Sideling Captain Fanell
American naval officers who publically raise concerns
about China’s military capabilities and intentions can find themselves
sidelined, their careers stunted. Such is the case of Capt. James Fanell, formerly
the chief of naval intelligence for the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
Fanell was recently reassigned from his sensitive
intelligence post. His remarks at several forums that China is preparing for
war with Japan were embarrassing to the navy’s leadership, which is focused on
building ties with a newly assertive China’s military.
In a controversial address to the West 2014 Naval
Institute Symposium in San Diego in early 2014, Capt. Fanell said, “we have
witnessed a massive and amphibious military enterprise and concluded that the
People’s Liberation Army has been given a new task, to conduct a short, sharp
war to destroy Japanese forces in the East China Sea, following with what can
only be expected a seizure of the Senkaku, or even an island in the southern Ryukyu.”
The captain addressed his concerns mainly to
specialized publications such as the Proceedings
of the U.S. Naval Institute, but they were picked up by major civilian
outlets such as The New York Times
and the Stars and Stripes newspapers,
embarrassing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who was making an official visit to
China at the time.
Fanell spoke in unusually blunt and even colorful
language, making it more likely that the remarks would be picked up in the
civilian media. In particular was his use of the term “short, sharp war” to
describe the coming conflict. In referring to China, Washington brass usually
speak in bromides.
Last week it was reported in the Navy Times that Fanell had been reassigned from his post as chief
of naval intelligence and reportedly is to serve as an aide to a rear admiral.
It is unusual to assign to full captain to serve as an aide to a relatively
low-ranking flag-officer, suggesting that the brass doesn’t want him to be
making any more lectures.
“If you talk about [the subject] openly, you can cross
a line and unnecessarily antagonize,” said Admiral Jonathan Greenert, Chief of
Naval Operations. It is the official view that The United States welcomes
Fanell also had harsh words to describe actions of
China’s Coast Guard, which he calls a “fulltime maritime harassment service”
specifically designed to advance China’s strategic interests in the East and
South China Seas.
The Coast Guard services of both countries are the
front-line troops in the festering and dangerous dispute with Tokyo over
ownership of the Senkaku Islands (also known to the Chinese as the Daioyu) as
well as contested islets and atolls in the South China Sea.
The Japanese Coast Guard regularly patrols waters around
the Senkaku, while the Chinese Coast Guard frequently intrudes in Japan’s
claimed territorial waters. The Japanese ships warn them with loudspeakers to
leave the waters, while the foreign ministry lodges a protest which Beijing
China is building large patrol cutters at an “astonishing
rate,” the captain said. Since year 2000 thirteen new vessels have joined the
maritime service, and more are in China’s next five-year plan. China used to
convert aging destroyers for the service but recently has begun to acquire
purpose-built ships. Indeed, in early 2014, Beijing proudly announced it was
building the world’s largest coast guard cutter, a 10,000 ton vessel, as yet
“Unlike the U.S. Coast Guard, the cutters of the [Chinese
Coast Guard] have no other mission but to harass other nations into submitting
to China’s extravagant claims,” says Fanell. “Mundane maritime governance tasks
such as search and rescue, regulating fisheries, law enforcement or
ice-breaking, are handled by other agencies.”
The U.S. Navy brass itself is eager to cultivate
relations with counterparts in China’s armed forces through joint exercises and
frequent military exchanges, believing this is the best way to maintain peace
and avoid situations that might get out of hand leading to conflict. Clearly
Captain Fanell’s type of plain talk is not welcome.
This year the U.S. Navy strongly urged that Beijing to
send warships to participate in the annual RIMPAC fleet exercise off of Hawaii,
the largest such exercise in the pacific. China did dispatch a warship for the
exercise, but also an intelligence gathering ship, creating the unusual
position of a nation spying on an exercise in which it was a participant
The Fanell incident is reminiscent of the civil
servants in the British government, who supplied the intelligence on the
progress of Germany’s rearmament program to Winston Churchill, when he was out
of power in the 1930s, except that there is no similar figure in the U.S. to be
Moreover, it doesn’t take secret whistle-blowers to
inform the world that China has been engaged in a kind of crash re-armament
program for at least the last decade. Only last week it unveiled its newest
stealth fighter, the J-31, at the Shenzhen Air Show
It is perhaps ironic that while Fanell was speaking in
San Diego, while just a few miles to the
north, Japanese Ground Self Defense Force troops were storming the beaches of
the U.S. Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton. They were part of a newly
constituted force of soldiers trained in amphibious landing techniques to potentially
recapture Japanese islands seized by the Chinese, presumably in a “short, sharp
Crowell is the author of the forthcoming The Coming War
Between China and Japan.
Abe's Women Troubles
No, not that
kind of trouble.
In an effort to burnish his avowed policy of
empowering women, sometimes known as “womenomics”, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
appointed five women to the cabinet in the September 3 re-shuffle.
It is not the most women in a Japanese cabinet –
former premier Junichiro Koizumi also had five women in one of his cabinets,
but it is unusual for Japan, which also lags most every democracy in the world
for female MPs.
The well-intentioned move has turned into a major
embarrassment for Abe. Japan has never seen the spectacle of two cabinet
members, both of them women, resign their posts in one day.
Yoko Obuchi, and Midori Matsushima both resigned their
cabinet posts last Monday (Oct. 20) to take responsibility for public fund
accounting mistakes made by their staff and support groups that some say verge on buying
In her case, the staff handed out free tickets to a
famous singer’s concert. Matsushima’s mistake, apparently was handing out handheld
fans with her profile on printed on them.
Known as uchiwa
in Japanese, they are the kind of thing that stores hand out for free to
advertise their wares. Since the resignation story broke, hand fans with
Matsushima’s profile on them have been selling for $100 or more on eBay.
The ink was hardly dry on Obuchi’s resignation letter
than her replacement was in trouble. Yoichi Miyazawa, had to admit that some of
his staff took supporters to a Hiroshima S&M bar and listed the $170
expense as “political entertainment”.
The new and possibly soon to be ex- minister told
reporters, “It is true that such expenses were made, but I did not go there at
all.” He said that sadomasochism “is not my hobby.”
Abe also appointed Yoko Kamikawa to replace Matsushima
as Minister of Justice, so the number of women in the cabinet is just minus
Japan’s campaign financial reporting laws are complex,
and to outsiders often seem picayune, and they trip-up many a politician.
Hardly any government gets by without at least one minister resigning over a
gaffe or financing scandal. It’s practically an occupational hazard.
It was considered remarkable that the Abe government
managed 20 months in office without a single resignation. This was in stark
contrast to his first term in office (2006-2007) in which three ministers
resigned and one committed suicide in one year.
Such scandals, however do not necessarily ruin
careers. Obuchi, for instance, remains and MP and being only 40 almost
certainly will return to office after a couple years on the back-benches.
Before this latest incident, she was on track to becoming Japan’s first female
The opposition in parliament, mostly moribund for
Abe’s first 20 months in office, has suddenly come alive, sensing blood in the
water and gleefully demanding further investigations and even criminal
charges. Abe’s swift action in accepting
the two resignation may have neutralized the political fallout – provided no
new scandals emerge.
But it is not just the two short-time ministers among
the five that are causing Abe occasional heart-burn. Obuchi was a kind of
mainstream politician but the other three come from the far-right wing of the
Liberal Democratic Party.
Led by Internal Affairs Minister Sanae Taikaichi, a
vocal advocate for making regular visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine,
three lady ministers visited the shrine during the recent autumn festival. Abe
did not join them but sent an offering as prime minister.
The Japanese leader is angling for a summit meeting
with China’s President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of November’s meeting of the
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, and thus does not want to irritate
Beijing any more than necessary at this particular time.
The Chinese government strenuously objects to Yasukuni
visits by the prime minister or any members of his cabinet, contending that the
shrine glorifies Japan’s invasions of China. Seoul also complains that the
visits sanctify Japan’s colonization of their country in the first half of the
Besides making a formal protest, Beijing dispatched
several coast guard vessels into Japanese-controlled waters around the
Senkaku/Daioyu islands, the disputed uninhabited rocks in the East China Sea.
Eriko Yamatani, chairman of the national public safety
committee, that is the police, and minister in charge of Japanese abducted by
North Korea embarrassed herself being photographed standing next to members of
the Zaitokukai, an anti-Korean group
that routinely hurls invectives at Koreans living in Japan.
Expecting to answer questions on the abduction issue
during a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, she ran
into a buzz saw of angry questions asking her to explain her possible
association with hate groups. She maintained that she didn’t know the people
were with the Zaitokugai.
Abe handed the
portfolio of female empowerment to an anti-feminist, Haroku Arimura, whose view
are well in in line with cultural conservatives in the U.S. She opposes women
keeping their maiden name after marriage, a major issue with Japanese
feminists, or allowing a woman to succeed to the Imperial throne.
Takaichi subscribes to most of the right-wing tropes
on Japan’s past history: namely that the “comfort women” issue was a Korean
libel; that the Nanjing massacre never happened or was grossly exaggerated;
that Japan fought purely defensive war in China.
Most of her and the other minister’s conservative
views would not truly upset Abe, as he holds many of the same views himself. It
is just that as prime minister he has to be more circumspect in voicing them.
One Leader, Two Masters
People in Hong Kong knew in their gut that this day
would come, the day when there would be an inevitable showdown with China over
the former British colony’s autonomy and desire for full democracy in all its
The many young people and students that have formed
the core of this protest have no memories of Hong Kong before the handover to
China in 1997 nor the wrenching suppression of the protests that occupied Tiananmen
Square for more than a month in 1989.
But they are not too young to have heard the stories
and absorbed the barely suppressed anxieties of their fathers, who in turn,
many of them, heard the stories of their
fathers who had fled China for the safety of Hong Kong after the communists
came to power during the Chinese civil war.
In the years just before the handover many of the
fathers had taken the precaution of acquiring citizenship in other countries
such as Canada and the United States, often leaving families behind for several
years in order to gain the “insurance” of a foreign passport should they have
to flee again.
In the years that immediately followed the handover
many of these fears subsided. Those who had acquired foreign passports quietly
put them away. The units of the People’s Liberation Army that rolled into Hong
Kong on the day after the handover, disappeared into their barracks and were
not seen again.
In retrospect, those early days were perhaps the
golden post-handover years. The mechanics of “one-country, two systems” seemed
to be working fine. On July 1, 2003, a half a million turned out in one massive
protest against proposed laws perceived to violate liberties without the police
having to resort to tear gas.
In a sense, Hong Kong people may have been lulled by
the success of that protest demonstration and others after the government
quietly withdrew the proposed laws. Beijing could decide it was a local screw
up and quietly acquiesce to the protest demands without losing face. That’s not
the case in the current troubles.
The current demonstrations take aim at a decision
that Beijing made through the Standing Committee of the National People’s
Congress to allow a city-wide, popular vote for the Chief Executive, but only
those candidates vetted by a select committee beholden to China.
The protestors are rightly upset about this action,
yet a city-wide election held under those terms need not be meaningless as some
suggest. Not all “pro-Beijing” figures come from the same cookie mold.
Even before the current troubles, Hong Kong people
particularly disdained the current incumbent Leung Cheung-ying. If he had had
to run against another candidate, even a “pro-Beijing” candidate, in a
city-wide election, he might easily have lost.
Indeed, something very similar to a two person race
happened in the last election in 2012 when two candidates contested the small-circle
election. One was Leung and the other was Henry Tang, then the financial
secretary. Tang had to drop out following revelations that he used public money
to enhance his residence and Leung won by default.
Many of the protestors and others in the pro-democracy
camp, yearn to elect as chief executive a kind of Chinese version of the last
British governor, Chris Patten, something that Beijing simply would not
In fact, there is such a person in Anson Chan, whose
term as chief secretary (ie head of the civil service) straddled the 1997
handover of Hong Kong to China. Beijing despises Chan, not just because she was
appointed by Patten (whom the Chinese also despised) but because of her
frequent jabs at Beijing’s leadership.
If Hong Kongers were free to nominate whomever they
chose, they would undoubtedly pick Chan as one of the candidates, and she would
almost certainly win in an open election. I’ve long suspected that Beijing
would delay any free vote until she had passed from the scene.
But at age 74, she seems as vigorous and feisty as
ever. She had thrown herself into the current dispute through such actions as
her recent speech to the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Hong Kong and op-ed
piece in Time.
“I think people have demonstrated that we want the
whole loaf, not half a loaf. And we certainly do not want a loaf that is rotten
through and through” was among her choicer quotes during her recent speech at the
Hong Kong FCC.
Before the handover many people assumed that the
chief executive (replacing the British colonial governor) must come from the
business community, somebody highly in tune with the business life blood of
That has proven to be a bad assumption. Hong Kong
has had two chiefs from the tycoon class, and they were and are both failures.
Through the Asian Financial Crisis and other economic trials, Hong Kong showed
that the economy could pretty much run itself.
What it lacks are political leaders.
Rather than the one-country, two systems construct,
a better term for the current political crisis might be “one leader, two
masters”. Any Hong Kong chief must somehow please or appease two “masters”, Beijing
and the Hong Kong people.
It is a task that requires the extraordinary dexterity
and political skill that none of the three post-handover chiefs has ever come
close to displaying. Maybe it is beyond any body’s abilities.
Every day scores
of right-wing activists gather outside the editorial offices of the Asahi Shimbun, to denounce one of
Japan’s two leading national newspapers. Conservatives have long objected to
the newspaper’s liberal bent, but it was only recently has the paper’s editors
gave them a cudgel to beat on them for being too “pro-Chinese” and
newspaper is going through a rough patch as it has had to make three embarrassing
apologies in as many months, as it backtracks on controversial stories, one of
which dates back 20 years but has serious international implications for its
relations with Korea and other Asian nations even today. The paper’s
retractions concerned two of the country’s most sensitive issues, nuclear power
and past militarism.
August the newspaper retracted
a story published in the early 1980s recounting the questionable testimony of
one Japanese man who claimed to have coerced upwards to 200 Korean women living
on the offshore island of Jeju into becoming prostitutes for the Imperial Army
during World War II.
September it had to retract a story it published in May based on leaked
testimony from the plant manager at the time of the nuclear disaster, Masao
Yoshida, claiming that workers at the site had abandoned the plant site and
fled contrary to Yoshida’s orders to stand fast.
weren’t enough, the paper also admitted that it had falsified an interview with
the President of Nintendo. Half dozen editors and senior editors at the
newspaper have been fired; the conservative press is piling on; and some
question whether the paper, with its estimated 8 million readers, can ever
regain its credibility.
the gravest mistake was in trusting one Seiji Yoshida’s (no relation to the
nuclear plant manager) story outlined in his book My War Crimes. Although other papers picked up the story, the Asahi
chose to really run with it, publishing more than a dozen articles on the
subject beginning in the early 1980s until the 1990s when unbiased historians
began to cast doubts on its credibility.
nothing else it was a cautionary tale for newspapers about the dangers of building
stories on a single source, although the newspaper claimed that it sent reporters
to Jeju island in order to confirm or
deny Yoshida’s allegations without success.
Asahi’s conservative rival, the Yomiuri
Shimbun gleefully reported every twist and turn of the Asahi’s tribulations.
Said the Yomiuri, “the report added fuel to the anti-Japan sentiment in South
Korea and forms the basis of a misperception of Japan that is spreading around
the world.” It also criticized the paper’s handling of the nuclear power
the issues stemming from World War II happened more than 70 years ago and to an
outsider have long been settled, in Japan it often seems as if they happened
only yesterday. Hardly a day passes without the newspapers of all stripes
publishing articles about the “comfort women” issue, using the euphemism for
Asian women conscripted into army brothels by the imperial army during World
revival of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party under its right-leaning
prime minister Shinzo Abe, has accelerated these controversial history issues.
Last year the government toyed with the idea of renouncing the so-called “Kono
Statement” of 1993, issued by the former Chief Cabinet Secretary in which Japan
formally acknowledged its responsibility for recruiting comfort women.
Yoshida misstep certainly added fuel to those in the country who want to have
the government renounce the Kono statement (not to mention other apologies that
Tokyo has made over the years). Conservatives consider the comfort women issue
an undeserved libel on its soldiers.
his strong conservative bent, the prime minister would probably be happy to do
that if it were up to him entirely, but as a responsible national leader he has
to consider the impact with neighbors, especially South Korea. It is not too
far-fetched to believe that renouncing the Kono Statement could lead Seoul to
break diplomatic relations and be a huge headache for American diplomacy in
the Asahi ran a story it must have thought was a global scoop, that at the
height of the nuclear disaster some 90 percent of the work force fled the site,
ignoring or willfully disobeying the plant chief. The story went global with The New York Times picking it up under
the headline: “Panicked Workers Fled Fukushima Plant in 2011 Despite Orders.”
was based on a leaked partial version of Yoshida’s hours of testimony before a
parliamentary commission investigating the accident, which the government had
agreed to keep confidential at Yoshida’s request. In September, it reversed
itself and released the full transcript saying that Yoshida’s fear that his
actions would be misinterpreted were warranted by the leak.
full text was made public, it became quickly apparent that the incident was
less dramatic and more complicated that the Asahi story had indicated. Yoshida
said that he feared an explosion in one unit might endanger the work force and
advised non-essential people to move to less threatened parts of the plant
interpreted this to mean moving to the undamaged Fukushima Daini nuclear plant
site only about 10 km (six miles) away. Yoshida said on reflection he thought
they did the right thing. As the threat to Unit 2 receded, most of the workers
who moved to the other plant returned, augmented by workers from other plant
sites and Tokyo firemen.
sticking to its story for months, the Asahi on Sept. 15 retracted the story,
issued an apology and sacked its executive editor. The paper is now setting up
an outside panel to impartially examine what went wrong on the comfort women
issue and others.
A Debate over Self Defense
It is an
only-in-Japan kind of debate since Japan is the only important country in the
world that has as part of its constitution a clause (the famous Article 9)
which quite frankly prohibits the country from having any army, navy or air
force or exercising force in any international dispute.
is currently embroiled in a huge domestic argument over whether it can legally
act as a fully-fledged alliance partner with the United States or any other
country in which it has a close relationship and common security concerns.
the charter, Japan has over the years, developed a formidable armed force, known
euphemistically as the “Self-Defense Forces”, but their operations are still constrained
by a legal framework that imposes some of the tightest restrictions on the
military of any other country.
1991, for example, Japan has participated in various peacekeeping missions
abroad, starting with Cambodia. It also takes part in anti-piracy patrols in
the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia.
However, if a neighboring peacekeeping force from another nation, say
Norway, came under attack from terrorists, Japan would be legally constrained
from coming to their rescue.
Minister Shinzo Abe wants to change this. For one thing in comports with his
own personal desire to make Japan a “normal nation”, one that exert force like
any other nation. But it also comes from heightened sense of danger from North
Korea’s nuclear ambitions to China’s territorial claims.
the concern was a recent incident in which China scrambled two advanced fighter
jets to fly within 50 meters of two unarmed Japanese patrol air craft that were
monitoring a joint China-Russia fleet exercise in the East China Sea near the
disputed Senkaku/Daioyu islands. Beijing brushed off protests from Tokyo.
wants his cabinet to declare by the end of the current session of parliament in
late June that so-called “collective self-defense” (that is aiding an ally)
conforms with the constitution. He wants this done soon so it can form part of
the negotiations with the U.S. in developing a new understanding of their
respective roles in the defense of Japan, the first time these guidelines have
been revised in 20 years.
keynote speech at the Shangri-la Dialoge on security matter last weekend in
Singapore, Abe said “it was incumbent on us in Japan to reconstruct the legal
basis pertinent to the right of collective self-defense.” US Secretary of
Defense Chuck Hagel publically backed Abe. “We support Japan’s new effort,” he
Most of the
American security establishment supports collective defense by Japan and is not
overly concerned about what obstacles Abe has navigate to get there. President
Barack Obama himself issued a statement during his April visit to Japan
supporting Abe’s proposed changes.
may have trouble getting his way. Public opinion polls show a public evenly
split on the overall issue with a still strong pacifistic element in the
electorate that worries that any change will send Japan down a slippery slope
towards the militarized Japanese state of the 1930-40s.
other hand, the same polls show broader support when asked about specific
contingencies, such as whether a Japanese warship can legally come to the aid
of an American ship in danger by an attack of North Korean patrol boats, for
Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has a commanding majority in parliament as a
result of the party’s smashing victory in the 2012 general election, but it is
a curious position where the “loyal opposition” is coming not from the
opposition parties themselves but from within the governing coalition itself.
is allied with New Komeito, the political arm of a Japanese Buddhist sect that has
strong pacifistic tendencies. Abe’s whole political efforts for the present are
directed at trying to overcome the Komeito party’s scruples over collective
self-defense, which the party leaders mainly oppose.
pushes ahead without making major concessions to Komeito’s concerns, it is
possible that the Buddhist party might leave the coalition. Abe is loath to let
that happen. It is partly for purely practical terms, as the Komeito alliance
helps the LDP win elections, but also fear that it might imperil its other
initiatives to strengthen the economy, known as “Abenomics”
knows from his previous short stint in office (2006-2007) that he can be
politically punished if he is perceived as being more interested in promoting his
own pet security ideas than he is in fixing the economy and other issues that
the public thinks more directly impacts their livelihoods.
now, the prime minister has had to modify his goals and has adopted a strategy
of listing specific examples calling for use of collective self-defense, such
as intercepting a North Korean ballistic missile aimed at American assets or
territory, that the Komeito may find acceptable.
opposition also comes from those, including some in Abe’s own party, who
believe that any such significant change to the constitution should be made by
amendment, not by the unilateral decision of a the cabinet that may be in
office for only a few years.
constitution, written by American occupiers in 1946, has never been amended
because no party has ever had the necessary two-thirds majority in both houses
of parliament to refer an amendment to a national referendum. Despite Abe’s commanding majority (even
without Komeito) in the lower house, it doesn’t have the votes in the upper
Godzilla at 60
hardly a day over 60 million, Godzilla turned 60 this year, brought back to
life as Hollywood resuscitated the slumbering giant monster and turned what had
been and is a Japanese icon into an American smash hit of global proportions.
The new Godzilla is a reboot of the franchise
which set a record of earning $196 million in its first weekend when it opened
in May, putting it on track to becoming one of the highest grossing movies of the
summer if not all time.
movie was produced by Legendary Pictures in partnership with Warner Brothers
and on license from Toho Productions, the Japanese studio that invented
Godzilla in 1954 and produced another 27 movies featuring the stomping giant
until retiring from active production in 2004.
production history makes Godzilla the longest running franchise in film
history, and, given the success of the American sequel in rejuvenating a tired brand,
it may be on track for another 50-year run.
is not the first American version. Tri-Star State Pictures produced its own Godzilla in 1998, but it failed to catch
on. This older version was so poorly received that it may have damaged the
brand, as no other follow up was attempted until this year’s version, 16 years
the 2014 version has a storyline of its own, it is faithful to many of the
familiar Godzilla tropes. It (Godzilla
is neither male or female) is born out of and sustained by nuclear radiation,
in this case a Japanese nuclear power plant; it stomps through cities smashing
buildings right and left (Las Vegas) and culminates in a battle with another
monster, Muto (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism).
Toho Productions released its first Godzilla in 1954 (the name is an English
version of the Japanese Gojira linking
the words for gorilla and whale), it did not know that it would be producing
one of the most instantly and universally recognized icons of Japanese culture.
Nor did they know that they would be making a long-standing series.
no plans for a sequel in 1954,”recalled the late Ishiro Honda, Godzilla’s initial director in an
interview before he died. Indeed, the monster is killed off in the first movie.
(never an obstacle to reviving the him in subsequent productions).The Toho
Productions soon changed its mind, and the second film, Godzilla the Fire Monster was made and released the next year.
reviews of Godzilla were cool. Some
dismissed it is “junk.” Yet, the original has now come to be ranked as one of
the best 20 Japanese movies of all time, up there with Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, which, coincidentally,
was released the same year. In 2004 Godzilla achieved the ultimate accolade when
his name was placed on a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.
of the original Godzilla was inspired by a headline event in the spring of
1954. A Japanese fisherman whose boat, the Lucky
Dragon-5, was hit by radioactive fallout from an American H-bomb test over
the Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific, died of Leukemia. By autumn Gojira was trading on the audiences’
twin fears of prehistoric carnivores and modern nuclear arms, it being only
nine years removed from the Hiroshima bombings.
since, nuclear radiation has played some role in subsequent movies. Indeed, it
was one condition of Toho’s granting a license that it somehow involve nuclear
radiation, which is why the revived Godzilla
is born in a Japanese nuclear power plant in the new version.
never a “message” movie per se, the Godzilla series have been attuned to the
current pulse of Japanese. In Godzilla
versus King Ghidora (1991) the rampaging reptile turned his attention to
ostentatious displays of wealth in the Bubble Economy era by obliterating the
new 60-story Tokyo city hall, usually accompanied by cheers from the audience,
monster has actually grown in height as Tokyo’s skyline has risen. In the first
movie, he was about 50 meters tall. That was roughly the height of the highest
Ginza building at the time of the film was made. He has gradually grown to
nearly 100 meters in height as more high rise buildings dotted Tokyo’s skyline,
and the new American version makes him, a little over 100 meters, the tallest
version in the series.
many people assume that Godzilla, the name and figure, are in the public
domain, the fact is that Toho is just as aggressive in defending its copyright
and trademarks as Disney is in protecting Mickey Mouse. Anyone thinking to add
the suffix “zilla” to a product name can expect to receive a cease and desist
letter from Toho’s Los Angeles-based law firm, Greenberg Gluskar,
this week a New Orleans brewery agreed to change the name of one of its new
beers from Mechahopzilla by the end of the year after it was sued by these same
attorneys acting for Toho. The studio had sued New Orleans-based Lager &
Ale Brewing Company claiming the name and logo were copycats of Godzilla’s monster
opponent of that name. Mechahopzilla figures in some Godzilla movies.
litigation has kept Godzilla’s brand thriving and has helped to pave the way
for extremely lucrative commercial and merchandising tie-ins that will accompany
the monster’s return to the big screen. Japan itself is dotted with numerous
Godzilla -themed products from jigsaw puzzles to T-shirts. Godzilla’s image is
for sale, but you have to pay for it.
Godzilla has, of course, already been
released in the US, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. But curiously, Japanese
will have to wait more than a month to see their favorite monster back in the theater,
as it isn’t scheduled to hit the big screens in Japan until July 25.
A Coup with a Difference
actually got the news in a telephone call from Japan, which is two hours ahead
of Thailand. “There’s been a coup!” my wife exclaimed after answering the phone.
“Where”? I asked stupidly. “Here in Thailand.” We turned on the television to
get more news, but every channel was just showing file footage of the King.
how I came to learn of the coup d’etat in 2006 that toppled the regime of
former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Eight years later the Royal Army has
seized power again, for the umpteenth time since the country ended the absolute
monarchy in 1932. That begs a question: how does this one differ from the 2006
coup might be described as a “soft” coup. Only about half a dozen close aides
to the deposed Thaksin were detained (Thaksin himself was outside of the
country addressing the UN General Assembly and has remained in exile). The
current coup seems to be much “harder.’ As of this writing some 250 people,
including the former premier Yingluck Shinawatra have been detained.
time the military government of Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha has spread its net far
wider, not just detaining members of the cabinet and the Thaksin family, but
retired generals thought to be sympathetic to the government and, more
ominously, opinion leaders like academics and some journalists who have written
in support of democracy in Thailand.
leaders also detained some prominent “yellow shirt” opponents of the
government, including its main protest leader, Suthep Thaungsuban but later
released them. The generals have darkly warned that more detentions are
possible if there is continuing resistance to the new junta.
current coup seems to have been planned more carefully than the earlier one. It
came in stages, with the army first declaring martial law and then two days
later seizing the reins of the government. Certain specified broadcasters were
shut down during the short martial law under orders which were later extended
to most of the independent stations.
In 2006 the
“red shirt” movement did not exist. There had been large-scale anti-Thaksin
demonstrations in Bangkok by Thaksin opponents who would later be called the
yellow shirts. At the time though, there was no need for a pro-Thaksin movement
as he was in charge of the government.
then the red shirt movement has expanded enormously, made up predominantly of
the underclass of Thais from the country’s north and northeast who benefitted
from Thaksin’s populist policies. They put thousands of supporters on the
streets and occupied central Bangkok in 2010 in an unrest that resulted in 90 protestors
being killed mostly at the hands of the army.
is a conscript army, and many of the soldiers come from the parts of the
country and social strata that have proved to be the Thaksin-red shirt base. It
is not improbable that Gen. Prayuth felt obliged to act the way out of concern
over the possibility of mutiny in the army if soldiers were ordered to fire on
protestors and the ultimately, civil war.
difference is that after the 2006 coup, the army operated behind a civilian
front, talked a lot about reforming the constitution and held out the prospect
of a return to democracy. Prayuth has, for the moment, named himself as prime
minister, and he has said the junta will remain in power “indefinitely.” He seems more interested in some kind of
long-term reconciliation than restoring democracy any time soon.
be inevitable considering Thailand’s difficult recent history with elections. Thailand
doesn’t need to restore democracy per se; it needs to develop a civil society
in which elections count, and where the results are accepted by the country,
both by the winners and losers. That hasn’t been the case in Thailand for a
the new Thai military junta is looking more and more like the one that ruled
Myanmar for years. Its official title – the National Council for Peace and
Order - even seems to echo the name the Burmese generals picked for themselves
in 1988: State Law and Order Restoration council (SLORC).
royal succession is eight years closer than it was in 2006, and Thailand is
eight years closer to a new crisis on top of a crisis. In that earlier coup the
leader of the coup was photographed prostrating himself before the monarch. So
far, Gen, Prayuth has not been seen with the King, although he claims that the
coup has the King’s support.
the King was still relatively healthy. Now 86, it has been many years since he
was well enough to assert any influence. The likely successor, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn,
is not popular; his sister Crown Princess Maha is popular, but may find it
difficult to win army support for a queen-regnant. Thailand hasn’t had a female
ruler from the current Chakri dynasty line that stretches back more than 200
economy weaker it was in 2006. Many in the business community welcomed the coup
as providing needed stability. But eight years of yellow-shirt versus red shirt
strife have taken their toll. Many Japanese businessmen for example, remember
being left stranded in Thailand in 2008 when the yellow shirts stormed and shut
down the two main airports in Bangkok.
critical tourist industry has had to operate against the backdrop of violence,
often in the center of in the capital that is home to many expats. Numerous
travel advisories issued by various foreign governments have discouraged
tourism. In this instance some countries have gone beyond merely advising
caution and unnecessary trips to Thailand to flatly advising their citizens to
other difference. The 2006 coup was seen by everyone to be a major failure, not
so much in terms of individual oppression, but in simple mal-administration of
the government. Everyone on all sides was happy to see it go. It remains to be
seen whether this new crew will be any better. People are hoping so but not
counting on it.