3 continuing lessons from the Pearl Harbor attack

1) The first lesson is that we must not seek any simple, quick solution to a problem in times of crisis.
1) ひとつは、危機の時代には、単純な解決を性急に求めないことだ。
2) The second lesson to learn from history is that we must respect the diversity of thought, especially in times of crisis.
2) ふたつめは、危機の時代にこそ、意見の多様性を尊重することだ。
3) The third lesson is that we must look at ourselves objectively when we turn our eyes to the rest of the world.
3) 三つめは、世界に目を向けるときは、あわせて他者の視座でわが身を見ることだ。


--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 7
EDITORIAL: 3 continuing lessons from the Pearl Harbor attack

December 07, 2011 Dec. 8 (Japan time) marks the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Pacific War.

News of a surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941, by a task force of the Imperial Japanese Navy threw the Japanese people into wild elation.

Novelist Sei Ito (1905-1969) noted to the effect: "Yes! This is the way to go." Actor Musei Tokugawa (1894-1971) recalled, "I felt my whole body tingle with excitement."

But that day was the beginning of Japan's downfall, which ended with its unconditional surrender three years and eight months later.

The Pearl Harbor attack has been discussed extensively.

In Japan, the recurring question has been why the nation was so foolhardy as to go to war with the United States, whose strength was vastly superior.

Was this to blame on the out-of-control military? Or did political confusion of the time play a factor? Or did the media fan jingoistic feelings that were already surging around the nation?

In his address before Congress, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) called the day "a date which will live in infamy."

For the Americans, Pearl Harbor became an object lesson in how a country can fall flat on its face for underestimating its opponent.

During the Cold War, the lesson was applied to America's relationship with the Soviet Union. The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were likened to Pearl Harbor.

International order's breaking point

History is always reviewed in the light of the present.

How should we interpret Pearl Harbor today amid the escalation of the European debt crisis and concerns about the future of democracy?

Let us put the start of the Pacific War in a broader historical context, rather than look at it as an error in judgment by the Japanese government or an outcome of Tokyo's falling-out with Washington.

Seen in that light, one could say that Pearl Harbor represented the point where the international order, which was already in bad shape since the Great Depression of 1929, finally broke down in the Asia-Pacific region.

The world's major powers formed exclusive economic blocs to protect their interests, and that led to World War II.

Nowadays, there are more diverse frameworks of international cooperation, such as the Group of 8 and the G-20, and the necessity of international policy coordination in many fields is much better understood than in the past.

On the other hand, the World Trade Organization has come to a standstill, and this could cause member nations to rush into forming economic blocs. In this age of the Internet, a local crisis can immediately develop into a global crisis, and there is no refuge for anyone.

Historically, there is no such thing as a recurring drama.

But it is also a fact that history repeats similar mistakes.

That is because humans are often incapable of controlling their desires, political ambitions and technology.

Domestic, international stability go together

The progress of Japan's modernization was made possible by stability at home and peace in the world.

The policy of international cooperation that characterized Japanese diplomacy during the two decades of the Taisho Era (1912-1926) mirrored the state of the post-World War I world.

Japan's attainment of post-World War II prosperity was proof that the nation was able to enjoy peace under the strong leadership of the United States during the Cold War years.

Put another way, Japan becomes unstable when international relations begin to deteriorate.

Pearl Harbor happened when political turmoil at home was compounded by crises abroad.

In present-day Japan, the failure of the historic regime change of 2009 to renovate Japanese politics has deepened the public's sense of disappointment. In diplomacy, Japan has to contend with the destabilization of Asia due to America's diminishing influence and China's emergence.

Faced with uncertainties both at home and abroad, now is the time for us to learn three lessons from history leading up to Pearl Harbor.

The first lesson is that we must not seek any simple, quick solution to a problem in times of crisis.

In prewar Japan, the disintegration of party politics resulted in the military seizing dictatorial power.

In that process, the people turned to militarism as a means for getting their nation out of a jam.

Since Junichiro Koizumi became prime minister in 2001, the public has become used to "theatrical" politics characterized by decisive, clever slogans that have a strong populist appeal.

But there can never be a clear-cut solution to any complex issue involving conflicting interests.

We must not forget that resolving such an issue requires thorough preparation, patience and a determination to follow it through.

Respect opinions of others

The second lesson to learn from history is that we must respect the diversity of thought, especially in times of crisis.

Before and during World War II, society was all too ready to denounce people who voiced their own opinions as "traitors to the country," and that killed freedom of thought and expression.

We must watch out for people who make "brave" assertions and refuse to listen to or accept different opinions. And we must shun the sort of nationalism that fans hatred.

Respecting minority opinions broadens our options.

The third lesson is that we must look at ourselves objectively when we turn our eyes to the rest of the world.

Kiyoshi Kiyosawa (1890-1945), a journalist who criticized myopic foreign policy opinions before and during the war, noted: "Japan's greatest handicap is its inability to explain its partner's position on international issues. Its own position is the only position Japan can understand."

His observation was completely accurate, given that Japan drove itself into the Pacific War because it underestimated Chinese nationalism and misread America's intentions.

Today, Japan's survival hinges on understanding China's motive behind its rapid expansion and deciding how best to rebuild the Japan-U.S. relationship.

On the 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, which the U.S. historian Samuel E. Morrison (1887-1976) called "a grand strategic blunder" for Japan, let us remind ourselves of the above three lessons.

by kiyoshimat | 2011-12-09 05:21 | 英字新聞

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