George R. Packard


On his book Edwin O. Reischauer and the American Discovery of Japan

Cover Interview of October 12, 2010

The wide angle

The book highlights the hubris and conceit of American foreign policy.

We seem to believe that we can dictate to other nations, and spread our democratic “way of life” at the point of a gun (as in Vietnam, Iraq and now Afghanistan).  We have created a military establishment that has a major voice in foreign policy matters, far larger than that of the State Department. The Pentagon budget is out of control.  The “military-industrial complex” that President Eisenhower warned us about has taken charge.

I argue that knowledge and understanding of foreign languages and cultures and civilian leadership are critical to successful policymaking—Ed Reischauer exemplifies that proposition.

Reischauer stood up to the military in Japan and played a key role in moving to return Okinawa to Japanese sovereignty. Beyond that, he showed that serious scholarship can inform and improve policymaking.

The book also points up the dangers of specious intellectual theories that distort policy choices.

During the height of the anti-Vietnam war protests (1965-75), many scholars and students of East Asia bought into the Marxist line that Japan was suffering from the long period of feudalism in the Tokugawa Era (1603-1868) and that it should undergo a social revolution before it could become a real “democracy.”  In this view, the Emperor should have been executed or at least deposed after Japan’s defeat in World War Two, and the Socialists and Communists should have come to power.

This, as Reischauer knew, would have made Japan a Soviet satellite like Poland.  Japan’s economic miracle, which inspired similar growth in its Asian neighbors, would never have happened, and the creation of a strong middle class, which in turn deepened the roots of democracy, would not have occurred.

Emperor Hirohito and now his son, Emperor Akihito, have both been forces for stability and democracy in Japan.  Reischauer played a key role in combating this Marxist theory, both as a scholar and a policymaker.

I first got interested in Japan when I was sent by the Army to join an intelligence unit in Tokyo, and trained in the Japanese language. Later, back at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, I encountered Reischauer and his books.

I wrote my Ph.D. thesis on the anti-treaty protest movement in Japan of 1960.  This caught Ambassador Reischauer’s eye and he invited me to be his special assistant in Tokyo (1963-65).  Observing him in action, I thought this book needed to be written.

I then became a journalist, and later Dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (1979-93).  For the past 12 years I have been president of the US-Japan Foundation, a job that has finally given me time to re-assess Reischauer’s role and, in spare moments, to write this book.