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Proceed with care to rebuild peace

Lessons of postwar Japan-U.S. relations

``Though a country be sundered, hills and rivers endure,'' says the poem ``Advent of Spring'' by Du Fu. And so it is with Iraq and Afghanistan, rugged lands where peace and order find no solid perches.

Both countries are struggling to re-establish law and order, without which reconstruction is difficult. The absence of peace also prolongs occupation, which in turn makes it even more difficult to restore normality. By contrast, although Japan was defeated in World War II, it was lucky as far as postwar reconstruction is concerned. The initial postwar years may have been a time of turbulence, but law and order eventually prevailed.

As a result, Japan was able to build a firm economic foundation that subsequently supported its growth. Although postwar occupation continued for nearly seven years, there were no terrorist activities against the occupational forces. Japan and the United States, which committed carnage against each other, improved their relationship from vanquished and victor to that of ``trust and reconciliation'' as spelled out in the San Francisco Peace Treaty.

Recently, neoconservatives in the Bush administration have tried to emulate postwar Japan's ``success story'' in their attempt to apply the domino theory of democratization to Iraq and the Middle East. However, they have ignored the differences in time and place. They have failed because they have tried to shape the success model to suit-and benefit-themselves. This was a serious mistake.

Even so, postwar Japan-U.S. relations can offer precious lessons to countries that are trying to recover from the ravages of war to rebuild themselves. The role of civil society is particularly important.

Recently, an international conference titled ``Lessons in Rebuilding Relations Between Nations: The Role of Philanthropy in Postwar U.S.-Japan Relations, 1945-1975'' was held in Tokyo under the auspices of the Japan Center for International Exchange (JCIE).

The conference focused on the role of American and Japanese civil society in advancing mutual understanding and intellectual exchanges between postwar Japan and the United States.

In particular, it was U.S. foundations that promoted policy research and dialogue between Japan and the United States. From 1945 to 1975, U.S. organizations such as the Rockefeller and Ford foundations provided financial support for some 3,500 programs in the areas of human and social sciences to the tune of $53 million (5.83 billion yen).

They could implement the programs because they had Japanese partners. Initially, liberal business leaders and academics related to Eiichi Shibusawa (1840-1931), Japan's most prominent philanthropist since the Meiji Era, played leading roles.

An outstanding example of this cooperation was the International House of Japan, established through the joint effort of Shigeharu Matsumoto (1899-1989) and John D. Rockefeller III (1906-1978). It was ``a shining edifice of institution-building efforts by the U.S. philanthropies,'' according to Tadashi Yamamoto, president of the JCIE.

Policy research and dialogue accumulated during the postwar years had a major impact on public policy. But more significantly, Japanese society learned the importance of having citizens propose public policies and have a direct say in the policy-making process.

Citizens also learned the need to shoulder and assume responsibility for ``public service,'' which is not the exclusive domain of bureaucrats.

Another conference speaker, Ford Foundation President Susan Berresford, said U.S. foundations and philanthropists must today address how much U.S. society is practicing the values it advocates. The comment refers to the difficulties the United States is facing as anti-U.S. sentiment spreads. Berresford also stressed the importance of ``humility'' and ``legitimacy'' in advancing philanthropic activities.

In Japan, citizens have begun to reassess the importance of their role both in terms of proposing and implementing foreign policy. A growing number of Japanese nongovernmental organizations are internationally active in areas of the environment, development, education, refugee relief and humanitarian aid.

However, foundations that should be supporting such activities are not adequately independent either financially or administratively. The number of think tanks that can make counterproposals to government policy is also limited. It is difficult for NGOs and the government to develop true partnerships.

Be that as it may, there is no doubt postwar Japanese democracy has nurtured a solid civil society. The core of Japan-U.S. ``trust and reconciliation'' was made jointly by Japanese and U.S. civil societies in their desire for world peace and aspiration for reform.

Civil societies worldwide, be they NGOs, foundations, universities or the media, are urged to adapt Japan's postwar experiences to meet the needs of countries that are in the process of rebuilding themselves. They should share their passion for making a new start while bearing in mind the significance of ``humility'' and ``legitimacy.'' More than anything else, civil societies should have sincere humanitarian concern and consideration toward partners.

Soon after the establishment of JCIE in 1970, Tadashi Yamamoto asked John D. Rockefeller III, ``What is the essence of philanthropy?''

Rockefeller replied: ``It is care, Tadashi, it's care.'' (2004/10/19)

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