Action, not words

December 06, 1991

As the 50th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor draws near, Japan's foreign minister has expressed his nation's "deep remorse" over "the unbearable suffering Japan inflicted" upon Americans on the fateful day of Dec. 7, 1941.

The words constitute the strongest expression of apology ever issued by the Japanese. Remorse, after all, is a stronger emotion than regret, because it connotes a sense of personal wrongdoing.

But as welcome as the words may be, the fact remains that in the 50 years since Japanese bombs destroyed the American fleet and killed 2,500 Americans, Japan has reaped incalculable benefits from American sacrifice and generosity. During that time Japan was effectively relieved of the necessity to defend itself from China and the Soviet Union; that role was assumed by America. This meant that while America spent literally trillions of dollars to defend Japan, Japan was investing virtually the totality of its energy and resources into the production of goods and services which gave its people the highest standard of living of any major nation in the world. In a sense, Japan "invaded" the United States not with tanks but Toyotas, and "occupied" virtually every American home with Sony TV sets and Toshiba VCRs. And it did this while "defending" its own homeland by trade barriers that by any rational measure can only be called selfishly protective.

So Japan's assurances of remorse are good, but they are not good enough. It is time now for Japan to erase not merely the shame of Pearl Harbor, but the ongoing shame of its policies of selfishness.

And there is no better way than for Japan to make a commitment -- a commitment that greatly exceeds that of America -- to repair the wreckage in the wake of the Cold War in the same spirit of sacrifice and generosity which America extended to Japan after World War II. It will be Japan's actions, not its words, which will be the true test of the sincerity of its remorse over the actions symbolized by the attack on Pearl Harbor 50 years ago.

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