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A SUNDAY IN DECEMBER : The Questions Remain

December 03, 1991

Half a century after Pearl Harbor, experts find themselves divided about the relationship between America and Japan.

Even more fundamentally, they find themselves divided about the nature of the two nations themselves. Certainly these countries are not identical. But after all these years, are they more alike than different? Or more different than alike?

"We are different kinds of democracies, but we both have democratic governments," says James E. Auer, director of the Center for U.S.-Japan Studies at Vanderbilt University and a Pentagon specialist on Japan during the Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan administrations. "We have different kinds of economies, but both are still market economies."

Auer rejects any effort to compare the events that led up to Pearl Harbor with today's frictions between the United States and Japan.

Others, however, see it differently.

Dutch journalist Karel van Wolferen, who has written a book about Japanese power, rejects "the MacArthur-Reischauer view that the United States created a new country, a democratic country with free-market principles" during the postwar occupation of Japan.

Economist Pat Choate, who has written about Japanese involvement in America's political and economic system, goes further. He believes that Japan has come to pose an economic threat to the United States akin to its military threat at the time of Pearl Harbor. "Business is about money," he says. "Money is about power. And power is about control."

So what can be said with certainty? Only this: that with such final questions, here the matter will not rest.

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