On his American tour to promote English translation book, a veteran journalist urges reconciliation between Japan and the U.S. over World War II scars

Cultural News, 2008 January

By Albert Brown

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On November 7, 2007, the Japan Information & Culture Center of the Embassy of Japan had the pleasure of hosting former Kyodo News Washington Bureau Chief Fumio Matsuo.

Mr. Matsuo discussed the English language version of his book, Democracy with a Gun: America and the Policy of Force, which was released in October 2007. The lecture and discussion was moderated by CBS News White House correspondent Bill Plante, a veteran American journalist and Mr. Matsuo’s long-time friend who covered the Reagan Administration alongside him in the early 1980s.

“One of Mr. Matsuo’s first great successes as a journalist was his ability to read President Reagan’s mind,” said Mr. Plante. According to him, Mr. Matsuo, who has spent over forty years covering America, set himself apart from other journalists for having a sharp eye and a strong curiosity to understand “why” things in America happen the way they do.

Matsuo Fumio

Fumio Matsuo in Tokyo

Mr. Matsuo spoke about his childhood growing up in Japan during World War II and how the failed detonation of an American bomb forever changed his life – propelling him on a course to seek to understand the country that he was indoctrinated as a boy to call “enemy.”

It was this experience, along with other wartime encounters with American forces, that reinforced his desire to understand America, its people and its culture.

Having spent the majority of his lifetime between Japan and America, Mr. Matsuo offered insight into the sometimes ambiguous relationship that connects these two countries. What was most interesting, as an American member of the audience, was listening to his suggestions of what the Japanese ought to consider when they think about America.

Mr. Matsuo noted that there are generally three issues: 1) American idealism and pragmatism; 2) the use of force or guns as a “founding value” of America, as Mr. Matsuo saw represented in the Second Amendment to the Constitution; and 3) the sentiment that Japan has yet to find closure with America over World War II.

Throughout his book and during the lecture, Mr. Matsuo constantly referred to Japan and America as “ships passing in the night,” separated by a 14-hour time difference. Our two nations are close, but do they really understand one another?

Mr. Matsuo said he believes that despite our alliance and general good nature towards the other, Japan still lacks complete understanding of its Pacific neighbor.

As a Japanese who lived through the war, the allied occupation and post-war relations, Mr. Matsuo spoke of the need for reconciliation between Japan and America over issues such as Pearl Harbor and the Atomic bombs. “No incumbent Japanese Prime Minister has visited the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor and, at the same time, no incumbent American President has visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial,” he said.

He has openly expressed the need for an American President to lay a wreath at the Hiroshima memorial, and on the 60th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, he published an Op-Ed piece called “Tokyo Needs Its Dresden Moment” (August 16, 2005) in the Wall Street Journal urging President Bush to do so.

Throughout the lecture and discussion, it was very clear that Mr. Matsuo believes that Japan, still, to this day, feels a lack of closure with its past. It still struggles with its wartime role and its actions against its Asian neighbors and the United States.

With euphemism that is customary of Japanese culture, Japan “has deceived itself” over the war, he said. He explained that, after the Japanese surrendered to the Allied Forces, they did not translate “Occupation Forces” literally into Japanese, and instead used the term “Advancing Forces,” which continues to be used to this day.

The book, Democracy with a Gun: America and the Policy of Force, is currently on sale nationwide and is published by Stone Bridge Press. The Japanese-language version, Juu o Motsu Minshushugi: Amerika to iu Kuni no Naritachi, was first published in 2004 in Japan. It won the 52nd Annual award of the Japan Essayist Club that year.

This article was first appeared at Japan Now, the official E-Newsletter of the Embassy of Japan on Dec. 7, 2007. Albert Brown is a staff of the Japan Information & Culture Center of the Embassy of Japan, Washington, D.C. (Courtesy of the Embassy of Japan)