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Home > Media Reiews > Weekly Review Last Updated: 14:57 03/09/2007
Weekly Review #14: September 17, 2001

The Folly of Revenge

John de Boer (University of Tokyo)

No one can justify the horrendous acts of terror that killed thousands of people in the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Yet as the United States prepares for war the rest of the world, although initially supportive without conditions of US retaliation, is starting to fear what will happen in return. America has been unambiguous as to how it interprets these devastating attacks, "as an act of war." It has been even more explicit in comparing this attack to Pearl Harbor, reminding many Japanese of the absolute destruction and horror that US wrath and anger is capable of unleashing.

Francis Fukuyama, a Japanese-American whose father and grandfather had been rounded up by order of President Roosevelt and put into concentration camps after Pearl Harbor, warned of what is to come. "The US didn't seek to put Tojo on trial, or establish the guilt of the carrier pilots who carried out the attack," US revenge "cannot be accomplished with pinprick cruise missile strikes." William Raspberry of the Washington Post further elaborated on this saying, "our (US) response to Pearl Harbor was proportional. Our response to this terrorism cannot be… we want blood." What could possibly be worse than the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

The Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi was quick to voice Japan's support for US retaliation as he joined other Western leaders in declaring that this was an attack against freedom and democracy. However, others in Japan have begun to question whether this attack can be explained in those terms. They are not content to assume that these dastardly deeds were born simply of envy and jealously and represented an attempt to stamp out the "brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world," as President Bush claimed they were. Many have begun to ask more critical questions about US foreign and military policy. "Why were Palestinians celebrating in the streets of Jerusalem and in the putrid Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon on Tuesday? Why were people in Tehran dancing? Why did Chile have to go through 17 years of terrible oppression under General Augusto Pinochet after the US instigated the coup that led to the death of the democratically elected president, Salvador Allende, in a country that had a history of 100 years of democracy? Why did they oust Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala? Why did they spend billions of dollars decimating the countryside of Nicaragua? Why were they bombing Cambodia? How long did they support apartheid in South Africa and keep oppressive regimes in office?" The answers to these questions are far more complex than the "good versus evil" explanation that the US government has sought to present. Unilateralism, ethnocentrism, lack of impartiality and stubborn pursuit of self-interest has characterized the US approach towards the rest of the world. This has been most evident in the US role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is unfortunate if the blood-drenched history of the conflict in the Middle East has failed to teach US decision-makers that indiscriminant military retaliation only invites more reprisals.

Several, Japanese journalists have pointed out the danger of Japan's unconditional support for such a US military reprisal. They have criticized Prime Minister Koizumi for his unquestioning commitment to the US. Asahi Shimbun's editorial of September 15 stated that, "it was very rash and indiscreet of him to endorse US reprisals before knowing exactly what Washington intends to do. If Japan in any way gets involved in US military strikes against Islamic forces, its security principles could collapse from their foundations, Japan will probably find itself in unintended antagonism with the global Muslim community." Shunji Taoka warned that this could transform Japan into a battle zone.

As an alternative, Japanese newspapers have insisted that Japan should act to deter the US from engaging in war. Another Asahi Shimbun editorial entitled International Terrorism calls for an International Response claimed that, "rushing headlong on the path to war will not have much effect in eliminating international terrorist acts like this." Stressing that violence only breeds more terrorism. Their advice to Koizumi is, "not to allow Japan to be driven into reckless support of US military actions by its sense of obligation to do something to help its most important ally. The unenviable task of Japan as a friend is to try to make the US realize the folly of revenge."

While justice must be brought upon the perpetrators of this horrendous crime, any response resembling what was witnessed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki over 50 years ago, will only give birth to more destruction, anguish and terror.


  • C. Alton Robertson, "What does revenge accomplish?" Los Angeles Times, September 15, 2001
  • Editorial, "Japan should not recklessly support U.S. military reprisals," Asahi Shimbun, September 15, 2001
  • Editorial, "International terrorism calls for international response," Asahi Shimbun, September 15, 2001
  • William Raspberry, "Worse To Come" Washington Post, Saturday, September 15, 2001
  • Shunji Taoka, "Are we seeing the start of a new style of warfare?" Asahi Shimbun, September 14, 2001

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