Monday, October 23, 2006

Rainy day, shoes, Leo Strauss, Japanese baseball

Another rainy day in Gamagori: the clouds moved in early and settled over the mountains to the north, and shrouded the bay with an impenetrable mist. There seems to be little doubt that autumn has arrived here for good.

I spent much of today reading students' essays. My newest assignment is to give them prompts for the short writing assignment they must do every evening. No complaints from me; it's really good reading practice -- and even better writing practice, because I have to write short responses to their essays. Since I have to provide a prompt every day, I would be happy to receive suggestions from you about what they should write about.

I also had to go shoe shopping today, because I needed a pair of decent shoes to wear around the dormitory. I think I bought the largest size -- 10.5 -- that they had in stock, and it took a while to find a pair in that size. At least now I won't have to walk around in inadequate slippers purchased from the campus combini.

Lastly, I discovered the campus お風呂 (ofuro, a Japanese public bath) today. There is nothing better than ending the day with a hot bath, and I plan to use it often. (My day technically doesn't end until I go to sleep -- such is the life of a floor master -- but the principle remains valid.)

I read yet another superb essay in The American Interest today, this one actually being available online. It is by Nathan Tarcov, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago and a member of Chicago's Committee on Social Thought, once the stomping ground of Friedrich Hayek, Allan Bloom, and Saul Bellow; he expertly critiques the oft-made argument that contemporary "neo-conservatives" in and close to the Bush administration drew their inspiration from Leo Strauss. Using the few statements Strauss made on contemporary foreign policy questions, including two speeches made during World War II on the question of how to postwar Germany could be reformed and the introduction to his 1964 book The City and Man on the cold war.

Tarcov's conclusion:

What Strauss did say about foreign policy hardly resembles the errors with which he has recently been charged. First of all, he spoke not of unilateral American foreign policy or American hegemony or even American national interest, but in 1942 and 1943 of the policy of “the United Nations” (the wartime Allies, not the post-war organization), “the liberal powers”, “the Anglosaxon nations and the other nations interested in, or dependent on, Anglosaxon preponderance”, and in 1963 of “the West.” Furthermore, he stressed the impossibility of imposing a lasting form of government through conquest, the obstacles to the democratic education of one people by another posed by differences of political tradition and intellectual climate, and the need for re-education toward liberal democracy to be the work of the people involved rather than of foreigners or exiles. And Strauss seems to have erred in the direction of underestimating, not overestimating, the prospects for the spread of liberal democracy—exactly the opposite fault from that with which he has recently been charged. Strauss can remind us of the permanent problems, but we have only ourselves to blame for our faulty solutions to the problems of today.

The portrait of Strauss presented by Tarcov is of a thinker who had much more in common with the early neoconservatives -- Irving Kristol, Nathan Glazer, Daniel Bell, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, i.e. the real neoconservatives -- than with their supposed ideological descendants active today. According to Tarcov, Strauss was concerned about the limits of what the West can achieve by its actions. He questioned the enlightenment notion that by superior reason the West can transform the world's regimes and usher in a period of Kantian perpetual peace. Like his Chicago colleague Hayek (this conclusion is strongly implied in The Constitution of Liberty, in which Hayek discusses the spontaneous order that undergirds liberal democracies), Strauss questioned whether Western governments could effectively execute regime change and replace tyrants with democracies. In his remarks on how postwar Germany should confront its political "mistakes," Strauss strongly emphasized that Germans would have to address the constitution of their political order themselves. Tarcov quotes Strauss as saying to an audience at the New School in November 1943: "A nation may take another nation as its model: but no nation can presume to educate another nation which has a high tradition of its own. Such a presumption creates resentment, and you cannot educate people who resent your being their educator."

Changing gears, Abe Shinzo's LDP won its first electoral challenges since Abe ascended to the premiership last month. The LDP picked up two seats in lower house by-elections in Kanagawa Prefecture and Osaka. The media spin on the by-elections and now the LDP wins has been that they constitute a measure of public satisfaction with the Abe Cabinet. Maybe so, but as the Japan Times reports, turnout was substantially lower in both districts. Although Mr. Abe's first month has been busy, it is far too early to render any conclusive judgements about his premiership. The election results may have been driven by Abe's initial performance, but that has little meaning for the medium and long-term viability of his government. Little more than a small notch in Abe's belt.

A more unsettling -- and potentially more significant story -- was published in the op-ed section of the Japan Times today. Kiroku Hanai notes rising opposition in the Yokosuka community to the planned homeporting of the nuclear-powered USS George Washington at the US naval base in Yokosuka, replacing the conventionally powered USS Kitty Hawk. It seemed earlier this year that local and prefectural authorities had agreed to the deployment of a nuclear-powered carrier, but as Hanai reports, grassroots resistance is mounting. Curiously, this resistance is growing at the same time that the national political discussion has been roiled by LDP policy chief Shoichi Nakagawa's remarks about nuclear weapons for Japan.

At a time when senior officials in both countries are working hard to emphasize the US-Japan alliance's unity of purpose in response to the North Korean nuclear test, this is an important reminder of the alliance's fragile foundation. Frankly, the alliance has long lacked a popular foundation in either country, and in Japan -- unlike in Washington, where for the most part senior officials ignore the alliance until a crisis of some sort or another -- the alliance is a fact of life in Japan, something that senior politicians and bureaucrats cannot ignore. It is a fundamental element of modern Japan, and for millions of Japanese in Okinawa but also in Kyushu, the Kanto Plain, and Tohoku, it is a fact of their daily lives, as they share their communities with US facilities and personnel.

Of course, one cannot extrapolate from the feelings of impacted communities to the country as a whole, but it is important to recognize that the alliance remains vulnerable to an incident like the 1995 Okinawa rape incident that contributed strongly to the Clinton adminstration's effort to strengthen the alliance. A rape or murder by US military personnel improperly handled by US authorities; an airplane crash in a heavily populated area with a number of fatalities; some kind of nuclear accident should the George Washington be homeported -- these scenarios could result in a backlash against the US presence in Japan on the whole, undermining the US deterrent capability in the region and in turn weakening or breaking the alliance.

The Japanese government has consistently failed to take a firm stand on US bases when faced with local resistance -- this absolutely cannot continue.

The other point one can draw from this article is that the Japan's nuclear "allergy" remains strong -- despite depending on nuclear power for 34.6% of their electric power generation, a greater percentage than any other power source. It seems that it will take more than the threat of North Korean nuclear weapons for the Japanese to reconsider the role of nuclear weapons in the US-Japan alliance, let alone the question of whether Japan will possess them.

Whatever the case may be, it is important to remember that while the alliance has definitely grown stronger in the past decade, there are still critical vulnerabilities that must be addressed. It is still not a "normal" alliance, and it won't be so long as Japan maintains that its constitution prohibits it from exercising its right of collective self-defense -- and so long as the alliance can potentially be held hostage by outraged communities. The plan announced in May that envisions a phased relocation of US Marines from Okinawa to Guam is one step in the right direction, but both governments still have a lot of work to do.

Finally, Mr. Stern of Toronto, Canada has asked me to discuss Japanese baseball. First, I should report that the Fighters evened the Japan Series with a win over the Dragons last night. Second, I should point out that I have previously written about Japanese baseball here, here, and here.

He asked: "What's the game like? How does it compare to the game in N. America? I seem to recall reading it was much closer to NL baseball, i.e. less mashing; more pitching. Oh, and keep in mind that most of my knowledge about Japanese baseball still stems from Mr Baseball with Tom Selleck." So briefly, for those in the "Mr. Baseball" category, baseball has been played in Japan since 1871, when an American missionary taught it to Japanese school children. The game caught on quickly, as the newly established Meiji regime recognized that they could use baseball to bridge modern and traditional Japanese values by using the game to stress teamwork, intense preparation, and the acquisition of specialized skills. By the turn of the twentieth century, baseball was played at Japanese universities, and the first professional league formed in 1936. There are now twelve teams, divided into two leagues of six.

The style of play is indeed more like NL baseball -- when the NL actually could play. Players one through nine are expected to be able to bunt. There is definitely an emphasis on defense. There is a good deal of power in the lineups, but it seems that foreign players are often imported to fill this role. Personally, I think the stars don't loom nearly as large as Major League stars. Not surprisingly, the team often takes priority -- and, furthermore, managers are highly respected. I have never seen team merchandise for a manager before coming to Japan. (I am the proud owner of a Bobby Valentine Chiba Lotte Marines t-shirt.)

That's my rundown on Japanese baseball. More questions?

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