Understanding Pacific conflict helps historian work for peace

Dec. 7, 1941, is the day President Roosevelt said would live in infamy. Sept. 11, 2001, is another day burned into the American consciousness. But what about Aug. 6, 1945, or March 19, 2003?

Noriko Kawamura, a WSU professor of history, argues that true patriotism requires Americans to understand why Aug. 6 is a day of infamy to the people of Japan (atomic bombing of Hiroshima), just as March 19 may well be a day of infamy to those in Iraq (U.S. attack).

“True nationalism has to have an element of transnationalism,” she said. “Concern about your own nation must take into consideration the perspective of other people.”
Not that you must agree with another nation’s collective interpretation of an event, she said, but you must understand it.

“Narrowly defined nationalism makes people chauvinistic,” she said, and that’s an untenable position in a global environment.

Sustainable peace
In a paper titled, “Peace and Kyosei: A Historical Perspective on the Reconciliation of Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima,” Kawamura argues that for Japan and the United States to achieve a lasting peace built on cooperation for the common good, both sides must abandon nationalistic memories (Remember Pearl Harbor! Remember Hiroshima!) for a shared transnational memory of both Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima, of the hardships and horrors inflicted by the Japanese as well as those inflicted on the Japanese.

Kawamura delivered her paper in October at an international symposium titled “Toward a New Understanding of Peace, Security and Conviviality” jointly sponsored by International Christian University and Sophia University in Tokyo. It was part of an ongoing collaboration between researchers at ICU and WSU to build a comprehensive and multidisciplinary body of work toward a grand theory of sustainable peace. The next ICU-WSU faculty conference is planned for April 4-6 in Pullman.

Kawamura, director of the Peace and Security Research Partnership with ICU, also is working on a book titled “Emperor Hirohito and the Pacific War: Myths and Realities Across the Pacific.” This January, part of this project will be published as an article in Diplomatic History under the title “Emperor Hirohito and Japan’s Decision to Go to War with the United States.”

Iraq not like Japan
Kawamura sees many points of comparison between events and personalities in the conflict between the United States and Japan and the conflict between the United States and Iraq, but what is most striking are the differences.

She said she and other historians were horrified when U.S. officials during the buildup to war in Iraq made comparisons between the U.S. occupation of Japan and likely scenarios in Iraq after the takedown of Saddam Hussein.

The conditions in Japan — an industrial nation with an entrenched hierarchical bureaucracy, a compliant sovereign and racial, religious and cultural homogeneity — made prospects for a successful U.S. occupation followed by a return to sovereignty much more likely than any reading of history would allow for Iraq.

“It is ridiculous to argue that because the United States was successful in democratizing Japan, it could do it in Iraq,” Kawamura said, but that is what the U.S. government was suggesting before the invasion.

“Historians can say something useful when politicians exploit a historical analogy for their own purposes,” she said. Kawamura does not believe the adage that history repeats itself, at least not in the particulars; but history does teach lessons — if people are paying attention.

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