AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Dim

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, October 25, 2012

He was the opposite of Dr Watson, who saw but did not observe: he observed, but did not see. He was the archetype of the man, so common among intellectuals, who knows much but understands little….A man may smile and smile and be a villain. A man may read and read, and experience and experience, and understand nothing.
- Theodore Dalrymple on Isaac Deutscher

One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.
- George Orwell

EVERYONE now knows the futility of prying loose the truth and nothing but out of horsenbuggy journalism. Obtaining a glimpse of undistorted reality on a particular subject requires the reader to play Rashomon and compare several accounts from radically different perspectives. Few people have the time or the patience for that, which is the primary reason the remnants of the guild manage to stay in business.

One of the pixel-stained wretches’ preferred methods of self-justification is to cite on-call academics to buttress whatever case they want to make at the time. But that’s another ploy whose efficacy is evaporating, as the awareness is also growing that the professorariat as it presents itself and is presented in the news media is nearly as corrupted as the journos, if not equally so.

As the events known as Climategate involving the University of East Anglia and Michael Mann demonstrate, that is just as true for professionals in the hard sciences as well as social studies (the word “science” is incompatible with the latter). The EU cuts off funding to climatologists who publish research suggesting that global warming might not be a problem after all. It is now possible to publish scientific papers based on the claim that “the evidence-based movement in the health sciences is outrageously exclusionary and dangerously normative with regards to scientific knowledge, (and) constitutes a good example of microfascism.” The field of social studies has become infected by the ideas of deconstructionism and post-structuralism, which hold that reality is unknowable and we should “delight in the plurality of meaning”.

Less recognized is that this plurality of meaning often exists because some people can’t be bothered with basic research to begin with, or are only interested in discovering facts that fit their worldview.

Then there are the priests of the inner temple convinced that their guild status, endowed chairs, and publishing contracts bestow on them the privilege to sermonize on matters they know little or nothing about, based on a casual drive through the neighborhood. One of these bodhisattvas is Walter Russell Mead, who’s been spotted driving through the East Asian neighborhood every once in a while. He passed through again last week after unloading one-a-day observations on Russia, Pakistan Sunni radicals, the German economy, the Methodist Church, fracking in the Rust Belt, the third presidential debate, and the Wall Street scandal of Rajat Gupta. (Today he’s talking about higher education costs.) Quantity is never a substitute for quality, particularly when the quantity is a planet wide and a centimeter deep.

On his website last week, he dashed off another “Quick Take” on Northeast Asia. The only takeaway is that he knows dashed all about this part of the world. Copy-paste is not kosher, but this case warrants an exception, and it’s website policy to save links for those on the legit. Let’s start with the title:

Japanese Nationalists Rattle the Cages

Ah, the nationalist beasts of Japan are losing their patience at being held under lock and key, are they?

Last week it was China; this week it’s Japan where nationalists are raging against the country across the sea . And unlike in China, this time it isn’t just hotheaded micro-bloggers; it’s former prime minister and opposition leader Shinzo Abe, who is widely expected to become PM next year. Abe has decided to visit the controversial Yakusuni war shrine.

It isn’t just Chinese micro-bloggers: Communist Party-controlled newspapers and media outlets in China have for several years been openly threatening military action against any country that would oppose its claims in the region. The claims include Okinawa as well as the Senkakus, as well as open threats to “smash small Japan”. The micro-bloggers and the street rioters are so rabid because their government encourages it.

Mead needs to turn that telescope around and look through the small end.

Meanwhile, all that Mr. Abe, two Cabinet members, and some other MPs did was to attend the fall festival at a Shinto shrine in Tokyo that is the Japanese equivalent of Arlington National Cemetery. For Mead, this constitutes “raging against the country across the sea”.

Then again, Western academics have a taste for this false equivalence between the behavior in modern China and South Korea on the one hand and Japan on the other.

He continues by offering some Sunday supplement insights:

Nationalism is on the rise in Japan, as it is elsewhere in Asia.

Let’s do some deconstruction of our own.

* The nationalism of China and both Koreas is limited to two gears: idling and overdrive. The Chinese shifted into overdrive after the Democratic Party of Japan and the United States took control of the governments in their respective countries in the same year. The South Koreans grab the stick whenever their economy or the government’s approval ratings head south. The North Koreans never let it go.

* The nationalism of China and both Koreas has ethnocentrism as a core component of their conception of their modern states. One aspect of this component is a tendency to define themselves in terms of the “other”. For those three states, the other is the Japan of the first half of the 20th century. That country no longer exists.

The nationalist ethnocentrism of these countries, that in its modern manifestation demonizes a country which no longer exists, is both an embedded feature and bug. Absent a critical shock to their systems, it will not go away. Japan’s exemplary postwar behavior among all the nations of the G-whatever has not changed their attitudes. It is not possible for them to change those attitudes because it is part of the psychological foundation of their states.

* Ethnocentrism was a core component of Japanese nationalism in the first half of the 20th century, but the Americans crushed that out of them. It would be difficult to find any overt references by the Japanese government, mass media, or citizenry to national exceptionalism and cultural superiority on the scale at which the Chinese and Koreans habitually indulge. Exclude Ishihara Shintaro (whose prominence is widely misunderstood) and it might be impossible.

Extreme examples of these references are commonplace in China, the two Koreas, Russia — and the United States and Europe.

Mead, by the way, has argued that every age needs a “liberal empire”, and thinks the Imperial power for our age is the United States.

* What Mead supposes to be Japanese “nationalism” would be unremarkable in any other country of the world. It is indistinguishable from the more innocuous strain of patriotism common in the West two or three generations ago.

Rather than alarming, it is a sign that Japan is recovering its equilibrium from the anti-nationalist overcompensation of the postwar period.

For example: A forum on regional affairs was held earlier this month in Seoul with participants from South Korea, China, and Japan. Among the participants was Prof. Mun Jeong-in of Yonsei University. One of his statements was typical of the Korean-Chinese approach at venues of this sort:

“Both South Korea and China have the historical experience of Japanese rule and subjugation. Japan is the core of the problem.”

The Japanese participant was Tanaka Hitoshi, a former deputy minister for foreign affairs and now a senior fellow at the Japan Center for International Exchange. He replied:

“The war has been over for more than 67 years. How long is Japan supposed to keep a low profile?…In the past, Japan would have not said anything (to actions such as the recent South Korean behavior regarding Takeshima), but now we will. Japan has become a normal nation.”

There is no sign that Mead is aware of the ABCs of the attitudes in any of these countries. His view of East Asia is as much a prisoner of the past as that of the geopolitical rent-seekers in China and the Koreas.

Mr. Abe’s visit drew attention because it is the first that he has made to the shrine since winning an internal party election last month. During that election, he took the hardest line in a field of five conservative candidates, calling for expanding the limits of Japan’s pacifist Constitution to allow a full military, and supporting patriotic education that teaches a more sympathetic view of Japan’s actions during World War II.

Making this statement requires one to be ignorant of the fact that it is the official position of the Liberal Democratic Party — not just Mr. Abe — to amend the Constitution to allow “a full military”. They’ve already written and presented a draft Constitution.

It also requires one to believe there is something intrinsically “hardline” about establishing a military for self-defense, both individual and collective. That would go without saying for any other normal country. Does Mead actually believe the Japanese are incapable of maintaining a military without succumbing to blood lust? Is he aware that the threat comes from China and is independent of anything Japan might or might not do?

As for supporting “patriotic” education, does this mean that Mead would favor education of the sort that would include the Howard Zinn approach to history as an alternative view in all American textbooks? Note also that Mead cites no details for his charge that a new curriculum would be more sympathetic toward Japan’s actions during World War II, nor what that would mean.

Then again, one American president of an earlier generation didn’t think the Japanese were entirely to blame. Refer to the first Mead link for Herbert Hoover’s opinion.

If Shinzo Abe continues to visit the shrine as prime minister as he has promised to do, Japanese companies in China would be well advised to hire more security guards, as angry Chinese are likely to make their disapproval clear to Japanese interests wherever they happen to find them.

Mead thinks a former Japanese prime minister is being foolhardy because a visit to certain places in his own country will anger the neighborhood geopolitical malefactor. But Abe Shinzo was the second chief cabinet secretary in the Koizumi administration. He already knows what might happen in China and South Korea as a result of Yasukuni visits.

Abe doesn’t plan on just stopping by the shrine. According to the Times, he will also revise an official apology regarding sex slavery in World War II, a move sure to upset the South Koreans as well as the Chinese. Further, Abe has said he would consider deploying Coast Guard to the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands.

While it is true that Mr. Abe would repudiate the Kono Statement, among the other things Mead doesn’t know are the circumstances behind the statement itself. It should never have been issued to begin with.

That Mead would also make a reference to the “disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands” shows that he hasn’t taken the time to do much reading about the subject. (Nicholas Kristoff columns don’t count.) Deploying the Japanese Coast Guard to the Senkakus would be no different than the Americans sending their own Coast Guard to Key West, even if the Cubans had taken it into their heads to claim that island for the first time in 1971.

Is there some reason Japan should not defend its own territory that is visible only from Mead’s perch in La Tour Ivoire?

But the Japanese seem only dimly aware of the fact that they live in a very precarious neighborhood, surrounded by strong nuclear powers with long memories of past conflicts with Japan.

This is the most preposterous statement I’ve read by a supposedly serious author all year — and this is an American election year when preposterous statements are as common as dandruff on the shoulders of an academic’s corduroy sport coat.

Let’s not mince words: To hold forth on what anyone in Japan knows about circumstances in the region when one knows so little of them oneself is beyond patronizing.

With the Russians deploying to the Far East, the South Koreans incensed by the Dokdo island dispute, the Chinese burning Japanese cars and flags, and always-volatile North Korea, the Japanese could probably use a lighter touch in their politics and diplomacy.

That Mead would refer to the islands as “Dokdo” instead of Takeshima can only mean the following:

* He is unaware or doesn’t care that when the Americans forced Japan at the end of the war to relinquish the territory it had seized in the region, they thought Takeshima belonged to Japan — despite Korean objections, and despite originally siding with the Korean position.

* He is unaware or doesn’t care that the American government told the Koreans more than once that they thought Takeshima was Japanese (here and here) and recommended that the Koreans submit their case to the International Court of Justice.

* He is unaware or doesn’t care that the Japanese have twice made the request for ICJ mediation, and the Koreans still refuse.

* He is unaware or doesn’t care that the Japanese incorporated the islands on the principle of terra nullius. Or the Koreans have yet to make a plausible claim without a triple ricochet of logic, factual inaccuracies, photoshopping, or outright fabrications that they islands were ever theirs.

* He is unaware or doesn’t care that a Korean monthly reported the two countries agreed to disagree about the islets in 1965, and that another Korean politician destroyed the Korean documents so they would never come to light.

* He is unaware or doesn’t care that the only reason the Koreans have the islets now is that they took them by force, killing some people when they did so.

* Even Google Maps recently switched from “Dokdo” to “Liancourt Rocks” for the name of the islets (drawing the predictable response from the Koreans).

From this, we can only conclude that Mead believes “might makes right”.

The Japanese could probably use a lighter touch in their politics and diplomacy.

How much lighter can they get without bending over?

Japanese government actions regarding Takeshima have been to ask South Korea to submit the case to the ICJ and to insert a passage in their textbooks that they think Takeshima is theirs. Japanese government actions regarding the Senkakus have been to purchase the land from the Japanese owners, who had been harassed for decades by the Chinese, and prevent the Tokyo Metro District from buying the land and building a much-needed ship basin and radio tower. That step was taken so as not to provoke the ever-ready-to-be-provoked Chinese.

Or does Mead think even the mildest expressions of the national interest are off-limits for Japan? Should Japan limit itself to playing Our Lady of Perpetual Atonement and writing checks when the Western powers are short of money for whatever fine military or economic mess they’ve gotten themselves into this time?

But Mead has a solution: the Global Liberal Imperium will dispatch its fleet to the region and pacify the cage rattlers:

These disputes may be a headache for the U.S., but they also demonstrate the continuing need for a strong U.S. military presence in the Pacific. The American naval presence in the region has been one of the major reasons these conflicts haven’t erupted since the end of the Korean War. Don’t expect large budget cuts for the Navy anytime soon.

Is that last sentence dependent on Romney winning the election, or Obama — for whom Mead supposedly voted, and who still can’t spit out a straight answer on the sequestration of Defense Department funds — getting reelected?

Can Japan depend on the United States to keep the peace in the region? Hah!

Japan and the US are dropping plans for a joint drill to simulate the retaking of a remote island from foreign forces amid a row between Tokyo and Beijing over a disputed archipelago, a report said.

The governments are set to cancel the drill as it could provoke further anger from China after a row escalated when Japan last month nationalised some of the disputed islands, also claimed by Beijing, Jiji Press reported late Friday.

The decision to cancel the drill, which would have involved an island that is not part of the disputed chain, was in line with the views of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s office, the news agency quoted government sources as saying.

Neither country had concerns of that sort when it conducted a similar drill last month in Guam. China didn’t behave any more obnoxiously then than it always does. Was this a Japanese idea — or an American idea?

Mind you, the Americans don’t seem concerned when the Chinese conduct military drills. Just a week before the Mead Quick Take:

The joint exercise involving the PLA Navy and civilian law enforcement ships conducted Friday in the East China Sea came as a surprise for Japanese media, which believe the move is due to the deteriorating situation between the two countries over Japan’s “nationalization” of the Diaoyu Islands.

There is no need to object to the speculation by Japanese media. The exercise has sent a clear message to the outside world, that China is ready to use naval force in maritime conflicts.

It was no surprise to anyone in Japan, much less the media. If you thought that was inflated belligerence, now read this:

(China) will only become more skillful in dealing with more provocations. What’s more, the Chinese people have increasingly begun to think that some countries have been underestimating the consequences of angering China, and China needs to teach them a lesson. This growing public sentiment may pressure the government to change its diplomatic policies.

Chinese people believe there is unlikely to be any major war in the Asia-Pacific region, because China has no intention of starting one, nor will the US, we believe. A conflict in this area would be a brief brawl, in which the weaker country is more likely to suffer.

China, the most powerful country in this region, has in the past been the strongest voice urging parties to “set aside disputes.” The Philippines, Vietnam and Japan, on the contrary, were more bellicose. This is not normal.

Japan has to realize the fact that it has always been a small country compared to China, and in the future it will still only be another Vietnam or Philippines. It is better for Japan to show some respect, or it is asking for trouble.

True, that was from the Global Times, whose editors consider the light touch in diplomacy to be the application of a blowtorch. Their rhetoric is so intemperate the editorial staff might soon undergo a shakeup. But it is affiliated with the People’s Daily, and as that article at the link notes, the Chinese-language version is even more extreme.

Need I mention that no one in Japan talks or writes anything remotely like that?

But other Chinese weren’t convinced that the Americans would intervene anyway:

“There is a danger of China and Japan having a military conflict,” said Yan Xuetong, one of China’s most influential foreign policy strategists, and a noted hawk. “I do not see either side making concessions. Both sides want to solve the situation peacefully, but neither side can provide the right approach.”

And:

“Generally speaking, according to the theory of international relations, unless one country makes concessions to the other, the escalation of a conflict between two countries will not stop until there is a military clash,” he said.

He said that China was tolerant with smaller powers. “But the case of Japan is different. There is history between us. Japan is a big power. It regards itself as a regional, and sometimes a world power. So China can very naturally regard Japan as an equal. And if we are equal, you cannot poke us,” he said.

The only country doing, or threatening to do, the poking is China. But if Japanese become more impertinent than the Chinese can bear?

Mr Yan predicted that if there was a military confrontation, the United States would not intervene physically.

Both presidential candidates say the American military will be out of Afghanistan by 2014, which means the country will revert to the status quo ante of 2001. The Americans couldn’t come up with a status of forces agreement for Iraq to help maintain peace in that part of the world. They can’t figure out what to do with the soon-to-be nuclear Iran, except cover their eyes and hope it goes away. The Obama administration has, however, figured out what to do with Israel – cut it adrift.

The United States can’t even protect the lives of its own ambassador and three other embassy personnel in Libya. Despite the request of the ambassador for greater security, and despite the possibility that the ambassador was involved in some dangerous business by facilitating a gun-running operation to Syria through Turkey, the U.S. government outsourced the security of the consulate to foreigners, watched the attack from drones in real time without responding, and lied about the whole thing for weeks afterward.

The language blaring out of China every day (thoughtfully translated by them into English and put on the Web — removing all excuses) is more bellicose than that which emanated from the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The Chinese openly express their intent to grind several axes with other nations, including the United States.

But an American university professor thinks an America filled to the gills with Chinese-held debt and tired of international policery has to send a depleted fleet to keep order in the western Pacific because “nationalism is on the rise” in the region and Japanese politicians are “rattling the cages”.

Even the most inconsequential of Japanese politicians know more of what is stake in the region than any drive-by Western academic, yet Walter Russell Mead snarks about their “dim awareness”.

And some people will read what he writes and assume he has something worth saying about this part of the world beyond the obvious, the superficial, and the incorrect.

*****
May somebody shine a light on them all.

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3 Responses to “Dim”

  1. “The United States can’t even protect the lives of it’s Ambassador and three other embassy staff in Libya”. If Obama is to blame for that then you should blame President Bush for being unable to protect people in the World Trade Center. But his main concern was clearing the airspace to allow his friends the Bin-Ladens safe passage out of the country next day.

    Don’t expect Romney to be any tougher with China. He makes a lot of his money over there. And with Mitt and his friends it’s all about the money. He’ll probably be tougher on Iran though. Maybe Dick Cheney could get involved and they could do another ‘Halliburton’ over there? One thing is sure, if Romney wins women in Iran will have far more rights than women in America.

    Is Walter Russell Mead in the pay of the Chinese government?

  2. Jeffrey said

    Considering that I had to Google Mead to see who he was, I think you wasted rather a lot of time on someone well outside the mainstream of American public policy and, apparently, well outside his supposed field of expertise. In short, he’s really a nobody. Bard college is essentially a finishing school for children from bohemian families with money.
    ———
    J: Thanks for the note. He is often cited and linked to on serious websites that, if they don’t know any better, at least try to. He held some Henry Kissinger chair someplace, which suggests upper level thinktankery, whether true or not. And I think he shares that general website with someone else relatively well known — Francis Fukuyama, IIRC. He might also be easily dismissed, but some serious people do take them seriously.

    -BS

  3. Colin said

    this is the best quote on the entire dokdo dispute from the American perspective I could find

    ‘Marmot’s Note: Boy, it’s shitburgers all around—Korea loses a historic weapons deal opportunity; Japan has to settle for an outdated weapons system; the United States, Korea and Japan get to ponder the lost strategic opportunities; and the Chinese go to bed knowing that Korea came this close to selling weapons to the Japanese intended for use against them.

    I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.’

    http://www.rjkoehler.com/2012/08/30/japan-abandons-effort-to-buy-korea-amphibious-assault-vehicle-report/

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