An American traveling in Japan is likely to feel that he has passed through the looking glass. For millions of Japanese-conceivably a majority-the United States' presence in their islands is not a protection, but a provocation. China is seen not as a menace, but as a growling giant caught in a web of problems. The aggressive speeches of Lin Piao and Chen Yi do not mean what they say, but are merely traditional Chinese exaggeration and bluster. The American effort in Viet Nam may be in the national interest of the United States, the Japanese say, but of no one else.

The visitor's somewhat eerie feeling is enhanced by innumerable paradoxes: Japan is governed by a conservative coalition with an ample majority, but is dominated politically and intellectually by the left; the much abused Americans are, according to public-opinion polls, by far the best liked foreigners; the United Nations is overwhelmingly popular, yet no politician dare suggest that Japan contribute to its peacekeeping forces, as allowed by the Constitution; a nation which probably translates more foreign writing for home consumption than any other seems isolated intellectually; a society reputed to be the most avid for what is au courant appears strangely behind the times, whether it be in its Marxism or its business practices; and, finally, in a country inundated by political verbiage and deeply divided on basic issues, there is almost no serious debate.

It is not hard to trace the causes of these and many other inconsistencies. It is more difficult to see how Japan will find her way out of them so that she can achieve greater purpose and clearer policy. Twenty years is a long time, as Japanese are fond of reminding Americans on Okinawa, but Japan continues to drift. Weak leadership and a limited view of what is politically feasible leaves the initiative to the leftists, who seek to accomplish in the streets what they cannot achieve in the Diet. Democracy survives but does not grow. Between the conservatives, who observe its letter but still question its spirit, and the so-called "progressives," who cherish its liberties but flout its rules and responsibilities, democracy makes its unsteady way.

As in other young democracies, but more especially in Japan, where respect and loyalty are still the most revered attributes, the citizen does not easily make up his own mind. He too generally adopts the opinion that predominates in his group. It is this which has given the intellectual such inordinate influence in Japan. He forms the new élite to which the respect formerly given to hereditary classes is now paid. And the forces which shaped the thinking of intellectuals before and during the war have been carried over into the next generation, partly by simple apostolic succession, partly by fearful suspicion that traditionalism is not yet uprooted in Japan, and partly because independent thought is so little encouraged. All of this is reinforced by the fact that, since the press and publishing are in the hands of "progressives," the young academic, who must write to live, writes for the market that exists.

The intellectuals have developed, or contributed to, a set of premises and a body of beliefs which are widely shared not merely on the left, but well past the center of the political spectrum. Perhaps the most basic, in the field of international affairs, are these:

The first, of course, is that, having tried war, Japan will now try peace. As one foreign diplomat put it, "You'd think the Japanese had invented peace." The new religion is an understandable reaction to the period of militarism and the experience of atomic war, but so emotional has the adherence to pacifism remained that realistic discussion or analysis of the international political environment within which Japan must determine her national interest has so far been considered impossible. (The recent ugly struggle to obtain ratification of the treaty with South Korea was fought primarily on the grounds that it might involve Japan in renewed hostilities in Korea-though no reason could be adduced for believing so.) Between those on the right who would like to see Japan become a nuclear power and those on the left who advocate "disarmed neutrality"-meaning complete withdrawal of the United States and trust to luck-there is a vast body that would like to have its cake and eat it too; that is, have Japan's security guaranteed by the United States but without running even the small risk involved in providing it with the means to assure that protection.

A second assumption of the intellectuals, widely shared through the center of the political spectrum, is that Communist China, unless provoked, represents no threat. They argue that Peking's full attention necessarily is being given to China's appalling domestic problems and that all else is diversionary. China's behavior has little to do with Communism, but is merely consistent with its long-held conviction that it is the center of the universe. The bomb was developed more to gain the world's respect than to threaten China's neighbors. If the United States were less aggressive and conceded China her rightful place in the sun-especially in the United Nations-China would mellow under the next generation of leaders.

This view is reinforced by a sense of both guilt and affinity. The Japanese genuinely regret what they did to China in the thirties and early forties and they feel responsible for the suffering that has occurred there since. This guilt is the more vivid because the Japanese believe they have a racial and cultural intimacy with the Chinese which in fact is as much imagined as real.[i] But in politics, what is believed to be true can be as important as the truth, and the Japanese sense of identification with the Chinese is a fact to be reckoned with. It does not, however, explain why the Japanese feel so much greater sympathy for the Chinese Communists, whom they indirectly helped to power, than for the Nationalist Chinese, whom they helped to destroy.

A third assumption well-nigh universal in Japan is that the Japanese understand the Asian mind, whereas Americans do not. One would have supposed that history had already demolished the first part of this premise; and-given a little time-history may prove that we, too, do not understand the Asian mind. But for the present, we are at least well ahead of the Japanese in our knowledge of Asia. Until very recently, the Japanese were doing no serious research at all in this area; now a small start has been made with American help. Whether or not there is such a thing as an "Asian mind," the concept leads the Japanese into the error of believing that their ideas are in some way representative of Asian thought-perhaps because they know so little about opinion in such countries as Thailand, the Philippines and Taiwan.

A fourth attitude that needs to be understood in dealing with the Japanese is their profound ambivalence toward Americans and all their works. As conquerors of Japan, we remain larger than life in some respects (for example, in our ability to defend Japan without bases), but as Occupiers we were seen with all our flaws; they have the advantage of knowing us better than we know them. Moreover, because our word was once law in Tokyo, the Japanese widely assume it is equally law in Saigon or Seoul, and to only a slightly lesser extent in many other places. With every change of government in South Korea or South Viet Nam, even high Japanese officials have assumed that we were pulling all the strings.

Much of the suspicion of American motives arises out of Japan's own experience as the major power in Asia. The Japanese know now that when they went into Manchuria it was as exploiters, but their leaders told them it was to defend Asians against (Soviet) Communism. Should the Americans, then, be believed? Since the United States can defend itself from its own shores, why is it in Asia if not to dominate and exploit? Such skepticism is, of course, not confined to Japan, but these doubts will be harbored even by the fair-minded so long as the burden of removing them remains entirely upon Americans.[ii]

Another widespread assumption is that Japan is uniquely dependent upon foreign trade. It is an ingrained idea that profoundly affects the outlook of the Japanese on the world, accounting in no small part for their sense of vulnerability and insecurity. One suspects that a good deal of the resentment shown toward the United States arises from their sense of dependence on us for trade and the belief that we use this as a lever to get what we want from them in other areas.

Though no one would question Japan's need for trade and especially for accessibility of raw materials required by its industries, the degree of dependence is exaggerated. Japan's foreign trade, expressed as a percentage of its gross national product, is one of the lowest in the world-not only lower than that of the underdeveloped countries but substantially lower than that of the major industrialized countries of Western Europe as well. This reflection of Japan's success in agriculture and the enormous growth of its domestic market does not mean that trade is not still of vital importance to Japan, but that the dimensions of the problem deserve to be cut down to size.


It is not surprising that two peoples operating in some cases with different facts and almost invariably from different premises about the real world find difficulty in reaching understanding. Superlative American representation in Tokyo has succeeded in restoring the broken dialogue with Japan, but we are not yet talking the same language. We are ships passing in the night and on defense questions the first real contact may mean collision.

There are many in Japan, including most of those in power, who in large measure share our convictions about the need for collective defense in the Western Pacific. But after 14 years of independence little progress has been made in informing the Japanese people about the realities of power and the responsibilities that power imposes-for themselves as well as for us. We are more than halfway from the mob violence of 1960 to the planned violence of 1970, when Japan will have the options of continuing, ending or revising the Security Treaty with the United States. Yet neither the Japanese Government nor any significant leadership group has begun to give the Japanese people the facts or describe available alternatives on which a reasonable interpretation of their national interest could be based. On the contrary, misunderstanding and misstatement of fact continue not merely among Socialists, but in the press and in the highest circles of the conservative government and party.

Let us consider only Okinawa. The Japanese, even the intelligent and well- informed, seem convinced that Okinawa is bristling with long-range nuclear missiles; that the island is a major Polaris submarine base; that only an alert and militant opposition in Japan prevents us from using it regularly as our principal heavy-bomber base in the Pacific.[iii] The facts are that Okinawa has ground-to-air missiles for defense and a limited number of somewhat obsolete air-breathing missiles of 1000-mile range, presumably targeted on the Chinese airfields from which an attack on Okinawa would have to be launched. Okinawa is not a Polaris base and has only minimal capability for servicing either ships or submarines. And finally, though we are anxious to preserve our right to have bombers take off from Okinawa in an emergency, it is not considered desirable as a regular base because it is too far forward.

Okinawa is a massive logistics center, a vast supply dump, a service area and a training ground for combat infantry. The most common ship in its waters is the freighter and the most familiar plane is the unarmed Hercules C-130. The island's greatest importance is precisely that it gives us the capacity to fight less than all-out wars. Yet despite the example of Viet Nam, where without the unencumbered use of Okinawa our operations could not have been launched on their present scale, the impression persists among Japanese that Okinawa is important to us primarily in all-out war. It is not understood that Okinawa is essential to maintaining a credible deterrent based on the strength of our conventional forces. Without this, the danger of the kind of war we all want to avoid would be increased. Therefore the Japanese who is serious about peace must ask himself whether our presence in the Japanese islands is an asset or a liability not merely on the basis of his own interpretation of China's intentions, but in light of the fact that other Asians, who do not share his sanguine view of China, are armed and determined to defend themselves. Peace cannot be assured simply by trying to remove the United States from the equation.

Perhaps, if every non-Communist country in Asia opted for "unarmed neutrality," it would make less difference whether our interpretation of China's intentions was right or wrong. Peking would either make vassals of its neighbors, or it would not, and wars of the Viet Nam variety could be avoided. The only remaining question would be whether the Big War would ensue.


Actually, it is quite clear that a majority of Japanese do not want to rely totally on the benevolence of the Communist Chinese, if only because an undefended Japan, with its enormous industrial capacity, would be too sore a temptation for any country with the problems and failures that China is encountering. What most Japanese vaguely want is the best of all possible worlds: their national security assured and paid for by others with minimum risk to themselves and without what they feel to be the humiliating presence of foreign defenders.

The last condition is, of course, inconsistent with the others, which have largely been fulfilled over a period of 14 years of independence. But it is an unhealthy situation and many Japanese are beginning to realize that changes will have to be made. Either the Japanese will have to provide entirely for their own defense as the price of getting us out of their islands or they will have to enter into a genuine partnership for mutual defense in which costs, risks and responsibilities are shared on a rational basis.

But before either of these alternatives can be seriously considered by the Japanese themselves, their Government will have to conduct a major campaign of education. It will have to screw up its courage and take the offensive away from the leftists and pacifists. Men of influence, who know that the present situation cannot continue, will have to make themselves heard and this may mean exerting such pressures as may be necessary to ensure that the press, without compromise of whatever editorial position it may wish to take, at least gives all sides a hearing and does not withhold and distort the facts. Finally, the constant refrain that this or that is "politically impossible" and "the time is not ripe" will have to be abandoned; for the time is indeed ripe-and overdue.

The reasons for this are many, but perhaps the most dangerous situation is in Okinawa-a problem which the Japanese Government has done little to alleviate and much to exacerbate. The United States has repeatedly conceded that residual sovereignty in the Ryukyu Islands rests with Japan. The question is when a transfer will be possible. By and large, the Japanese Socialists want "reversion," with the United States out now, while the Liberal Democrats want reversion with the United States remaining to operate the bases. But this distinction is not always clear, and in supporting reversion, the Government has done nothing to create the conditions which would make it possible for us to operate the bases while Japan maintained political and administrative control. This arrangement would merely cause difficult political pressures to become intolerable-as is demonstrated by the present interference with our use of the bases in Japan proper. Agreements circumscribe their use, which is further limited when periodic public outcries are given in to. In the present climate of Japanese opinion, the Government would be forced to interfere in our use of the bases whether or not it thought it wise to do so. Privately, many officials and politicians admit this, but pass the responsibility to us for failure to meet the "reasonable" demands of Okinawans and Japanese.

Many concessions have been made to the Okinawans, though it must be admitted they are not of great substance. They cannot be, consistent with American security and unobstructed use of the bases. But our military régime on Okinawa seems fully alive to the sensitivities of the people whose rights it is limiting. Self-government is extensive and in recent years dozens of imposed regulations have been lifted. Although the war in Viet Nam is pushing our military to the limit, an almost equal effort is put into maintaining warm relations with the inhabitants. No one supposes that good works are a substitute for full democracy and self-determination. Americans are instinctively and rightly uncomfortable in the relationship, but the impression spread in Japan that the position of the Okinawans is "heart-rending" and that they would enjoy greater economic benefits under the Japanese than they do under the Americans is neither fair nor accurate. For centuries the Japanese ignored and looked down on the Ryukyuan people, who lived in the most abject poverty. Today the per capita income of the Okinawans is only a few dollars per year below that in Japan and their economy is growing faster. For the past six years, annual growth in G.N.P. has been over 13 percent. Moreover, we are now encouraging Japan to increase its cultural and economic relations with Okinawa virtually without restraint.

For us to pull out of Okinawa would, of course, be an economic disaster for the Ryukyuans. They have just demonstrated their understanding of this fact by returning to power, with an enlarged majority, the most reasonable and flexible of Okinawa's four political parties. The difficulty is that they have been led to believe that there is no reason why they should not enjoy present levels of American aid and spending with the advantages of reversion to Japan as well. But the only circumstance that would make this possible would be if Japan showed a willingness to share the responsibility for her own security.


"The basis of my foreign policy," Prime Minister Sato told the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan last October, "is to ensure the security of Japan and to defend the peace and freedom of Asia." When the Prime Minister was in New York in January 1965 he said:

Now that we are indeed a world power, we must assume the responsibilities that accompany this role. . . . we are as concerned as you are-possibly more so-about Communist China's aggressive tendencies. . . . Thus, we understand and agree with your policy of preventing Communist China's military expansion into neighboring areas. . . . The United States deserves the highest respect for its unceasing efforts to maintain peace and stability in this part of the world. Although Japan is constitutionally barred from providing military assistance to these efforts, we will continue to exercise all the other means we can to help promote economic growth and political stability in the area.

These are consoling words for an American audience, but they are hardly being given substance by the present Japanese Government. No doubt Mr. Sato means every word he says, but whether he speaks here for his countrymen is very doubtful. Although the Government often complains, with justice, that it is handicapped by a hostile press, these particular words of the Prime Minister were well reported in Japan. But there was, and is, no follow-up at home.

What is required is not an assault on Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which forbids armaments except for local self-defense. What the circumstances do require is that the Government drop its defensive attitude and explain to its people that Japan cannot find a role in the world without assuming some sacrifices, some risks, some responsibilities. The question to be decided is which ones and for what purposes. An acute Japanese observer, when asked what was Japan's national purpose, replied, "Making money; we are where the United States was early in this century." The difficulty is that the world of today is in another time and condition which does not permit total disengagement. Some commitment is required, as the Japanese leftists recognize. Their prime commitment is to end the Security Treaty with the United States, and they are even now calculating that they will ride to power on this issue.

The Socialists demand government not by majority but by consensus, and they go about building one with fervor and a nice disregard for the traditional mores of Japanese society which made rule by consensus desirable in the first place. Meanwhile, the conservatives-partly because they cannot themselves agree what they want-are playing the game by other rules. They do not take their case to the people, but try to appease the Socialist leaders. When Mr. Sato opened the recent Diet debate on the Korean Treaty, his greatest effort went into reconciling various points of view, and this meant avoiding any effort to build a popular consensus which might then have brought pressure on the Diet members. If this were truly the "Japanese way of doing things," no one could complain. But the Socialists are fighting with Marxist and very un-Japanese techniques which are no respecters of Oriental courtesy.

The Japanese predilection for consensus is central to the disagreements and misunderstandings we have with them. Of course all governments like to operate with maximum support. But by consensus, the Japanese mean something rather different; they mean a synthesis of diverse views. This is not easily achieved, especially as their modes of thought do not encourage rigorous analysis of problems. Whereas our usual procedure is to define possible alternatives and then discuss which one to pursue, the Japanese are inclined to debate in vacuo, as it were, without reference to specifics. The "sense of a meeting" becomes the lowest common denominator- or what is least unacceptable to the greatest number. Also, the Japanese find intellectual satisfaction in stating and adhering to a goal without concern as to how it may be reached. Thus Mr. Sato can state that his purpose is "to defend the peace and freedom of Asia" without having to answer the embarrassing question of how he proposes to do it.

It is said that the Prime Minister is taking a "low posture" toward the leftists because of the experience of his two predecessors. Mr. Kishi, who was considered to have taken a "high posture," is held to have been unsuccessful, while Mr. Ikeda, who avoided political confrontations and concentrated on building the economy, is believed to have had a notably successful administration. "When the time is ripe," it is said, Mr. Sato will take the offensive.

In fairness to Mr. Sato, it must be said that some of his colleagues felt that the time was not ripe to push through the Korean Treaty ratification, and he did it. Making peace with one's nearest small neighbor, however, was hardly an unpopular cause and, apart from some technicalities, opposition to it put the Socialists on shaky ground. Other opportunities to put the Opposition on the defensive-such as the occasion of China's two atomic tests-have been wasted and their impact almost wholly lost.

Without a willingness to take strong initiatives, the governing coalition seems likely to be slowly whittled away. An alternative danger is that a counter-reaction will set in and that a people frustrated by their sense of impotence may swing behind those who would like to see Japan become a major nuclear power. At the very least, relations with the United States will worsen, unless Japan can find a mean on the basis of which our two countries can coöperate with mutual respect. The fact that we are footing the defense bill of one of the world's well-to-do nations can no longer be a "forbidden subject" in Japan. The philosophy of "don't rock the boat" will have to give way to the realization that the Opposition is rocking it as hard as it can. The notion that the presence in Japan of 35,000 American military personnel is somehow humiliating should be tested against the experience of such powers as Britain and Germany which have accepted the necessity for partnership with realism, if not always with joy. And hopefully, Japan's disinterested majority can then be given some sense of purpose and commitment not inconsistent with our own.

When these things have been done, most of our differences, including those over Okinawa, can be settled on terms of mutual confidence. The United States may then be able to demonstrate that greater "flexibility" which the Japanese repeatedly ask for. What is required is strong leadership by those in and out of government who realize that pacifism is no more an answer for Japan than militarism, that coöperation with the United States need not be either demeaning or dangerous, and that an independent role for Japan in Asia is not inconsistent with mutual security.

[i] Because they adopted Chinese characters 1200 years ago, Japanese tend to believe their language is derived from the Chinese. Actually, the two languages have wholly different roots and are about as different from one another as each is from, say, English. Also, the essence of Chinese culture was expressed in poetry and philosophy, both almost unknown in traditional Japan where the heroic narrative was the preferred literary genre.

[ii] This article makes no attempt to appraise direct Communist influence in Japan, though it has no doubt helped to shape ideas which are now widespread and respectable there. Occasionally the Communist hand can be seen conspicuously, as in recent student demonstrations against India-so revered by Japanese neutralists and progressives until it came into conflict with China. Communists and their most direct followers amount to about 10 percent of the electorate.

[iii] These canards are stated or implied in the most recent presentation (April 1965) by the Chairman of the Liberal-Democratic Party's Special Committee on Okinawa.

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