Can an Non-credible Book like The Coming War with Japan by George Friedman and Meredith LeBard Stimulate Ideas about Credible Threats?
Really, that's about the best I can do to justify reading this book. It's a crazy book, but that also makes it thought-provoking. The threat it proposes and the analysis is ridiculous, but I was able to devise a possible real threat chain--but not involving Japan. I actually conceived of that threat just as I started reading the book, but these authors aren't going anywhere near it. However, the book mainly fails because it makes lots of predictions that have already been invalidated by boring old reality.
The attraction to the book was obviously the title, but as soon as I read that George Friedman was associated with the ultraconservative Heritage Foundation, I knew where it had gone wrong. In brief, this book is just crazy money talking. I started by believing that I understood the Japanese pretty well after living in Japan for more than 20 years, but as a scientific sort of person, I was still willing to look at their evidence. Maybe he really meant an economic war or something plausible? No, they are arguing for military war. Maybe they have some compelling new evidence? No, not only are they using old and well known evidence, but they are using it in ways that are highly selective and even contradictory. (However, perhaps real scientists should be tested by how willing they are to believe things they don't like? In contrast, posers like these authors have already decided what they want to believe, and the key tactic is rejecting all of the problematic facts.)
It seems easiest to dismiss their military threat claim by pointing at their own evidence. The book spends a lot of pages explaining why America fundamentally can't afford to fight ground wars in Asia--but it works the same in reverse and is even less plausible for Japan, which has a much smaller pool of possible soldiers and almost no physical resources compared to America. (Too bad Dubya hadn't read the book before starting the war in Iraq, and perhaps Obama should have read it before ramping things up in Afghanistan...)
This fundamental problem of manpower and resources actually links to my idea for a plausible threat even though I was inclined to dismiss their thesis as soon as I knew they really did mean war in the military sense. This is actually an idea and analysis that came to me almost as soon as I opened the book and before I had read very far at all. It was obvious to me that Japan cannot and will not field a large number of troops, but is there some way they could plausibly fight a war anyway? My thought was that it could be conceivable with robots. The book was written long before that was plausible, but the science fiction authors have been there long ago. What I realized was that it might be conceivable for Japan to make a fleet of drones. Actually this is related to Rumsfeld's mumbling about asymmetric warfare. The cost of destroying an aircraft carrier with a swarm of drones would be extremely low compared to the cost of building the carrier. However, if Japan has the technology, the resources would still be a strain, but... What about the Chinese or the Russians or even the Iranians? Certainly the Chinese could do it using the students who earned masters and PhD degrees in America before they were kicked out of the country. Anyway, it's so obvious that nothing more needs to be said on that topic.
Therefore I'll loop back and point at a few of the glaring flaws in the book, just focusing on a few of the largest ones that caught my eye in the first 50 pages. On page 9 I noticed a citation of Yuddan, which was described as a Japanese bestseller that supports their position. They didn't provide an author, but if it's a bestseller then it should be easy to find, right? Maybe it's even been translated? No, they must have meant a book called 油断 (Yudan) from around 1975 by 堺屋 太一, but I'm pretty certain there was no bestseller called Yuddan, no matter how you spell it in Japanese. At that point I was expecting sloppy research, but they could have waited a bit longer, eh?
On page 29 they seemed to think the the Tokugawa Shogunate was a weak and divided government, which is basically ridiculous. Even the transition to the Meiji Restoration was relatively smooth and efficient, and the country never became fractured or seriously disrupted. Again, a book about Japan should start with a realistic understanding of Japan's history, eh?
On page 50 I saw an especially glaring example of the bias with the statement "The U.S., torn by internal dissension and bureaucratic infighting, ..." The thing that annoys me about this kind of thing is the projective aspects of it. THEY are the ones that are the masters of crippling the government based on the ideological perspective of destroying most of the functions of the government.
Getting out of the first 50 pages, but on page 198 they were arguing that America wasn't involved for the money with this gem, "...economic considerations playing an insignificant role." Again on page 200, with "... devoid of economic interests" just before twisting out "In any event, the reemergence of imperialism is intellectually challenging to a world that is essentially liberal democratic." However on the next page was the what struck me as the most plausible idea in the entire book: "Economics speaks to human greed, while politics speaks to fear." An example of a good idea from a bad source? Or more likely they borrowed it from somewhere and just forgot to mention the source?
Anyway, I mostly feel like I've written more than the book deserved. Lots of other flaws there. I forgot to say China got short shrift... Enough. Suffice it to say you should have a lot of leisure time before spend some of it with this book.
Even worse, I now confess that I wrote that much before finishing the book, and now that I've finished it, I feel I have to say more, even though I even more strongly feel the book was silly and not worth as much of a reaction as I've already written... Onward through the fog:
Some eye-catching, projective, self-contradictory, ridiculous, preposterous, other negative adjectives, or worse (including multiple adjective lists, of course) examples of rightwing bias and slant:
Page 256: "The power is there, but the thought of using it is quite alien to the American mind. Brute interference in free trade is anathema to American moral principles and the American psyche itself. But ideologies change, ...." In other words, American are deeply crazy, but we might change our minds, and history doesn't count, either.
Page 304 favorably cites Paul Wolfowitz, who writes books on crazy for a living.
Page 309 says "This [joint imperialism with the Koreans] would, of course, be a tremendous test of Japanese racism, for Japanese contempt for Korea runs as deep today as it ever did." This caught my eye mostly as a predictive statement that has been completely invalidated by current pro-Korean trends in Japan. It is possible that it was valid when they wrote it--but I did NOT see the evidence and I was living in Japan during the "today" of this book. In some ways I agree with the racism accusation, but "contempt" seems extreme unlikely and implausible as the substantive summary of the complex Japanese feelings towards Korea. I'm trying to make allowances for my having recently arrived in Japan at that time, but I can't buy it.
On page 310, "There is nothing more to conserve" with regards to energy. Absurd and extremely rightwing.
Pages 318-9 has a map predicting the state of the Pacific Ocean in 2000, and in comparison to reality it's completely incorrect, to put it politely. The funniest detail is probably the idea of North Korea being aligned with Japan.
On page 329 they say "How the [Japanese supreme] court could rule that Article 9 permits self-defense when it specifically bans the creation of an armed force is a matter best left to lawyers and theologians." Okay, so you could dismiss it as silly hyperbolic statement, except that it's part of a long section that is attempting to dismiss Japanese pacifism AND on page 328 their attempt to quote Article 9 is mangled. Poor editing is no excuse, eh?
On page 332 they argue that hundreds of bombers are cheaper than individual nuclear bombs. It would actually be possible to make the argument if they had gone into analysis of research funding, but they didn't bother.
In the next section there was a long and confusing passage where they first seemed to be arguing in favor of strategic bombing, though it eventually becomes clear that they are actually arguing against it. Or maybe the authors are on different sides of this topic and just got confused during the editing process?
Eventually that led to the hilariously naive comment on page 338 that "... Shinto Buddhism contains pacifist tendencies is beyond the scope of our discussion." Duh. They are separate religions. Is basic understanding of such fundamental knowledge supposed to be within the scope of authors claiming to write authoritatively about Japan? (No the book never mentioned the actual State Shinto and religious veneration of the emperor that was incorporated into the war effort.)
From page 390 there is a section of predictions, many of which are highly specific or even dated and therefore absolutely refuted, but all of which are completely ridiculous. My guess is that the draft of this section was the first thing the authors wrote, and then the rest of the book was an attempt to justify what they'd already decided they believed. There is a paragraph on page 401 about the 'trap of empire' that seems to doom America, but at this point the reader may be laughing to hard to notice.
As I already said, I spent too much time on this book. I do think it's a good idea to see how other people think, but it's even better to base my thinking on evidence from the real world.