WASHINGTON. — Washington -- We Americans love a parade, a paid holiday and any historical reason to engage in self-flagellation and general stupidity. A case in point has been the observances of the 50th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
I can't for the life of me discover any positive benefits from regurgitating memories of that perfidious episode in world affairs. Not any more than I want to a join a parade four years from now either protesting or celebrating the U.S. dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Pearl Harbor, the atomic bombings, the other wretched chapters of World War II, were the products of failed diplomacy, notions of racial superiority in Washington and Tokyo, faulty intelligence, politicians' stupidities. Why does the precise passage of 50 years force us to dredge it all up?
Did anything happen this past week that guarantees that those human frailties will not produce another clash between the U.S. and Japan in the next half century? No. We have just gone through an exercise in latent or smoldering prejudices, new delusions and deceptions, that set the stage for future conflicts.
Japan's Foreign Minister Michio Watanabe was goaded by the American press and surely encouraged by Japanese makers of cars, VCRs and TV sets to express ''deep remorse over the unbearable suffering and sorrow Japan inflicted'' on Americans and other Asians in 1941 and afterward.
So what? What value is Mr. Watanabe's, or Japan's, ''remorse'' to an American in 1991 whose lifestyle is being crunched in large measure because Japanese competitors with the unfair support of their government have decimated the U.S. automobile, television, audio and other industries, and are fast taking control of the movie, real-estate, hotel and other businesses?
If I were a Japanese industrialist, I'd express remorse over an ''ancient'' war all the way to my bank -- where I would get the money with which to take over a failing bank in the United States. I would genuflect before self-styled American honchos and diplomats, laugh, and say to myself: ''Let these Americans live in the past, in memories of Pearl Harbor, while we take the future, the real pearls . . . and diamonds . . . and rubies. . . .''
Why should politicians and journalists try to get Americans riled up over ''a day of infamy'' 50 years ago. I envy the Japanese. But I'm not nearly as interested in zapping them as I am in punishing the people in the Reagan and Bush administrations who put my family $56,000 in debt to the Japanese and others -- without my consent.
I've long advocated a tougher trade policy with the Japanese. But we won't get it by wallowing in ''subtle'' remembrances of what ''those treacherous little devils'' did to us at Pearl Harbor. Solid, hard-nosed diplomacy and negotiations are called for.
I get the feeling that a lot of players weren't bent on getting me to remember Pearl Harbor; they wanted me to forget that American executives in troubled firms were taking out salaries -- and ''incentives'' of $20, $30, $70 million dollars a year, and that other ''capitalists'' were riding Rolls-Royce golf carts and capitalizing on every opportunity they saw to steal the money of stockholders or depositors.
Lord, spare me this Pearl Harbor business 50 years from now. I'll take the Alamo!
Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.