The War with Japan that Never Happened


When the Cold War ended in the early ’90s, America searched quickly for a new enemy, and as large-scale military battles were also instantly outdated, an economic villain was the obvious answer: Japan! The CIA went so far as to collect Japan scholars to create an anti-Japan report now known as “Japan 2000: DEFCOM 1,” which was quickly disowned by its authors after being leaked to the press. During this period, President Bush I flew over to Japan and delivered a message from Detroit, “Buy more American cars!” before vomiting all over the Japanese delegation.

For the first couple of years after the Bubble burst, Americans continued to write about Japan under the specter of possible economic defeat. Rising Sun is the embarrassing fiction and cinematic contribution, but meanwhile in the political section of your local library, there were book titles screaming The Coming War with Japan (by George Friedman and Meredith Lebard). Even Chalmers Johnson’s insightful 1994 Japan: Who Governs? deals heavily with trade issues and Japan-U.S. tension in a tone predicting future confrontation.

A decade later, no one’s writing books about diabolic Japanese economic mercantilism. Actually, no one seems to be writing anything about the Japanese economy outside of its decline, its possible globalization, and its history. Very few people still believe in a full Japanese economic recovery, and even contemporary issues like the Japanese refusal to buy diseased U.S. meat don’t get Americans out hitting Yoshinoya gyudon with baseball bats. Japan never changed their economic policy to please the U.S., but after 13 years of economic stagnation and the decline of the U.S. manufacturing sector, nobody cares anymore. Guys from Goldman Sachs are no longer reading Way of the Samurai for management tips. The hot areas in Japanese Studies are soft issues like pop culture, race, sex, and consumerism. American scholars no longer write books about how the Japanese education system can teach Americans a few lessons, like Merry White’s The Japanese Educational Challenge.

We are in the midst of a widespread Japanese pop culture boom, and there’s never been so much good-will towards Japan from the rest of the world. (Except for Japan’s East Asian neighbors who’d like Japan to stop praying for the souls of Japan’s war criminals.) And as much as the demonizing of Japan was ridiculous and counterproductive, there was a subtext of admiration: Hate stems from jealousy. Tensions have cooled, and the U.S. has bigger plans in other regions for economic Imperialism. Even though Japan is still essentially the world’s second largest economy, the perceived threat has evaporated. How fickle, American fear and loathing!

W. David MARX (Marxy)
March 26, 2005

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

10 Responses

  1. Momus Says:

    Your “nobody cares anymore about the Japanese economy” line rather elides the fact that Japan is underwriting American wars and the vast, and increasing, US budget deficit. It’s not that “nobody cares”, it’s that these facts are embarrassing for the current US administration to acknowledge.

  2. marxy Says:

    I think the Japan becoming an American creditor is much more difficult for the average American to understand than past trade friction, and you are right: the government would rather avoid talking about Japan than try using it as a scapegoat.

  3. r. Says:

    it is the japanese govt-the govt of the country that has “forever renounced war”…at the behest of america-that would rather avoid talking about the relationship (under the table) it has with america, in fact.

  4. josh Says:

    actually, china is underwriting mad king george’s debt

  5. Chris_B Says:

    momus & josh: Both Japan and China are large holders of both US$ for currency reserves and of US T-Bonds. Yes they help finance US debt. Its very easy to build up a straw man argument against President Bush around this idea but since it goes back much farther than the current adminsitration, the idea is not even entertaining as a conspiracy theory. Leave that sort of thing to Michael Moore since he will at least try to divert the viewer from the weakness of the argument by dressing it up with flashy MTV style montages. I came across some more constructive thinking on this matter by Thomas Barnett. Here is a translated interview with him from the Nihon Keizei Shinbun (thats like the Wall Street Journal of Japan). If you find that at all interesting, there is lots of other worthwhile reading on his site.

    marxy: Interesting idea for a post, but kind of poorly executed IMNSHO. Yoshinoya is a bad example of a potential target for American anger since they were in fact the number one consumer of US beef in Japan (sorry I dont have the link to that stat). Its also a bit sad to see you toe the LDP’s party line of calling US beef “diseased”. You know something about statistics so you know that per capita, domestic cattle have a higher infection rate than North American cattle. Additionally we’ve had plenty of news items of domestic cattle producers being caught out trying to pass off infected cattle as healthy. AFAICT this is a smoke screen trade battle to cover up larger domestic/import food safety problems. A while back they found organic waste in shumai imported from South Korea and before that there was a scare about Chinese spinache that was dosed with very high levels of pesticides banned by the Japanese farm ministry. Was there a trade sanction on either of those countries? How about all the cases of mislabeled domestic food products or the dairy products which were found to be tainted time and time again? I’ll bet that Yoshinoya and other beef importers just didnt have to connections with the LDP to avoid thier particular case becoming headline news.

    If we were going to be “fair and balanced” we might also take a look at the various domestic publications over the last 15 years which demonized US business methods. Didnt Governor Ishihara write something along those lines… FYI, my friends at various investment banks inform me that “The Book of Five Rings” is still part of the in house libraries at pretty much every 証券会社. Just because it no longer makes headlines, that doesnt mean it doesnt exist. I respect your right to left wing thinking, but when it bleeds over into a sloppy style of writing that would not even pass the low editorial standards of the Weekly Worker, that I gotta call BS on.

  6. Chris_B Says:

    Sorry, my link to Barnett’s website did not work. It should be

    I have alot of trouble with the way Movable Type parses inline HTML. I wish I knew where to find a HOWTO for posting or at least a list of what HTML tags will or will not pass.

  7. marxy Says:

    I kind of meant this as a light-hearted rib at American attitudes towards Japan than a ground-breaking investigative piece about tainted food and T-bonds. And your thing about “not making the headlines” is exactly my point: I was only thinking about public perceptions of Japan and what that says about the current situation.

  8. erikhw Says:

    Oboy. Can’t be easy getting slapped in the face no matter what direction you turn your head. Ganbatte Marxy.

  9. marxy Says:

    Can’t be easy getting slapped in the face no matter what direction you turn your head

    So I’ve noticed.

  10. stanleylieber Says:

    I recall reading a bright and sunny gloat piece in FOREIGN POLICY a year or two ago bragging about how the feared Japanese economic takeover had failed — it was basically making fun of people who’d believed in the Japanese ‘method’ of dominating production; pointing out that it hadn’t steamrolled the world. This was part of a larger series of pieces on ‘failed ideologies’ or something like that.