August 6, 1998

August 6, 1998

Hard Rain from Tokyo…

"Just give me some truth, all I want is some truth." John Lennon

I want to comment on some current news items which have surfaced during my two week business trip to several East Asian countries (Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, Korea, and Japan). Tonight, here in Tokyo, is my last night before flying home tomorrow.

While seeing customers, suppliers, and other contacts in a furious rush of meetings, days and nights without end, I couldn't help but notice some confluence of news items, ideas, and thoughts.

Everywhere I went, there was flooding. Oh, I certainly was not at the centers of the flooding, and was never seriously affected by the endless rain. But in Bangladesh, 20 million people lost their homes, at least temporarily; in China, the mighty Yangtze overflowed and created 2 million homeless and over 1200 dead already, with more to come. Korea suffered deaths, even Japan suffered deaths. As I write, a massive typhoon is pouring more rain and flood tides into southeastern China, after sweeping through Taiwan.

The Chinese are in the middle of the largest hydrodynamic project of all time (and quite possibly the largest construction project of any kind, of all time) as they dam the Yangtze river in the Three Gorges area. Among other things, this dam will help to prevent just this sort of Yangtze flooding tragedy, which happens all too often. It will also provide electric power to the vast Chinese hinterlands, without which they can never enter the modern economic arena. However, many Americans are scoffing at the project, telling the Chinese that they can never succeed at such a massive and technically challenging job. The dam is due for completion in 2009, so we will know by then.

These floods happen from time to time, but they still cause real death, real hardship, and very real and immense suffering. They also worsen the already seriously bad economic situation in these countries.

When I got off the plane at Narita Airport and took the bullet train to Tokyo Station, I couldn't help but notice the clean, more-than-modern, high tech facilities; the friendly, multilingual Japanese people one finds everywhere one turns; and the most efficient and effective people moving system on the planet. The number of people who comfortably move through any given Tokyo train station in a minute is mind-boggling, and this parade of fast forward moving bits of humanity is going on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in all major Tokyo train stations.

It struck me that these Japanese people, who are being lectured and scolded by American politicians about how to manage an economy, are some of the smartest, hardest working, educated citizenry in any country in the world. How could it be that Japan has slipped into such a deep economic recession?

If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere. The same Americans who lecture the Japanese on corporate and political management in the sacred "American Style" are the same folks who, in the 1980's, presided over an American business scene which was not only down and out, but in fact was considered to be permanently uncompetitive with the vaunted Japanese corporations, which were then ascendant.

How short our memories are.

Look, the same Hard Rain is going to blow through North America soon enough. The Asian economies I visited these two weeks are devastated, and, surprise America!, it's getting worse, not better. And it's not because of some inherent shortcomings in the Asians' work ethic, intelligence, or culture. I assure you, these are advanced, sophisticated cultures with intellectual capital and resources which would stagger most Americans if they were fully aware.

The Asian crisis is not going away, and it will affect America enormously, soon.

Now, while all this was going on, I couldn't help but notice the news from America about President Bill Clinton.

Now, forget all about any sex scandals, personal improprieties, or faux pas. Don’t worry about impeachment or anything else. I ask you to just focus on one simple aspect of the news.

The President of the United States of America is worried about the results of the DNA testing on a stained dress of Monica Lewinsky's. The President is pressing his lawyers to get the initial FBI results released and made public, or at least reported to the White House, because it will affect the President's testimony on August 17.

If the stain proves inconclusive, then, we are told, the President will stick to his guns and his full denial of any sexual relationship between himself and Ms. Lewinsky. If, however, the stains prove to contain DNA evidence link-able to Bill Clinton, then the President may alter his testimony. The White House considers it "unfair" for the DNA testing results to be held secret, because it will put them at a disadvantage of not knowing the results in advance.

"Just give me some truth…"

What? What does this tell us about the President; about our country; about ourselves; about our culture? If the truth, the actual truth, matters so little to the President, that's one thing. But if the American people accept this value judgement, as Mr. Clinton obviously thinks they will, then that really tells us something. If economic prosperity, a booming stock market, and American macho means that much more than the Truth to the American people, then God help us all…

When the Truth dies…so does everything else.

Ron Stephens

August 6, 1998

P.S. Oh, by the way, I had lunch today with a young Japanese engineer. When I asked him where he was born, he said "Hiroshima". He then reminded me that today is Hiroshima Day in Japan; the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings are the only two times in which human beings have dropped nuclear weapons on other human beings.

P.P.S. In today's ceremony at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Mayor Takashi Hiraoka said that one of the most frustrating aspects of the lack of progress in the global nuclear disarmament movement is the fact that the five principal nuclear nations- the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain- still cling to the notion that nuclear weapons are a deterrent.

"Now is the time when human beings are required to have new wisdom and take action" Hiraoka said before 50,000 people at the ceremony.

"Being kept alive by the dead"

"The two atomic bombs were dropped not just on Japanese but on human existence itself. Those who died were burned in the fire of hell on behalf of the world's humanity who live in the last half of the 20'th century"

playwright Hisashi Inoue

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