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Home > Special Topics > Activity Report Last Updated: 15:09 03/09/2007
Activity Report #8: August 21, 2002

Workshop on Public Memory: Session II

(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:

Session II: Public Memory of WWII and US-Japan Relations in the Cold War Period

  • Chaired by Akira Iriye (Harvard University)
  • Papers by Osamu Ishii (Meiji Gakuin University), Takuya Sasaki (Rikkyo University), Heigo Sato (Research Institute of Defense Studies) and Kenji Takita (Chuo University)

  • Session II Morning of March 25

    Professor Ishii summarized his article on links between U.S. memories of WWII and Japan-bashing in the 1980s. He remarked that his article tied into Professor Rosenberg's argument on the role of memory, not Professor Ninkovich's on its relative unimportance. He does not believe that the US has transcended WWII, but agreed that U.S. leniency was a good topic. However, he thought it should be examined elsewhere. During the general discussion several professors suggested factors that may have affected U.S. attitudes towards Japan during the 1980s. Professor Ninkovich emphasized that disputes over trade were the fundamental cause of Japan bashing and WWII and race simply provided images and symbols of discussion. Professor Gallichio commented that these images were used because post-war American images of Japan have been shallow so they were easily overwhelmed by WWII images. Professor Iriye and Gallicchus observed that U.S.-Japan trade continued to grow and that there was no U.S. boycott of Japanese products despite rises in Japan bashing. Professor Rosenberg stated that the images used in discourse are relevant and can affect policy, but that many discursive ideas can be influential at once. Professor Iriye also pointed out that part of the US hostility towards Japanese trading practices during the1980s may have derived from ideological differences over protectionism vs. free trade. Professor Heinrichs commented that Japan bashing may have been part of a anti-globalization backlash in the United States in which Japan became a scapegoat. He wondered about if the comments made by Japanese politicians that angered the US were really accidents as claimed or if they were efforts to play to Japanese nationalism. Professor Ishii responded that these comments were made to constituents and younger politicians and were not meant for global distribution. Professor Iguchi asked if the idea that the decline in free trade led to fascism and militarism could have led to Japan bashing. Professor Ishii commented that reduced US concerns over the Cold War and the need to keep Japan as an ally could have played a role as well.

    Professor Sasaki summarized his paper on the effects of WWII and Pearl Harbor on Cold War U.S. and Japan foreign policy and made some general comments on it. After a few questions from Professor Iriye and Iguchi, Professor Sasaki said he would check on whether the Japanese embassy in Washington D.C. burned documents or was instructed to do so at the beginning of WWII. He said that he hoped to expand his article to cover post-Cold War events. During the general discussion of Professor Sasaki's article, Professor Iriye pointed out that the Cold War needs to be defined and that some have dated the origins of the Cold War to 1931, 1941, and 1945. Professor Sasaki responded that he thinks it definitely started before 1949 and that he defines it as the struggle between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. Professor Gallicchus pointed out that Japanese claims to understand Asia better than the U.S. because of pre-1945 experience indicated the continuity between pre-war and post-war Japan. Professors Rosenberg, Sasaki, Iriye, and Gallicchus discussed the racial aspects of the war, particularly Japan's failure to deal with racism, the use of race as a justification for the war, the argument in John Lie's Multiethnic Japan that Japan had become self-consciously monoethnic after the war, and the idea that there had been a silent agreement by both sides during the occupation to drop racist issues. Professors Ishii, Ma, Yang, and Iriye discussed Japanese claims to understand Asia better than the US in light of Yoshida's policy towards the P.R.C. and U.S.S.R. bitter memories in East Asia about Japanese occupation, Japanese warnings against the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, possibly better understanding of China by U.S. in the 1930s, and the possibility that Japan may have decided that economic efforts to affect China would work better than military conquest. Professor Iriye also said that the U.S.-Japan conflict over China could reflect U.S. Wilsonianism vs. Japanese anti-Wilsonianism. Professor Yang commented that American Cold War views of the occupation of Manchuria could be conflicted since some saw it as the Munich of Asia while others argued that the Pacific War could have been avoided if the US had compromised with Japan over China.

    Professor Sato summarized his article on the idea that Japan is a free-rider in its alliance with the United States and made a few comments. Professors Iriye and Hosoya said that the article needed to focus more on memory while Professor Rosenberg argued that it did have a strong historical component. Professor Hosoya also observed that the free rider characterization may have been fed by the contrast between America's rising trade deficit with Japan and America's involvement in Vietnam without Japanese assistance. Professors Ishii, Hosoya, Ninkovich, and Oshiba discussed whether free riding complaints could be dated back to Nixon and Dulles during the 1950s, whether free riding discussions should be seen as being over cooperation instead of conflict, the role of the Korean and Vietnam wars in exacerbating friction, and whether Japan sought to link increases in support with increases in power.

    Professor Ninkovich also summarized his article on the effects of memory on decision-making and made a few comments. He noted that postwar US policy towards Japan was a compromise between structuralist and Wilsonian approaches. Progressive views were influential, but have been relegated to academics since then. He also argued that the rise in interest in memory reflected the influence of post-modernism and that the passion engendered by debates over historical events reflected the low stakes involved. The possibility of the application of post-modernism to policy making frightened Professor Ninkovich because he was concerned it would undermine historical understanding which was needed for effective policy making. During the discussion, Professor Ninkovich agreed that elite-public interactions were important and that the language used was important, but stressed that the language reflected issues of concern more than shaping them. He explained that historical understanding was part of one's identity or assumptions about the world. Differing historical understandings could cause misunderstandings and frequently caused consternation in the U.S. Professor Yang pointed out that public sentiment limited elite options. Professor Ninkovich agreed but argued that elites would limit their options based on historical understanding anyway.

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