Paul McCartney was in Japan some weeks ago. Having spent a totally Beatlemaniac four years of my pre-teen existence in the U.K., it was nice to see the erstwhile Beatle in such good form.
The occasion also reminded me of the song “Back in the USSR,” a 1968 Beatles number. My fellow Beatles lovers will be very familiar with the lyrics of that piece. Just the same, let me remind you how part of it goes:
“Well the Ukraine girls really knock me out. They leave the West behind.
“And Moscow girls make me sing and shout. That Georgia’s always on my mind.”
Here is some history for you. It is worthwhile remembering that both Ukraine and Georgia were a part of the USSR at that point. No prizes for remembering what USSR stands for, although I fear there could now be a generation of readers that must resort to the Internet to discover the answer.
Both Ukraine and Georgia are independent states now. Yet it seems that given half the chance, Russian President Vladimir Putin would like to see them both pulled back into Russia’s sphere of influence.
The recent turn of events in Kiev indicates Ukraine girls still need to be careful of how they tread. Putin would surely be happy to see them “leave the West behind” and rejoin him behind what is, for now, the invisible iron curtain. That would literally be a “Back in the USSR” moment for him.
But there are things one hopes will never happen again in the history of any country. There are things one believes will never come back to haunt us. Nightmarish history should not, and will not, repeat itself — that is what you hope and believe, whether you are a Ukrainian girl or a Japanese citizen who lived through World War II times. Yet the hopes of both look a little bit threatened at this point.
For the first time in a very long time, protesters came out in force to campaign against the recent enactment of the state secrets law in Japan. Many of them must surely be sharing the sentiments of the protesters in Kiev: This is not happening. This should not be happening. We should not need to be protesting against such things in this day and age. Never would we have thought such worries would trouble us again. Worries over freedom. Worries over threats to human rights. Worries about a state that ignores the rights and wishes of the people that it is supposed to be serving.
The Beatles were never a very socio-politically conscious group. Yet the piece “Back in the USSR” is so full of interesting suggestions that one wonders where the inspiration for it all came from.
Could Paul have been taking a trip across time as he set those words to music? Of course the most suggestive bit is the refrain. As we all know, it talks about “Back in the U.S. Back in the U.S. Back in the USSR.”
If the U.S. is the USSR, and the USSR is the U.S., nobody needs to worry about either the fate of the Ukrainian girls or which Georgia we happen to have on our minds at any given point in time. If only the same kind of togetherness could be achieved by Japan and its neighbors, with whom our relationship seems so strained at this point.
If Paul could come up with the kind of lyrics that glue us together a la “Back in the USSR,” he would be doing us all a great service. Merry and matey does it in this season of good will.
Noriko Hama is an economist and a professor of Doshisha University Graduate School of Business.