Japan, US Play Down Pearl Harbor

Officials on both sides of the Pacific are concerned that emotional media coverage will spur anti-Japan feeling

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

MORE than three years ago, Japanese reporters in Washington began to throw the same question to Glenn Fukushima, then a United States trade official, about the 50th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor."Almost every one of them asked me: 'Mr. Fukushima, what nasty things will America do against Japan? he said, "Almost as if [they wanted] to invite unusual criticism of Japan." Other officials in both the US and Japan also received early warnings that print and broadcast media were preparing to make the most, or the worst, of this week's remembrance of a date that was to "live in infamy." "Our reporters expected the worst in Japan-bashing," says a Japanese Foreign Ministry official. "We tried to advise them to look at what American officials are saying, not what Americans or the media are saying." Leaders in both countries, worried about a growing anti-Japanese sentiment in the US, have tried - through subtle coaching - to exercise "spin control" over reporters to influence articles and broadcasts leading up to the Pearl Harbor commemoration. The most common advice for reporters has been to focus on Japan's postwar record of being a peaceful and prosperous nation, as well its military alliance with the US. But the anniversary coverage so far has ranged the spectrum of criticism, from historical blame to present "bashing" of economic differences, and has been mostly negative, US and Japanese officials admit. "It's not necessarily a bad idea to play 'spin doctor' so that we don't dwell on the negatives of Pearl Harbor," says Robert Orr, Jr., director of the Kyoto Center for Japanese Studies. "Are we going to dwell on a tragedy forever?" Private groups, too, have tried to either steer clear of adverse publicity or influence it. In the US, the Japanese-American Citizens League has warned media not to use the semicentennial to "create negative emotional messages" that might evoke racism. And many Japanese corporations have canceled or postponed their advertisements in US media when told in advance that Pearl Harbor was a topic. About two-thirds of Japanese and Americans were born after the attack, so the media plays a major role in shaping impressions of Pearl Harbor and its aftermath. "The mass media in Japan and the US have used and are still using the other country for political purposes," says Kazuo Ogura, head of cultural affairs for the Japanese Foreign Ministry. A favorite angle for Western journalists is how the Japanese have not been taught much about their nation's wartime past, and how Japan highlights the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima instead of the Japanese aggression against Pearl Harbor. The Japanese media report that the US government allegedly goaded Japan to war and knew the attack was coming. "Such articles just feed on a Japanese syndrome to paint themselves as victims," says Dr. Orr. But interpretations of the Pacific war are still difficult, says Ian Nish, professor emeritus of the University of London. Many nations have not opened their archives from that period. "We are still remarkably ignorant on many issues," he says. Another war scholar, Wang Xi of Shanghai's Fudan University, says it is dangerous when former enemies have such different views of history. As media attention has intensified, however, some Japanese leaders have decided to drop a strategy of lying low. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party was moving this week to pass a parliamentary resolution noting the anniversary and Japan's commitment to peace. And Foreign Minister Michio Watanabe accepted an old request of the Washington Post this week for an interview in which he volunteered "deep regret over the terrible suffering" Japan inflicted on the US. Increasingly, Japanese officials, including the emperor, are expressing regret about the nation's past militarism, especially to Asian nations, in a new "diplomacy of contrition." To help Japan from feeling isolated in the media barrage over Pearl Harbor, US officials arranged for President Bush to visit Tokyo a week before the anniversary. In both Tokyo and Washington, Mr. Bush was seen as having high credibility as a moderating force because of his wartime experience in being shot down by the Japanese over the Pacific. After his trip was postponed because of political woes at home, Bush delivered a speech in New York warning against a revival of old animosities between the US and Japan. "Japan-bashing has become a minor sport in the United States, and some in Japan have become equally scornful of the United States," Bush said. And his defense secretary, Dick Cheney, visited Tokyo in late November and told reporters to use the anniversary to look at the future of US-Japan ties. "It would be a disservice for the United States - for those of us who were on opposite sides of that conflict - to now want to go back and automatically assume that the future will again contain the same kinds of problems and confrontations that characterized international relations 50 years ago," he said. Meanwhile, the US ambassador to Japan, Michael Armacost, has tried to reassure many jittery Japanese. In a speech to top Japanese business leaders, who worry that anti-Japanese feelings will translate into consumer boycotts of their products, the US ambassador said that Bush "will have a large voice in shaping America's recollection of past events." Bush does plan to speak at the Dec. 7 ceremonies in Pearl Harbor, and has already issued a proclamation which declares Japan "second to none as our ally and friend." But no top Japanese official has been invited to the event, an indication of the raw emotions that linger from an attack 50 years ago that killed 2,403 Americans. "We may have been forgiven," says Kenichi Goto, a history professor at Waseda University in Tokyo, "but we certainly have not been forgotten." Congressman Stephen Solarz (D) of New York, the Asian specialist in Congress, told Japanese reporters on a visit to Tokyo: "Given the tensions that exist between our two countries, I cannot dismiss the possibility that the 50th anniversary will make them worse." Most Japanese television networks as well as CNN plan heavy coverage of the anniversary event. And in an unusual move, ABC News and Japan's NHK network co-produced a documentary on Pearl Harbor. "I wonder why this is becoming a big media event," says Richard Armitage, a former US defense official. The main reason, he says, is that the Bush White House has paid little attention to Asia and Japan. "We've been floundering in our relationship, so people pick on [the Pearl Harbor anniversary] and try to make something of it. That's why it's in our newspapers. "It's like Gresham's law, where bad money drives out good in the marketplace, except it is a perversion of Gresham's law where bad ideas drive out no ideas," Mr. Armitage says. But media coverage of the anniversary is useful to find out what different lessons Japan and the US have drawn from the war, says James Morley, a former Columbia University professor and a war veteran. Either the lessons will be forgotten, he adds, or the two nations can work together and say, 'maybe the experience was worth it'."

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