Is Japan the Enemy?

The Coming War with Japan

by George Friedman, by Meredith LeBard
St. Martin’s, 429 pp., $24.95

Japan Versus the West: Image and Reality

by Endymion Wilkinson
Penguin, 299 pp., $9.95 (paper)

The Rise of Modern Japan

by W.G. Beasley
St. Martin’s, 306 pp., $14.95 (paper)

Japan’s Administrative Elite

by B.C. Koh
University of California Press, 297 pp., $12.95 (paper)

Japan’s Expanding Role and Influence in the Asia-Pacific Region: Implications for US Interests and Policy

by Richard P. Cronin
Congressional Research Service, 79 pp., free

White Paper on International Trade, 1990

by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, Tokyo
77 pp., free

Arming Our Allies: Cooperation and Competition in Defense Technology

by the US Office of Technology Assessment
113 pp., $5.00

Thoughts on US-Japan Security and Economic Linkages in East Asia

by Michael W. Chinworth
MIT Japan Program, 23 pp., $12.50

Kokusanka: FSX and Japan’s Search for Autonomous Defense Production

by Michael J. Green
MIT Japan Program, 64 pp., $12.50

It is easy to imagine the dilemma the publisher faced when deciding whether to call its new book The Coming War With Japan. The authors are not widely known. George Friedman is a professor at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Meredith LeBard, originally from Australia, teaches writing at a community college in Harrisburg. If a book by these two had been published under a title that would accurately sum up its argument—such as, After the Cold War: Diverging National Interests Between Japan and America—few people would have paid much attention to it. By swinging for the fences with an inflammatory title and hyped-up passages every few chapters on the “inevitability” of war, both the publisher and authors virtually guaranteed that reviewers would say, as I’m about to, that the book does not come close to proving its announced case.

Still, if it had to choose between overselling the book and letting it die, the publisher erred in the right direction. The Coming War is unconvincing, but it is not stupid. It fails, fortunately, to convince us that Japan and America are likely to fight each other, but it demonstrates with surprising thoroughness why their interests will diverge more and more. The book should be seen as a counterpart to The War Between Russia and China, which Harrison Salisbury published in 1969. Salisbury turned out to be wrong, since an all-out war never erupted, but he was clearly right in insisting that the spirit of the old alliance was gone. I suspect that the same will prove true of Friedman and LeBard’s book. In twenty years the passages warning about submarine duels will, I think and hope, look bizarre. But the underlying analysis of why Japan and America will change from their current partnership to more and more open rivalry may well seem prescient.

One way to illustrate the book’s value is to contrast its message with the fatuousness of official political discourse between the two countries. In early April, just as The Coming War was appearing in bookstores, Prime Minister Kaifu of Japan came to Newport Beach, California, to meet with President Bush. The interplay between the two leaders and the pieties they expressed perfectly captured the larger frustrations of the relationship. Kaifu arrived in a condition of political weakness, which is the normal state of most prime ministers of Japan. He had tried to get Japan to send nurses, refugee workers, or noncombatant soldiers to the Persian Gulf, but he had been rebuffed in the Diet and in opinion polls. His government had extracted a relatively huge amount of money—$13 billion, much of it paid by ordinary Japanese citizens in consumption taxes—to contribute to the Gulf effort. But the process had been so slow and grudging that it had won virtually no good will for Japan overseas, leading many Japanese to feel that the money had been completely wasted.

Bush had spent less of his time worrying about Japan than Kaifu had …

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Letters

Japan Vs. the West’ October 10, 1991