Nearly seventy years ago today, "a date which will live in infamy," our harbor was bombed in Hawaii, and our troops went off to war. And after that war was over, after we reclaimed a continent from a madman and beat back danger in the Pacific, those troops came home to a grateful nation – a nation that welcomed them with a GI Bill and a chance to live out in peace the dreams they had fought for, and so many died for, on the battlefield. We owe it to all our veterans to honor them as we honored our Greatest Generation – not just with words, but with deeds.Barack Obama chose the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Imperial Japanese Navy to announce his selection of the third-generation Japanese-American Eric Shinseki to head the Department of Veteran Affairs, an event that is being widely covered in the Japanese media for obvious reasons. The Japanese is taking note of the fact that Obama did not mention Japan (or Germany) by name, and interpreting the whole affair as a demonstration of his “forward-looking posture”, as we would say in Japanese. Note also that Obama uses the terms danger for Japan and madman for Germany. One is a faceless menace; the other, Hitler. This is in keeping with the United States’ original decision not to try the Emperor as a war criminal, and it would have been unthinkable to do otherwise. Still, it is reassuring to see the Obama team’s skill and knowing tact in action in the use of the appointment—normally a very minor cabinet post but with great political significance for the incoming administration—to also send Japan a positive message. This is particularly important when Obama’s election has raised specters—wrongly in my view—of the turbulent Clinton years among the Japanese political and business establishment.
7 December 2008, from President-Elect Obama’s announcement of Gen. Eric Shinseki as Secretary of Veterans Affairs
The Obama team does have a highly capable set of Japan hands on board—perhaps it helps in this instance that Japan studies, unlike Russia studies for example, tend to attract liberals, hence Democrats and it shows here. The Japan hands are unlikely to hold high-profile posts like Richard Armitage and Michael Green did during the Bush administration—Japan is not a source of trouble—but I’m sure that they will continue to make their presence felt where such positive, reinforcing touches are concerned. Their services will be particularly useful to the Obama administration, given the growing turbulence on the Japanese political scene.