Thanks, an Apology, and a Request: A Diplomat’s Farewell

Dear Japan,
I am an admirer. I love your beauty and your strength, your serenity and your energy, your creativity and your traditions. Beyond that, I am deeply grateful to you for providing me with at least part of the education and experience that allowed me to follow a diplomatic career, one it is true which is over.
Long ago in my teenage years, nothing gave me more joy than reading. Finally the day came though when I wanted to have the type of adventures I had been reading about, so I dropped out of college and hitchhiked around the world. It was in the Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan that I met a young Japanese musician and reporter who was writing about nomadic peoples. Because I spoke a little Farsi, I was able to help him negotiate a price for a horse and guide that was agreeable to all. That was the beginning of my Japanese karma. In fact, we later met again by chance in Istanbul. At that point, we decided to return to Europe together, where he had once performed as a musician and still seemed to have quite a few girlfriends. When it was time for him to return to Japan, he invited me to come along. I was though at the moment deeply involved in learning French with a beautiful young woman, and said if he didn’t mind I would try and come later.
And this is in fact what I did. After the tearful farewells of a lovely summer romance, I went to Japan and stayed with my friend in a little village high in the mountains of Niigata, the Snow Country. It was everything that Miyazawa Kenji might have written about, a place almost of heaven on earth because the earth was still full of moon, and stars, and magic. There were spirits in every tree and rock and animal and the gods and goddesses were not so far away that they didn’t make an appearance from time to time. Here I planted rice, and weeded rice, and harvested rice, and shoveled snow from the roof and yes, drank quite a bit of “Dobroku.” Maybe it was the Dobroku, but the result was that I managed to learn a little Japanese, too. This helped greatly in receiving my next fortunate bit of Japanese karma.
After eventually returning to America and completing my degree, I wanted to return to Japan and so I applied to the Ministry of Education for a scholarship. I remember going to the Japanese Consulate in Houston, Texas to take the language exam. The staff was so amazed to find an American, a Texan who could read and write any Japanese at all, that they kept coming in one by one to watch me take the test. Finally they stopped me, mid-test and said, “that’s fine, come and have some Udon with us.” It was all a little disconcerting, but the Udon was quite delicious and I guess you can say my Japanese karma was still good. Because there weren’t too many Americans at that time with a bit of Japanese language knowledge, my very basic Japanese stood out and I was able to receive a scholarship, and study for two years at Kyoto University as a Kenshuin. And this in turn, is what allowed me later to become a diplomat.
After studying in Kyoto, I returned again to America. Perhaps it was because of the influence of the subtle beauty of that blessed place, that I decided to turn my hand to writing, painting, and composing. Alas, being gifted in none of those, I eventually needed to find a real job. I took the exam to enter the Foreign Service and passed the written test, but missed passing the oral exams by a few points. Here again my lucky Japanese karma appeared. Because of my modest Japanese language knowledge, I was awarded a few extra points, just enough to pass, because the State Department at that time needed more Japanese speakers, and it had been identified as a Critical Needs Language. Suddenly I was transformed from “starving artist” into a Diplomat!
And this is where I get to the serious core of this letter, which, I’m sorry to say has probably meandered on too long already. I was eventually posted to Japan, as a Political Officer, a 2nd Secretary at the US Embassy in Tokyo. There was much that I did, in terms of human rights, and trafficking in persons, and international organizations, which I think, speaks well of a productive relationship between two equal nations. There were though a few things I was asked to do, which I personally did not agree with, but which I carried out as part of my duties.
I used to walk from the US Embassy over to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. If the message I was to deliver was one I didn’t agree with, I used to walk a little slower, wondering if I was selling my soul for a diplomatic passport. Once, for example, I was asked to deliver a demarche about the US position on cluster munitions (basically that the new generation of these weapons was much safer). Japan, of course, has signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, and the US has not. These horribly indiscriminate weapons (new generation or not) are rightfully banned. For Japan’s signature though to have any real meaning, it cannot allow its major defense ally to store them in Japan: to do so is to be complicit. The US position (as it is with landmines) is wrong and I apologize to the people of Japan for pretending otherwise.
Once I was asked to deliver a demarche asking that Japan not support a U.N. resolution calling for research into the health effects of depleted uranium. As the children stillborn, or born deformed in Fallujah and elsewhere testify, depleted uranium weapons pose a horrible health risk even after their initial explosive destructiveness. The US position is wrong and I apologize to the people of Japan for pretending otherwise.
Once I was asked to deliver a demarche to the government of Japan asking them not to vote in the U.N. Human Rights Council to accept the Goldstone report from the U.N. fact-finding mission to the Gaza conflict. Had this report been written by a US State Department Human Rights Officer (as I was) about a country that wasn’t a US ally, it would have been widely praised by the Secretary of State. The US position was wrong and I apologize to the people of Japan for pretending otherwise.
Once, as a Human Rights Officer, I was approached by a Japanese group, the Victims of the Red Purge, asking that I deliver a letter to President Obama, asking for an official apology for this US occupation-instigated action that cost so many innocent Japanese their jobs and dignity. I wrote a cable which included their letter, to be delivered to Washington with the recommendation that the US move past this mistaken cold war overreaction and issue a formal apology. The Embassy however overruled my recommendation. In fact, US intervention in the domestic affairs of Japan to insure it had a loyal anti-communist ally, driven largely by a hysteric level of anti communist demagoguery in US domestic politics, resulted in a profound warping of Japanese democracy, a warping which has persisted for a very long time. The US position is wrong and I apologize to the people of Japan for not being successful in obtaining both an apology and a formal statement that during the Cold War, while the US posed as a champion of freedom, and in some cases may have actually been so, in far, far too many countries and locales, it was deeply and criminally complicit in the suppression of many peoples who wanted that freedom, but were so unfortunate as to be under regimes that touted their anti-communist credentials.
In my own defense, I did try to raise my concerns in various venues. I sent two Dissent Channel cables on climate change, and still recall with a smile the day in the Ambassador’s mahogany-paneled conference room sitting at his magnificently long table across from a solid line of sparkling medal-bedecked military officers when, following a presentation on anti-missile defense, I pointed out that numerous studies (including from our own Congressional Budget Office) have determined that anti-missile defenses don’t work and it seemed to me that we were doing little more than making Raytheon and other corporations and consultants, rich. Ah, the wonderful awkwardness of that moment as if one could almost palpably hear the air escaping from so many punctured pompous balloons.
And this is where I now ask the people of Japan for help. My country is no longer the country I once knew, a country moving at least in the direction of providing opportunity for all, regardless of income. The tendency to paranoia and international law-breaking was always there, at a low fever, in clandestine and semi-clandestine actions around the world, driven by visions of American exceptionalism pandered onto an all too naïve public. Though I like to believe that there was the intention at least to make the world a better place, in fact these actions were frankly not just frequently amateurish and inept, they resulted in the suffering and death of many. Nor it seems, have any of the lessons been learnt. Since 9/11, the United States has adopted a national security policy that can most charitably be described as one of anaphylactic shock. Terrorism ranks with shark attacks in terms of real risk. We have, however, so over-reacted, and misreacted to the tragedy that we have become a danger both to ourselves and to others. We have squandered our treasure in the sands of hubris and misunderstanding, and I often wonder now if the real good that we do has become just a fig leaf to cover our obscenely over-muscled shadowhand -tattooed as it is with empty slogans- that wields death and destruction at the press of a button, but doesn’t know how to build, and doesn’t seem to have the slightest grasp of history. Out of the excesses of our fears, we have perverted our own constitution, and become a surveillance state in which the government itself moreover has become, in the words of Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, a “government of the 1% by the 1 % and for the 1%.” With a populace mired in debt, befuddled by vapid corporate media-tainment, and worshiping mindlessly at the rat-race temple of empty consumerism, America is now essentially run by the type of military-industrial-political-banker cabal that President Eisenhower warned about.
Japan please think twice, thrice about the things America asks you to do. Please be a good friend and send as much of our military home as possible. We cannot afford it anymore. Our poor are getting poorer, our education systems are falling behind, and our infrastructure is crumbling. Say that you are happy to work with us, but only if we find a way to either harness or rein in our greed so as to conserve and restore the earth’s natural systems which are all now rapidly being destroyed. Say that you would be happy to be our friend and ally in the greatest battle ever fought, the battle to preserve humanity and the earth from the now rapidly advancing onslaught of climate change. But do not get caught in the misguided adventurism of a decaying empire that is flailing about at phantoms, while the real dangers that haunts it, -climate change, environmental degradation, and the rapidly growing level of inequality of its own people- have essentially been sacrificed on the altar of a military-industrial-political-financial machine that is its own worst enemy.
With the Deepest Respect and Love and Thanks,
Daniel H. Garrett
Former Political Officer, Foreign Service, US Department of State and Second Secretary, US Embassy, Japan 2008-2010,
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed herein are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of the US Department of State or the US Government.