MATSUSHITA has agreed to sell the Yosemite Park...


January 12, 1991|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

MATSUSHITA has agreed to sell the Yosemite Park concessionaire to the National Park Foundation for $49.5 million.

That's a good deal. When the Japanese firm bought the U.S. company that owns the concession, it valued it at about $200 million.

Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr. negotiated the lower price. He made a big point out of the inappropriateness of a foreign firm's running the facilities in a national treasure like Yosemite.

In so doing he drew some sharp criticism. "Sounds suspiciously like Japan-bashing," said the Los Angeles Times. "Flirting with racism," said the New York Times. "Scarcely veiled appeal to prejudice," said the Washington Post.

I don't get it. Has it become impossible to take race, ethnicity or nationality into consideration in any situation ever without being accused of being a bigot? It seems that way sometimes.

For Americans to object to having something they regard as a major cultural, historical or recreational asset owned or operated by a foreign company seems to me just normal, natural national pride.

People feel strongly about assets that are part of their identity. As Rep. Helen Delich Bentley put it in a letter to Secretary Lujan, the Yosemite deal "hit a raw nerve with the people about the preservation and control of American culture."

Memories of World War II, rather than race, play a part in this. Forty-nine years after Pearl Harbor, many Americans of Secretary Lujan's generation (he's 62) have unforgettable resentments about Japanese acts of those days. It is possible to like and admire the Japanese today and still feel, because of the war, that it is inappropriate for them to own certain American properties. Now that may be illogical. It may be unfair. But it is not racism.

(A Japanese group may buy the New York Yankees. That's okay with me. But I draw the line at the Babe Ruth Museum.)

War leaves long, strong memories. A friend of mine who was at Guadalcanal during the war revisited it not long ago.

He came back both sad and a little resentful at how shabby the American memorial there was -- especially compared to the impressive Japanese memorial nearby. It would never occur to me to consider that rooted in any sort of racism.

We shouldn't mistake pride or soldiers' memories for something ugly. Forty-five years after the War of 1812, many Americans would have been unhappy to have the concessions at Fort McHenry run by a company based in London.

We wouldn't like it today, for that matter. That's no version of bigotry, and hardly racism. It's not even nationalism, really. Forty-five years after Appomattox ex-Unionists and ex-Confederates, Americans all, resented each other's successes in their backyards.

There is a happy ending to the Guadalcanal memorial story. I'll report on that next Saturday.

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