The April 26 acquittal of Japan’s most important politician on charges connected with delayed reporting of a financial transfer is greatly significant for Japan and possibly its neighbors as well. Ichiro Ozawa has for almost two decades been considered as the one Japanese politician with the organizational skills; the understanding of the career officials who in practice run the country; the political network building capacity and, above all, a thorough grasp of what causes the notorious weakness at the center, to have the best chance of reforming the governing system in line with what the electorate and political specialists outside the realms of vested interests have long believed to be desirable. In 1993 he gave the crucial start signal for the reformist movement by leaving the LDP, which had been the mainstay of Japan’s de-facto one-party system since 1955, and which ruled in name only, leaving actual policy making in the hands of a dominant (and uncommonly skillfull) group of administrators within the bureaucracy. He had laid down his credo in a book advocating for Japan to become “a normal country” (with a center of political accountability), and eventually brought the various groups of reformist minded politicians together in the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), engineering its grand electoral victory in the summer of 2009 that substantially ended the one-party system.
Following with half an eye the pap pouring forth from the commentariat about how it felt on the day and what it thought since the event “that changed everything”, I was heartened by a reminder from Douglas Lummis (a former US Marine living in Okinawa, and eminent observer of the American-Japanese vassalage relationship) that the anniversary deserving even more attention is tomorrow. It was on September 20th ten years ago that George W. Bush declared perpetual war on large chunks of the world. On that day he told Congress that terrorism would no longer be dealt with as a crime but as something to be confronted with military might. Judging by published mainstream opinion the monstrousness of that announcement has never sunk in. What it comes down to, as Lummis reminds us, is that the United States has granted itself the right to create suspects, murder them, and to invade countries for such a purpose. “And given that no other country, but only the U.S., claims these rights, the result is that in international law, the principle of equality under the law has been destroyed.”
Bush and Cheney also began something, as Lummis understands well, that because of its nature can never end. The Washington Post, a virtual propaganda instrument for Bush’s administration, has also to my surprise discovered that “A Decade After the 9/11 Attacks, Americans Live in an Era of Endless War.” In the superficial ‘objective’ way that has become that paper’s hallmark, reporter Greg Jaffe writes that “in previous decades, the military and the American public viewed war as an aberration and peace as the norm.” But nowadays, by the logic of what he quotes from the Pentagon’s last major assessment of global security, “America’s wars are unending and any talk of peace is quixotic or naive.”
In other words, America’s warmaking and the belief that it is necessary have become perfectly normal. As the Washington Post as well as official documents and supposedly ‘liberal’ pundits and professors tell us, we should all simply get used to it.
I have said it elsewhere on this site: the notion of a 'marketplace of ideas' is nonsensical (jotting 24). Ideas are not traded, and are not scarce. They infect you, may cause intellectual and emotional fever and have frequently enough brought about epidemics that changed history. For the right metaphor in this case we should stick to the field of medicine, especially now a new epidemic, also known as the 'austerity craze', has been spreading in three of the most important industrial areas of the world; after having been allowed, in a chronic process in Africa and Latin America, to keep poor countries poor.
Today, the very efficacious political command that belts must be tightened, budgets slashed, and welfare provisions thrown overboard is threatening to help make the future of Europeans, Americans and Japanese dimmer and more miserable.
Before saying anything else about it we must be clear about the fact that the seductive power of the political/economic recipes that come with the craze does not derive from historical proof that these have been successful. Quite the contrary; starving the state of the means to cater to the common good has often enough lead to the kind of social unrest that produces false prophets and Pied Pipers who lead countries from bad to worse, or even to calamitous outcomes as in the case of the German Weimar Republic. Austerity measures will make unemployment shoot up and, when applied too deeply and for too long, tend to invite violence and repression.
What is being offered as medicine for restoring economic health is a virus, one incubated in ideology. We may define ideology here as horse-medicine against uncertainty, which means
The notion of American leadership is, today, a fantasy. When we speak of leadership we think of something that is positive. A leader who is accepted voluntarily is not going to lead you and your loved ones, along with all your compatriots, unnecessarily into dangerous waters. That kind of leadership is the lot of those who have been enslaved or seduced.
American leadership used to exist. In fact it was crucial in shaping the post-World-War-II world, which in the second half of the twentieth century consolidated into a relatively peaceful and relatively stable international order, one hospitable to a Russia and China once these shed their ideologies that had isolated them with a rigid authoritarianism. But it crashed. While signs of serious political malfunctioning were observed long before that moment, we can pinpoint the actual crash to when an utterly incompetent president decided to appoint enemies at whim, and thereby broke with tradition, international agreements, and what had been achieved by international law; all that his predecessors in the immediate postwar period had helped establish.
American leadership is a fantasy because a country can only be a good leader if possessed of a minimal degree of inner stability and self-control along with purposes that are shared by those being led.
When Barack Obama entered the White House he told “every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity”
When political habits formed and consolidated over more than half a century are challenged, what is the first thing that we should expect? Obviously, powerful forces that will obstruct, defuse and perhaps eventually defeat the challenge. This must be kept in mind as we hear the stories shaping conventional wisdom about how the government of the world’s second most important industrial country (sorry, but as of now still more important than China) deals with what follows from its greatest misfortune in over two generations.
The BBC may have reached a potentially huge audience for one of the first of such evaluations produced by a Washington think-tank.
Ms. Yuki Tatsumi, a senior associate at the Stimson Center, writes about the pr problems, the confusion and the lack of transparency attending what for the world had become the No 1 subtheme overshadowing everything else in the story of the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami – the malfunctioning nuclear power plant in Fukushima. There is no reason to quarrel with her description of the situation, but when it comes to the subtleties in her explanation as to why there exists a fundamental problem, her understanding goes awry in a none too subtle manner.
Between the previous jotting and the one before that more than a year had gone by. I will try not to let that happen again.
I had not stopped writing, and hereunder are links to a couple of articles on developments in Japan, and the relationship between Japan and the United States, which I believe has relevance to more than these two countries.
I have also finished two books. The Character Assassination of Ozawa Ichiro, which is mainly of interest to Japanese readers. I am happy to say that it has sold very well in the first ten days of its published existence before Japan’s calamity understandably directed political attention to more urgent matters. The other one, America’s Tragedy and the Blind Free World, appeared in Japanese last autumn. It is awaiting publication in the rest of the world.
These jottings are not about my personal life, but as George Orwell (and many others) reminded us, general rules are to be broken when the need seems to arise. The lives of my wife and me have been very much enriched by the birth of our son, Sebastian van Wolferen. As any author with children will probably agree, such an experience is infinitely more rewarding than seeing a book published. Here he is, at the age of 55 minutes with his first wink. The Japanese language has an expression, oya baka, for parents who annoy others with news and pictures of their children. I promise to restrain myself on this site.
An article published in February 2010 by ChuoKoron On Political Rebirth, Proportion and Power about the sabotage faced by Japan’s new ruling party, and the attempt (successful as it turned out) to get rid of its first cabinet formed by Hatoyama Yukio.
An article that appeared in the April and May 2011 issues of Bungei Shunju on The Dangerous Fantasy of American Leadership.