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Shinano Redux

Japan has always been a paper tiger, both militarily and economically

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, June 29, 1994.

Another Japan scare.

The dollar is at its lowest ebb against the yen ever, and furrowed brows abound on the tube. Scare tactics with no explanation of why we should alarmed. And today, an election and nobody attempts to relate the two events. The great strength of the parliamentary system of government is its flexibility and enforced compromise. But that is its great weakness as well. Today, hours ago, a Socialist has been named Prime Minister of Japan with the full partnership of the party that has ruled Japan for 40 years, the duration of its democratic history. For the last year, one of the world’s most powerful nations had no executive, but a couple of figureheads as symbols of where a real prime minister would be... if they ever got one. Today, for the moment, they did. Although the process has coughed up a candidate, the coalition is a fraud and will fall as soon as major votes come to the fore.

It is scary, watching a Parliament divided into a thousand different and official lobby groups unable to mount a heartfelt majority. When the left wing in our nation starts screaming about getting a third party going and the right wing forwards some fifth rate moral idiot as their alternative, one cannot help but thank our good fortune that we have a two party system and avoid the distress of Japan, which despite the trappings of modern life, remains as feudal as the Shogun, as fragile as the Shinano.

The Shinano, for those who don’t know, was one of three huge ship hulls lain before December 7, 1941. The first two became the world’s biggest battleships, the Yamato and Musashi, the third became an aircraft carrier, the Shinano. When it was launched in 1944, it met a submarine which sank it, this huge ship, with one torpedo. From the historic perspective, this screams metaphor alert! A huge enterprise, fearful by reputation, sunk by a pin prick. That is Japan to a tee.

Japan is used as a whip in the US to scare labor, management, the public, the banks depending on who has the limber wrist for the moment. But Japan is the ultimate paper tiger, no nation on earth is more hated, more dependent upon others, more likely to revert to fascism if the fewmets hit the fan at any point.

This is a nation that has been unable to feed itself for over 50 years, unless you include an exclusive diet of rice in the good times. This a nation that has, beyond beauty, no natural resources. These are the reasons for the Second World War, when Japan had to invade Malaysia for oil and China for slave labor and food.

Modern Japan is not a creation of Japan, but of Douglas MacArthur, who forced suffrage and the destruction of the nobility on a prostrate nation. But the modern landscape, where corporate leaders demand the same fidelity that ancient warlords did and offer the same feudal exchanges - servility and labor for security and honors - is not really that different. It is a chauvinistic society beyond ken. Like much else in Japan and other Oriental societies, the lack of petty crime and violence is not a sign of a peaceful society. The society protects it, and the citizens often take their vices on the road to Thailand or other fleshpots, much like the Yankees do to Latin America.

So today, we have a Prime Minister without portfolio, because his job will be to keep his job, not provide executive leadership to a nation that is, no less than Israel, totally dependent upon the United States. This leaves the real power in corporate boardrooms of the warlords where it traditionally rested. The United States could survive, perhaps thrive, without Japan, but the reverse is far from sure. While once we cowered before a military we thought was invincible, sometimes we now cower before the fragile economic giant, which is reality now in evasive maneuvers to avoid the inevitable torpedo spread.