For Japan, U.S., lesson unlearned is peace at peril


August 30, 1991|By ROGER SIMON

Some would say there is no point in throwing a party unless you can get the pleasure of not inviting a few people to it.

This December, the United States is going to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. And we are not inviting the Japanese.

At first blush, this sounds logical. The Japanese launched the attack, after all.

But Japanese representatives have attended previous anniversary ceremonies at Pearl Harbor. The Japanese are major owners of land and businesses in Hawaii. And it is rare to go out to the Arizona Memorial, honoring the Pearl Harbor dead, and not see Japanese tourists there.

The Japanese are not being snubbed now because we wish to insult them, however. Our government has decided not to invite the Japanese in order to save them embarrassment.

Our government is worried about demonstrations and ugliness and the stirring up of bad memories.

The Japanese have enough of their own bad memories that get && stirred up now and again. This Monday marks the 46th anniversary of the Japanese surrender aboard the battleship Missouri that ended World War II.

The Missouri, which lobbed shells into Kuwait during the Persian Gulf war, was due to be mothballed in September. But now it will be kept in service into December so that it can sail to Pearl LTC Harbor to take part in the ceremonies.

The Pentagon was unable to tell me Thursday exactly what role the Missouri will play, but it will definitely have a role.

You might think, as I thought, that the Missouri was at Pearl Harbor during the attack and that that is why it will return there for the anniversary.

In fact, however, the Missouri was not commissioned until June 11, 1944.

So why is it going to Pearl Harbor in December? It is going in order to serve as a potent symbol. Its presence will say: Even though we got our butts kicked at Pearl, we won the war. Even though our planes were blown up and our ships were sunk and our civilians were killed in December 1941, we made the Japanese come on board the Missouri and eat dirt by signing an unconditional surrender in September 1945.

This message is for domestic consumption only, however. The government of the United States has taken the official position that it has no desire to embarrass the government of Japan by flinging Pearl Harbor in its face.

We decided, therefore, not to invite any foreign governments to the ceremonies at Pearl Harbor in order to disguise the fact that the Japanese were not being invited.

According to the State Department, no foreign dignitaries will be invited, because "these events mark a solemn national occasion."

And they do. From our point of view, the attack on Pearl Harbor was unprovoked (the Japanese strongly disagree with this), it was a sneak attack (not purposefully so, the Japanese say), and it justified the eventual bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Many Japanese, however, would say nothing justified a nuclear attack on their nation. Some 2,300 people died at Pearl Harbor, while 140,000 died at Hiroshima and 39,000 died at Nagasaki.

But that is the terrible arithmetic of war. Japan kills 2,300 Americans to begin the war, and we kill nearly 180,000 Japanese to end it. That is what happens in war: The violence escalates until it takes on a life and logic of its own.

In Japan, schoolchildren learn all about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A minute of silence is observed in each city on the anniversary of the bombings (Aug. 6 and Aug. 9, respectively), but it is also televised live throughout the nation, and people take it very seriously.

There is virtually nobody in Japan who does not know all about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In 1986, then-Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone declared the bombings "inhuman acts" and war crimes.

Pearl Harbor? Well, Pearl Harbor is not taught in Japanese

schools, though children are taught that the U.S. embargo on Japan in 1940 made it necessary for Japan to fight for its national existence.

The Bataan Death March is not taught either, nor is the Rape of Nanking. (Nanking was China's prewar capital and the place where, historians say, Japanese soldiers raped 20,000 women and killed 100,000 civilians.)

The official reason these events do not appear in Japanese school books was provided by a representative of the Japanese Ministry of Education in 1989, who said: "We don't want to be too negative. The Japanese flag should not be associated with bad things."

The Japanese are very willing, however, to associate themselves with being the victims of what they consider an inhuman nuclear attack.

A new movie by famed Japanese director Akiro Kurosawa called "Rhapsody in August" and due to be released in the United States in December features Richard Gere asking a Japanese woman for forgiveness for the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. "It is bad. We were wrong," he says.

No mention is made in the movie of Pearl Harbor nor of any Japanese responsibility for World War II.

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