We in East Asia are indeed living in peaceful times. That is the inevitable conclusion one draws in reflecting on the archives of U.S. military intelligence files from the 1930s and 1940s. In one document, Japan's ambition, declared in January 1941 by its foreign minister, was frightening.

Fresh from negotiations with the Dutch for an oil concession in the Netherlands East Indies, and mediation between Thailand and French Indochina, he told the Diet that the whole world should accept Japan's racial idea of "hakko ichiu" (eight directions of the world under one roof), a nationalist slogan interpreted variously as a call to "universal brotherhood" (the soft version) or Japanese military domination of East Asia, and then the world, through a sacred or holy war (the main meaning as events came to show).

In 1945, American psychological observation teams — foreshadowing the collapse of Japan's militarist regime — capitalized on this phrase by telling the Japanese people that they were being invaded from "eight directions," a rather bitter irony for them.