Pearl Harbor the Beautiful

ERNEST B. FURGURSON

December 01, 1991|By ERNEST B. FURGURSON

Washington. -- In the hectic year of 1974, when Ted Agnew was out but Dick Nixon was still in, the venerable Gridiron Club of Washington satirized the domestic climate of the time with words sung to the tune of "America the Beautiful":

Oh beautiful for Tel & Tel,

Du Pont and Sperry Rand,

For U.S. Steel and Honeywell

And Continental Can;

American Cyanamid,

Three-M and A&P

And Standard Brands and Ho-Jo stands

From sea to shining sea!

The kicker paid tribute to the man of the hour, whom everyone suspected would be president soon:

Americard and Diner's Club,

Sears and Montgomery Ward,

And Pontiac and Cadillac

And good old Jerry Ford!

The song was so well received that Gridiron show producers revived it during the Ford and later administrations, largely unchanged -- until in the fading months of the Reagan presidency, another approach seemed more appropriate:

Oh beautiful for Subaru,

And Datsun, now Nissan.

For Mitsubishi, Isuzu,

Shipped here on All-Nippon.

For Honda trucks and ATV's

And Colts made overseas --

A quota from Toyota, from

Our friends, the Japanese.

Though phrased amiably, that approach was sung by a newspaperman pretending to be Dick Gephardt, the Missouri congressman whose crusade for two-way fairness in trade with Japan was the centerpiece of his presidential nomination campaign. There was an edge to it.

Today, there is even more of an edge as the nation recollects the opening event in modern United States-Japanese relations, the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Magazines and newspapers, including this one, are running anniversary editions and series. Television is scheduling specials that have been years in production.

In the brief time since the words to the first "America the Beautiful" were rewritten, the revised version has become even more appropriate:

Oh beautiful for VHS

And Sony's VCR,

For Fuji and Minolta and

Nikon and Vivitar.

America, America,

God shed his grace on these:

Thy tiny cars and sushi bars

And all things Japanese!

The humor of the takeoff is not appreciated as much by auto workers in Detroit as it was by the politicians, publishers and other bigwigs at the Gridiron dinner. No doubt it would cause veterans arriving in Hawaii this week to grind their teeth if they heard it as they checked into one of the Japanese-owned hotels that now dominate Waikiki.

Though Japanese investors are not as deeply into American communications as they are into U.S. bonds and real estate, they are having their impact there, too. As publishers prepared their specials on the Pearl Harbor anniversary, some of them felt it prudent to advise their Japanese advertisers of what was coming.

Usually, they tell advertisers about future special editions hoping to inspire more ads. In this case, they lost ads. Most Japanese companies ordered their U.S. agencies not to buy time on the networks or space in the magazines planning special Pearl Harbor efforts. Advertising professionals said this was the first time such a widespread ban had issued from a single country.

"It's a very sensitive, emotional issue," one agency executive told Newsday. Pearl Harbor is "a national embarrassment to them," said a professor of advertising. "They didn't want to be associated with any negative images of Japan," said a network spokesman.

There were no reports of Japanese companies or their agencies trying to change planned coverage by threatening to withhold business. That's not the sort of thing people usually say out loud. But next time anyone plans a special on another such subject, they probably will remember this 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.

If U.S. companies felt similarly embarrassed at the prospect of associating themselves with "sensitive, emotional issues," they could withdraw their ads from any Japanese coverage of Hiroshima. But considering the amount of American goods on sale there, hardly anybody would notice.

Ernest B. Furgurson is associate editor of The Sun. His column appears on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.

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