James Fallows

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
  • Welcome to Greenville and 'The Upstate'

    A region that has willed its way to a new economic and civic identity.

    Ballet class, yesterday afternoon at the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities in downtown Greenville, S.C. It's a "residential public high school for emerging artists." Photo Deborah Fallows

    My wife and I have been so busy talking with people and seeing things in Greenville and its environs in "the upstate" region of South Carolina that we haven't yet taken time to stop the interviewing and begin the chronicling. That will begin here soon.

    Inside Marriage Special Report bug
    Reinvention and resilience across the nation
    Read more

    In the economic-development world, this part of a still-generally poor state is renowned for how thoroughly it has made the transition from a textile-based economy, which was still viable even 20 years ago, to become the center of one of the country's most successful advanced-manufacturing clusters. Its most famous facility is the BMW auto works, which continues to expand and which ships most of its output to markets overseas. Michelin is also here, and a GE division, and the successful electric-bus company Proterra. The industrial turnaround of this area has become a familiar story -- about which we heard some quite unexpected angles, as we will describe.

    The bigger surprise is all the aspects of civic life other than major factories that have evolved here. These range from public art, to environmental and public-spaces initiatives, to a revitalized downtown that urban-planning teams from around the world visit to study, to an in-town minor league baseball stadium, to educational innovations we have not seen in other places and had not anticipated here. The photo above is from the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities, about which Deborah Fallows will be saying more soon. She also will report on an unusual and impressive engineering-themed public school -- for kids starting in pre-K.

    This afternoon I talked with Kai Ryssdal, of our Marketplace partners, courtesy of the engineers and studio managers at the local station known as Conservative Talk 94.5. South Carolina is of course a conservative stronghold, as are its upstate counties. Jim DeMint was born and raised in Greenville and was its congressman; Bob Jones University is based here. But one of many intriguing aspects of Greenville's economic and civic-improvement development effort is how deeply they have relied on "public-private partnerships," in which state and city governments have taken active steering roles for corporate and philanthropic efforts. More on that as the chronicles begin. The point for now is that this is the kind of public intervention that some conservatives might deplore in the abstract, but the results both in attracting industries and in creating a remarkably livable/walkable community can't be denied.

    Old commercial building downtown on the Reedy River, one of several intentionally unrestored structures in Greenville. Many downtown restaurants, stores, and offices are from buildings of the same vintage that have been renovated and put back into use.

    Greenville and its surroundings resemble some other "resilient" cities we have seen, and of course are unique in many other aspects. This is a placeholder note pending further dispatches. Now, off to more interviews, including at a tech-startup incubator with a "public-private" emphasis. It's not the building shown below, but it has a similar theme.


  • Iran Sanctions Update: Have Senators Actually Read This Bill?

    Sen. Dianne Feinstein: "We cannot let Israel determine when and where the United States goes to war."

    Recently I argued that a dozen-plus Senate Democrats were doing something strange and reckless in signing on with most Republicans in an effort that would abort a potential deal to limit Iran's nuclear ambitions. 

    As a reminder: The U.S. government, along with those of France, Germany, the U.K., China, and Russia, all think this years-in-the-making deal is worth exploring. The governments of Saudi Arabia and Israel manifestly do not. Nearly all Senate Republicans and a significant number of Democratic allies are effectively saying: the Saudis and Israelis see things more clearly. We stand with their judgment—not that of our own government, the European mainstays, and even the Russians and Chinese.

    Developments since then:

    1) From Peter Beinart, in Haaretz, an item based on an important technical analysis of the pro-sanctions bill. Senators sponsoring the bill, Beinart says, claim that they are only trying to "support" the diplomatic process. That proves mainly that they haven't read, or don't understand, what they're signing onto, because in several crucial ways the bill's requirements are directly contrary to what the U.S./U.K./France/Germany/Russia/China have already agreed to with Iran.

    Go to the technical analysis, by Edward Levine, for the point-by-point parsing. And you can see the full text of the bill itself here. But the two most obvious deal-breaker implications are: 

        (a) the requirement that, in order to lift sanctions, Obama must "certify" a number of extra things about Iran that are not germane to the agreement and are simply impossible to prove. For instance, Obama must demonstrate that "Iran has not directly, or through a proxy, supported, financed, planned, or otherwise carried out an act of terrorism against the United States or United States persons or property anywhere in the world," with no time limit on how far back (or forward) in time this certification is supposed to run. And:

       (b) several clauses and references that apparently support the "zero enrichment" demand laid down by Benjamin Netanyahu but explicitly not endorsed by the U.S. government. These clauses, with repeated requirements that Iran "terminate" or "dismantle" its "illicit nuclear programs," are ambiguous but can (and presumably would) be read as applying to the entirety of Iran's nuclear infrastructure, peaceful or otherwise. This could mean a demand that Iran give up the right not just to weapons-grade uranium but also to low-level enrichment suitable for power plants and other non-military use.

    For the background of the "zero enrichment" policy, see this 2009 paper by Matthew Bunn of Harvard's Belfer Center. He argues (as do many other people who have examined the issue) that the zero-option is theoretically appealing but in reality is completely unacceptable to Iran. Thus its inclusion in any set of "negotiating" points is a way to ensure that the negotiations fail. As Bunn puts it, "Insisting on zero will mean no agreement, leaving the world with the risks of acquiescence [to an Iranian nuclear-weapons program] or military strikes." 

    On the basis of logic like this, the United States and its partners have already agreed that Iran should be allowed to retain low-level enrichment capabilities. Also on this point, see The Washington Monthly, and a former Israeli intelligence chief on why low-level enrichment is reasonable for Iran. Plus President Obama's own comments at Brookings last month, on why any agreement will necessarily allow some limited enrichment. This is Obama speaking:

    Now, you’ll hear arguments, including potentially from the Prime Minister [Netanyahu], that say we can’t accept any enrichment on Iranian soil.  Period.  Full stop.  End of conversation... 

    One can envision an ideal world in which Iran said, we’ll destroy every element and facility and you name it, it’s all gone.  I can envision a world in which Congress passed every one of my bills that I put forward.  (Laughter.)  I mean, there are a lot of things that I can envision that would be wonderful.  (Laughter.) 

    But precisely because we don’t trust the nature of the Iranian regime, I think that we have to be more realistic and ask ourselves, what puts us in a strong position to assure ourselves that Iran is not having a nuclear weapon and that we are protected?  What is required to accomplish that, and how does that compare to other options that we might take?
    And it is my strong belief that we can envision a end state that gives us an assurance that even if they have some modest enrichment capability, it is so constrained and the inspections are so intrusive that they, as a practical matter, do not have breakout capacity.  

    To wrap this point up: The U.S. and its partners have already declared that they are not asking for the "zero option." That's the premise for the entire deal, and it is one that the Senate bill appears designed to reverse. It would be as if, in the middle of the SALT or START negotiations with the old Soviet Union, the Congress passed a bill requiring that any final agreement include the elimination of the full Soviet arsenal. 

    2) A speech on Tuesday by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, on another important and underpublicized clause in the sanctions bill. It's 501(2) (b) (5), which says it is the "sense of the Congress" that if Israel decides to strike Iran, the U.S. presumptively should back the effort:

    If the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran's nuclear weapon program, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide, in accordance with the law of the United States and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence;

    The "in accordance with the laws..." passage indicates that an Israeli decision would not technically constitute a U.S. declaration of war. It is the main distinction between this clause and a "key point" on AIPAC's current policy-agenda site, which reads: 

    3. America Must Stand with Israel.
    The United States must back Israel if it feels compelled in its own legitimate self-defense to take military action against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

    But Feinstein, who supported the Iraq war, argued that such before-the-fact commitments unwisely limit U.S. options and could make conflict more likely. Her whole speech is worth reading, and you can see the C-Span video above. Here is the conclusion it built to:

    I deeply believe that a vote for this legislation will cause negotiations to collapse. The United States, not Iran, then becomes the party that risks fracturing the international coalition that has enabled our sanctions to succeed in the first place....

    And then:

    Let me acknowledge Israel's real, well-founded concerns that a nuclear-armed Iran would threaten its very existence. I don't disagree with that. I agree with it, but they are not there yet.

    While I recognize and share Israel's concern, we cannot let Israel determine when and where the United States goes to war. By stating that the United States should provide military support to Israel in a formal resolution should it attack Iran, I fear that is how this bill is going to be interpreted.

    3) From a reader:

     Here's my problem with your argument: it's incomplete.  How can a Democrat, or anyone, evaluate whether the agreement should be given a chance without seeing the agreement?  Yesterday we had two separate reports that, if true, would mean the agreement has *already* failed: 1) the Iranian's report of the terms (dubious, but the Administration continues to be coy and not release the main agreement or the reported side agreement) and 2) an alleged Russia-Iran deal that would obliterate the 6-month Agreement's limitations on sanctions.
    Personally I too am for Congress holding off, but I'm put off by the tone of the "pro-Deal" crowd that the legislature needs to blindly trust Obama here.  Isn't that what we did with George W. Bush?  (The distinction between Colin Powell's misleading portfolio on WMDs and Kerry's thusfar blank portfolio (or heavily redacted portfolio) is too subtle to have meaning here).  

    The point is not that Congress must embrace a deal without knowing its full details. That will come later, when—and if—final terms are agreed to. Rather the point is that Congress should not guarantee the failure of the negotiations before they've run their course, which is what the sanctions bill would do.

    If I had a senator, I would ask him or her to read this bill carefully, reflect on its destructive implications, and reflect as well, as Dianne Feinstein did in her speech, on the damage done by blank-check security legislation (from AUMF to the Patriot Act) over the past dozen-plus years. Then I would ask my hypothetical senators to vote 'No.'

    UPDATE: Anthony Cordesman has a valuable update on the CSIS site, in which he discusses the pluses and minuses of the administration playing good cop and Congress playing bad cop toward Iran. Really worth reading, but a few highlights. First, on U.S. aims:

    The United States now has every incentive to leverage the success of existing sanctions, take full advantage of the current climate, and to try to make the current negotiations work. They are by far the safest way to remove an Iranian nuclear threat, and it is critical to remember what the threat really is: The real objective is to deny Iran military capability, not to try to deny it technology it has already acquired.

    On the strength of the emerging potential deal:

    The P5+1 and the United States have not yet made fully public all of the terms of the progress they made in defining and implementing the terms of the interim agreement ...

    At least to date, however, the limits on Iran in terms of permitted activities, improved transparency, and increased inspection would make even the most covert production, testing, and deployment of nuclear weapons extraordinarily difficult. Iran might quietly get to the point of a crude test of a gun or implosion device, but this test could scarcely then remain covert...

    It is extraordinarily difficult to believe Iran could actually deploy reliable nuclear missile warheads and bombs without being detected

    On the Congress's role as hard-line bad cop:

    The key to success, however, will be for the “bad cop” to avoid pushing to the point of failure. The best way to move forward is to do what the Senate Majority Leader, Senator Harry Reid, evidently has already proposed to do: keep the option of new sanctions legislation constantly open, but not confront Iran and other nations by passing such legislation if and when the negotiations fail, or Iran is shown to violate an agreement.

    Defer a vote on new sanctions until the ongoing efforts to fully define and create enforcement provisions for interim agreement effort fail or Iran violates them. And if Iran does move forward and complies with the interim agreement – defer a sanctions vote until it is clear whether Iran agrees to and complies with a permanent agreement. 

    Overall: This bill is a reckless and destructive gesture, and Democrats from Cory Booker to Mark Warner to Michael Bennet to Richard Blumenthal should give it a careful look and back off. 

  • Separated at Birth? Greenville, Sioux Falls

    Here is Falls Park in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, last summer:

    And here is Falls Park in Greenville, South Carolina, this afternoon:

    A decade ago, the falls areas in both cities were dangerous and semi-derelict. Now, each is the scenic center of its city. Here, by the way, is how poor Sioux Falls looked a few days ago, via our partner John Tierney:

    Now, here is the Sioux Falls 20+-mile bike trail, which we happily rode during the long summer days of last year:

    And here is the Swamp Rabbit Trail (in purple) for Greenville, some of which we walked today. It is different in its overall shape yet similar in mile-by-mile look and feel. (Both maps via our partners at Esri.) 

    Here is a summer river scene as viewed from the bike trail in Sioux Falls: a bow-fisherman, awaiting his prey.

    And here, at the opposite end of the seasons, is a Great Blue Heron this afternoon, awaiting its prey in the Reedy River of Greenville. You can barely see a guy doing tai chi in the background

    Inside Marriage Special Report bug
    Reinvention and resilience across the nation
    Read more

    These two cities are different -- in size, in economic base, in self-image, in ethnic mix, in 15 different aspects. And of course every city is unique, etc. But in these past few days in Greenville, we've been struck by more similarities to Sioux Falls than to other places we've seen.

    We'll start laying these out in the next few days. For now, an impression that so strongly recalls our normal experience in China. In the years there, we would go from some place in Shaanxi to some place in Sichuan and think: My lord! How can so much be going on in so many places? That is the message of traveling around America as well.

  • The Iran Vote: This Really Matters, and You Should Let Your Senators Know

    If the nuclear deal is going to fail, let that happen at the negotiating table—and not be engineered under the Capitol dome.

    Denis Balibouse/Reuters

    I have been on the road in the South, and staying in a place with no Internet, and doing interviews for another American Futures installment—this one about the way textile-dependent Southern cities have and have not recovered after those mills went away. That's what my wife and I will be talking about in the days ahead.

    But this is a moment that counts, on an important, time-sensitive issue, so here goes:

    • The Obama Administration, along with some of the usual U.S. allies—the U.K., France, Germany—and such non-allied parties as Russia and China, has taken steps with the potential of peacefully ending Iran's 35-year estrangement from most of the rest of the world. That would be of enormous benefit and significance to Iran, the U.S., and nearly everyone else concerned.

      Obviously potential is not a guarantee, and a year from now everyone could look back on this as a time of deluded hope. But today's potential is far greater than most "savvy" experts expected a year ago. As I argued last month, the U.S. may be in a position right now with Iran analogous to the one with China in the early stages of the Nixon-Mao rapprochement. Nothing is guaranteed, but the benefits of normalized relations would be so great that they must be given every chance to succeed.
    • Often there is cleavage within the executive branch—State, Defense, the White House—on the merits of a military commitment or a potential deal. Not this time. Very often there is similar disagreement among Western powers, and most of the time the Russians and Chinese find themselves on the opposite side of strategic calculations from the U.S. Again, not now. All involved view the benefits of re-engaging Iran to be so great, and the consequence of a drift toward war so dire, that they want to make sure that no artificial barriers to a deal get in the way.

      (On the dire consequences of a drift toward war: Nearly 10 years ago, the Atlantic ran a war game concluding that an air strike designed to take out Iran's nuclear potential would be the height of strategic folly for the attacking party, whether Israel or the United States. Nothing that has happened since then makes it a more plausible option.)
    • Two countries the U.S. cares about are known to oppose this deal: Saudi Arabia, and Israel. The Saudis, because a stronger, oil-exporting, Shiite Iran probably means a less influential Sunni Kingdom. The Israelis, because the Netanyahu government has cast Iran as the new Nazi Germany, with whom any deal or compromise is by definition doomed. 

      I believe that Netanyahu is wrong, but it's his country, and he is the elected leader. I don't like the idea of him (or the Saudis) trying to derail what our elected leaders so strongly considers to be in the interests of the United States.
    • That derailment is what seems to be underway in the Senate right now. Republicans led by Mitch McConnell are pushing for a sanctions bill that is universally recognized (except by its sponsors) as a poison-pill for the current negotiations. Fine; opposing the administration is the GOP's default position.

      But a striking number of Democrats have joined them, for no evident reason other than AIPAC's whole-hearted, priority-one support for the sanctions bill. The screen clip below is from AIPAC's site, and here is some political reporting on AIPAC's role in the sanctions push: NYTPolitico, JTA, Jerusalem Post-JTA, and our own National Journal here and hereAlso see Greg Sargent in the Washington Post.
      AIPAC policy brief, from its site. Note implications of point #3.

      In the long run, these Democrats are not in a tenable position. Or not a good one. They are opposing what their president, his secretaries of state and defense, our normal major allies, and even the Russians and Chinese view as a step toward peace. And their stated reason for doing so—that new sanction threats will "help" the negotiations, even though every American, French, British, German, etc., and Iranian figure involved in the talks says the reverse—doesn't pass the straight-face test.

      Via the AP: "'I think that the Iran sanctions bill is meant to strengthen the president, not in any way impede the ongoing negotiation which should and hopefully will be successful,' Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a co-sponsor of the legislation, said Tuesday." Oh sure. You can imagine what a person as smart as Blumenthal—or Chuck Schumer, or Cory Booker, or Mark Warner, all supporting the sanctions—would do to similar assertions in normal circumstances. 

    I agree with Peter Beinart, who wrote last month that people tired of U.S. wars in the Middle East should be speaking up more clearly in support of this deal. As Fred Kaplan of Slate, no peacenik, did when the first agreement was announced: 

    See also Andrew Sullivan, and an arms-control expert on technical flaws in the sanctions bill. [Update: and my Atlantic colleague Jeffrey Goldberg, who also argues that this bill is torpedoing the best chance for avoiding an Iranian nuclear program.] Maybe this deal will fail. But if you'd rather that the failure not be engineered in the Capitol, let your representatives know.

    Updates: 1) As many readers have pointed out, Senate Republicans are near-unanimous in supporting the sanctions bill, but Democrats including Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Chuck Schumer of New York have played a big role in promoting it;

    2) Also as many readers have pointed out, one of the Democratic co-sponsors of the bill is Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, whose brother James is the Atlantic's editor-in-chief. Noted for the record.

    3) And, yes, I would let my senators know -- if, as a resident of DC, I had any.

  • What Is a 'Class-A War Criminal'? More on the Yasukuni Controversy

    The complications of wartime memory, continued

    Westboro Church protestor, AP photo via NPR.

    If you are joining us late, background on why it matters so much in China -- and Japan -- that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, and whether it should in fact matter, is in previous installments one, two, three, four, five, six, seven. Now, additional recent readers' views.

    1. "Imagine if the Westboro Baptist Church happened to own Arlington." From Noboru Akimoto:

    I've been watching your back and forth on Yasukuni with some interest, and I generally agree with the commentators that say the issue is more with the Yushukan than with the shrine itself.  [JF note: Yushukan is the "historical" museum near the shrine, with a very tendentious view of Japan being forced into the war by Allied encirclement.]

    I do think a part that's not been mentioned is that Yasukuni Jinja [Shrine], because of the separation of religion and state of the post-war constitution, is NOT a part of the Japanese government, nor does any of the Imperial family have control over its actions.

    We know from the Tomita Memorandum that the Showa Emperor [aka Hirohito] was furious about the chief priest's decision to include the Class A 14 into the shrine in 1979, but that as a matter of politics, neither the Emperor nor the government can actually compel Yasukuni, a private religious institution, from acknowledging the 14 Class A criminals nor force it to disinter their spirits.

    As a Japanese individual and Shintoist, I would like to see the priests separate the class A war criminals from the others, but I also understand that as a practical, constitutional matter, having the government force the issue would be a step in the wrong direction.

    If we had to have some sort of strange analogy, I would ask American readers to imagine if the Westboro Baptist Church happened to own Arlington.

    Also, I've put up a short primer on the subject.

    2. By the way, who are these "Class-A War Criminals" anyway? From a reader in Singapore, with a point I should have clarified earlier:

    In your recent posts about the Yasukuni shrine, the inclusion of WWII era Japanese Class-A war criminals is mentioned with no explanation of the term "Class-A". I've noticed that this is common in news articles about Yasukuni in recent decades, though in your article you do note that the war criminal trials in Japan held by the Allies were at least somewhat controversial as to their basis in law and morality.

    It is almost natural for the casual reader (or writer of articles) to assume that "Class-A" in this context simply means the worst kind of war criminal, a sort of Japanese equivalent of an Adolf Eichmann, Heinrich Himmler, Amon Goeth or some such.

    As you likely know, "Class-A War Criminal" had a very specific meaning in the context of the Tokyo trials. "Class-A" war crimes were defined as "crimes against peace". Crimes against humanity, such as genocide or the Nanking massacre were "Class-C" crimes while the more usual war crimes, such as shooting helpless prisoners, were "Class-B" war crimes.

    The 25 Japanese officials tried for Class-A war crimes were tried for plotting and waging war, i.e. crimes against peace. Some of them were tried additionally for Class-B and Class-C crimes, and all those multiply convicted were executed.

    But at least two of those charged with Class-A crimes resumed civilian life, in the Japanese cabinet in the 1950s and as the CEO of Nissan, respectively.

    In 1929, Japan signed (but did not ratify) the Kellogg-Briand Pact formally titled the "General Treaty for the Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy". The treaty made declaration of aggressive war illegal, but not prosecutable by other signatories to the treaty. "Declaration" was the weasel word in the treaty, which many nations, including Japan took full advantage of in the years to come.

    And it was on this basis that the Class-A charges were prosecuted in the 1946 Tokyo trials. Except for the Imperial Family and the Showa Emperor, Hirohito, who were protected by Douglas MacArthur, this meant that practically the entire Japanese cabinet that had anything to do with the conduct of war was thus indicted.

    I think it would help if a brief note were made in the article about the terminology. I'm not suggesting moral or legal exoneration of these individuals but context matters. The term "Class-A" plays straight into the hands of the Chinese Government which has its own questionable agenda in kicking up a protest about Yasukuni every year. I would have thought that it is the inclusion of the Class-C criminals that would be more morally disturbing to non-Japanese victims of the war, though in the case of China and Korea at least, the Buddhist value commonplace in Japan, of letting go of the grudge against the sinner (not the sin) after his death, is not exactly unknown or alien. Quite the opposite.

    3) An American equivalent? From a reader on the West Coast:

    In “Episode Six” your “American who lives in Japan…and has a Japanese spouse” observed that "The museum (Yushukan) is shocking in its mendacity (in its willingness to change or omit events entirely) and audacity … I struggle to think of a comparable hypothetical for US history - if the Vietnam memorial in Washington also had an exhibit attached that lauded the use of napalm and the actions at My Lai?”

    In fact, the same sort of mendacity and audacity did almost occur at the Vietnam Memorial. Then President Ronald Reagan, his Interior Secretary James Watt and their supporters were adamantly opposed to Maya Lin’s design for the memorial, precisely because it did not glorify an unjust lost war while memorializing the soldiers who fought it.

    After Lin won the competition and it became apparent they could do nothing to stop it, opponents of her design tried to have a much more mundane, representational sculpture (“The Three Soldiers”) placed at the apex of the memorial. While The Three Soldiers neither lauds the use of napalm nor glorifies My Lai, those opposed to Lin’s Wall knew full well that placing the statue at the apex would reduce her design to mere backdrop, negating it’s abstract emotional power and timelessness. If not for the courage of Maya Lin (then a 21 year old Yale undergraduate) The Wall would indeed have become mere background to one more forgettable representative sculpture lost in the expanse of the National Mall . One could argue that was the objective of the right-wing opponents of the Vietnam memorial all along.

    While recognizing the left is just as capable as the right at papering over history we should avoid false equivalency here. One regrettable quality of the right wing mind seems to be the unique skill it brings to the revision of history, the negation of fact and the power of forgetfulness. Unfortunately this is every bit as true here in America as it is in Japan.

    Vietnam Veterans Memorial, via this site.

    I well remember that the controversy over the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was bitter and intense. As it happens, I think the final outcome is the right one -- artistically, historically, culturally. Maya Lin's wall endures as a real work of genius, and it regularly has a larger crowd of up-close visitors than any other site on the Mall.  Usually families or friends looking at names of loved ones. (You can contrast this with the stupid, ugly vapidity of the recent World War II memorial, a subject for another time.) The addition of Frederick Hart's "The Three Soldiers" statue, nearby but not surmounting the wall, I think adds to rather than complicates the commemorative power of the memorial. The more recent addition of a realistic statue of combat nurses also is, in my view, a dignified plus.

    4) Self-identity as victim. From an American who recently visited Japan:

    Last year, when we visited the moving Atomic Bomb museum in Nagasaki, I was surprised to find that the timeline on the wall gave the name, "War of the Pacific", to WWII and explicitly blamed the U.S. for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which was shown only by a single photo on the wall.  Apparently, the Yasukuni representation is not isolated. 

    I had the same impression on my first visit to the Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima back in the 1980s. Its historical account began with something like, "In the springtime of 1945, the U.S. Army Air Corps launched a campaign of firebombing against major cities in Japan..." with no mention of what might have happened beforehand.

    I no longer have a photo of that account and don't see one online. I do note that the online "Kids Peace Station" run by the Hiroshima museum has a very fair-seeming account of the origins of the war.

    The scholarship on how modern Japan does and does not remember its war history is vast and complex. The best single account remains John Dower's Embracing Defeat, but, for instance, you could check out a 2010 paper by Mindy Haverson, then of Stanford Law School which makes this point about Hiroshima:

    The dominant postwar messages that war, particularly nuclear war, is evil and destructive serve as universalized constructions in which the aggressor/enemy is neither the colonial, militaristic Japanese state nor the US [which dropped the bomb]  but "war" itself. As such, Japan can avoid both self-identification as an aggressor vis-a-vis the rest of Asia and the denigration of the U.S. as an enemy, a move that Japan's leaders have sought to avoid in light of the country's economic and security dependence on the US.

    In the absence of an entity "responsible" for wartime suffering, Japan has positioned itself as the ultimate victim and articulated a role for itself as international spokesperson for world peace.

    5) The power of "encirclement" thinking, and other dominant images. Another Westerner in Asia writes:

    In some future post or roundtable perhaps it's worth exploring the encirclement theme that has come up in the Yasakuni/Yushukan discussion.  It certainly drives behavior from China and Iran today, and perhaps Russia, Pakistan, and a few others.  

    I agree. Because it is geographically almost impossible for America to be "encircled," many Americans have a hard time even imagining the power of this threat/concept in many other countries -- including the Japan of the 1930s and the China of today. Even enormous China? Yes, given that its sea-lane access is subject to many choke points -- and that across many of its borders it sees concentrations of American or U.S.-allied troops. More on this later; for now, an example of the kind of map I've often been shown by Chinese strategic experts. (The black plane-symbols are US or allied bases):

    The same reader quoted above adds:

    I'm an American resident in Hong Kong doing business across Asia for 20 years, and I don't think most Americans have any concept of just how deep and state sponsored the Japanese vs Chinese racism goes.  It has ebbed somewhat in the younger generation through positive exposure - the nearest analogy I can think of is gay rights in the US - but the government uses mass media to perpetuate the most ugly stereotypes at every opportunity.

    I agree with this too -- and the whole Yasukuni/Yushukan controversy may have the virtue of giving the Western public an idea of how powerful and dangerous these emotions can become.

  • Robert Pastor

    An influential and original participant in international affairs

    Robert A. Pastor, American University photo.

    It seems hard to remember, but four months ago the United States was on the brink of launching cruise missiles and intervening directly in the Syrian civil war.

    Just a few days before President Obama made his dramatic decision to involve Congress in this choice, which itself was a few days before Vladimir Putin came up with his plan to avert a showdown (though not of course to end the killing) via international control of Assad's chemical weapons, Robert Pastor wrote an article in this space. It was called "There Are More Than Two Options for U.S. Policy in Syria." In it he argued that direct U.S. military involvement -- which, again, at that moment seemed all but inescapable -- would be a grave mistake; that there were more options to consider than either doing nothing or sending troops; that diplomacy offered better prospects than intervention; and that it was time to involve the Russians, even if this made the U.S. lose face.

    His analysis was not what you were reading in the standard op-ed piece. And it was -- in my view, and as I think subsequent events confirmed -- correct. In both ways it was typical of other things Pastor had written during his time as a participant in and analyst of international affairs.

    Bob Pastor, a good friend of mine since the late 1970s, died last night, at age 66, nearly four years after he was told he had only a few months left because of cancer. We first met during the embattled days of the Carter Administration, when I was a speechwriter and he was the National Security Council's expert on Latin American affairs. We often sat together on trips, when he would reel off endless tales of his adventures a few years earlier as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malaysia. He was stationed in a district rich in durian trees -- whose bowling-ball-weight, spike-covered fruit posed a lethal threat as they fell from branches on high. Bob said that he dealt with this peril by routinely wearing a football helmet as he went about his Peace Corps duties. 

    Bob's diplomatic and academic achievements will be noted elsewhere. He was an original and influential thinker about relations within the Americas; he did valuable work on improving the mechanics of democracy -- in the United States as well as in other countries; he worked with Jimmy Carter in Atlanta at Emory and at the Carter Center, and then was a senior figure at American University in DC. When Bill Clinton came to office, he nominated Bob as his ambassador to Panama -- where Bob was a well-known and -liked figure because of his work on the Panama Canal Treaty. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved him on a 16-3 vote; but then Jesse Helms, poison-toad-like, used his Senatorial "privilege" to prevent the nomination from coming up for a full Senate vote, ever. 

    Despite his professional achievements, for me Bob Pastor's most distinctive traits were always his warmth, energy, and subversive humor. One of many times I got a scowl from foreign-policy bigshots in the Carter days was when I couldn't stop laughing, at a Serious meeting, about something Bob had just said to me as an aside. Before my wife and I moved to China, he gave us an expensive-looking piece of Chinese lacquer ware -- which on the back said in big letters, "Best Wishes for Mutual Prosperity from Jiangsu Province Industrial Development Commission." He had received it on an official trip there and knew it reflected the spirit of modern China.

    Bob is survived by his siblings, his wife Margy and children Kip and Tiffin, plus other relatives; and is fondly remembered by a very large number of friends.

  • Ice Cream, Chocolate, Coffee, and Beer

    Take ingredients and blend, for small-town synergy. By Deborah Fallows. 

    Ryan Berk, of A la Minute


    Ryan Berk, Austin Amento, and Ben Cook have a lot in common: they are all founders of new, growing, and successful businesses in Redlands, California; they are all about the same age (30 years old, give or take a few years); and they even look sort of similar.

    Austin Amento, Augie's Coffee House

    In a most original way, the three are mixing together their passions and products:  ice cream, chocolate, coffee, and beer. You say these don’t go together? Have a look at the results and the synergy that is good for each other and good for the town of Redlands.

    Liquid Nitrogen and Beans: Ryan Berk grew up circling around his passion for food, in a way that  took him around the world and eventually brought him back to a dream in his native Southern California.

    Ben Cook of Hangar 24

    Berk was one of the first to attend and graduate from The Grove School, the small Montessori-based public charter school in Redlands. Like all the other students there, he did internships and service work. From his early teens, Berk was a dishwasher and busboy for a Thai family at their local restaurant. 

    After high school, he went on to culinary school. He saved up his money and set out to roam the world as a photojournalist, absorbing a core lesson he has since applied: that food and its local culture are essentially intertwined. Back home, Berk was again working at a restaurant, with frozen fished packed in super coolants. Liquid nitrogen, Berk mused, why not use it to quickly freeze ice cream?

    Berk was not the first to think of this possibility, but he came to it on his own. He started playing around with the idea, and discovered that indeed, you could almost instantly freeze the liquid base into a smooth, creamy ice cream. And that was when it all came together: the lessons he described from Grove School, to “just get out there and do it”; a passion for food; his self-described perfectionism for what he does.

    I stumbled into Ryan Berk one sunny midday just before Christmas as I was stopping in at his A la Minute ice cream shop and he was heading out. With a small-town friendliness, like he had all the time in the world, he told me his own personal story, the new story of starting the business with his wife, Cassie, who runs the financial side of the company, and about how their business works with the energy, revival, and creation of an updated identity of Redlands.

    The list of ice creams on the A la Minute board says a lot for the creativity of the owners and the commitment to being local. And as I learned, the flavors are inspired by the local ingredients: honey from Soffel Farms, mint from his own garden, local Redlands oranges, and nearby olive oil , apples, lavender, pumpkin, etc.  I chose the orange honey. Why not? I was in Redlands, after all, an orange growing center of California. It was delicious.

    Ice Cream flavors, A la Minute.

    Then Berk asked if I’d like to see his new shop, Parliament Chocolate, just a few blocks away. Parliament, as in "a parliament of owls," is named for early tenants of the building, the White Owl Café. The chocolate shop had just opened a few days earlier.

    Parliament Chocolate is the Berks’ second dream. Once they had saved enough from ice cream, they turned to chocolate. It makes sense to me. He talked about the process of making his chocolate, from sourcing his beans on a recent trip to see small farmers in Belize and Guatemala, to outfitting the shop to producing the exquisite finished candies. “Look at that drain!” he said exuberantly, pointing to the floor and then to every carefully chosen fixture, tile, machine, drawing in the beautiful, gleaming shop.


    Parliament Chocolate's wares.

    I watched the Parliament chocolate makers tending big, rotating vats of chocolate, ladeling small scoops onto trays and decorating them like tiny pieces of art.

    Parliament Chocolate Grand Opening from Parliament Chocolate on Vimeo.

    Coffee for the People: Austin Amento, along with his father, an electrical contractor, bought a small coffee shop about 5 years ago, called Augie’s Coffee House. They didn’t know much about the business but saw an opportunity to seize and build upon in an uncertain economic climate. They went along for a few years, and then realized that if they were going to make a go of it, they needed to ramp up. That meant identifying their mission and targeting traits that would set them apart: sourcing the best coffee beans; controlling every aspect of the bean-roasting, coffee-brewing, and costs; creating a new ambience for the shop and a clientele that would appreciate the experience.

    Photo from Aboutredlands.com

    Augie’s, named for the grandfather of the original owners, kept its name, but changed in every other way.  They got a new look and feel for the building; they went to San Francisco to learn some basics from reputable roasters; they sourced growers who came to California and eventually traveled to Colombia to see and buy for themselves. And they catered to their clientele, whom Austin describes as “everyone”, including people from the University of Redlands, the high schoolers (Redlands High is within walking distance), and Esri,  the local tech company with a thousand-plus in-town employees. They also educated their customers as they educated themselves, switching brews as many as four times a day for comparisons and contrasts.  Some customers, Amento told me,  would come in that many times to learn about and to drink the different coffees.

    // CHEMEX // - Augie's Brew at Home Series from Augie's Coffee House on Vimeo.

    I passed Augie’s Coffee House on the two-minute walk between Ryan Berk’s A la Minute ice cream shop and Parliament Chocolate shop. It is natural that professional synergy broke out from the personal friendship between Berk and Amento and their wives, who are all good friends. Here’s a video showing the fun with coffee and ice cream.

    Inside Marriage Special Report bug
    Reinvention and resilience across the nation
    Read more

    Beer gone wild: Meanwhile, about 10 minutes away at the edge of town, is Hangar 24, Ben Cook’s very hot new craft brewery. If you’re even a casual reader of my husband Jim’s blog, you know that he has been writing about Hangar 24 since it opened in 2008.  It now has 130 employees and is growing at a breakneck rate of 50 – 100% each year. Our radio partner, Kai Ryssdal and Marketplace, visited there with us recently. 

    Cook started his company out of a passion for beer and flying. He home-brewed beer, which he hauled to the Redlands Community Airport for post-flight enjoyment with his flying buddies. Then he got serious about beer, working in quality control at Anheuser-Busch and earning a degree at Master Brewer’s program at UC Davis. It was a natural to open his brewery right across the street from the Redlands airport.

    While expanding regionally, and with plans to move nationally, Hangar 24 remains loyal locally. Hangar 24 produces a “Local Fields Series” of brews, including locally-sourced apricots for its Polycot brew and pumpkin for the porter Gourdgeous. Volunteers helped Hangar 24 harvest the pumpkins and pit the apricots for days. Hangar 24 also buys Redlands’ proudest crop, its oranges, for the wildly popular Orange Wheat beer.

    Image from hangar24brewery.com

    You might not think that craft beer, ice cream, chocolate, and coffee would be natural companions, but then you wouldn’t be Ben, Austin, and Ryan.  Today, there is a network of connections the three have made, with each other and with Redlands products: coffee goes into beer and dribbles over ice cream; chocolate and coffee go into mochas and syrups; beer pairs with ice cream and coffee on special events; chocolate bars are on sale at the coffeehouse; chocolate nibs show up at the brewery; Redlands oranges and nearby apricots go into ice cream and beer; local olives and apples go into ice cream; San Bernardino Mountain spruce goes into beer. The unlikely list goes on, making for a growing collection of creative products and events in Redlands, California.

    Hangar 24 beer paired with A la Minute ice cream. via Facebook

    Photos by Deborah Fallows. Contact the author at DebFallows at gmail.com

  • A Longtime Pilot on the Aspen Crash

    Modern jet planes are so safe that many things have to go wrong to bring them to grief. What some of the factors might have been in this latest case.

    Aspen Airport, c/o Aspen airport authority. Planes usually land from right to left, in this view.

    J. Mac McClellan is known through the flying world as the long-time editor of Flying magazine.  Now he has a regular column for the EAA, the Experimental Aircraft Association. He sent a message about this weekend's fatal crash at Aspen, when a private jet landed with strong and gusty tailwinds (as mentioned here).

    Bombardier Challenger 600-series, similar 
    to the jet that crashed this past weekend.

    This is more highly detailed than some readers may care to know or even be able to follow. But my experience is that after aviation mishaps of any kind, even people not usually interested in aviation are grateful for additional, detailed information.

    Part of the reason may be a search for reassurance that the airplane didn't just fall out of the sky, which virtually never happens but is a widespread if unspoken fear. Part of the reason may be the complex chain of bad luck, circumstance, and (often) miscalculation that leads to a crash -- today's airliners and private-jet planes generally being so reliable and redundantly fail-safe-equipped that it usually takes many things going wrong at once to bring one to grief. Part of the reason is the unavoidable Bridge of San Luis Rey-style human fascination with the chronicles of misfortune.

    In any case, here is the report from Mac McClellan. 

    As you know from landing there, the approach to Aspen is visually confusing because the runway slopes uphill. [JF note: In the photo at the top of the page, mountains are just out of view to the left, so planes approach from the right. The runway slopes up more than 150 feet from the right-hand side to the left.] Also, there is a depression on the ground short of the landing threshold which accentuates the perception of upslope of the runway.

    The Challenger series is one of only two jets I have ever flown that is nose-down during final approach instead of level to nose up as other jets are on final. This looks really odd from the cockpit in the 601 Challenger business jet like the one that crashed, but is really strange in the longer CRJ series. That’s why many regional airline pilots call those things “lawn darts.”

    The other bizjet that approaches nose down is the Hawker 4000, first called the Hawker Horizon. Originally the design called for leading edge slats which were abandoned to save weight and money. Because the slats were not included in the actual airplane the behavior of the wing is different so it flies nose down on approach. At least that’s what the experimental test pilot guys at Beech believe explains the unusual attitude.

    The first time I flew the Hawker 4000 after it received some sort of provisional certification we decided to go to Aspen so they could show off its hot and high performance. I’m on final to a runway sloping uphill in a jet flying nose down to make my very first landing in the airplane and it was very strange. When the test pilot in the right seat started to gasp I hauled back hard on the wheel and got the nose up in time, but barely.

    Throw in a tailwind, wind shear, the visual illusion of the runway slope, and a nose down attitude on very short final and that Challenger crew had its hands full. That is not an excuse, but my Hawker arrival at Aspen came to mind when I first heard about the accident....

    I don’t want to speculate on what caused this particular accident, but the conditions of the runway slope, terrain, wind, unique approach angle of the Challenger and so on are simply noting the many challenges this crew faced in trying to land. Lots of factors all came together here that made the approach unusually difficult and that’s what we know and can say for now.

    And, from another reader with experience in this field: 

    Like most pilots, I was tracking the reports out of Aspen closely.

    One aspect that hasn't been mentioned yet is the maximum tailwind component permitted in jets. In the CL[Challenger]300 and 900XP I've flown, it's 10 knots. I'm not sure about the CL600 family but I suspect it is very similar.... [JF note: As mentioned previously, tailwinds at the time were in the 16-26 knot range.]

    This doesn't answer why the crash occurred. This appears to be a loss of directional control as opposed to running off the end of the runway. I would bet you lunch (at Hardee's) the tailwind will be a contributing factor...


  • Why Do Tech Companies End Up Where They Are?

    "You get some clusters, and some stand-alone firms far from anyone else.  But rarely anything in-between."

    Two days ago I mentioned that Redlands, California, posed a question similar to one we'd encountered in Burlington, Vermont. Namely: what were sizable but standalone Internet-based tech companies doing in these smallish towns? In Redlands's case, this meant Esri -- a leader in the mapping-software industry, and a partner in our "American Futures" project. In Burlington's, it was Dealer.com.

    Inside Marriage Special Report bug
    Reinvention and resilience across the nation
    Read more

    In the Seattle area or San Francisco or a dozen other big tech-cluster cities, it would seem commonplace to find such firms. But how had they gotten going far from a surrounding tech ecology that would naturally supply all of the supporting elements of a start-up culture, from potential employees to financial or marketing know-how to design studios?

    Several readers who themselves work in the tech industry write in with explanations. First, from someone who moved from another part of the world to work in one of today's dominant tech clusters, the SF Bay area:

    Yes, silicon Valley (SV) and its environs (SF) are a tech hub. So if you're dreaming up a new communication protocol (Twitter), you need to be surrounded by people who can share in your vision of the future -- and that means (for the most part) that you have a shared 'now', and that's why Twitter was only going to be built in a tech hub. If you're building a better search engine (Google) and Yahoo! is just dont the road, then you can strike up a deal to power their search (which funds you) and if you're surrounded by techies then you have your early adopter users on your doorstep. 

    Now, if you're building software for car dealerships then the #1 thing you need to grow is access to car dealerships. Lots of tech folks I know in SF dont even own cars -- cars are not top of mind. You'd have the same problem in NYC. On top of that, because a lot of city techies dont care about cars, they're blind to the opportunity for selling software to car dealerships. On top of all that, as good a business dealer.com is, I suspect the hardest part of building that business is selling to the dealers, not writing the software (that's still easy to mess up, of course, as proven elsewhere). And I doubt SF car dealers a significantly earlier adopters of tech than anywhere else in the country (I have tried selling tech to them, so I speak from experience :)

    Good software can be written anywhere that there are smart people. So my mental model is not to ask, "The puzzle, again, is why -- and why here?" it's to ask "Why couldn't it be built here?". High-tech spinouts from universities is one possible answer. A need for a cluster of early-tech-adopters (mainly B2C) provides another. 

    Inside Dealer.com, in Burlington; company photo.

    From another person in the California tech industry:

    Some thoughts on why you get some clusters and some stand-alone firms far from anyone else.  But rarely anything in-between.

    As you note, it is now possible to run a high tech company from anywhere, and have employees scattered all over the landscape.  For example, the small company I work for [which produces network analysis software] is "headquartered" (i.e the founder and CEO lives) an hour-plus south of Silicon Valley. I am a couple hours northeast of there. I get down there maybe once a year.  Our third employee is on the East Coast.  The company is over a decade old; later this month we will have our first-ever all hands face-to-face staff meeting. 

    A company can spring up anywhere, as your examples also prove.  But how do you get a cluster?  

    New start-ups/spin-offs frequently happen because someone wants to do something new and different, and can't persuade his management to go for it.  But for that to happen, he has to have been where he can talk casually with others in the same field.  And growing will generally require recruiting from what is essentially a single local pool of talent: the base company.  (Recruiting can also be done via networks built at professional conferences.  But it's harder than recruiting over lunch or at the park.)  That makes getting a second company going very difficult.

    As a result, you can get a stand-alone company anywhere.  It's unlikely, but it can happen.  However to get a cluster, you have to somehow get a second (and preferably a third) company in the same area, before additional companies can be started (relatively!) easily.  Essentially, that means repeating the original process for starting a stand-alone company.  Obviously that's do-able; stand-alones do get started.  But new stand-lones don't happen often -- which means the odds of it chancing to happen multiple times in the same area are really, really low.  And only when you get lucky 2-3 times in one area do you have the conditions which will allow a cluster to blossom.

    Esri cafeteria, in Redlands, via Armantrout Architects.

    And one more explanation:

    I have to assume your question "Why here?" regarding ESRI was rhetorical. It was pretty obvious to me why - because they could. They loved the town, figured others would too, and they succeeded there.

    This is really an interesting connundrum. You (and others) have accurately written about the importance of a support system (probably more properly "supply chain") as being essential to a region's large scale success, esp in modern manufacturing. It would be incredibly difficult (though not impossible) to open an electronics assembly plant in some random town in America, because it's so much easier, cheaper, and faster (by most measures) to do so in China.

    But as ESRI has shown, and Dealer.com as well, if the founder is dedicated to a place, is willing to forgo some, or even most of the easy money, and the location has an appeal that is understood by people other than the founder, then success can happen. It won't be as fast, or as profitable, but those aren't everybody's measure.

  • Three Crashes: Aspen CO, Buckhannon WV, Melbourne FL

    What we know, and don't, about today's fatality in Colorado.

    1) Colorado. This afternoon a private jet crashed, with at least one fatality, at the Aspen airport. Here is one of several online reports from people at the airport or in other planes:

    What is knowable, in the short run, about this sad event is that apparently there were strong and gusty tail winds in Aspen while the plane was trying to land. One of many factors that make the Aspen airport, like many other mountain airports, very demanding is that for all practical purposes you can only land in one direction. There are mountains close to the southeastern side of the airport, so virtually all flights land from the north, in the direction shown by the red arrow. (The arrow is something I've photo-shopped onto a FAA Sectional chart.)

    In aviation terms, any given runway has two different names, depending on which direction the planes are going. In Aspen, planes virtually always take off using "Runway 33" -- starting at the southeastern end and going toward the northwest, over the valley, in the direction of compass heading 330 degrees. And they virtually always land on "Runway 15," coming in from the northwest over the valley, in the direction of the red arrow, and landing toward the southeast with heading 150 degrees. (I have flown a propeller plane into and out of Aspen several times. But it is so demanding and weather-dependent, and I am so aware of not being experienced enough in mountain flying, that I choose not to do it any more.)

    The problem with today's weather is that the wind was blowing strongly from the northwest, in exactly the same direction as the final landing path. When you land into the wind, as pilots always prefer to do, your ground speed relative to the runway is your airspeed minus the windspeed. Thus a plane with approach speed of, say, 100 knots, and a 20 knot headwind, would touch down at 80 knots relative to the runway.

    In this case, the plane had a 15 to 20 knot tailwind, which meant that its speed when meeting the runway would be airspeed plus windspeed -- 120 knots, rather than 80, in the hypothetical example. The problem with going so fast is that you can use up all the runway in a big hurry. You can't compare professional jet operations with amateur piston-plane flying, but just as a benchmark: the greatest tailwind I've ever had to land with was 5 knots, and I was impressed at how quickly the runway went by. Again, at non-mountain airports, you almost always have the choice of landing in the direction that gives you a head-rather-than-tail wind.

    An archived version of today's Air Traffic Control broadcasts from the Aspen tower is available here. The accident plane's call sign is 115WF, said "one one five whiskey foxtrot." On my first-pass listening, it appears that this happened:

    • The plane "went around" -- that is, aborted its first attempted landing -- because the tailwind was more than 30 knots.
    • The pilot set up for another approach, and was informed that the tailwinds over the preceding minute had averaged 16 knots gusting to 25.
    • The last transmission with this plane is at time 20:25, when it is cleared for landing and told of the tail winds.
    • The last ten minutes or so of this archive show the tower and ground controllers deploying all the other aircraft waiting to take off and land on what has become a closed runway, after the crash.

    First reports about crashes are often misleading. We know that it was a very high tailwind; what else might have been involved, we'll learn. For now, condolences to all affected. UPDATE Please see this informative item from Minnesota Public Radio, emphasizing the problem of strong, gusty tail winds.

    2) West Virginia. A happier outcome from a difficult situation: A Cirrus SR-22, the same kind of airplane my wife and I have been flying around the country, had engine trouble yesterday afternoon near Buckhannon, West Virginia. The pilot pulled the handle to deploy the "ballistic parachute" that is a feature of Cirrus airplanes. It came safely to the ground, on top of a truck, and the occupants walked away. Details here; West Virginia news shot below.

    3) Florida. For completeness, here is an animation, from the Air Safety Institute of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, of a Cirrus crash in Melbourne, Florida, that had a more tragic ending. 

    Safe travels to all.
  • Luck? Planning? Karma? The Elements of a Small Town's High-Tech Success

    A software company grows in an unlikely setting. "Why here?" we ask the founders.

    Here is the "reinvention and resilience" theme I will try to deal with in this post and in coming days: What is the combination of planning, public choice, private character, historic legacy and "path dependence," plus accident and sheer blind chance, that can put a community on an improving course -- more jobs, more opportunity, more satisfying life choices for more people -- rather than the reverse?

    One man who tried to answer The Big Questions!

    Yes, I know: thousands of scholars have written millions of words on just this question. The image at right is about one famous early attempt, which I described long ago in our pages. The chance that my wife and I will discover "the" key to community success or failure as we go from place to place is exactly zero. But -- as has been the case over the years as we have lived and traveled in Asia, Africa, and Europe -- we keep coming across interesting examples with provocative implications, and I'll introduce another of them here.

    When we were in Burlington, Vermont, I mentioned the puzzle of the local Internet company Dealer.com. Inside its headquarters, you would have thought you were in Mountain View. When you stepped outside, you were looking not at Highway 101 but at Lake Champlain, now perhaps with ice floes. How did a company like this end up so far from the tech-world ecology that spawns startups in the familiar SF-Seattle-Boston-London-Shanghai centers? We know that it's a virtual world, and in theory you can do high-value work anywhere. But in practice most of today's highest-value collaborative work takes place in clusters, where people are drawn to be with others of similar training and interests, where one successful firm gives rise to spinoffs, where communities evolve to provide the services, comforts, and daily experiences each group values.

    Inside Marriage Special Report bug
    Reinvention and resilience across the nation
    Read more

    In Burlington's case, we heard about all the efforts to help a tech cluster emerge -- and about the enduring importance of IBM's having established a major research center in nearby Essex Junction more than 50 years ago. IBM itself employs only half as many people locally as it did at its peak, but as I described last fall it seems to have made a lasting change in the economic and educational life of the area. Tech-trained families came north for IBM. Many of their children stayed in Vermont, or came back after traveling; some started tech companies of their own. Dealer.com employed some of them -- and, we were told, its recruiting had a specific emphasis. It looked for people with the same tech or business skills that would count in the Bay Area or in Boston -- but who also had some family-tie, recreational, temperamental, or other reason to be interested in the outdoorsy Vermont life. (Since then, by the way, Dealer.com has been acquired for $1 billion. When the Northeast thaws out, we'll go back to ask them about how this affects their sense of Vermont-based localism.)

    A similar puzzle arises from the tech company, Esri, that has transformed the economy of Redlands, California -- and that is our partner, providing mapping software*, in this American Futures project.  The puzzle, again, is why -- and why here?

    Redlands had traditionally been an orange-growing town, and a university town, and a medical center for adjoining mountain and desert communities, and for a while the preferred bedroom community for officers from nearby Norton Air Force Base. But none of these prefigured the emergence of an engineer-heavy "Geographic Information Systems" company, which is the niche Esri occupies and leads worldwide. 

    Esri was founded more than 40 years ago, by a husband-and-wife team, Jack and Laura Dangermond, who had grown up in Redlands and decided to come back after graduate school at the University of Minnesota and Harvard. It started to emerge as a major economic force by the early 1990s. This was fortunate timing for Redlands, to say the least. At just that time Norton Air Force Base, which during its Cold War heyday had been a very sizable bomber, missile, and defense-research center, was being shuttered as part of the Bush I/Clinton-era rationalization of surplus bases. The Norton population had by definition been transient. But many of its officers and their families chose to stay or to return when they left the Air Force, and even during their active-duty years in the town they often played a big role in civic projects. The removal of Norton could have been a serious problem for the regional economy.

    The main Esri cafeteria.

    Apart from helping the area through the base-closing bump, the continued growth of Esri has meant thousands of new tech-industry jobs in a city where that represents a large share of the professional work force. Plus new demand for restaurants, entertainment, local retail, and other attributes of cities that seem economically alive -- and museums, concerts, and other markers of healthy civic culture.   

    Much more than the now-absent Norton, Esri has also changed the human look of the town. Through much of the 20th century, Redlands's ethnic makeup had been an Anglo/Latino balance. Among the whites, there were large groups of Dutch immigrants and their descendants (as in Holland, Michigan); Mormons (whose forebears settled the area in the 1840s and 1850s before being recalled to Utah by Brigham Young); and Dust Bowl-era emigres from the Plains and South. Among the Latinos, nearly all were Mexican and many of those were from families that had been in the area for several generations, having first come north after the Mexican Revolution of the early 1900s.

    Those were the blocs that mattered, Mexican and mixed-Anglo, when I was growing up. Now, a big tech company means that the faces on the street and at the parks and in the schools include far more people from China, India, Uzbekistan, Nigeria, Russia, Israel, Belarus, Ethiopia, New Zealand, and most other countries you might name. This change de-parochializes a community in countless ways.

    The company has made another mark on Redlands, as some of the pictures here may suggest. Jack Dangermond's parents immigrated from Holland (the one in Europe) and ran a popular plant nursery in town. Jack Dangermond's first degree was in landscape architecture, and he and Laura have planted and landscaped so extensively for so many years that they have made Esri's campus and some other public areas in town a kind of arboretum / jungle retreat. 

    Like any big economic force in a small place, Esri engenders some complaints -- like Microsoft (or now Amazon) during its boom times in Seattle, like various tech companies in SF these days. But in frequent return visits to Redlands over the years, and in asking again in recent weeks, we've heard many fewer cavils about Esri's influence than recognitions that the town would be profoundly poorer and worse off if the company had not been started there, or if it had left for a more mainstream headquarters with a larger natural pool of potential tech recruits.

    Customer delegation on the Esri campus. The founders had a family background in landscape architecture and the nursery business and have filled the site with boulders and countless thousands of trees.

    Which leads us back to why the company began here, and why it hasn't left. Esri is still privately held by the Dangermonds, and run by them. While they are major public figures within their tech community -- for instance, Jack is the on-stage impresario of the vast annual User Conference, which draws tens of thousands from around the world --  they otherwise lead a press-avoiding life. The few times I have tried to ask them the "Why here?" question, their answers have boiled down to "Where else?" 

    Their reaction has been a version of the answer from Captain Bob Peacock, with which I end my article, in the current issue, about his very different hometown of Eastport, Maine. Bob Peacock had lived all around the world, so my wife and I asked him why he had come back to a hard-pressed, microscopic settlement on the farthest eastern extremity of America. He tossed off the answer as if it were self-evident: This is where he was from, it was where he knew people, it was where he wanted to be.

    Something similar seems to be the case with the founders of this company in Redlands. This is where they were from and where they wanted to be, so they felt lucky to be able to make it all work here. And on the practicalities of recruitment: as with Dealer.com in Vermont, they could conduct a certain kind of targeted search. Their ideal candidate would have the right sales, tech, or design skills -- but would also be looking for the virtues of smaller-town rather than hip-big-city life: bigger houses with broader lawns, 5-minute commutes, good public schools, lower costs.

    Esri's new "Building Q" on its Redlands campus, site of executive offices and auditorium for community forums.

    What does this mean, as prescription, for anyplace else? I don't know. I realize that you can't make a formula out of hoping that a locally raised couple goes off for schooling and then decides that the right place for a tech start-up is back home -- and decades later becomes a big international success. But an increasingly powerful impression in our travels is how much these local loyalties -- plus local ownership, and the sense of "local patriotism" we have felt in places otherwise as dissimilar as Sioux Falls or Burlington or Redlands or Holland -- really matter in the fate of a town.

    Jack Dangermond, in Esri photo.

    Next up, some illustrations of how, exactly, the software produced in Building Q and its environs has made its mark around the world, plus helped us in this project. Then more about the future of the endangered citrus industry, and the next themes beyond that.

    Meta-point for weekend reflection: When we were doing similar prowling through small-town China, the prevailing world view was, "Hey, China is really happening!" So the creativity we saw even in remote Gansu or Ningxia could seem to fit a larger pattern.

    The prevailing world view about America in recent years has been, "Hey, we're screwed." We are intentionally looking for successful smaller cities. But if you thought things were going well in America, the kinds of things we're seeing would back up your point.

    *To clarify: Esri, like Marketplace, is a "partner" in, but not a "sponsor" of, this project. For Marketplace, this means that we're covering some of the same places together. For Esri, it means that the company is providing software and long hours of guidance on using it, but not any direct financial support. 

    Also: I did not know Jack or Laura Dangermond while growing up, but our families were friendly, as part of small-town life. My siblings and I spent countless weekends being deployed to Dangermond's nursery to buy bushes, trees, ivy, sod, fertilizer, vegetable seeds, or other items for use in our yard.

  • Because We Haven't Heard About My Favorite Coventry-Based Band in a While ...

    I could have written this item decades ago if my last name were Smith.

    I give you, yes, The Fallows, a rising indie-acoustic band from the English Midlands who for understandable reasons have commanded attention in our household since their debut in 2012.

    Tragically none of the band members has the actual last name I am looking for. Their real last names turn out to be Darby, Rutherford, Stokes, Pointon, and Corkerry. May these some day be numbered with Lennon-McCartney or at least the revered Clapton-Bruce-Baker! On the other hand, their base is very near the ancestral homeland of the few Fallowses in the world, so we will overlook such technicalities (plus plural-spelling fine points) and proudly claim them. Here is a sample of their music:

    With more here. And hey, guys, when your tours take you to the New World, let us know. 

    I think henceforth I will introduce myself as "footstompin indie/folk." It's in the blood.

  • Yasukuni, Yūshūkan: Yes, There Is More

    "Love the sinner, hate the sin," as rendered into Japanese.

    Detail from the memorial to Confederate heroes Davis, Lee, and Jackson at Stone Mountain, Ga.

    The story goes on. For background see previous installments one, two, three, four, five, and six. But we may now be nearing the end.

    A Japanese view. I have received a lot of contumely from readers in Japan, without much explanation. Here is one from a reader in Japan making a point about its view of the past.

    Before turning it over to him, a linguistic note: it's always tricky to decide how much to alter quotes from non-native speakers. I have cleaned this up only where I thought it necessary to clarify the meaning. For another time, a discussion of the fairness and unfairness of English's emergence as a global language of discourse, with related benefits to native speakers. See Ta-Nehisi Coates on this theme from France. For now, my Japanese correspondent writes:

    I want to explain the Japanese Culture's views about  crime, punishment, and death.

    There is a saying that " hate the crime, forgive the offender". [JF Note: In English, this is of course "Love the sinner, hate the sin." Somehow I find myself thinking of the Japanese person who once asked if there was an English counterpart for the Japanese concept of ニュアンス, or nyuansu. This was of course the Japanese transliteration of the French->English word nuance.]

    Japanese people make an effort to forgive an offender  after his death or after he receives punishment. 

    It is the wisdom which  developed in long history in order to cut off the chain of hate.

    This is not only for Yasukuni but is generally true.
    Japan's prime minister sent funeral condolences on the occasion of the death of Roosevelt who was an enemy's president.

    Japanese people have not been blaming Americans about an atomic bomb in the past and the future...  

    Even with Osama bin Laden's dead body, probably it is treated carefully and desires a quiet mental rest...  

    From the world's perspective, it may seem weak not to retaliate.

    It may be difficult to be understood. There may be some persons who get angry. However, if seen from the Japanese people's perspective, the world is bound by the chain of hate and can be considered to be sad.

    Which may provide one answer to the question a reader in the U.S. raises:

    Here's something I've never understood about Japan and its continuing propaganda, as per Yūshūkan: why, if Japanese citizens are taught that the US forced Japan into WWII and then brutally attacked and humiliated her, are relations so good between our countries? Shouldn't there be enormous amounts of teeming resentment on their part? That would seem the natural reaction. And yet it doesn't seem to be the case. Why not?  

    On the different Japanese and Chinese uses of the past, from an American academic:

    You posted some interesting comments from readers about the appalling War Museum at the shrine site.  At least a couple of them suggested there was nothing equivalent in American life. 

    Well, there is.  Its the pernicious myth of the Lost Cause and the nobility of the Confederacy.  Go visit something like Stone Mountain in Georgia.  How do a group of people who attempted to destroy the United States in the cause of preserving slavery get to be lionized?  It can be objected that this is a primarily regional, Southern, phenomenon but that would be a significant underestimate of the historic pervasiveness of this myth.  This myth, with the accompanying myth of the horrors of Reconstruction, dominated American thinking about the Civil War era for decades.  Prominent academic historians propagated these myths, and there is an immense popular literature supporting these ideas. 

    While this aspect of Japanese life is deplorable, its also worth asking why the Chinese government makes such a big deal out of these episodes?  Its certainly not because Japan is any real sense a threat to China.  The Chinese leadership is propagating their own version of victimization, which is certainly much better justified by historical events, to boost domestic solidarity and their legitimacy. 

    This is a rather cynical use of the past.  It could even be argued that the Chinese misuse of the past is even worse than the abuse of the past by Japanese politicians.  The latter are functioning within the confines of a democratic political system and a constitution that forbids aggression.  The Chinese leadership, on the other hand, is attempting to use the past to perpetuate an authoritarian regime. 

    As I wrote repeatedly while living in China (and in my books), I basically agree with the reader's concluding point about the deliberate -- and dangerous -- way in which the Chinese government has ramped up anti-Japanese feelings. Often, as recently with Yasukuni, the Japanese government makes that job even easier.

    From another American:

    I’ve been following the Yasukuni thread from the beginning.

    As minimal background, I am now 75, have been married to a Japanese woman for 43 years, and have both lived in Japan several times and visited many times since 1960.

    My personal experience leads me to believe that in these times, the vast majority of Japanese do not think about, or care to think about WWII, per se. To most it is an embarrassment, not to be discussed, and best forgotten. I don’t know if there are studies which provide evidence of this, but I would bet on it.

    I think there was a time when the post-war pacifism, anti-war sentiment of many Japanese was more evident. One of the greatest anti-war films I have ever seen was a Japanese production released in 1959 - The Human Condition (Ningen no jôken). [Above] It is in three parts with a total running time of something like ten hours! (No doubt it is way too long and melodramatic for most of today’s audiences.) If I recall correctly, this was very popular in Japan at the time.

    Finally -- for this post, and I believe for this topic  -- a reader's note on one other historical angle:

    I've just got one significant gripe with the last excerpt you posted in this article: it calls Midway "the end of Japanese aspirations in the Pacific," but the real end of Japanese naval aspirations was the Battle of the Philippine Sea two years later, which was only made possible by an extremely dangerous top-secret intel delivery mission that was completed by the submarine on which my grandfather served as an officer, the USS Crevalle.

    The Crevalle was dispatched to the Philippines in order to secure documents containing the “Z Plan” which had been recovered from a crashed Japanese plane. The documents were in plain Japanese language without any code, resulting in a quick (although initially difficult due to the frequency of unknown naval terms) translation. This intel allowed the Americans to inflict a devastating blow on the Japanese fleet in June 1944, in which 3 Japanese carriers and somewhere in the neighborhood of 650 Japanese aircraft were destroyed while the Americans lost just over 100 aircraft.

    Crevalle crew snapshot, from the Navy site.

    The battle was so one-sided that it became known as “The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.” It effectively eliminated Japan’s ability to wage carrier-based warfare for good.

    Even better, the same mission by the Crevalle also secured the safe rescue of 40 American refugees from [the Philippine island of] Negros. I will always be proud of that.

  • An American Dream: A YMCA With a Circus

    By Deborah Fallows

    Performer at the Great Y Circus in Redlands, California.

    For those of you who have always dreamed of running off to join the circus, here is a close second: move to Redlands, California, and join the YMCA.  Not only will you get the chance to be a circus star but you’ll also find yourself living in a friendly town with wide palm-lined streets, orange groves, and century-old architecture, not to mention the locally-owned-and-made big four: craft beer, ice cream, chocolate, and coffee. What more could you want?

    Inside Marriage Special Report bug
    Reinvention and resilience across the nation
    Read more

    I went to see Darwin Barnett, the CEO of the Redlands Community YMCA, to find out about the circus, among other things. Barnett has been a lifer in the world of the YMCA, getting his first job there during his college years in Plainview, Texas. He moved up the ranks, and about a year and a half ago, he was looking to find a smallish city where his family could settle in and be part of a strong community.

    Redlands came onto Barnett’s radar for those reasons, but also because in the YMCA world, Redlands is unique and famous for its circus.

    The Redlands Y circus is not just a tumbler’s wanna-be circus. It is The Great Y Circus, as it is fondly called, a serious circus with high-flying acts, trapeze, rings, unicycles, acrobatics, and teeterboard, where one person jumps onto one end of the teetertotter, launching the partner into the air. The Circus was founded Roy Coble, a former performer with the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus, shortly after he moved to Redlands in 1927. Once smitten with the circus; always smitten with the circus.

    After modest beginnings, the circus has now grown to 350 kids, from toddlers on up who compete for the spots, and dozens of volunteers, many former circus members themselves, who train the performers for several months each year. The Circus plays to sell-out crowds inside the YMCA gym, which was built with extra-high ceilings designed to accommodate the show, for 3 weekends each spring. For instance:

    One of our longtime friends in Redlands, a Great Y Circus star in her youth, says that more than 50 years later, she can still hop back on her unicycle. My exuberant sister-in-law, who grew up in Redlands with my husband and their other siblings and is now a serious energy and environment policy consultant, emotes on the formative experience of several years in the circus.  There, she recounts, she learned trampoline flips, marched as part of the troupe in town parades, and really felt part of the gang and the community -- all because of the circus. Others have moved on to professional lives in the circus or as stunt performers.

    Unicycles at the Great Y Circus. Photo from Examiner.com, Rockwell Anderson Media

    The Past: The YMCA as a town institution.  There’s much more to the Y than the circus. Founded in 1887, it is one of the oldest Ys in the country, and the first in southern California to own its own building, which housed storefronts on the street level and the Y upstairs. They grew quickly through a series of bigger buildings, sharing with some of the many religious groups in town, the Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians; adding a public reading room, which foreshadowed another great Redlands institution, the A. K. Smiley Public Library; offering a full-service Y with swimming pool, tennis courts, a gym, kitchen, dining room, and offices. They also added camping programs, first at Catalina Island and then at Big Bear in the San Bernardino Mountains, just above Redlands. By the 1920s, the Y had bought 3 acres of citrus groves and expanded to the site of today’s Y complex. Enter about then Roy Coble, who offered a “family night”, which grew into the Redlands Great Y Family Circus.

    An early YMCA building in Redlands, 
    via Smiley Library

    Throughout the 20th century, The Y modernized with additional facilities including racquetball, the gym, outdoor roller hockey, and outdoor pool, a teen/senior center, locker rooms, exercise room, preschool, and nursery. During WWII, they housed a USO and offered sleeping quarters for military on leave. There was nothing, it seems, that the Y couldn’t do.

    So, when the Y aimed its sights on a new pool, Barnett recounted to me, even the cavernous gap between the builder’s bid (12 million dollars) and the fundraisers’ prediction for what they could raise (2 millions dollars) didn’t kill the project. In fact, the town rejected the idea of a lesser option to raze and rebuild from new, saying they didn’t want a “shiny new thing” but instead would press on for funds to save and restore the old buildings instead. And you guessed it, they town did raise the entire amount. Darwin Barnett took me on a tour of the newly redone building, with its preserved portions and its new pool.

    New YMCA pool.

    The Y in Redlands is an example of “We can do this” answers to “It can’t be done” declarations that we have seen in other small towns as we’ve flown around America. Holland, Michigan, dug up its downtown commercial street to install underground hot water piping to provide a winterlong snowmelt. Burlington, Vermont, turned around a failing school in the down-and-out part of town to a model magnet school with a waiting list.  Eastport, Maine, unboarded its main street buildings in order to open museums, a theater, galleries, and buy-local boutiques.  These are examples of the local civic willpower that we are seeing prevail in the small thriving towns around the US.

    Pool in construction period, via Press-Enterprise.

    The Present: a bulwark of the community. Nationwide, the number of YMCAs has been going down. Some simply shuttered, like the Y just west of Redlands in Riverside, CA. It was founded in 1884 and closed abruptly, bankrupt, in January, 2013.  Others consolidated. The Y in the bankrupt city of San Bernardino, right next door to Redlands, has been absorbed, along with the Y in neighboring, rural Highland, into the Y structure of Redlands. In these communities adjacent to Redlands, the Y employees about 400 employees in over 50 before and after-school programs for 11,000 kids.  In Redlands proper, I saw several of the big signs on some of its additional 13 school sites.  

    In Redlands, the Y has its own preschool and the  typical sports and fitness programs. I swam in the new pool (Teaser: when we began the project, I was determined to swim for exercise and adventure along our routes, just as I had swum around Sydney, recorded here, when we were temporarily in Australia. More stories of my adventures swimming at Ys across America coming soon!)

    The new YMCA in Redlands

    The five days I swam at the Redlands Y, I saw lots of activity: the gym was full of people exercising; the nursery was filled with little kids and their caretakers; the pool was filled with lifeguards-in-training and older citizens, who seemed to be playacting the role of those who needed to be saved. A few high school girls were getting in extra workouts (Redlands High School has its own pool, but it was winter vacation.); people like me were doing laps; kids were taking swimming lessons with their parents watching from the bleachers. The outdoor pool was closed for the season, which always strikes my upper-midwest temperature sensibility as an oddity of California life, since the “winter” season is regularly sunny and in the 70s.

    The Future: Networking in a small town. I asked Barnett about the plans for the Y.  He said that strategically, they would like to reach deeper into the community, and he described two efforts in that direction.

    The first is the youth wellness program. Targeting diabetes and obesity, the Y will partner in 2014 with town’s highly-respected Beaver Medical Clinic (where my husband's father was a beloved doctor for many years) to add physical activity and sports component to the counseling programs the children and their families already receive. By moving the locale from the hospital to the Y, they give the kids a chance change their language as well. Instead of complaining, “I have to go to the hospital,” they can announce, “I get to go to the Y.” Brilliant.

    The second is a new program directed at “summer learning loss”, or what traditionally happens during the slow summer vacation, when kids lose academic momentum and even content, forcing them to spend a few months in the fall repeating what they learned the previous year. The summer online learning program can focus on kids’ individual weak academic points and home in on them for practice and drilling. Last year, 65 kids attended this trial program funded by the LA Times. They worked 1 ½ hours a day on laptops. Success. Not only did they not lose pace, but they gained a half-grade’s achievement in their targeted subjects.

    Oh, and about the four other big reasons to move to Redlands,  stay tuned for more coming soon on the Hangar 24 brewery, A La Minute ice cream, Parliament craft chocolate, and Augie’s coffeehouse. 

    You can contact me at DebFallows at gmail dot com.

  • 'Stop Talking About Yasukuni; the Real Problem Is Yūshūkan'

    Why a museum matters more than a shrine.

    Yushukan, the Japanese military-history museum in Tokyo near Yasukuni Shrine. 

    The story goes on. For background see previous installments one, two, three, four, and five. Now, another angle: that the real object of attention should not be the famous Yasukuni Shrine, where millions of Japanese war dead and a handful of "Class A" war criminals, are honored. Instead, by this logic, it should be the nearby Yūshūkan, 遊就館, or war-history museum, that presents an incredibly tendentious "Japan as victim" interpretation of 20th century events. I mentioned my visit there in the first installment of the series. But let me now turn it over to the readers.  

    First, from an American who lives in Japan, is fluent in and works in Japanese language, and has a Japanese spouse: 

    Now that everyone is eating their osechi [holiday treats] and I am not getting any more emails on my blackberry, I would like to emphasize again something you pointed out in your original post:

        "As a bonus, Americans who visit the "historical" museum at the shrine (as I have done) will note its portrayal of Japan being "forced" into World War II by U.S. economic and military encirclement."

    I think that the discussion of Yasukuni by foreign media outlets presents the shrine itself in a far more anodyne way by just referring to it as a place housing the souls of Japanese war dead that also (almost incidentally) includes Class A war criminals. Thinking about Yasukuni this way makes comparisons to Arlington sound far more reasonable, particularly if one is sympathetic to the sort of "victor's justice" criticisms about the general legitimacy of some of the post-war trials for the crimes of starting the war (ignoring for the moment the crimes of how the war was subsequently fought or those crimes carried out against civilians, which were less the focus of the trials led by the US).

    I wish instead that every article about this issue would mention, as you did, the "historical" museum at the shrine, which I visited for the first time when I was studying abroad at [a leading] university here in Tokyo as an undergraduate. Aside from various military memorabilia (e.g., a Zero fighter plane), it portrays on exhibits along the walls of the museum a timeline of the entire war period (which for Japan includes, of course, the fighting in Manchuria and China before the US was involved).

    This amounts to a retelling of the war from the perspective of the ultra-right wing. The vast majority of the wall space is taken up with detailing Japan's military victories, with only the last few panels tying up how the US dropped the atomic bombs (causing the Emperor to make the judicious decision to end the war in the interest of the people). As I remember it, not only is there no mention at all of the atrocities committed in China and Korea by Japanese forces, but forces arriving in China are described as being welcomed by the people with open arms. [JF note: that is my recollection as well.]

    The museum is shocking in its mendacity (in its willingness to change or omit events entirely) and audacity (in that it is in both Japanese and English, and thus not just for Japanese consumption). It is entirely different to create a memorial to pay somber respect to those who died in a war -- irrespective of the justice of the particular cause the soldiers died for -- than it is to create a memorial that recasts an entire war in a glorified light, including over the widely recognized atrocities committed in that war.

    I struggle to think of a comparable hypothetical for US history - if the Vietnam memorial in Washington also had an exhibit attached that lauded the use of napalm and the actions at My Lai? Or maybe if there was a museum at Arlington that talked about how the slaves were better off under the Confederacy? I think it would be easy to see how the existence itself of any such museum would leave lots of people justifiably furious, let alone patronage of the museum or any associated place by a sitting head of state.

    I think any reasonably objective person who visited the museum would realize that, whatever it was intended to be or was in the past, Yasukuni itself has since deliberately and absolutely been made a political symbol of a very specific view of history by certain people in Japan, and is not at all a neutral place that incidentally is shouldering the blame for some past crimes of those interned therein. There is no way that any Japanese politician could visit the shrine without endorsing this same view of history, and be doing so deliberately. I don't think that this is clearly explained in most articles about this topic for international audiences, which I think muddles the issue and allows sympathy for the actions of Abe which is not at all merited.

    Similarly, from another Westerner with experience in Japan:

    I visited Yasukuni about 1998 I think. It was Golden Week and there were the usual ceremonial displays of old war vets in uniform. The Emperor's Nephew was visiting, I have a photo of the Imperial Police shoving me out of his path while I was trying to take his picture.

    I went into the Yuushuukan, the war museum, and was horrified at some of the things I saw. There were displays mapping out Japan's foreign military campaigns, but no mention of the hundreds of years of civil war inside Japan. Japan's naval battles in the Sino-Japanese wars were emphasized as the beginning of Japanese modern military power in Asia. This is a fact, but the display's assertion that this was right and proper, seemed propagandistic.

    So I went into the theater that shows a film on 20th Century Japanese military history. The film is pure propaganda dating back to before WWII. It clearly explains the "ABCD Theory," that the Americans, British, Dutch, and Chinese forced Japan into a war it didn't want, by colonizing Asia and monopolizing all the oil, rubber, and other products Japan needed. Japan is clearly laid out as the victim here, they would starve if they didn't fight for "what was rightfully theirs.".

    Oh but the war itself is portrayed as liberating the oppressed people from the ABCDs, there is actually a scene in the film of Japanese soldiers advancing into China, handing out rice balls to starving orphan children. What a civilized war! This propaganda absolutely enraged me, particularly when I realized this was exactly the same propaganda forced on the Japanese civilians during the war.

    When the film ended, I felt like I was an intruder, witnessing a conspiracy that everyone thought was dead. And the Japanese people who exited the theater were surprised to see a gaijin [literally "outside person," foreigner] had watched the film, some of them seemed embarrassed. One of them saw my angry scowl and asked me what I thought about the film. He talked to me about it at length, saying it was the crazy uyoku [right-wingers] that still promote these ideas, but that the mainstream of society has rejects them. But the uyoku still have influence.

    My experience of the presentations in the yuushuukan was entirely negative, even for a Japanese history student like me, although there was a single solitary moment I will never forget. In the display of military gear, there was a tarnished old clip of ammunition. It was a row of about 8 cartridges about 5 inches long, clipped together at the base, ready for insertion into a gun. But these bullets were hit by another bullet. The bullet penetrated through the middle of the first cartridge, then through the second with less power, going right finally coming to a stop at the very last cartridge. One bullet shot perfectly down the length of the clip, taking out the entire clip. I thought that was the perfect symbol for war, bullets being destroyed by a bullet.

    Similarly, from yet another Japan-observing gaijin:

    I've seen a couple of your commenters saying we should just let Japan mourn like any other country, and the world should not interpret Yasukuni as anything more provocative than shrines to war dead everywhere else.

    What they're missing is something that is obvious to anyone who visits the place: it is the Japanese who continue to make Yasukuni an offensive symbol. The approach to the shrine is thronged with militaristic right-wing groups and their banners and loudspeakers that glorify Japan's militaristic past. The shrine itself is beautiful and dignified, but next to it sits a well-funded war museum that's run by those right-wing groups. And that museum is as slanted as anything I've seen in a totalitarian country. The "US forced Japan into war" part is quite something -- but I actually found the stuff about the Japanese efforts to bring stability and development to Manchuria and Nanking (!) much worse.

    And, just to establish the point, from another outside observer of Japan:

    Hirohito, the Showa Emperor, on a horse in wartime.

    Japanese (right-wing) politicians often compare Yasukuni to Arlington National Cemetery, since they insist they are simply honoring Japan’s war dead, something that all nations do. I think they have a valid point. The vast majority of Japanese killed in WWII were unfortunate draftees and it is proper to honor and memorialize them, even if the war they fought in was wrong. (Iraq II and Vietnam are widely considered bad wars in the US, but no one would ever consider not honoring the soldiers who died fighting them.)

    The fact that war criminals are enshrined in Yasukuni is often cited as the reason why Japanese leaders shouldn’t visit it. I disagree with this. The Tokyo trials that convicted these “war criminals” are widely considered a joke (unlike Nuremberg) and while the people who were convicted were certainly bad, the trials were extremely arbitrary in who was targeted and many people who had been arrested were quickly given amnesty by the US when the Cold War heated up... 

    The main problem with Yasukuni as I see it is the fact that on the grounds of the shrine is a museum that offers an extremely revisionist view of WWII. The museum’s perspective would be extremely offensive to almost anyone, not just Chinese or Koreans, and does not represent the commonly held view of the war among Japanese. In this sense, the shrine is indeed a place that glorifies Japan’s actions in WWII.

    Yasukuni, therefore, is not an appropriate site for a national leader to visit. However, there is probably a catch-22, in that any Japanese leader who proposed building a memorial for war dead that could actually be compared to Arlington would at once be denounced by China and Korea (and probably the Japanese public) as promoting militarism.

    To end this on a more  constructive direction, consider this note from a well-known  pilot and writer, about one of the under-appreciated aspects of Jimmy Doolittle's raid on Tokyo in 1942, mentioned here.

    I too for decades and decades thought that the main benefit of the Doolittle Raid was the morale boost that it gave the U. S. public, but Winston Groom's new book "The Aviators" gives a fascinating new insight into the most important fallout from that mission.

    Yes, America was thrilled to read that we'd bombed "the Japs," and yes, it did cause the Japanese high command to shuffle troop and naval units around to protect against the eventuality of future raids, but the game-changer was that the Doolittle mission unleashed an absolute torrent of semi-hysterical Japanese radio comm while it was underway, some of it in the clear and some coded, and that all of this was read by the cipher geeks in Hawaii and Washington who were soon to break the Japanese Imperial Navy code.  And because of that trove of radio messages to work with, they broke the code in time for the Battle of Midway, when as a result we knew in advance what the Imperial Fleet's movement would be.

    As I'm sure you know, the critical 10 minutes of that battle, when the unexpected SBDs sank three Japanese carriers and crippled a fourth (later to be sunk) were the end of Japanese aspirations in the Pacific.  We can thank Doolittle for that, it seems.


Where Time Comes From

The clocks that coordinate your cellphone, GPS, and more


Computer Vision Syndrome and You

Save your eyes. Take breaks.


What Happens in 60 Seconds

Quantifying human activity around the world



From This Author