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Hatoyama just calling it as it is

by Hiroaki Sato

NEW YORK — I was startled to receive a letter from a friend in Tokyo earlier this month accompanied by a Sankei Shimbun article by Yukio Okamoto sharply upbraiding Yukio Hatoyama.

The then next prime minister’s sin was to let The New York Times carry his article that “astonished the world.” According to Okamoto, Hatoyama must be faulted, among other things, for:

• Arguing that since the Cold War, U.S.-led market fundamentalism has buffeted Japan. As a result, human dignity has been lost.

• Holding that globalization has damaged Japan’s traditional economic activities and destroyed its local communities.

• Making “radical” comments about national security. Even as Hatoyama repeatedly criticizes the United States, he seems to reject the foundation on which Japan has lived all these years.

As soon as Hatoyama’s article came out, an American “shikisha” (knowledgeable person) told Okamoto: “Hatoyama is no different from (Venezuelan President Hugo) Chavez. Rabid Anti-Americanist.” The term shikisha is amorphous. Did Okamoto mean a friend of his who knows a few things? An official at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo? A fellow at a conservative American think tank?

As a “commentator on foreign affairs,” Okamoto wondered, “Why did no one check this English version that hurts Hatoyama-san?”

What did Okamoto mean by that? That Hatoyama should have proscribed the publication? Or that Hatoyama should have proofread the English translation? Either is unlikely, though Hatoyama has a Ph.D. from Stanford. But one can still ask: Is the New York Times version, “A New Path for Japan” (Aug. 26), accurate?

I have looked at the original and say, yes, it is. It is a condensed version of slightly rearranged excerpts from the original. Dropped was much of Hatoyama’s “political philosophy” that lies behind the explanation of policies he hopes to pursue. (The original is posted on Hatoyama’s homepage along with full English and Korean translations. The Japan Times printed the English version Sept. 9 under the title “In Hatoyama’s ‘fraternity,’ people the end, not means.”)

By “check,” then, Okamoto meant, perhaps without meaning it, that Hatoyama should not have allowed what he wrote in Japanese to appear in English. Hatoyama, in other words, should have practiced the old-fashioned uchi-soto or diplomatic duplicity.

Is Hatoyama all wrong in his core assessments and suggestions for policy change?

“The recent economic crisis resulted from a way of thinking based on the idea that American-style, free-market economics represents a universal and ideal economic order,” Hatoyama writes, “and that all countries should modify the traditions and regulations governing their economies in line with global (or rather American) standards.”

This is fact. To dismiss it, as Okamoto does, by saying that it is “close to the argument of European and American NGOs that repeatedly try to block G8 summits,” is to dismiss Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Samuelson, Paul Krugman, Alan Blinder, and other U.S. economists. They are all free-trade advocates, but they have recently pointed to the distortions created by the U.S.-style, free-market theology.

Still, Hatoyama’s argument, even in its abbreviated form, is as nuanced as those of these economic thinkers.

Hatoyama’s reasons for reassessing Japan’s position in the shifting global power relations also strike me as legitimate. “How should Japan maintain its political and economic independence and protect its national interest,” he asks, “when caught between the United States, which is fighting to retain its position as the world’s dominant power, and China, which is seeking ways to become dominant?”

If this is not common-sensical wonderment among those who think about such matters, I don’t know what is.

Somehow, though, Okamoto went ballistic on this. The only alternative to the status quo is for Japan to achieve “dokuryoku boei” (national defense on its own), he asserts. That would mean increasing the Self-Defense Forces five- to sixfold and acquiring nuclear armaments, he insists. Okamoto abruptly quit the foreign service, a Wikipedia entry says, when his government decided not to send troops during the Persian Gulf War because of constitutional constraints. In other words, the Constitution be damned.

By warning of the danger of any attempt to change the U.S.-Japan military alliance, Okamoto tells us that the bilateral security treaty is “not particularly unequal.”

Perhaps so — in some provisions and when compared with similar U.S. treaties with other countries. But after all these years, there persists the nagging suspicion, articulated most clearly toward the end of the 1960s by Yukio Mishima, that the ultimate commander of the Japanese military, the SDF, is not the Japanese prime minister but the U.S. president.

Not just the Persian Gulf War in 1991 but also the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 has demonstrated the validity of this suspicion.

It was at least this murky status of the SDF that Mishima, originally a law student, wanted to clear away. He proposed to split the forces into two separate entities: one a Japanese contingent for “U.N. peacekeeping operations,” and the other an entity dedicated to homeland defense. Hatoyama’s outline for constitutional revision on his homepage comes remarkably close to Mishima’s idea four decades ago, though without the part about splitting the forces.

But Hatoyama’s call for reassessing Japan’s position vis-a-vis the U.S., especially as it touches on its military alliance, is unlikely to go anywhere. While there are always people like Yukio Okamoto, there is the fact that the U.S. is the imperial hegemon.

Look how Barack Obama has fallen flat on his campaign pledge to change America’s military policy. As Gary Wills sums up in a bill of particulars (“Entangled Giant,” The New York Review of Books, Oct. 8), what Gore Vidal has called the “national security state” has assembled such a formidable apparatus since the 1940s that no president, well-meaning or otherwise, can possibly change it overnight.

Sure enough, Hatoyama has since been impelled to assure the U.S. that “the Japan-U.S. security pact will continue to be the cornerstone of Japanese diplomatic policy,” even though that is exactly what he wrote in his article.

Translator and essayist Hiroaki Sato is at work on a biography of Yukio Mishima.