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Monday, May 01, 2006

Ashamed of the Stars and Stripes? It Could Happen - by David Benjamin

PARIS -- Recently in Japan, traveling to and fro around Tokyo, I was surprised by the sight -- through a train window -- of the Japanese "rising sun" flag, or hinomaru. The moment was remarkable because, all that day, it was the only flag I saw. If I had covered as much ground in the U.S.A., in an area as densely settled as greater Tokyo, I probably would have spotted the Stars and Stripes displayed in hundreds of places -- over post offices, on car antennas, lapels, policemen?s sleeves, on warehouses, bridges, front-lawn flagpoles, t-shirts, halter tops and Coca-Cola cups.
The difference lies in history. But a parallel looms, perhaps, in the future.
In Japan, the end of World War II marked the eclipse of a period of ultra-nationalist militarism that dated to the 1880's -- when a demimonde of violent right-wing "societies"{ began to quietly, ruthlessly subvert Japanese government and culture. Even in the Empire's death throes in 1945, Japan?s militarists -- defeated everywhere but on the home front -- dug in their heels and forestalled surrender, contributing to the national horror that took place in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Today these discredited elements linger stubbornly in Japan's body politic, preventing the ruling Liberal Democratic Party from becoming either liberal or democratic, and poisoning foreign relations with China, Korea and Taiwan, among others.
One lamentable legacy of Japan?s imperial militarists is that they brought shame onto the national flag. Today, flying the hinomaru is a bitter provocation, suggesting fierce xenophobia and racist aggression. To be caught in Japan with your flag open is mildly embarrassing, and totally uncool.


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