[18 March 2003]
“There you go again.” Ronald Reagan said it about a soon-to-be former American president. And now the world is saying it about a soon-might-be former empire. If Ronald Reagan’s former number two’s number one son keeps it up, that is.
There he goes again. Doing just what JFK did in Vietnam. Followed by LBJ and RN. There you all go again. And again.
After uttering his signature rebuke, America’s celluloid cowboy was not shy about following his predecessor’s script. He directed America’s adventures in Nicaragua and Grenada. Et tu Mr. President? There you went again. And then again: as Bush (senior) invaded Iraq in defense of the oil. Bill Clinton was not immune to playing global distributor, with productions in Somalia and Kosovo. Good cause? Possibly. But much of the world couldn’t help but discern the pattern. And utter: “there you go again, America, there you go.”
And now Ronald Reagan’s former number two’s number one son wants to attack Iraq again, this time for oil or to salvage his old man’s pride or possibly even to combat terrorism—the motivation is about as clear as it has been persuasively articulated. And the view from Japan is . . . well, let’s see . . . not much different from the rest of the world. Just look at the mass demonstrations in Tokyo. Or listen to Taro Sarariman and Hanako Office Lady in the evening sound bite. Viewed through Japanese eyes, America is the bully on the block, the oversized thug who doesn’t know when to stop.
Of course, Japan’s frame of reference may be slightly tainted. As the only nation to have atomic and nuclear weapons unleashed on it—by America, no less. There, again, for good cause . . . at least so the American argument goes. Also, as one of the handful of nations around the globe who play permanent host to American forces, Japan has subjected itself to years of training exercises, overflight noise, near-occupation of Okinawa, and innumerable crimes perpetrated by U.S. GIs against locals—from robbery to rape to manslaughter. The local chorus is constant: there they go again.
Which is not to say that Japanese hate America or things American. Our movies and music are widely consumed here and American talento appears with great frequency on local TV. Of late, Japanese have felt a special bond with American baseball - due to the successive, generally successful, challenges by Nomo, Sasaki, Ichiro, Hasegawa, Shinjo and now Matsui. The daily progress of these players is faithfully reported by the local media and every hit, bunt, strike out, warm-up exercise, and laudatory comment by their managers is worked and reworked by news and entertainment media, alike. America is a good stage for validating Japanese worth; for rekindling national pride at a time when—due to a decade of political misfeasance and financial disintegration—it has ebbed almost entirely.
Of late, Bob Sapp has become a fixture on Japanese TV. For those of you who don’t know, Sapp is a former American footballer, and now a K-1 boxing champ. He burst on the local scene in a big way about a month or so ago and ReDotPop suddenly can’t get its fill of him. The super-sized, unpredictable lout with the winning smile and happy-go-lucky persona is in commercials, on game shows and even has a featured segment on a comedy/variety hour. His bit is to dress up in a grass skirt, bare to the waist, with fake pointy ears and pink skull cap, and, at the behest of Japanese hosts armed with surveillance cameras, attack unsuspecting office ladies who fail to place their trash in the waste receptacle or minor celebrities who fire up a butt in a no-smoking zone. Sapp sneaks up behind them, then dashes the last few meters, plucking up the unsuspecting offenders and lifting them high overhead. Next, he’ll pin them against walls, toss them on the ground and generally abuse and embarrass them for the jollies of a nationwide audience. He leaves the targets shrieking, hyperventilating, sobbing, consumed with fear. In short, Sapp is the muscle end of the moral police; he’s the enforcer; a signifier of uncontainable power.
A walking icon for contemporary America.
The view from Japan of America’s aggression against Iraq can be summed up in the likeness of Bob Sapp. Like the TV enforcer, America is the awesome Leviathan; the world’s moral bobby. A bully, of course. But their bully. For Japan’s rulers, at least, responsible for running the political light and magic show, George Bush is the village warrior in the grass skirt. Unpredictable, for sure, but fun to be with as long as he’s on your team. And, though the sarariman Taros and office lady Hanakos express their desire for peace—and their confusion about what has got America so all-fired riled up—the Prime Minister Koizumis and Secretary of State Fukudas are smiling through clenched teeth, expressing unreserved support for their long-standing American ally, appreciating the job George Bush is doing charging full-speed at the offensive litterers and offending smokers of the world. For the Japanese hierarchy, the present show is all about beating around with George Bush.
And why? Well, for protection, of course. Muscle. What America is perceived at being good at: distributing its weight; injecting its juice. Because? Looming over Japan’s shoulder is a danger even greater than Iraq. And it turns out it is a threat not just for Japan, or the Asian region, for that matter; but, if America would only pay attention, an imminent danger to America, above all. The force to be feared is North Korea. A nation void of morality, beset by years of self-engendered famine, dogged by self-invented paranoia, pressed by increasing world isolation. As its former allies—first Russia, then China—peel away from it, this abandoned wild child grows daily into a dangerous rogue. For, what else does a country with no resources, no food, no friends, and absolutely no prospects, have to make its way in the future, but to create and sell weapons of mass destruction? With such products they can buy a caravan of friends, a trainload full of money. Enough, at least, to preserve its unconscionable way of life.
So while the rest of the world is busy saying to America: “there you go again”, Japan is busy fretting whether America will ever get going on the project that most matters. When, it wonders, is President Bush going to come do his Bob Sapp routine against another of the pillars of his infamous “axis of evil”? Hoping not to get bushwhacked by American presidential neglect, Japan’s political elite anxiously wrings their hands, offering support for an intervention in the Middle East that they care nothing about, in hopes that America will return the favor with a swift and decisive detour Southeast.
What does Japan know that the rest of the world doesn’t? North Korea is like few other nations currently in play. To put it politely, it lives in a world of its own invention. To deal with the DPRK is like watching a “Courage the Cowardly Dog” cartoon: you have to suspend disbelief or else get waylaid by the absurdity of the plot. Its leadership is as morally impoverished, as its people are malnourished. Undereducated, unsophisticated, their solution to the social cataclysm of their own making is to employ the infantile strategy of getting what they want by screaming loudly and tossing their toys. “How many tantrums can I throw before the adults relent and say ‘alright, already, just shut up, will you? Do what you want”. And, what would that be? A little chocolate before dinner, a few extra hours of TV? Unfortunately, more like millions of dollars in economic aid. But this money—will it be going to the millions of citizens shivering in hovels, hobbling over unpaved roads, starving while slaving away for the greater glory of the Stalinist State? Or will all the handouts go to the elite troops whose job it is to defend the President from the shivering, starving, slaving masses?
Don’t count on fair play from these folks. Just ask Japan. Two decades ago the DPRK set about abducting Japanese nationals with the intent of brainwashing them so that they might reinfiltrate Japan for espionage purposes. After years of captivity - throughout which the North Koreans had consistently denied their existence—these Japanese citizens were finally allowed to return home as a sign of “good will”. These visits were only supposed to be temporary, but when Japan refused to return them to captivity, the communist nation screamed “foul” and demanded compensation. Hey, if I steal your car, would you consent to buy it back from me? Let’s make a deal, North Korean style.
So now that the DPRK is saying that they have “no choice but to pursue the development of nuclear weapons unless someone agrees to provide financial assistance,” it is worth intoning: “there they go again”. It is a theme song that Japan long ago grew tired of, just as the world does of the American version. In the meantime, the Japanese pace to and fro wondering when, if ever, Bush will get over his Saddam fixation. When will America stop spouting Ronald Reagan’s line at the wrong opponent?
“There you go again, America,” Japan is saying, “Misreading the true danger; miscalculating where best to apply your muscle; misunderstanding who can really do us all irreparable harm.”
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/030318-iraq4/