SAN DIEGO — When it comes to the histories and cultures of the countries of the Pacific, the U.S. president either received a lousy education at Andover and Yale or else failed to study.

George W. Bush opened his recent tour of Japan, South Korea and China with a gaffe that should give his daddy heartburn: “My trip to Asia begins here in Japan for an important reason. . . . For a century and a half now, America and Japan have formed one of the great and enduring alliances of modern times. From that alliance has come an era of peace in the Pacific.”

I suspect that Bush’s father, who flew dive bombers off the USS San Jacinto and who on Sept. 2, 1944, was shot down by the Japanese, remembers World War II. He might even recall that it occurred somewhat less than a 150 years ago.

Let us assume that George W. meant 50 years rather than 150. That is the sort of thing the nursemaids who surround him are always explaining. But in that case, when was the “era of peace in the Pacific” that the Japanese-American Security Treaty allegedly brought? Not in Korea (1950-1953), or in Indochina (1960-1975), or in Okinawa (1945 to the present).

On his next stop, South Korea, Bush took the de rigueur look north through binoculars at one member of the newly designated “axis of evil.” He is lucky that the Koreans, particularly the Nobel Peace Prize winner who is the current president of South Korea, are polite people. They had every reason to tell him to take his motley crew of U.S. soldiers, spy planes, napalm bombs and nuclear weapons, and go home.

In June 2000, President Kim Dae Jung of South Korea ventured to the North Korean capital to attempt a reconciliation with the half of the country that the United States and Russia severed off in 1945. He met with great success. The meeting allowed Kim to proclaim, “The North will no longer attempt unification by force and, at the same time, we will not do any harm to the North. The most important outcome of the summit is that there is no longer going to be any war.”

But this development ran directly counter to the interests of the American military establishment, the American arms industry and America’s position as hegemon of East Asia, and it spread panic among American strategists and intelligence operatives.

In his “axis of evil” speech of Jan. 29, 2002, Bush succeeded in scuttling the emerging hopes for peace on the Korean Peninsula. In Seoul, amid pomp and obfuscation, while he blathered on about Laura, terrorism, democracy, worship, and “the family,” South Koreans may have wondered what he really had in mind. They no doubt feared that they had entrusted their fate to the village idiot.

It was in China, however, that the president gave an Olympic gold medal demonstration of insensitivity and cultural rudeness. In a speech to students of one of China’s most distinguished universities, he said: “America is a nation guided by faith. Someone once called us ‘a nation with the soul of a church.’ Ninety-five percent of Americans say they believe in God, and I’m one of them.”

Bush apparently has no knowledge of the role Christian missionaries played in the imperialist exploitation of China. Missionaries were active in the opium trade. It was a German Protestant, Karl Gutzlaff, who introduced opium to north China. The British and Americans, who pioneered the illegal import of opium into China, used the doctrine of “free trade” as a cover for their activities. One of the reasons the Chinese empire resisted reform for so many decades was that toleration of Christianity, as the Western powers demanded, meant surrendering to the purveyors of filth and crime.

OK. Bush slept through the Yale lectures on the role of Christianity — from the Opium War (1839-1842) to the Boxer Rebellion (1899-1900) — in the humbling of China. But the people who wrote his speech might have remembered Confucianism. Bush said, “Tens of millions of Chinese today are relearning Buddhist, Taoist and local religious traditions, or practicing Christianity, Islam and other faiths.”

For the president of the United States to lecture the Chinese on “a moral law beyond man’s law” without mentioning the moral glue that held the world’s oldest continuously extant civilization together for over two millennia was not just dumb; it was a serious mistake. As a matter of our own national self-respect, we should apologize on his behalf and pledge in the future to keep him home munching on pretzels and watching TV.

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