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Sunday, Sept. 9, 2001

A long-term relationship that works

PARTNERSHIP: The United States and Japan 1951-2001, edited by Akira Iriye and Robert A. Wampler. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 2001, 333 pp., 3,800 yen (cloth).

On Sept. 8, 1951, Japan and the United States, along with 47 other governments, signed a peace treaty that officially ended the Pacific War. Hours after signing that document, representatives from the two countries signed a second treaty that sealed a mutual security alliance. This stellar collection of essays explains the events and forces that led to those two treaties and assesses the alliance they produced.

The partnership of former enemies has been a remarkable success. It is the foundation of Japanese national security and the cornerstone of U.S. engagement with the Asia-Pacific region. It has survived the Cold War and looks set to continue well into the future. Public demonstrations against the alliance in 1960, the 1995 Okinawa rape and other incidents documented in this book have strained the alliance, but never pushed it to the breaking point. Indeed, a recurring fear among supporters has been that the alliance was being taken for granted, that it needed more attention and care.

That neglect would be the chief danger to the alliance is remarkable, and speaks of incredible progress. It is easy to forget how different the two countries are, and how deep the animosities were that created and drove their war machines half a century ago. John Dower, the dean of historians of the bilateral relationship, illustrates the point in his chapter, "Graphic Japanese, Graphic Americans: Coded Images in U.S.-Japanese Relations." Continuing the seminal work he began in "War Without Mercy," Dower uses editorial cartoons to show the deep racist strains that continue to plague the relationship. Although U.S. artists no longer use the monkey to depict the Japanese, they all too frequently resort to the exotic and stylized samurai image to capture the country's fundamental "otherness." Even during the Persian Gulf War, U.S. cartoonists could depict little men issuing false apologies in bad English for not dispatching troops. (The Japanese also use the image of an undersized man among global leaders.)

Us vs. them is not a uniquely American mentality. In his contribution, Frank Gibney relates his experiences during the last 50 years as both journalist and businessman on both sides of the Pacific. From his perspective, "the political and social animus against foreigners of the wartime era had been surreptitiously transferred to an economic context postwar." Gibney also echoes many of the criticisms of Japan's mainstream press (its bland uniformity, the troubling influence of the "kisha kurabu") as well as its strong points (economic coverage and a writing style that usually bests that in the U.S.). His chapter, like those of several other contributors, is written in a casual style, and uses a personal perspective that lightens an otherwise heavy, sometimes dull topic. Gibney's own encounters with Japan, which began in the Occupation and continue to this day, have given him a unique vantage point from which to comment upon Japan's media.

All the contributors to this book are top-notch, and their chapters comprise some of the best writing I've read on this subject. Mike Mochizuki's survey of U.S.-Japan relations covers familiar ground but still manages to tease out some new analysis. For example, while most see the alliance as a study in inequality (John Foster Dulles, the former U.S. secretary of state who negotiated many of the key terms, compared some provisions to the "unequal treaties" imposed on Japan during the 19th century), Mochizuki emphasizes the amount of autonomy Japan has enjoyed during the postwar period. The U.S. is certainly the senior partner, but Japan has been extremely energetic in its regional diplomacy. The U.S. has encouraged that policy, recognizing that Southeast Asia is Japan's natural market, and that the fight against communism required a strong Japan. Trade frictions in the 1980s were the product of Japan's strength and its willingness to say "no." Tokyo may not have been as independent-minded as some critics would have preferred, but it has had far more freedom than many want to admit.

There were limitations, of course. Former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida wanted to develop commercial and diplomatic relations with China, but gave up that plan when Dulles gave him a letter that the prime minister was forced to sign. Addressed to Dulles, the letter declared that Tokyo would immediately sign a treaty with Taiwan and would not conclude one with Beijing.

Michael Schaller frames the alliance within the U.S.-Japan-China strategic triangle and explains the fundamental relationship between the peace treaty and the security alliance. His argument, which is backed by many other historians, is that the peace treaty is a generous document, "a sweetener" for the intrusive rights granted the U.S. in the security treaty. His chapter also illuminates the tangled web of economic and security issues that has been part of the alliance since the Occupation. Three other contributions focus specifically on the economic relationship and its ups and downs during the last half-century.

Economic stresses have abated in recent years, but the conditions that created breathing room -- a booming U.S. economy during Japan's "lost decade" -- are coming to an end. The U.S. is slowing and there are worries that there will once again be a chorus of complaints about Japan not pulling its weight.

That raises the inevitable question: Can the alliance survive in a world that has changed so drastically since it was conceived? Michael Green, who works on Japan issues at the National Security Council and is one of the foremost analysts of the security relationship, thinks so. He argues that the two countries' strategic interests converge enough "to make it work." Mochizuki is not so sure: He closes his chapter with a series of questions that suggest he still harbors doubts.

A key factor will be the quality of leadership in Tokyo. If the government can make the case for the security alliance, then the partnership can be reinvigorated and renewed to face the challenges of the 21st century. One vital issue it will have to confront is military burden sharing and Okinawa. For the most part, as Sheila Smith explains in her chapter, the central government has preferred not to address those issues. She calls on Tokyo to show greater accountability and help the Okinawa people.

The U.S., and its ambassadors in particular, have a role to play as well. Thus far, the U.S. has been served well by the men sent over from Washington, as Nathaniel Thayer and Don Oberdorfer show in their contributions. The new ambassador, former Sen. Howard Baker, is the latest in a line of respected politicians whose seniority is a sign of the importance the U.S. attaches to this relationship.

After 50 years, it is tempting to assume that Japan and the U.S. have worked out it all out, but that would be a mistake. The alliance is a success, but many differences between the two countries remain. As Marc Gallichio argues, the "alliance had to stand in the place of any natural or cultural affinity between the two countries. The security treaty anchored the relationship while concerned citizens on both sides of the Pacific worked to construct a broader foundation for peaceful relations." That work is never done.

Brad Glosserman is director of research at Pacific Forum CSIS, a Honolulu-based think tank and a contributing editor to The Japan Times.

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