INTERVIEW/ John Dower:
Miyazawamissed chance to redefine Japan
Former Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa who died June 28 was a political leader with a strong international vision, says John Dower, professor of history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Although Miyazawa had the intelligence and originality to articulate a vision of a new post-postwar Japan, it, unfortunately, never happened, Dower told The Asahi Shimbun in a recent interview. Excerpts follow:
Q: As a historian, how do you evaluate Miyazawa?
A: When I think of him, there are two things that come into my mind. One is positive and the other is regretful. The positive impression goes back to when I was doing research on former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida three or four decades ago, particularly concerning the San Francisco Peace Treaty and U.S.-Japan relations immediately after the occupation. I read a number of documents in the Japanese archives at the time, including economic negotiations in which Miyazawa played a role as an aide to Yoshida's emissary Hayato Ikeda. Miyazawa was a young bureaucrat and clearly extremely capable.
Shortly after that, I read Miyazawa's "Tokyo-Washington no Mitsudan" (The Tokyo-Washington secret talks). I was impressed with how frank and honest this book was in revealing the content of "secret discussions" between Japan and the United States and in calling attention to points of disagreement as well as agreement between the two countries. Miyazawa clearly was reading the same secret records I later encountered and summarizing them very accurately. This strengthened my impression of someone with solid knowledge of international affairs and unusual talents in both economic affairs and foreign languages.
Q: What was the second, less positive impression you mentioned?
A: When Miyazawa became prime minister in 1991, I wrote an op-ed essay for The Asahi Shimbun (Nov. 6, 1991, morning edition). This was an important moment in history. The Soviet Union had collapsed, the Cold War had ended, Japan had become a great economic power, and there seemed a chance to really make a better world. Thinking back on the end of World War II and the famous U.S. Marshall Plan for Europe, I expressed hope in this essay that Japan might now announce a clear "Miyazawa Plan" for Asia.
Japan was now in a position to really define its future role internationally in a way that established clear guidelines and would be appreciated by the rest of the world. Like the Marshall Plan for Europe, the vision I had in mind focused on Japan's economic role in the reconstruction and peaceful economic development of Asia. I also thought--or hoped--that Japan could build constructively the anti-militarist ideals embodied in the Constitution. I thought Miyazawa had the experience, intelligence and originality to articulate such a vision of a new "post-postwar" Japan eloquently.
But this never happened. He never really left such a clearly articulated vision and legacy. And so even today--16 years later--we still find Japanese politicians and pundits talking about the need to "escape the postwar."
Why Miyazawa failed to leave a distinctive political legacy, I can't say. Whatever the reason, I still feel this was a missed opportunity.
Q: How would you position the Miyazawa administration in postwar history?
A: Shigeru Yoshida was the grand architect of Japan's postwar policy--a policy that emphasized intimate relations with and dependence on the United States, along with a primary focus on economic rather than military power. And Miyazawa, of course, belonged to the so-called Yoshida School. This is a clear and powerful legacy and economic growth plus close U.S.-Japan friendship are obviously to be cherished.
At the same time, the Yoshida legacy that came out of the San Francisco Peace Conference had negative aspects. Yoshida bought into the Cold War. He never, for example, clearly and publicly acknowledged Japan's war crimes, particularly against the Chinese and other Asians. On the contrary, he took the opportunity of the Peace Conference in September 1951 to denounce the People's Republic of China.
And he never really spoke publicly of the danger of overdependence on the United States and its military machine--although privately he expressed reservations about America's Cold War fixation on military solutions.
By the time Miyazawa became prime minister, much had changed since Yoshida's time. Relations had been restored not only with South Korea but also with China. The Cold War was over. This really seems to have been a moment when a great statesman might have tried to truly settle old wartime grievances, redefine Japan's future role in Asia in the world, articulate clear policies concerning critical global issues, such as disarmament and the environment, and assert its identity as a close but genuinely independent ally of the United States.
Q: Miyazawa pushed the plan for the emperor's visit to China and proposed supportive measures during the Asian currency crisis. How do you see these achievements?
A: There are indeed progressive steps. But they don't really amount to the sort of boldly articulated policy I thought his experience, intelligence, originality and independent-mindedness might have made possible. Also looking at the disastrous U.S. pre-emptive war against Iraq, I wish Miyazawa had been able to end the notoriously prolonged "postwar" epoch by redefining Japan's role as a world leader devoted to nonmilitary solutions to world problems. I wish he had succeeded in articulating a sober and responsible kind of independence from Washington.
Q: How do you compare Miyazawa with Yasuhiro Nakasone?
A: I would guess that Prime Minister Nakasone is better remembered by many Americans than Prime Minister Miyazawa is. The reason for this is not flattering to Nakasone, however. What most Americans recall is Nakasone's nationalism. Visiting Yasukuni Shrine--always a big subject of critical discussion in the foreign media--is only part of this.
What really made a lasting impression in the United States was what Nakasone said at the height of Japan's economic boom, when he attributed Japan's success to the racial purity of the Japanese work force. He was widely quoted in the U.S. press at the time as having described non-Japanese populations as "mongrels"--a clearly contemptuous reference to the multiracial nature of the United States.
Nakasone was clearly a good friend of the United States but his kind of neo-nationalism had racial and military overtones that were counterproductive. To a certain degree, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's fixation on Yasukuni and constitutional revision seems to have perpetuated that impression in the eyes of many non-Japanese.
Q: Would you agree that Miyazawa was a kind of liberal conservative?
A: That is fair to say. True conservatism has a great deal to recommend it and Miyazawa was obviously deeply involved in Japan's development as a prosperous nation in which wealth has been quite equitably distributed. He had a strong international vision and to my knowledge he did not traffic with the crude racial nationalism to which other conservative leaders have descended.
Q: What do you think about Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's slogan for Japan to break away from the postwar regime? Is Japan moving backward?
A: I am very critical of the conservative and neo-nationalist trends in my own country, and it is disappointing but not really surprising to see similar trends in Japan. Prime Minister Abe made promising early attempts to improve relations with China and South Korea. The "comfort women" business has been a disaster for Japan in foreign eyes. This kind of nationalism obviously serves domestic political purposes. But it is self-defeating where global trust and respect is concerned and an affront to serious history as well.
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John Dower is an American historian who specializes in modern Japanese history. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his book "Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II," which focused on Japan during the period of postwar occupation. He is also the author of "Empire and Aftermath: Yoshida Shigeru and the Japanese Experience, 1878-1954" and other books.(IHT/Asahi: July 30,2007)