Social Education 57(1) pps. 5-7
©1993 National Council for the Social Studies
First, the special section repeatedly states or implies that any criticism of Japan or appeal to U.S. economic national self-interest is, at the very least, counterproductive and, at worst, irresponsibly racist. Sadly, the tone of the section plays to the same type of one-sidedness that it seeks to condemn. For example, John J. Cogan and David L. Grossman note that an attitude based upon "the national self-interest approach is inherently problematic" (433), Carol Gluck implies that to call the Japanese "unfair" competitors is "bashing" and will recreate the "conditions of earlier hostility" (438), and Lucien Ellington warns that lack of U.S. competitiveness will result in "increased scapegoating of the Japanese" (443).
A. Elgin Heinz, while rightly condemning racism, says the congressional alarm over trade imbalances causes unsophisticated stereotyping, xenophobic "bashing," and irresponsible racism. Peter Nien-chu Kiang's compelling treatise sensitizes the reader to many important issues surrounding global education and Asian-American racism in the United States, but he also contributes to the readers' feeling that to criticize Japan constitutes racism. "It is no coincidence that Japan-bashing in Congress and Johnny Rambo's Hollywood revenge for the Vietnam War accompanied a sharp rise in racial violence against Asian Americans" (460).
Isn't this just a bit one-sided? What is "bashing"? Is all criticism "bashing," or is there a bashing "spectrum"? Where is the line beyond which lies xenophobia or, even, racism? Can one responsibly criticize Japan? Were the producers of the recent Public Broadcasting System special on Japanese predatory capitalism, "The War against America," merely irresponsible "bashers"? When Lester Thurow (1991), Dean of the Sloan School of Business at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, points out that Akio Morita (Sony and Ishihara) says in his recent book that Japan lost the military war of the twentieth century but will win the "economic warfare" of the twenty-first, is the dean "bashing"? How about when Thurow points out that the whole aforementioned section of Morita's book does not appear in the English-language version? Is it "bashing" to call this type of action deceptive? Or duplicitous? How about dangerous?
Why does the issue place so much emphasis on racism and almost none on the U.S. national interest? Is it possible that NCSS is ignoring a legitimate threat? Is it a valid intellectual hypothesis to suggest that Japan often does not play fair? When does economic "insensitivity" turn into warlike oppression? If we go to Japanese-owned plantations in South America, we find employees working in conditions worse than slavery. Workers are being worked to death in conditions akin to Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Would those workers call such economic treatment "insensitivity" or "warfare"? It is politically correct to criticize Nike's payment of $1.50 per ten-hour work day to Indonisians who make Air Jordanª sneakers, but to criticize Japan's economic imperialism becomes "bashing."
In that vein, could the section be a nineties version of English Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald's post-World War I movement which emphasized the evils of war, Allied guilt for the severity of the Versailles peace treaty, the excessively harsh economic treatment of postwar Germany, and the necessity of disarmament? MacDonald, all the rage among English college professors, succeeded in disarming England thereby ensuring that World War II would last far longer and cost much more. He and his supporters did not know it, but they were a stalking horse for Nazi "unfairness." Is NCSS a Japanese stalking horse? Is this simply an economic version of "peace at any price"? Should such theories be given a place in something labeled "Fifty Years of United States-Japanese Foreign Relations"?
Most observers would not go to such extremes; however, the reader has no opportunity to decide. What happened to scholarly objectivity? Different points of view? Many legitimate areas of concern exist in current analyses of Japanese character, history, business practices, and global responsibility. Is NCSS courageous enough to tolerate such a debate?
Character and History
A crucial area of concern is the nature of Japanese cultural character. Of course we are aware of their politically ungenerous attitudes toward women and racist treatment of foreigners, but what about their history? A revealing and controversial part of that character involves Japanese aggression in World War II and the questions arising from government censorship of those facts.
Japan today systematically presents its students with sanitized history. For example, according to Time magazine's Barry Hillenbrand, this year the Education Ministry excised part of a text that said "over 70,000 people were killed by the Japanese imperial army" in Nanking (1991, 70). (Other historians and the Chinese government say the actual figure is around 200,000.) The passage was changed to read: "a large number of Chinese people were killed." Thus, Japanese students are not learning that the behavior of their country's army toward other nationalities was among the most barbaric and savage in all of history.
Japanese wartime responsibilities are likewise soft-pedaled in movies, television, and popular media-a practice criticized by responsible Japanese people (including the former Prime Minister) and many U.S. citizens who suggest that such historical forgetfulness robs Japan of its ability to learn from its past. The issue is not raised in Social Education's special section. If such censorship were taking place in Germany, the alarm bells would be deafening. Orwellian fingers would publicly point to the necessity of Germans facing up to German atrocities (which, I might add, the Germans regularly do). Why shouldn't the Japanese? Even more importantly, why don't they?
Trade Issues-Japanese Business Practices and Motives
Ellington's timid treatment of Japan's use of what are, in fact, still the world's highest formal and informal trade barriers stopped far short of calling either "unfair." Ellington also fails to mention other areas of concern. As Edson W. Spencer, board chair of the Ford Foundation and the Commission on U.S.-Japan Relations for the 21st Century, recently said, "Japan has not applied the anti-trust legislation that is on their books. They have not applied fair trade. There is price-fixing, bid-rigging and some of those things I would say are unfair" (1991, 13A). Why the omissions?
Even more ominous is the omission of the latest Japanese business strategies as practiced in the United States. Japan continues these unfair economic strategies in our country's free trade environment. Many responsible U.S. citizens are suggesting that the United States institute the same governmental safeguards against dumping and unfair practices that are in place in Japan and Europe. A basic question for our students is "what is free trade?" The section's authors do not ask that question. Why not?
Free Trade and Productivity
Everyone knows the unfortunate stories of thousands of U.S. businesses that have failed and millions of jobs that have gone overseas. Most people in the United States assume, with some justification, that this situation was caused by an inability to compete or a lack of productivity, and several of your section's authors go to great lengths to castigate the lack of growth in U.S. productivity and competitiveness.
Two important questions: To what extent is this true today? And is it possible that such criticism is undermining teachers' and students' perceptions of our ability to compete, contributing to the U.S. attitude of cynical defeatism? Could it be time to run out of patience with those who tout supposed deficiencies in the United States as the sole reason for the loss of U.S. jobs. We are the most productive nation in the world; how many of our children know that? The truth is that we have some economic problems, and our competitors have some huge advantages, but we can recover.
The U.S. consumer's perspective should be of interest to NCSS. What is said by the fact that the Mitsubishi Eclipse outsells the Plymouth Laser two to one? They are the same car-same plant, same assembly lines.
Is every kind of economic competition fair? Have all defunct U.S. industries died of nonproductivity? Even more important, how much U.S. industry is now threatened? Any productive ones? What will ensue in this country if the U.S. computer, aerospace, and auto industries join their textile, electronic, and motorcycle colleagues? Such questions are not considered in Social Education's special section.
These omissions fly in the face of recent Federal Trade Commission decisions, dozens of television programs, analyses in the current literature, and an increasing number of responsible people testifying that many efficient and productive U.S. businesses are under pressure from "unfair" business practices which include the following:
1.Both Japan and the European Economic Community deliberately use command economy tactics to target certain U.S. industries for extinction. Government and industry plan together and share resources to dominate markets, gaining a tremendous advantage over U.S. competitors. This practice was a significant factor in the demise of the U.S. television industry. It is not "bashing" to call attention to such practices or to condemn them.
2.Both sell subsidized products below cost to drive their competition out of business. This is called dumping. Some of our most efficient corporations are threatened. For example, Sony sells display screens for portable computers at one-half their cost. Why? They are driving U.S. flat panel display manufacturers out of business because Japan knows that all televisions will one day be flat panel. That this happens is beyond question. It is not "bashing" to call it unfair.
3.Japan has used strong-arm tactics in U.S. markets to gain monopolies. Recent decisions by U.S. government agencies against Japanese producers such as Nintendo, Toshiba, Toyota, and Hitachi have condemned such practices. It is not "bashing" to point these out.
4.As foreign competition dries up U.S. tax revenue, the plight of desperate U.S. state and local governments drives them to grant increasing tax breaks to Japanese businesses as the states vie with one another for Japanese assembly plants. These tax breaks make it even harder for surviving U.S. corporations to compete. The Japanese strategy is increasingly effective. Noting it is not "bashing."
5.The Japanese plants in the United States do not buy U.S. parts, especially auto parts, saying they are not good enough despite the fact that we exported $14 billion worth to Europe last year. Parts manufacturing is the largest part of the auto industry. Because the U.S. auto industry has improved its product and productivity, the new Japanese tactic is to target our parts industry. According to PBS, the 98,000 jobs created by Japanese auto assembly plants in the United States has cost us dearly. In fact, one U.S. parts supplier goes out of business every sixteen hours. To date, the jobs lost total more than 500,000. Publicizing such practices is not "bashing."
6.Japan pays huge numbers of U.S. citizens to publicly support, lobby, protect, and disguise their predatory economic practices. The masses in this country do not know the extent of this lobby. Would consideration of such be "bashing" or a public service?
7.Japan invests substantial funds in educational programs and institutions that will spread the image of Japan that Japan desires. This is becoming an issue in the United States. One of the recipients of that largesse is NCSS. The article "Teaching about Japan" does not point out the extent to which the resources labeled desirable are paid for by the Japanese. Is it "bashing" to question the objectivity of these materials? If George III had been smart enough to invest in teacher trips to London, school materials for social studies classes, and sponsorship of teacher organizations, would the revolutionary war have taken place?
Even more importantly, the core of U.S. industry is now in danger. Boeing, the most efficient, productive manufacturer of airliners in the world, is being forced to sell its technology to the Japanese to stay in business. Its major competitor, Airbus, has never made a profit because it receives government subsidies and runs at a loss. Soon, Boeing will follow many defunct U.S. companies, and hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs will be lost. Those lost jobs will cause millions more to be lost, because a Boeing worker is a buyer for WalMart, True Value, and Arby's.
The demise of Boeing will add to unemployment costs, depletion of tax funds, increase of insurance costs, crime, and jails. To say that such competition is fair is madness. To ignore or minimize it simply because one's grant or trip abroad or university program is based upon Japanese money is, at the very least, suicidal self-service. The U.S. government is the only major industrial government that continues to insist on the fiction of free trade-a fiction actively damaging what is left of U.S. production. What is "fairness" in economic terms? A discussion of this issue might have been included in the November/December special section.
Ellington goes on to create even more bizarre logic in the service of the Japanese cause. He first states that "most economists and historians agree that any worldwide increase in protectionist policies will almost certainly result in increasing economic and political instability" (441). One would like to see the surveys upon which such a generalization is based, however, having thus set us up to be afraid of what comes next, he delivers some cheap propaganda: "This ominous possibility will exist as long as other nations perceive a nation with the economic stature of Japan as an unfair player in world markets" (441, emphasis added).
Should fear of instability allow foreigners to do to us what they do not allow us to do to them? And what has stature got to do with fairness? The stature of England did not preclude our questioning English influence upon U.S. wealth and interests. Fortunately, we did not let Germany's stature as an advanced nation preclude us from perceiving the fairness of the Nazis.
One could go on with other issues not mentioned in any significant fashion. Some include: the rise of U.S.-bashing, or kembei, in Japan (we are weak, they will manage our decline); the theft of U.S. technology in silicon valley; the new wave of chauvinism in Japanese literature; the sale of secret nuclear submarine technology to the former USSR; and the recent selective Japanese donations to high-tech U.S. universities in an attempt to capture U.S. technological innovations at their source. Objective minds might want to look into these issues.
Does such criticism make one a "basher"? Since no definition was proffered, one cannot know. We are repeatedly told only that "bashers" are bad. Failure to define such an oft-mentioned term leads one to wonder if the writers are merely interested in suppressing criticism. More propaganda? Is Social Education really interested in responsible scholarly journalism?
Should the social studies be concerned about our national wealth in a competitive global economy? How can teachers address such a complex issue? The November/December special section provides no help. Does this section represent global multicultural education? If so, we need to appoint yet another commission.
In closing, let us once again condemn racism in all its forms; let us not, however, confuse racism or global education or multiculturalism with fairness and a healthy U.S. national interest, economic fair play, and the importance of national confidence. The price of such confusion, historically, is friction and war. Let us note a different perspective-one from James Fallows in the December 2, 1991, issue of U.S. News and World Report, which addressed historical, social, geographic, and economic issues-in short, everything NCSS is supposed to represent.
Fifty years ago, Japan's intellectuals were absorbed with the essence of "Japaneseness" and detailing the traits that made Japan unique in the world. So are many of them now. Fifty years ago, the central government authority failed to rein in the Army, the Navy and the great economic cartels in their interactions to moderate their actions or do things halfway to reduce foreigners' irritation. So it often is today, as prime ministers plead in succession for understanding from trading partners, yet watch the economic imbalances increase. Fifty year ago, Japan and America were bitter enemies. They have learned to coexist and prosper as dissimilar, sometimes uneasy friends. They went to war because each had illusions about the other-Japan, that America was weak and flaccid; America, that Japan did not have the skill to strike. The fewer the illusions, the better the chances for continuing friendship and peace. (44)
The lesson of the cold war is that to stay strong and confident is to prevent war. Nothing would be more dangerous than a future United States awash in poverty, unemployment, starvation, and resentment-and open to the emotional scapegoating of demagogues. This is what happened in Weimar Germany.
Fallows, James. "The Mind of Japan." U.S. News and World Report, 2 December 1991.Hillenbrand, Barry, and James Walsh. "Fleeing the Past." Time, 2 December 1991.Thurow, Lester, Robert Kuttner, Robert Heilbroner, Robert Reich, Isobel Sawhill, and John Jacob. "Investing in America's Future." Economic Policy Institute, C-SPAN, Washington, D.C., 21 October 1991.USA Today. "USA-Japan: A New Era." Interview with Edson W. Spencer, 25 November 1991.Bob McCannon is Chair of the NCSS Committee of Instructional Media and Technology and President of the New Mexico Council for the Social Studies.