Hooked on U.S., Japan risks going down with it

Dear Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara:

I begin this letter by asking if you saw the 1990 American film “Awakenings”? This film told the true story of a British doctor who, in 1969, administered an experimental drug to patients in a U.S. mental hospital, miraculously awakening them after decades of living in a catatonic state. Tragically, however, the drug’s effect was not long-lasting and eventually all of the patients returned to their former state.

Is there an analogy between this film and today’s Japan?

Regrettably, I suggest there is, at least in the field of foreign affairs. That is to say, in the wake of its defeat in 1945 Japan has, in a state of almost catatonic stupor itself, slavishly followed U.S. foreign policy for more than half a century. To be sure, it can be argued that Japan benefited economically from this posture, most especially due to U.S. military-related procurements during the Korean War and then the Vietnam War. But, as a result, Japan also gained the reputation of being an “economic animal” ever willing to feed off the misery and death of its fellow Asians.

Yet there has always been resistance among the Japanese people to this subservient role vis-a-vis the U.S., most especially among Okinawans, who have been forced to collaborate with the American military occupation of their islands. In September 2009, however, there was a new development — a development that held the promise of addressing Japan’s longtime foreign policy stupor: the birth of the Democratic Party of Japan’s Hatoyama government. For the first time in postwar Japanese history a Japanese prime minister seriously questioned the rationale for the ongoing presence of U.S. military bases in Japan.

Even more surprisingly, Prime Minister Hatoyama proposed the creation of an East Asian Economic Community, not unlike the European Union, that would not only promote economic regional integration but eventually resolve long-standing territorial disputes, thus freeing Japan from military dependence on the U.S. In light of Japan’s more than half-century of subservience to the U.S., this can most certainly be described as an “Awakening”!

Yet, just as in the film, it was not long before this “awakening,” too, started to show signs of “relapse.” Beginning with the collapse of the Hatoyama government, Japan slowly returned to toeing the U.S. line, demonstrated by its decision to maintain the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on Okinawa despite the massive opposition of the Okinawan people. Since then, the new Kan government has increased pressure on the Okinawan people to bend to the central government’s will.

Recently, Foreign Minister Maehara, you added to this pressure by stating that if the Okinawan people wouldn’t allow the Marine air station to be relocated to Henoko then people living in the densely populated Ginowan area would have to endure the noise pollution and very real danger of accidents posed by the base in its present location. This was, of course, a transparent attempt to break the antibase unity of the Okinawan people by pitting one group of Okinawans against the other. Whether this and similar ploys will succeed remains to be seen.

The larger question, however, is whether the Japanese people, just as the patients in the film, will return to a state of catatonic stupor and once again subordinate themselves to U.S. foreign policy. This comes at a time when the U.S. is slowly losing its “superpower” status due to the many problems it faces, not the least of which are the unwinnable, expensive and endless wars it pursues. As America collapses, Foreign Minister Maehara, will you allow a once-again-catatonic Japan to be dragged down with it?


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