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Home > Special Topics > Activity Report Last Updated: 15:09 03/09/2007
Activity Report #7: August 14, 2002

Workshop on Public Memory: Session I

(This report on the US-Japan Joint Meeting in Hawaii, March 24-26, 2001, is posted with the permission of the workshop organizer)


The Impact of Historical Perceptions on US-Japan Relations in the New Century

Program:

Introduction by Chihiro Hosoya (Professor Emeritus, International University of Japan)

Session I: Historical Facts and Public Memory: Pearl Harbor, Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb in Hiroshima

  • Chaired by Osamu Ishii (Professor, Meiji Gakuin University)
  • Papers by Waldo Heinrichs (Former Professor, Temple University) and Emily Rosenberg (Professor, George Washington University)

  • Session I Afternoon of March 24

    Professor Hosoya explained the conference's descent from the 1969 conference on the Pacific War and the ultimate project goal of the creation of a book titled Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima as Memory. He distinguished history from memory, stating that history is a matter of the past while memory creates and affects present policy. He also stated that memory has an ambivalent role for policymakers since it can either restrain policy or help push it along. In terms of WWII, Pearl Harbor is more of an American memory while Hiroshima lives with the Japanese. He observed that memory is important for U.S.-Japan relations but is easily manipulated with the mass media.

    Professor Iguchi, Rosenberg, Yang, and Ninkovich discussed the Pearl Harbor memorial and U.S. memories of the war. There was general agreement that the monument tried to commemorate the dead, not inflame national hatred, and that the bookstore had an unusual selection that reflected U.S. debates about Pearl Harbor. The relative importance of the European and Pacific wars for the U.S., given the greater resources in Europe and the attacks on U.S. territory in the Pacific, was also discussed.

    Professor Heinrichs summarized his paper about the Enola Gay exhibit controversy and made some comments on its topic. He explained that his paper would look at how the Enola Gay controversy grew from the Smithsonian to the Air Force Association to the media to American veterans in general. The substantial literature by participants in the controversy as well as veterans' comments in letters to the editor should be helpful. So far, it seems that veterans were upset about the exhibit's portrayal of the context of the bombing, not the Japan of today. During the general group discussion, participants mentioned possible areas of interest in the Enola Gay controversy, such as the threat posed by the Internet and the passing of the WWII generation to traditional U.S. memories; the role of Vietnam veterans, the American Legion's need for publicity, its decline in numbers, and the effect this has had on patriotism and U.S. foreign policy (mirrors the Grand Army of the Republic); the Dole '96 campaign; and contemporary military controversies on weapons systems, women and gays in the military, and the military standard of living. Professor Iriye stressed that the original Enola Gay's exhibit's emphasis on Japan's cultural uniqueness sounded like it came out of the Japanese right-wing and that he had told the curators to change it. Professor Iguchi mentioned how the Japanese right-wing loves right-wing Republican views on Pearl Harbor.

    Professor Rosenberg summarized her paper on memories of Pearl Harbor and made some comments on it. She assigns a key role to the media in shaping public memory. The media serves a gatekeeper for memory because memories are only publicly or politically significant if the media brings them up. She believes that this is especially true of Pearl Harbor, which has become sensationalized. Pearl Harbor has been significant in contests over general U.S. foreign policy and military structure, domestic partisan politics, and bilateral U.S.-Japan relations. Discussion of Pearl Harbor is unlikely to disappear in the immediate future and tends to mirror the different controversies the event is tied into. Professor Yang suggested that Professor Rosenberg look at polls over the years on U.S. views of Japan, the role of talk radio, and Sheila Johnson's book. Professor Gallicchus, Rosenberg and Ma discussed the fragmentation of the U.S. media and society and whether the different groups actually engage in a debate on Pearl Harbor or just shout past each other. Professor Heinrichs suggested looking at the role of U.S. feelings of revenge or injustice during and after the war in invasion preparations, reparations, and personal memory. Professor Hosoya commented that revisionist conspiracy arguments such as the one espoused by Stennit are very popular in Japanese pop culture. Professor Iriye mentioned that a right-wing book company is publishing Stennit's book in Japan and Professors Iguchi and Ishii discussed the right-wing's support fo the U.S.-Japan alliance, which may be declining. Professor Yang and Ishii talked about Jiantg Zemin's visit to the U.S. Professor Yang also mentioned that the U.S.S. Missouri's presence in Pearl Harbor might be of interest since it seems to provide a symbol of the end of the war besides Hiroshima. Several participants discussed the role of globalization and memory and how the focus on historical memory could reflect a backlash or global trend.

    Professor Takita summarized and discussed his paper on memories of Vietnam. He thought that the surge of interest in memory topic needed explaining and that the end of the Cold War might be relevant. He stressed that his paper was imperfect and needed further research and work and that he would welcome suggestions. Professor Ninkovich mentioned that the Vietnam war was not entirely bad for the U.S. due to a resurgence in interest in the military, multilateral foreign policy, and the Cold War. Professor Gallicchus mentioned that the American Civil War did not lead to total national unity and that memories of Vietnam stress different things, such as veterans' experiences, Communist Vietnam, and boat people, which downplay the drawbacks of the war or justify it. He suggested looking at the American media's coverage of the 25th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, which seemed to look at Vietnam the same way as WWII. Benedict Anderson's Imagined Community might be a useful book in terms of national identity. Professor Hosoya worried that Americans would remember Japanese as war profiteers since Japan did not offer direct assistance. Professor Iguchi suggested looking at South Korean and Okinawan views of the war and questioned whether or not working class Americans made up an unusual number of soldiers in the Vietnam war. Professor Ishii commented that U.S. war aims did reflect liberal democracy in terms of national building.

    During the general discussion several participants examined why there was interest in historical memory, particularly World War II. Professor Heinrichs ascribed the interest in WWII to the passing of the WWII generation in the U.S. Compared to WWI, WWII is seen in a more favorable light, and there were many more WWII veterans. Professor Ninkovich suggested that it might be due to a lack of major, immediate problems or that it might be tied to contemporary political disputes. Professor Gallicchus observed that books like Brokaw's The Greatest Generation reflected media savvy and the recongnition that older Americans represented a huge nostalgia market. Professor Rosenberg agreed about the need of the WWII generation to memorialize itself and suggested looking at a book by Jay Winters. She also stated that victim status has become valuable, so the focus on past suffering could be turned into current political capital, as with the Holocaust.

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