Memo to the AP: Words mean things
Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, March 24, 2009
ERIC TALMADGE writes a brief and generally bland article for the Associated Press about the contemporary role of the Japanese military that is presented here by the International Herald Tribune. The latter is owned by the New York Times, which means we’re dealing with a tag team combination of media giants whose clout and credibility are rapidly evaporating due to self-inflicted wounds.
The article itself is harmless for the most part, describing the changing role of the Self-Defense Forces for a readership that generally doesn’t pay much attention to the subject. Mr. Talmadge mentions the mission in Iraq, the refueling operations in the Indian Ocean in support of NATO in Afghanistan, and the two ships sent to help deal with the Somalian pirates. In other words, it’s standard newspaper fare that can run whenever there’s a need to fill space.
Except for two sentences. Here’s the first:
Still, the new, more aggressive, role of Japan’s military is hard to ignore.
He uses the word “still” because it follows a statement from an officer that Japan’s military mission remains a defensive one. But what is this new “aggressive” role?
Mr. Talmadge doesn’t say. In fact, the body of the article describes precisely the opposite. He tells us that the 600 troops in Iraq were non-combatants. He notes that Japan does not have an aircraft carrier or the ability to conduct long-range air strikes because they are not compatible with a defensive posture. He informs us that the Chinese outspend the Japanese on military expenditures–and that Chinese spending grows by double-digit percentage points annually, while Japanese spending remains flat. He accurately reports that many Japanese would oppose sending combat troops to places such as Afghanistan.
Apparently the AP style manual has a definition for the word “aggressive” that has eluded the rest of the world’s lexicographers.
Here’s the second sentence:
Japan’s two biggest parties both advocate taking a higher profile on the world stage, largely for nationalistic reasons.
What are these “nationalistic” reasons? Mr. Talmadge doesn’t say that either.
He also doesn’t say that the primary opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan, did not support the three primary military operations he mentions. In fact, the DPJ tried to employ their upper house majority to try to end the Indian Ocean refueling operations as a means to oust the ruling Liberal Democratic Party from power.
Indeed, the leader of the DPJ, Ozawa Ichiro, is well-known for opposing any Japanese military operations other than those for strictly defined defensive purposes unless they are in the context of a greater United Nations effort.
So what is “nationalist” about the country with the second-largest economy in the world and a population greater than any EU member casting off the role of international wallflower and pursuing what it believes to be its interests? Would Mr. Talmadge have us believe that Japan is not entitled to behave in the manner of every other country in the world? That Japan’s national interests are anything other than benign, particularly as compared to three of the countries in its immediate neighborhood? That the country should just pipe down, continue to churn out Toyotas for the globe, and serve tea at international conferences while the real leaders of the world continue to make a hash of things?
But then we’ve known for a while that both the AP and the New York Times have a distorted grasp of the meaning of “nationalist”, especially when applied to Japan.
On the other hand, perhaps I’m being too harsh. Growing numbers of American newspapers are severing their ties with AP, or intend to do so, and the Times’s problems, both journalistic and financial, are common knowledge.
It would seem their lack of understanding involves much more than the definition of two ill-chosen words.