Evasion will no longer do. We must collectively, as a people, state without protective and self-serving ambiguity that the pain and suffering inflicted on our wartime enemies was wrong and should be never be repeated."

The editorial pages of the English-language Tokyo daily, it should be noted, have been singled out by our Japan-bashing revisionists as the heinous voice of the religion of Japanese nationalism. Karel G. van Wolferen, the Dutch correspondent, belabors this point in "The Enigma of Japanese Power," his best-selling anti-Japanese tract. But the Japan Times editorial is no exception; the Dutchman knows not of what he bashes.

Van Wolferen's willful lack of knowledge is emblematic of the revisionist school. It suggests that the present souring of U.S. relations with Japan has helped revive an old and distinctly unhappy American institution: the Know-Nothings.

Before the Civil War, Know-Nothings campaigned to bar Roman Catholics and other immigrants from holding public office. Today's Know-Nothings would bar the nation from earning its rightful place in the Pacific Century.

Indeed, revisionist loose talk and slack thinking threatens the future stability of what business commentators on both sides of the Pacific increasingly refer to as Nichi-Bei keizai (the Japan-U.S. economy), which now forms the indispensable pillar of global prosperity. If the Bush Administration continues to act on the revisionists' idly tossed cues, there is a genuine danger of provoking a worldwide stock-market collapse that would make last year's October crash look like a picnic.

The current intellectual assault on the U.S. alliance with Japan is rooted in an unctuous evasion of thought. Since the primary duty of an opinion leader is to think, this is no small failing. The skillful wordsmiths of the revisionist school are effective precisely because they so artfully dodge the central questions.

Is it really true, for example, that Japan is an enemy of the United States? What can the word "enemy" possibly mean? Where is the evidence that Tokyo seeks the extinction of our liberties or the destruction of our nation?

Hitler and Stalin sought both, and were our enemies. Japan seeks neither. Whatever else the country may be, it is not our enemy. Revisionist chatter to the contrary is worse than claptrap.

Utter clarity about this is crucial if the alliance between the United States and Japan--what Mike Mansfield, U.S. ambassador during the Carter and Reagan administrations, rightly calls "the world's most important bilateral relationship"--is to be kept on an even keel.

Clarity demands emphatic rejection of revisionist comparisons of contemporary Japan to the Third Reich or communist Russia or, for that matter, to 1940s Japan. Such nonsense has no place in any serious mediation on the nature of U.S. ties with its most important Pacific ally.

The words "ally" and "alliance" are not used lightly. Japan is our second largest trading partner (after Canada), the largest importer of U.S. agricultural products and the third largest (after Britain and Holland) investor in American firms and property. In turn, U.S. companies are a conspicuous presence in Japan and dominate several of its domestic markets.

This is not cynical Japanese opportunism at work. No other Asian country values its U.S. ties more than Japan. Even a cursory survey of Japan's ruling party would show that the moderate nationalism characterizing the majority of these politicians contains a significant and welcome leaven of genuine pro-American feeling.

But Japan is the country our revisionist commentators would have us "contain." They must be joking.

No revisionist work can be set alongside the writings of Ambassador George F. Kennan, the cautious inventor of "containing" Soviet expansionism, or of Walter Lippmann, his most subtle critic.

No revisionist can boast the kind of knowledge of Japanese language and thought that Kennan could claim of Russian and the Soviet mind. It is so much easier to bash if you do not speak (let alone read) the language.

But even when the revisionist can string two sentences of Japanese together, one cannot help recalling the remark of Frances Fitzgerald in her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "Fire in the Lake," about the Vietnam War: "Many Americans in Vietnam learned to speak Vietnamese, but the language gave no more than a hint of the basic intellectual grammar that lay beneath."

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