Why the Japan-America Alliance Works

Posted by On 9:37 PM

Why the Japan-America Alliance Works

History and Hollywood decide what the past means.

The September 2, 1945, signing ceremony on the deck of the USS Missouri marked the end of World War II. But what would Victory over Japan (or VJ Day) lead to?

It could have been the start of a smoldering, bitter resentment. (Think of the Versailles Treaty, which served as Hitler’s justification for starting another world war.) In that case, Japan’s capitulation could have been but a pause in the Pacific War.

Instead, the Japanese surrender was day one in what has become one of the most enduring and important strategic partnerships of modern history. Today, seventy-three years after the signing, the alliance is more important than ever.

Postwar cooperation between Tokyo and Washington has a lot to do with geography and geopolitics. Throughout the coldest days of the Cold War, the two nations needed each other. Today, they share com mon cause more than ever, dealing with the destabilizing rise of China. That said, history and popular culture ought to get their due credit.

With the Help of History

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Atypical of most nations, neither Japan nor the United States let their history be trapped by the past. That’s not to say their past is unimportant. From the writings of Jefferson, Hamilton and other founding fathers to the teachings of Buddhist monks like Kōbō-Daishi, we look to earlier times to understand the religious, cultural, and political foundations of the modern world.

Important ideas that arose in the past are not important because they are ancient. They are important because they are important. The great defining attributes of civilization belong as much to the present and the future .

Of course, we also debate what happened in the pastâ€"actions right and wrong. In 1968, for example, the controversial historian Saburō Ienaga penned The Pacific War 1 931â€"1945 intending to force the Japanese to confront the worst of the empire’s behavior. Rather than gloss over the history or focus on Japan as victim (the target of the 1945 nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki) he wrote to spark reflection and self-criticism. Ienaga was equally disapproving of the United States, censuring America’s war in Vietnam and the Japanese support for the warâ€"repeating, he argued, the worst mistakes of World War II.

Today in Japan, the cyclical debate over fault, responsibility, forgiveness, understanding and outrage continues. The passage of time does nothing to curb these reflections, only adding contemporary concerns, perceptions and prejudices to the spin cycle.

That’s normal. Free nations have a conscience. They struggle with their past. In America, passions run raw over Confederate statues and streets named for rebels who fought in a war over 150 years ago.

But there is a difference between arguing over historical narratives and being trapped by history. Reinterpreting and contemporizing history is an action of introspection. Nations trapped by history are mired in bitterness, revenge and retribution over past outrages. That is not America. That is not Japan. At the war’s end, both Japan and the United States unmoored themselves from the constraints of their legacy of wartime antagonisms.

With the Help of Hollywood

History is our brain. Popular culture is our heart. The emotional expression of who we are defines us as much as our intellect. No aspect of twentieth century popular culture was more important than cinema.

Not surprisingly, both Japanese and American wartime films reflected the animosities between the two countries.

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In Japan, a typical production was the 1943 film Ano Hata o ute (Tear Down the Stars and Stripes) telling the story of the Japanese victory at the Battle of Corregidor. Courageous troops liberate Asian peoples from Western aggressors. Not released in theaters until February 1944 when the war’s fortunes had clearly turned against the Japanese, the film nevertheless reflected the government’s insistence on emphasizing the just nature of the national effort, validation that every privation, every sacrifice, every excess was acceptable in the name of national virtue against a ruthless enemy.

The first big American movie on the jungle war against Japan was Guadalcanal Diary, debuting in 1943, six years before the most famous film on the Pacific, The Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) with John Wayne in the starring role.

Guadalcanal Diary had no stars. It was rushed into production with stock players whose faces and characters who were familiar to most moviegoers. Playing to packed theaters across the country, the film bore all the elements of great Hollywood war movies and bad history, setting the model for a steady stream of productions that continued to the end of the decadeâ€"red-blooded American good guys against the bad guys.

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Source: Google News Japan | Netizen 24 Japan

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