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Bashing Japan?

In response to:

It Can't Happen Here from the April 23, 1992 issue

To the Editors:

How unfortunate that the New York Review of Books chose Ian Buruma to review Michael Crichton’s new thriller, Rising Sun a book that espouses the position that Japan has never totally accepted the military defeat it experienced at the hands of the Americans during World War II, but is, in fact, a country which has continued to wage war, albeit an economic one, against the country that ostensibly obliterated its expansionist goals of the 1940s and against whom it used armed aggression in the pursuit of power and property. Perhaps Mr. Crichton reads too much into the laser-like intensity with which the Japanese approach business, and with which they conduct their affairs with the United States. But then again, paranoia, as referenced in Mr. Buruma’s commentary, implies a delusional state of thinking, a state in which the subject accepts a false idea which cannot be substantiated by accepted societal criteria. When, however, the economic facts indicate that Japan sells more to America than it buys, and then encourages policies, both overt and covert, that undermine the possibility of successful American business ventures in their country, it is no longer appropriate to affix the term paranoia to Mr. Crichton’s interpretation. Individuals or countries who are, in fact, being persecuted are not paranoid when they are being assaulted; they are real targets.

One additional point. To compare Crichton’s Rising Sun to Harlan’s Jew Suss is an extraordinarily clever but disgustingly transparent attempt by this critic to obtain support for and to identify his position with the well-proven history of the persecution of the Jews in Europe and to thereby attempt to enlist naive and undeserved sympathy for his defense of the Japanese. The New York Review of Books would do itself and its readers a service if it chose an individual to review Rising Sun who would give Mr. Crichton’s insightful analysis a reasonable chance of a fair and impartial review. Mr. Buruma writes from the position of a 1990s generation propagandist who, either consciously or unconsciously, supports the 1940s German/Japanese anti-American prejudices.

Richard B. Pesikoff, MD
Baylor College of Medicine
Houston, Texas

Ian Buruma replies:

It is not my impression that many people who share Mr. Choate’s opinions retreat into silence when the topic of Japan comes up. The “Japan problem” is discussed often, from many points of view. Neither Mr. Choate nor other critics can complain of lack of attention to their ideas.

Now, let us assume that the so-called revisionists (they naturally prefer the term “realists”) are right about Japan: Japanese ways of trading, manufacturing, and financing are fundamentally different from those in Western market economies, especially the US. Their competition is formidable, their industrial and financial expansion—which at this moment appears a little shaky—a problem.

The questions what to do about it, exactly whose interests are being harmed and whose benefited, and how the Japanese economy functions, are, to say the least, complex. One can discuss these questions critically, on economic, historical, and political terms, as some distinguished scholars and journalists have done. One can also slip into the emotive rhetoric of alarmist xenophobia, which is what, in my opinion, Michael Crichton has done. I do not think kinky sex, inscrutable Oriental villains, and reiterations that “they own us” are helpful contributions to the Japan-US debate.

Pointing out the dangers of Crichton’s rhetoric is not, as Dr. Pesikoff thinks, an attempt to defend the Japanese, let alone to support “the 1940s German/Japanese anti-American prejudices.” It was precisely such prejudices I was warning about, the kind of thinking, that is, which leads people such as Dr. Pesikoff to assume that a nation, like an individual, is “persecuted” when its industries face hard competition.

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