Are Americans barbarians? The Japanese have every right to think so. It wasn't until Japanese Prime Minister Junichero Koizumi and his government made a concerted effort to pressure Washington that the US military turned over one US Airforce Staff Sergeant Timothy Woodland to Japanese authorities. Woodland is accused of raping a Japanese woman on the hood of a car near an Okinawa nightclub: he reportedly admits to the sexual activity, but claims it was consensual. Of course, having sex on top of a car is how they do things in America, down in the 'hood – so to speak – but in Japan this is unusual, to say the least.
What is not unusual in Japan is the news that yet another rape has been committed by an American serviceman: Okinawa, the site of an American military base, has long been the epicenter of a crime epidemic. Worse, the lawlessness of these animalistic Americans has been tolerated and even excused by some military commanders, such as Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Earl Hailston, whose arrogance caused a furor on Okinawa earlier this year. I have written on this subject – rape as a metaphor of empire – before, but what is significant about this latest incident is that it takes places against a backdrop of American grousing.
Yes, the Americans are complaining – about the "unfairness" of the Japanese legal system! It was four days until the American military authorities, after tense high-level negotiations, agreed to hand over the suspect: their hesitation was reportedly due to the fear that Woodland's "rights" might be violated. Numerous articles in the American media, such as the New York Times, reporting the back-and-forth between Washington and Tokyo, invariably mentioned the alleged shortcomings of the Japanese legal system with a nearly audible cluck of disapproval. Tom Shanker, author of the Times piece, clearly doesn't like what he is describing:
That bit about "human rights groups in Japan" was a pretty good touch: see, even those Japs realize what a bad time Sergeant Woodland is in for. From the way Shanker tells it, Timothy Woodland may be the Pentagon's version of Mumia Abu Jamal, a victim of injustice whose cause they were willing to go to the barricades for. The State Department wanted to hand him over, but chief warlord Donald Rumsfeld resisted on the grounds that it would set a "precedent." The US-Japan Security Treaty stipulates that the US doesn't have to turn anyone over until an indictment is handed down: but without questioning Woodland, the Japanese could hardly have issued an indictment. Rumsfeld is right, of course: the hand-over did set a precedent: for Americans to follow the rule of law (and simple human decency) in Japan is truly unprecedented.
But the campaign to "Free Timothy Woodland" didn't give up so easily. Shanker tells us that "one Pentagon official said the United States was concerned that if Sergeant Woodland were transferred to the local authorities before being indicted, he would have no guarantee of having a lawyer or even an interpreter with him during questioning, and that the authorities could conduct their questioning in any manner and for any length of time." It is touching, really, that the boys in the Pentagon have finally been bitten by the "human rights" bug: surely this is a sign of the times. What we are dealing with here, however, is not conflicting legal principles but a culture clash so profound it can never be bridged.
You see, in Japan, the means by which prosecutors obtain convictions is by first obtaining a confession. As a piece the Los Angeles Times explains: "Prosecutors generally are reluctant to indict a suspect without an admission of guilt, upon which they depend to build their case." Shame, the admission of guilt, and the ritual of atonement are all of vast importance in Japanese culture: a criminal, if he is guilty, is supposed to admit it, and if he doesn't then chances are he's innocent. There is a purity in this view of justice, an innocence entirely alien to our own shameless culture, where Getting Away With It is a way of life. The US has been getting away with the rape of Japan for over half a century, but now it looks as if Nippon's national humiliation is about to come to an end.
A committee of the Japanese Diet adopted a resolution today [Tuesday] demanding that the government renegotiate the terms of the US-Japan Security pact, which governs the deployment of US troops on Japanese soil. The resolution is critical of the US military for failing to prevent the crime wave emanating from the American military presence, especially in Okinawa, and demands the swift hand-over of accused criminals in the future. The same renewed sense of national self-esteem that galvanized the Japanese public into supporting Koizumi, "the oddball" who dared challenge the entrenched party-archs of the Liberal Democratic Party, is here asserting itself. The LDP had governed the country uninterruptedly (except for a brief interlude a few years ago) since Japan's World War II defeat, and they had come to represent the very concept of defeat in the Japanese mind. Faced with a moral as well as an economic crisis, the Japanese shook off the LDP as casually as a dog shakes off a flea. They won't shake off the Americans quite so easily, but this is a start.
The development of market nationalism in Japan is proceeding at such a rapid pace that it has the near-perfection of a "thought experiment," a textbook case that neatly illustrates the principle at work. On the one hand, there is the economic imperative of getting Japan out from under the burden of a bureaucratized state capitalism, freeing up the system, and making Japanese industry competitive by adhering to market principles. On the other hand, there is the cultural imperative of redefining (or perhaps rediscovering) what it means to be Japanese, other than something to be apologized for. For fifty years, obsequious Japanese politicians kowtowed to their American masters, abjuring an army, and adopting pacifism as the official ideology.
But Koizumi, as the agent – indeed, the virtual embodiment – of the new Japanese self-assertiveness, is an altogether different sort. "I hope the United States, understanding emotions here, will make an appropriate decision [to hand over Woodland] quickly," said Koizumi after returning from his first trip abroad as Prime Minister and clearly he wasn't taking no for an answer. Japan's Defense chief, Gen. Nakatan, seemed especially peeved, warning of "an escalation of emotions" unless the United States acted soon. Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka put in a call to Colin Powell, politely but firmly requesting a swift handover of the accused rapist. This was finally accomplished, but you can bet the grousing of the Americans will continue, and even grow louder. Indeed, it's already started: the hate campaign against Japan, that is.
While the Koizumi revolution has generally gotten good reviews in the Western media, there is a certain stand-offishness about their endorsement, a tentative quality that amounts to outright wariness. Yes, we all know Koizumi's going to be good for the Japanese economy, at least in the long run, and this will be good for the West: but what's all this about Japanese rearmament? The resentful undertone of all this praise is just now getting louder. The idea that Japan might come to challenge the terms of the US military occupation scares not only the Pentagon, but also the pro-China lobby in the US, which hates and fears anything that even remotely smacks of Japanese nationalism. Alongside the extensive coverage of the Koizumi phenomenon, a parallel story has been developing, and its headline might well read: "Right Wing Rising," as a San Francisco Chronicle piece proclaimed, complaining in a subhead that "Japanese nationalists use comics, film, punk rock to recruit youth." Oh, I get it: another Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, only this time a foreign one – and all the more sinister for it.
The attempting smearing of Koizumi as a right-wing extremist, a kind of latter-day Tojo, is occurring right on schedule, as the Chronicle piece makes all too clear. We open with a short interview with one Kousaku Hino, identified as the head of a rightist organization, Issui-Kai – an error right off the bat that ought to warn us of what is to come. For the "head" of Issui-Kai, which is indeed a rightist group, is not Mr. Hino, but one Kunio Suzuki. But never mind that, for we are just beginning to describe the sheer scope of the San Francisco Chronicle's funhouse mirror portrait of the new Japanese nationalism. No, it's not Tojo-lookalikes, but punk rockers with green hair and readers of the mass-produced comic books called manga: it is, in short, a conspiracy of youth.
The cartoonist Yoshinori Kobayashi is singled out for his "revisionism" on the subject of Japanese responsibility for World War II. His cartoon, "On Taiwan," is depicted as excusing Japanese involvement in the procurement of "comfort women" for occupying Japanese troops, but all Kobayashi points out is that poverty and not coercion was the main factor in the booming wartime prostitution business, and that the pimps were native born. Kobayashi and others, rather than "glorifying Japan's role in World War II," as the author of this piece asserts, merely puts it in perspective. Backed up against the wall by the European colonial powers, subjected to an oil embargo, and the imposition of an economic straitjacket that had to be broken out of, Japan is depicted by Kobayashi and his youthful admirers as having fought World War II in defense of Asia for the Asians – a not unreasonable view, and certainly an understandable one from the Japanese perspective. Indeed, such American historians as Robert Stinnett and Thomas Fleming would have no quarrel with the basic premise behind this analysis: that the US, in alliance with the Brits, the Dutch, and the French, was determined to preserve and protect Western dominance in Eastasia, which is why FDR was so eager to get into the war through the "back door."
Kobayashi acknowledges that the Japanese militarists were no angels, but asks how long does Japan have to apologize and abase itself? In arguing that the guerrilla warfare conducted by the Chinese Nationalists and their Communist allies made it almost impossible to distinguish between civilians and military personnel, the Japanese revisionists are invoking the Bob Kerrey defense – acceptable in the case of an American who also happens to be a prominent Democratic "war hero" and would-be presidential candidate. But you're out of luck if you're Japanese: in that case, you're a "war criminal," and you had better hang your head in shame forever.
The Chronicle piece goes into great detail, weaving together a whole tapestry of supposedly insidious right-wing tendencies and organizations, and tying them all to Koizumi – and to Bush, who is seen as favoring "the most revolting politicians," in the phrase of one leftist professor cited by the author. Speaking of the author, Reese Erlich: when I saw his byline, a whole panoply of memories was conjured in my mind, coming back to me unbidden. Well, well, well, I thought, it's my old adversary from the early 1980s anti-draft movement in San Francisco. As an operative for a student libertarian group, I was involved in the Mobilization Against the Draft (MAD), and no, there wasn't a draft, it had been done away with after the Vietnam era, but they were threatening to bring it back, and so it was decided to hold a series of demonstrations just in case they got any bright ideas. Every political group active on the campuses gravitated, it seemed, to this project, and the planning meetings were like rallies in themselves, so numerous were the different organizations, each with its own representative. Of course, most of them were nutball leftists of one kind or another: Marxists, Trotskyists, Stalinists, and Maoists – and it was good old Reese Erlich who represented a rather exotic variety of this last group, a pro-China Marxist-Leninist sect called the League for Revolutionary Struggle (LRS). Their newspaper, Unity, was filled with paeans to the wisdom and beneficence of the Communist Party of China, and they always qualified their support for peace with the warning that we had to "guard against Soviet hegemonism."
Oh yes, I remember Reese Erlich all too well. It was he, in league with his disciplined cadre of pro-China fifth columnists, who tried desperately to create as much havoc as possible, to raise every leftwing cause as a matter of high principle that had to be endorsed by the entire coalition. It was Reese who led the effort to exclude libertarians from the MAD organization on account of their political incorrectness. If there was trouble at a meeting, then at the bottom of it – nine times out of ten – there was good old Reese. Other members of the coalition were suspicious of this habitual disruption, which seemed driven by a half-hidden agenda: after all, it was well-known that the pro-China "leftists" in the US, taking their cues from Beijing, were then calling for an accelerated US military buildup, and in one memorable pamphlet, aptly titled Sooner Or Later, the pro-China Commies advocated not only more money for the military but also argued for the resumption of the draft! To some of us, at least, it was clear that Erlich had been sent in by the LRS to sabotage our anti-draft efforts.
I called Erlich's editor over at the Chronicle, brought up some of the errors made in the article – and then politely inquired as to whether he knew anything about the author's political background. Oh, but all that was years ago, and "he's a different kind of journalist now" – but is he? Erlich ends his Chronicle piece by conjuring up the image of a Japanese punk rock singer who declares that, since she doesn't believe in anything, she might as well worship the Emperor as a god:
"Meanwhile, punk rocker [Karin] Amamiya is working to broaden her appeal. She recently formed a new band that continues to sing praises of the emperor and Japanese rearmament. 'The old group, Revolutionary Truth, sounded too right-wing,' she said. 'The new group has a better name – Greater Japanese Terrorism.'"
The idea that the Japanese Right – personified not only by some green-haired Japanese punk rocker, but by the Japanese Prime Minister – is bent on exporting "Greater Japanese Terrorism" is tailor-made for Japanophobes like Erlich, whose view of Japanese nationalism just coincidentally happens to resemble the one found in People's Daily. It is typical of the heavy-handed propaganda that old Commies like Erlich specialize in that Ms. Amamiya's attempt to be provocative this childlike play-acting whose harmlessness is underscored by a distinctly punkish sense of self-parody is held up as some kind of sinister threat. People's Daily couldn't have done much worse.
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