Learning From Tokyo

America’s post-9/11 foreign policies have damaged its image abroad, and this is particularly true in Japan, the home of LewRockwell.com columnist Mike (in Tokyo) Rogers. In his new book Schizophrenic in Japan, Rogers, an American expatriate living in Tokyo, provides a unique perspective on the average Japanese person’s view of American imperialism. His collection of essays uses humor, common sense, and stories from his fascinating past to criticize America’s current direction.

Rogers is perhaps at his best when he humorously lampoons the Iraq war. In his essay “Baghdad Buffet,” he offers his plan for winning the hearts and minds of Iraqis: building the world’s largest buffet in Iraq. Then, the Iraqis will be too busy gorging themselves in American fashion to shoot at our troops. “Chickenhawk Down” satirizes America’s numerous armchair generals, who spend their time cheerleading while our young people fight and die. As Rogers points out, if all chickenhawks joined the military, there would be no recruiting crisis.

Most American politicians lack common sense. To gain support for disastrous foreign adventures, they claim to possess unique knowledge; that way, people will follow them into wars with goals that defy common sense, like George W. Bush’s war to remake the Middle East in America’s image. Fortunately, Mike Rogers trusts himself, not politicians. In “Vietnam, Iraq, the Dishes, and Vacuuming: A Household Analogy,” he correctly argues that, no matter how much one cleans, dirt and dust will always return. Similarly, insurgencies invariably defeat their oppressors; every time America kills an insurgent, more join the fight. This process will repeat itself until America is forced to withdraw like it was in Vietnam. “Sir Isaac Newton and the Coming Invasion of Iran” explains the truth that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” to dissuade Americans from supporting an attack on Iran. Iran has considerably more territory and people than Iraq, and Iraq has not been easy to occupy. Moreover, the Iranians endured hundreds of thousands of casualties during the Iran-Iraq War, yet they still persevered. An American attack on Iran could provoke a reaction that will make Iraq look like the cakewalk the Bush administration promised.

Rogers argues that the Japanese perspective on war differs greatly from the American view. The Japanese, unlike most Americans, have experienced the insanity of total war; America’s firebombing of Tokyo during World War II killed 140,000 people in one night, and America dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Thus, the Japanese cannot understand why so many Americans cheered when George W. Bush launched his invasion of Iraq. Many Japanese, as Rogers said in his first interview with Scott Horton, see war as something that has nothing to do with them. They believe that politicians start wars to benefit themselves, not their people. Once we understand this, Rogers says, it is easy to see why the Japanese are dumbfounded by America’s war enthusiasm. The recently leaked Downing Street memo, which proves that the Bush administration exploited Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction programs as a mere excuse for invasion and “fixed” intelligence to dupe the American people, certainly justifies this cynical view of war.

Rogers also incorporates his past into his criticism of America’s wars. For example, in “A Parable on Little-League Umpiring,” he tells a funny story about his first (and only) effort at umpiring. After hilariously recounting his experience, he vows to never make the same mistake again; Americans should make a similar vow about following politicians into unjust wars. “Photographs and Memories Never Die,” a powerful essay about his mother, relates her death to America’s wars, reminding Americans that war leaves too many parents with nothing but pictures and memories of their children. This essay is especially relevant today, since the Bush administration has done its best to shield America from images that depict the impact of its wars on American families; it fought to prevent publication of pictures of fallen soldiers’ coffins. Parents who read “Photographs and Memories Never Die” will hesitate to encourage their children to participate in America’s imperialistic wars that bring so many young lives to an early end.

Though sometimes accused of “hating America,” Mike Rogers loves his home country; he does not, however, love what it has become. He longs for the lost America that resisted the temptations of empire and held its leaders accountable for their actions: “How I would love to hear its name once again, as it was intended to mean, before I die.” Many Americans (and others throughout the world) share this wish, and Schizophrenic in Japan conveys their message powerfully.

Read more by Andrew Young