Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
Maybe there is a critical misunderstanding at work that explains cartoonish rhetoric like what we heard from Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Takeaki Kashimura, who was quoted saying "I cannot help feeling ... strongly against spending ... taxpayers' money on such antigovernment, anti-Japan elements" in reference to efforts by the Japanese government to rescue recent Japanese civilian hostages in Iraq ("Hostage blames state for backlash," April 28). In a democracy, people - not only citizens - have a right to freedom of conscience, and politicians - members of the government or the opposition - represent all of the people, not just the ones who voted for them, who agree with them, or who support them. I think this point is lost on most Asian politicians, including Japanese, whose cultures are tightly cliquish and in-group/out-group oriented. The open favor and sometimes corrupt prejudice shown to their "support organizations" and people/groups who voice appropriately acquiescent views lead to frequent foolish and foolish-sounding pronouncements by people in positions of power in this country. It might simply not occur to Mr. Kashimura that a citizen can oppose government policy and still be a patriotic Japanese. No, it seems that the mainstream opinion is that any resistance to so-called authority is depraved and punishable behavior, and that is the mold into which the former hostages have been cast. If that is the case, then the mainstream opinion is wrong.
Whether it wanted the task or not, the Japanese government has a responsibility to serve its citizens (at home and abroad), and it is completely appropriate for it to have made the efforts that it did in the two recent civilian hostage incidents in Iraq. Furthermore, Mr. Kashimura is a public servant, responsible even to people whom he personally disagrees with and maybe even dislikes.
Published on Sunday, May 9, 2004 as “Responsibility to serve all citizens.”
I am rarely sympathetic to people - politicians or teachers - who try to play the patriotism or nationalism cards in public debate. It might be conservatives calling for patriotism as a gradable subject at school, or politicians labeling others “anti-Japanese” - or “un-American,” which is a more commonly heard thing. I would point out that any behavior a Japanese, or American, engages is therefore, by definition, decidedly not “un-Japanese” or “un-American.” It is entirely possibly to be a card-carrying member of the Communist Party and to be American. Being a communist does not exclude Americanness. I can’t help but feel that a similar formula works in this case, where the politicians Takeaki Kaashimura is quoted as virtually disqualifying the Japaneseness of civilian aid workers taken hostage in Iraq. Between the politician and the aid workers I’d say the aid workers are the nobler, more intelligent and moral, the better representatives of Japan to the world..
On the one hand one might say that one’s nationality is completely incidental to one’s humanity and is more akin to a matter of business and tidy accounting than to meaningful attachment. That sounds like the sentiments of a true humanist, a person able to rise above nationality to achieve a truly global perspective. And it sounds like the kind of thing that might drive conservatives into a fury.
But on the other hand one might cite my previous principle that anything a person does or thinks falls under the umbrella of one’s nationality. There in no such thing as “anti-Japanese” or “un-American.”