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JFK’s message echoes today

by Robert D. Eldridge

Special To The Japan Times

Many people were warmed by the recent two-minute video provided by the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo on Nov. 12 of Ambassador Caroline Kennedy’s message to the people of Japan (www.youtube.com/watch?v=85PdDZ4xCvs) As of the time of this writing, nearly 40,000 people have viewed on YouTube this well-made video that is subtitled in Japanese and includes numerous photos and other images of her enjoying her previous two visits to Japan in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as examples of official and people-to-people engagement in action. The themes of friendship, cooperation and mutual learning were the right notes to hit as she got ready to depart for Tokyo.

Fifty years ago this week, her father, President John F. Kennedy, had also prepared a two-minute message for the people of Japan that he intended to broadcast using the then-state of the art technology of Telstar 2, a communications satellite that had been launched on May 7, 1963. Unfortunately, the message, to be delivered on Nov. 23 in Japan, was not broadcast as scheduled due to his assassination.

Kennedy video-taped his remarks in the Rose Garden, which the stylish Jacqueline Kennedy had helped redesign, on Nov. 20. He began them, almost gleefully, by mentioning the pleasure he got by being able to deliver those remarks via this new technology for the first time across the Pacific, an ocean “which has appeared to many as a barrier rather than as a bridge” and noted this technology was an “indicator of how shrinking our world is and how important it is to establish the most intimate of relations.”

Importantly, for JFK, these intimate relations were not to be simply bilateral, but encouraging of trilateral and multilateral ties (much like we are seeing today in the response to the Philippines disaster), “between Japan, the United States, and the countries of the world.” Said another way, the U.S.-Japan relationship is greater than the sum of its two parts. Kennedy, more than many others then or now, recognized the exponential power that the two countries possessed when working together.

He emphasized the work his administration had been doing to make the relationship with Japan closer at all levels, noting that in May scientific experts had met in Japan to discuss how the scientific community in both countries could work more closely together, that meetings had been held in Washington with some of Japan’s greatest scholars to deepen mutual “understanding of our cultural traditions,” and finally that meetings were to take place while the broadcast was being relayed on economic studies about trade and cooperation by U.S. Cabinet members who were reciprocating a visit by Japanese ministers the year before.

In those and other ways, the two countries were working, he proudly stated, at furthering the “ties of friendship” and “the ties of understanding” between the two countries. Representative of the New Frontier and his visionary nature, Kennedy, correctly, felt the new technology would not only bring the two countries closer together but also further peace and prosperity.

Although he did not mention it in the message, he was intending to visit Japan in early 1964 and the final arrangements for that trip were to be made by his staff when they reached Japan. It would be his secretary of state, Dean Rusk, and his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who would later travel to Japan in their deceased president’s place.

Although there have been many trials, big and small along the way, Kennedy would certainly be proud of the relationship that has blossomed over the past five decades. The ties, which we now often use the Japanese word “kizuna” when describing, are stronger than ever. It is most appropriate that his beloved daughter has arrived to further develop the cooperation that exists and equally important, to make new friends and opportunities for the U.S. and Japan to realize the full potential of the relationship.

“Together our two countries have done much good for the world, and we can do so much more,” Caroline Kennedy stated in her own video message, noting the historical accomplishments and importantly pointing, like her father, to the future. Kennedy’s recognition of the shared values of freedom, human rights, and the rule of law between the two countries and her belief in the ability to solve challenges through “commitment, communication, and cooperation” are also very much in line with the legacy of her father and build on the strong foundations created by all of our predecessors who have been devoted to U.S.-Japan relations.

It was not only Americans who were deeply affected by President Kennedy’s vision, ideas and ideals, but people from around the world, including Japan. In anticipation of his visit, the planned relay of his message of cooperation 50 years ago this weekend was a brilliant meshing of hope and technology.

With much foresight, the archivists and staff of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, of which Caroline Kennedy is the honorary president, made his message available to researchers, and through another technological innovation, the Internet, can now be heard by anyone from anywhere where free access to information is allowed. www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Archives/JFKWHA-241-003.aspx.

Robert Eldridge, a former tenured associate professor of U.S.-Japan relations at Osaka University, was a recipient of the JFK Presidential Library Research Travel Grant in 2000. He is currently working on a book about the reversion of Okinawa.