Today’s dynamic and hopeful Asia — a region that brings us countless benefits — would not have been possible [bold mine-DL] without America’s presence and perseverance. ~George W. Bush
You know, if I were Japanese (or Taiwanese or Thai, to say nothing of Indian) I think I would get pretty tired of hearing this sort of thing. Yes, I understand that this was a speech to the VFW and the President is obliged to pay his respects to veterans of the Pacific and Korean Wars, as well he should. Nonetheless, we peddle these myths about our indispensible role in the reconstruction of many of these countries after the war, and this leads us to make mistakes in our current policies. Thus Mr. Bush once again trots out post-WWII occupation and reconstruction as some sort of “proof” that current Iraq policy makes sense, which would be interesting, except that Japan was not like the way Iraq is and the two cases are not comparable at all. If there were people who believed that Japan was unsuited to democracy (if today’s virtually permanent LDP rule they have there is what you want to call democracy), they were evidently too much in thrall to official propaganda about the nature of the Japanese regime, since the Japanese had already had universal manhood suffrage for decades. They had a liberal constitutional monarchy, and their legal system was based on European models. (Also, the implicit comparison the President makes between Shinto and Islam is unpersuasive for what I would hope are obvious reasons.)
For people who normally get so edgy when Vietnam is mentioned in any negative connection with Iraq, the administration is strangely happy to make lame analogies with U.S. involvement with almost any Asian country now. For what it’s worth, Japan was fairly “dynamic” before the Pacific War, and they were, I suppose, “hopeful.” It may have been the hopefulness of a would-be empire and regional overlord, but it was hopefulness all the same. Indeed, they were rather too optimistic in what they thought they could accomplish. That’s something worth bearing in mind.
There is one way in which Mr. Bush might have a small point, if he means to refer only to the postwar period and he wanted to talk specifically about, say, South Korea alone. It was primarily the Japanese themselves who rebuilt their own country and transformed it into the economic dynamo that it became. Having already industrialised significantly before and during the war, the Japanese were hardly unfamiliar with modern industry, finance and capitalism, and they had also had some experience with parliamentary government. Having successfully created and sustained these things once before, they were prepared to rebuild and recreate anew. Our role was to allow this without allowing Japan to rearm and resume its great power ambitions.
Running throughout this speech is the idea that every nation in the world wants freedom and has the potential to do great things, but none of them could have done or will ever do anything if the Americans don’t show up to “help” or, more precisely, make them do it. Especially if Mr. Bush is right about the potential and the desire of all peoples to live free, this is appalling arrogance to claim that their success is dependent on us. On the other hand, if it is so heavily dependent on us, how will it be sustained if we should ever depart? If the former, our involvement is redundant and pointless, and if the latter our involvement is ultimately futile.