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YoichiFunabashi
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YoichiFunabashi
 
Letter to a friend in Washington, D.C.

Dear M,

The hotly contested U.S. presidential election is finally drawing near.

In the end, it has come to resemble a plebiscite on ``Iraq.''The last time foreign policy and security were the central issues in a presidential election was probably in 1968 when ``Vietnam'' was the focus.

However, frankly speaking, I couldn't tell the fundamental difference between the policies of President George W. Bush and that of his contender, John Kerry, on Iraq and the Middle East. Toward the final days of the campaign, Kerry has tried to stress his difference. But as far as Middle East policy is concerned, including peace plans for Israel and Palestine, their difference was like that between Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola to me. Although I'm sure the two companies would object to the comparison.

In past presidential elections, candidates often asked, ``Are you better off today than you were four years ago?''

What about this time?

To me, the economy appears to have remained more or less at the same level. The problems are politics and foreign relations. In particular, as far as civil liberties and human rights are concerned, there is no doubt everyday life has become more constrained. The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks seem to have prompted the United States to turn itself into a fortress. It has begun to build a public surveillance system under the guise of anti-terrorist patriotic laws. I remember you calling the trend ``1984-lite'' after George Orwell's novel. In addition, there's the abuse of prisoners of war at Abu Ghraib prison and the refusal to appoint counsel for ``unlawful combatants'' in a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

You said you were afraid that a U.S. ``failure in Iraq'' could give rise to a reactionary countercurrent within the United States. It took the form of McCarthyism during the Korean War and the anti-establishment movement at the time of the Vietnam War. The trauma left behind by the Vietnam War also revealed its ugly self during the current election campaign. I am worried that the ``Iraq failure'' could cut U.S. politics and society apart and make the United States even more intolerant.

U.S. reputation in the world has sharply declined in the past four years. In many countries, people have come to see the United States as an even greater threat than terrorism. At this rate, anti-Americanism could turn into a major global ideology of the 21st century.

Still, I believe there will come a day for the United States to free itself from the fetters of politics and foreign policy dominated by fear and obsession and recover the magnanimity and free spirit it once had. Writer John le Carre has said that he will wait until real Americans return. I understand his feeling. I remember the ``real Americans'' who took care of me a long time ago when I lived in a town in New England. They were warm and and had a good sense of humor.

I belong to the generation of children who were given chocolates by American soldiers when Japan was under U.S. occupation, although personally, I only have a faint memory of chewing American gum. Back then, I had a picture book of American passenger cars. I remember how I enjoyed standing on a street corner in Tokyo's Takagicho district with the book, naming the models of the cars that passed by. My favorite was Studebaker. After I grew up, I learned that Paul Hoffman, who was the president of Studebaker, headed the U.S. office that implemented the Marshall Plan and promoted academic research of Japanese cultures by American foundations after World War II.

(Incidentally, I also went to a pro-wrestling match between Rikidozan and the Sharpe Brothers in Yokohama. When the Rikidozan-Endo team lost, the spectators were in an uproar. We were jostled out of the venue, and sprayed with water from a hose by an American soldier. My father and I ran for our lives.)

Up till now, the United States has captivated the world with its soft power (intellectual and cultural power). But ``Bush's United States'' is acting as if it couldn't care less. When Kerry called on the people to make their nation worthy of respect by the rest of the world, I think he wanted their support for the United States to make a fresh start as an energetic soft power and not a hard power that tries to rule the world with fear and military power.

However soft power can only emerge when it is supported by a lively and robust democracy, respect for diversity, differences and a habit of dialogue and compromise. This time, the U.S. society is facing a test on whether it can recover those virtues. The election will be a crucial one for Americans to determine themselves what their nation should be.

I will visit Washington soon. I received your e-mail asking me to join you for dinner on Nov. 2, election day. I look forward to seeing you.

Sincerely yours,

Y (2004/11/02)








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