Printer Friendly

Coming in from the cold war; to make the American economy competitive, we have to shake off our longstanding political, educational, and psychological hang-ups.


The years of the Vietnam war--1965-1976--cover the true surge of the Japanese economy. My clearest memory from 1967, pre-Tet, was of thousands of Americans wandering around Saigon in combat gear and hundreds of Japanese businessmen in their civilian clothes doing business in the city's best hotels and eating at the city's new Japanese restaurants. What seemed like thousands and thousands of young Vietnamese men and women were riding around on Honda motorbikes. There was only one conclusion: We were obsessed with the Cold Ware and then the hot war, but the Japanese were obsessed with commerce.

One incident will suffice to show the different visions of the two nations at that moment. It was a conflict that took place within the small American business community in Tokyo in the mid-sixties. Frustrated senior American businessmen there complained to their embassy that the Japanese, who they knew were in the midst of a prolonged boom, kept their own markets closed, even as they set their sights on exporting their way to becoming a world-class industrial superpower. The top diplomats at the American embassy barely listened to them. They had a different agenda for Japan, one set in Washington by the people at Defense and State: to use whatever leverage we had in Tokyo to keep the Japanese lined up as a rhetorical ally during Vietnam,using all our influence to get them to do what they were going to do anyway. The commercial attache at the embassy, who represented the American businessmen, did not have the clout to change the decision. The Japanese, as the saying then went, had to be kept on the team. At the moment we had maximum leverage in Japan, we wasted it. It was an odd collision of perceived national interests with real national interests, and perceived national interests always won in the Cold War.

It was as clear an example as I can think of to show the difference between Japan and the United States: We, the culture of affluence, with our abundant resources, were a political society; the Japanese with their difficult, inhospitable conditions, were, involuntarily, an economic one. Our national security complex was composed of the State Department, the CIA, and the Defense Department. Our Commerce Department was a minor player in foreign policy decisions. Their national security complex was an economic one, with the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, adn the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as the chief players. Their job was to monitor first and foremost Japan's economic relations with the rest of the world, or, perhaps more accurately, its political relations as determined by its economic interests. In Japan, wealth has to be renewed each day by the nation's most talented people. Politics is a secondary business, and that means journalism is a tertiary business, it being a field derivative of politics.

Bloc heads

I do not think the Japanese ever thought in terms of a Capitalist bloc or Communist bloc. They thought, as befits a nation where the sense of nationalism is so powerful, always of the greater good of Japan. Their economy in the end represented a form of state-guided communal capitalism. While the communal society failed in Eastern Europe because it was an equal misery distributor instead of an equal benefits distributor, it succeeded in its capitalist manifestation in Japan. There it fit the historic needs and traditions of the country, a poor land where, if the rewards were too great at the top, the poverty would be too great at the bottom. There was nothing very ideological about modern Japanese capitalism, for the Japanese had the most pragmatic of societies. Everything was based on the best use of a nation's limited resources. Like the citizens of most nations, the Jjapanese might be prisoners of their own national myths, but they were never prisoners of ideology.

The key to understanding Japan for Americans is understanding how Japan's ungenerous condition affects its national psyche and its politics. If Japan is a democracy, it is a democracy with a condition that is, for a people aspiring to national greatness, essentially authoritarian. The harshness of its condition and the broad public acceptace of the limits it imposed set the limits of contemporary freedom in Jjapan. Whereas we in America, in our endlessly bountiful land with its essentially comfortable climate, were conditioned to think that there would always be more, the Jjapanese grew up in a country where the very nature of the land suggested that there might easily be less. Anyone in Japan who uses too much, whether it be food, or money, or personal freedom of speech, is not merely perceived to be taking too much from the nation but is presumed to be taking it at the expense of others. These limits are set not merely in the case of natural resources but in terms of personal freedoms. Japanese culture carries inherent standards of sacrifice.

I do not think of the Japanese as a nimble people. Subtle, perhaps, but not nimble. They have the most rigidly hierarchical system I have ever seen. Above all, Japan is not a society where people rely on instinct. Everything is carefully considered. Often it is considered better not to act than to act precipitously. A simple answer form an ordinary person im middle management is often hard to get. A great deal fo effort goes into not making a mistake. But if the Japanese are not nimble as people, they nonetheless have a nimble economy.

They have an extremely sophisticated upper bureaucracy, a well-motivated, well-educated work force, and enormous capital resources. Thus, as the world economy changes, they can adapt and shift talented people from one field to another, and they can shift capital reserves from one field to another. In the past decade, they have moved the thrust of their economy from core industries to high technology. In the past two or three years they have slightly slowed the rate of their capital reinvestment and have greatly increased their investment in the critical factor for success in high technology: R&D. All this is done with some measure of guidance from their high bureaucracy.

The Japanese are not a very sentimental people. They believe that it may be all right in a country as inherently wealthy as America to make mistakes and not to worry about long-range planning, but they also believe that for them a failure to plan, to sense the future, would be fatal. Japan is not a nation that likes surprises.

Because Japan is economically oriented, its most talented young college graduates aspire to serve the nation by working in the high bureaucracy on economic matters or for the nation's best companies. When I recall the most celebrated Japanese figures of the postware era, I see Soichuro Honda and Akio Morita, not any of the nation's politicians.

Nobody's business

In America, much of the energy of the society has gone into a politics that has focused largely on determining America's path in the Cold War (in the Kennedy cabinet, for example, all the good jobs were perceived to be in foreign policy and national security). Likewise, the journalists of the postware generation, men and women now in their fifties and early sixties, were by and large economic illiterates (I include myself before I took what was in effect a six-year crash course in trying to define why the Japanese challenge to the American core economy had been so successful). Our best reporters came to prominence by dint of their reporting either on the Cold War or on political and social issues: civil rights, Vietnam, Watergate. Almost none of them rose to the top by covering business news, and the weakest sections of our newspapers and magazines have traditionally been the business sections.

Our major columnists reflect our domestic bias in their training as well. They are conditioned by the nature of op-ed page rules, one on the left, one on the right, a reflection of our norms and divisions rather than those of the real world. As such, few of our commentators can deal with Japan's ascent, since it defies the traditional definitions of American ideology (liberal and conservative). It is national and cultural. That said, it is just as hard to describe the comparable erosion in America.

Japan has marked the beginning of its new century by coming forward as a powerful new international player, but, even more important, it has given the world a new definition of economic power. The American century resulted from a time when a nation's economic power came from its sheer physical size, its natural wealth, and a willingnessof the government not to put too many obstacles in the way of economic development. Jjapan, a nation with no natural resources at all, has achieved economic superiority by maximizing the economic potential of its citizens through education. As Secretary of State George Shultz noted at the time of the Iran-contra hearings, economic wealth in communiations once existed because a nation had a great deal of copper under the soil. But who, he added, needs copper in an age of fiber optics?

Education, therefore, is critical in the new age. As the nature of economic power changed, so too did the rules for economic success. In the simpler days of American hegemony, bigger was always better. Size of company and scale of production were the keys to success. General Motors was the classic example of the successful corporation of the period; in an age of de facto monopoly, when size was power, it obliterated potential competitors. Then came the new challenge from the Japanese. Bigger was no longer necessarily better. Better meant a higher-quality product made by a better-educated worker. If the world economy was a more crowded place, then the advantage was held by the more disciplined society, which wasted less and used its resources, human and natural, more carefully and skillfully.

Mr. A.M.

When I think of that drive for excellence and the sense of personal obligation it so often represents, Ij think often of Kazuo Inamori. Inamori is the head of a spectacularly successful company in Kyoto called Kyocera (Kyoto Ceramics), and while he is not as well known in America as Soichuro Honda of Honda or Akio Morita of Sony, I suspect someday soon he will be. If Honda is a Jjapanese Henry Ford and Morita (although less of a lab and factory man) a comparable figure in electronics, then Inamori is Ford's lineal descendant in support systems for high technology. he is a man who has placed his company on the leading edge of technology. Nothing bores him more than things in which he has already succeeded. "What we like to do next," he says, "is what people tell us we can never do."

A recent poll in Nihon Keizai Shimbun, the Wall Street Journal of Japan, showed that while the average Japanese citizen thought Sony would be the most successful Japanese company in the next century, the average Japanese businessman thought Kyocera was the one to watch. Its stunning success in the past 25 years was a byproduct of the semiconductor revolution. Suddenly there were significant new uses for ceramics as a base in high technology, because they were resistant to heat yet did not conduct electricity. Kyocera's product was the best in the world; as demand expanded, Kyocera gained a reputation in both America and Jjapan as the highest -quality supplier of ceramic parts. That high quality and the originality of Kyocera's techniques were the result, as Inamori likes to point out, of his always being on the floor, overseeing the kilns and varying the mixes--unlike the heads of competing American and West German companies. As success came, Inamori did not sit back. He drove himself and those around him even harder. Now the company rushes ahead to find new applications for ceramics--ceramic teeth, ceramic replacements for human body parts, ceramic auto engines, ceramic knives, adn ceramic bases for solar heating. "We are," says his friend and colleague Richard Nagai, "the leaders in the new Stone Age."

It is difficult to figure out how old Inamori is by looking at him. There is not a gray hair on his head. His face is completely unlined. One would never guess that this is a man who pushes himself to his limits, who usually sleptin his office during the first two decades of his company's history, and whose nickname was Mr. AM. because he never left work before 3 or 4 a.m. In fact, he is 58 years old. He is, according to his colleague Nagai, a dreamer. "But he does not dream up long-term visions. He dreams in tiny increments. If he has the idea of making teeth from ceramics, he will try that, and only then, if that succeeds, will he dream the next step," says Nagai. "Only then will he dream of making other body parts. His dreams are very practical." Or as Inamori himself adds, "Most industrialists don't dream, and most dreamers don't manufacture things, so I am very lucky."

Early in his career Inamori was part of a team at a small ceramics company in Kyoto trying to create an insulating part for an electronic gun for cathode tubes. He was the only member of the team who had not gone to Kyoto University, one of Japan's better schools, yet he came to realize that he was the most original team member. He was the leader of the group, in all but recognition by superiors. At the very moment that they made a breakthrough, there was a strike (this was in the late fifties, when some of Japan's unions were still radical). It appeared likely that the company, which was barely in the black, was going to be shut down. Along with about 20 workers, Inamori stayed on and continued to make the ceramic piece that was a key part for the Matsushita Company. He was, in effect, a strikebreaker.

He believed that the company's future depended on its ability to supply the part. He and others lived in the plant; Inamori smuggled food in for them and the finished parts were smuggled out to Matsushita. In time he was tried by a people's court as "a running dog for capitalism" but was acquitted when he chose to defend himself. He was not enraged by the union leaders' trial of him; he could understand that. What enraged him was the company's response. For his loyalty the company tried to reward him with extra money. He was insulted. His loyalty was not so much to the company as to the work, to make the piece better. He turned it down. "They never understood. They thought I was doing it for them, but what I wanted was the piece itself to be better. I had told all those who stayed and worked with me that we were doing something creative and beautiful. I said that if the piece was better, then the company, I was sure, would be better. And then they wanted to give me money for this! They never understood." As the project achieved even greater success, he was told by his superiors that he would have to leave the team because, although he had contributed considerably, he was not from a first-rate university. "They wanted to give my work to their favorite sons!" He was furious and decided to resign. In 1958, with $10,000 borrowed from friends and a $100,000 line of credit, he founded Kyocera. That was unusual. Japan is not a country where a man lightly leaves a larger company to start his own.

Inamori's company was successful from the first. But it had a hard time breaking into the big time because Japan's larger companies had formed an oldboy network; new companies could not get sizable contracts. That blocked Kyocera's ability to expand in Japan. So Inamori decided to come to the United States to see if he could buy some American patents and upgrade his business. In 1962 he arrived here, a modest young man of 30, with only $10 a day to spend. Almost 30 years later he could remember Tad's, a steakhouse in Times Square where a steak dinner was $1.19, or $1.49 with salad. He was at once scared and humbled by the size of the United States. He believed excellence and perfection to be all around him.

Nagai, who worked for a Japanese trading company and who was based in New York at the time, was assigned to take him around. He was impressed by Inamori's youth (Nagai could not find him at the airport at first because he had assumed that a managing director would be a venerable gentleman of at least 60, not a scared young man of 30). It was quite touching, Nagai thought, this young Japanese come to the land of the masters, anxious to visit American companies and to buy their patents so he could improve his business in Japan.

As they visited company after company, an epiphany occurred, first to Nagai and only later, because he was less worldly, to Inamori. "His technology and his products were already better than theirs, but he did not realize it," Nagai said. "All of this, the great new land, overwhelmed him, and he was in such awe at first that he could not believe his own quality was superior. But I could see it, I did not know that much about ceramics, but I could see that his products were better than theirs, and I could see their eyes going through the ceiling. Here he was in his humble way apologizing for the quality of his goods, and they were dazzled. They could not believe how good he was." Finally Nagai took Inamori aside and told him he was already ahead of the Americans, that he should be coming here to sell his products rather than to license their technology. What struck Nagai, along with the excellence of his products, was the excellence of Inamori himself: "All he would talk about when we were together was his belief in what a company should be, what its obligations were. I'm not with an engineer, I finally decided; I'm with some kind of missionary."

With that, Inamori began to sell his products in the United States. America was far ahead of the rest of the world in the early sixties in computers and computer chips; therefore, anyone wanting to sell ceramics for high technology uses had to come here. Kyocera soon became the best manufacturer and creator of ceramics for modern uses in the world. It soon became a primary supplier to America's most advanced companies.

Next of kiln

In 1963 Texas Instruments was looking for an insulating rod for the base for a silicon transistor. Inamori received the specifications and worked on them. The initial results were good enough for Kyocera to become one of two companies competing for the contract. The other was Rosenthal, a West German company that Inamori greatly respected. Inamori was sure of one thing, though, as he worked day and night, changing the mix, trying to sustain and improve the quality. The head of Rosenthal was not in front of the kiln 20 hours a day. "We got the contract," Inamori said, "because we were so good at mixing and baking, because the top people in the company were in front of the kilns all the time, and they could control the variances and keep the quality consistent, which is very hard in ceramics."

This success opened the door for others. Soon he got an order from Fairchild. A year later he heard that Sony was going to produce the first transistor products for radios, so he went to Sony. The people there treated him cavalierly, as expected. But he was more confident now; he was no longer the poor little boy from Kagoshima but the modern Japanese businessman who supplied great American companies with delicate parts, whose quality and consistency had been praised by the Americans themselves. As such, he pushed his case with greater audacity than he might have in the past.

What Sony needed was a ceramic base the size of a cigarette butt, about 0.1 millimeters thick, with two holes in it and with a cut in the middle. It was an unusually difficult assignment because the part was so thin. Established manufacturing processes would tend to split it. Yet Inamori regarded this as a critical order; there had to be an innovative way to produce the part. He and his staff brainstormed. Then one day he thought of spaghetti. They would mix the powders like dough and press it through tubes as if it were pasta and slice the chips rather than press them down. Simple as it was, it worked.

This past year Kyocera celebrated its 30th anniversary. The company seemed more dynamic and successful than ever. It had become an international operation, with five factories in America alone. The new Europe also beckoned. Inamori had no intention, he told his employees on the occasion of the anniversary, of turning the company over to his children; a company about science belonged to its scientists and workers. Fearing that he was no longer as original scientifically as he had once been, Inamori had passed the reins of the company over to the top technologist of the next generation. Still, the thought of a 30th anniversary stirred powerful memories in him and made him edgy, for there is a Japanese saying that the life of a company is 30 years, and then it starts to fall apart. As he hailed the anniversary, he thought of American Lava and his visit there almost 30 years ago. At that time American Lava, located in Chattanooga, Tennessee, was the foremost industrial ceramics company in the world. In Kyoto, Inamori had read about it and had often envisioned it, for he thought it the place where he could learn the most. As a young man on his first trip to America, he had repeatedly asked to see people at American Lava, but his requests had been turned down. Nonetheless, he pleaded with Nagai to take him to Chattanooga, where he insisted on going out to the plant and driving around its perimeter. Nagai had been amazed by the intensity of Inamori's concentration as he looked at the plant and counted the smokestacks. It was as if, thought Nagai, Inamori was willing himself to see inside the plant, envisioning the factory and the workers, creating it in his own mind. Then he thanked Nagai and was ready to go back to New York. The ensuing 30 years had not been good ones for American Lava. It was bought and sold several times, and each time it seemed to slip a little further from its original purpose. Inamori believed that each new group of management cared ever less about ceramics. It was, Inamori thought, very easy, both in America and in Japan, to fall from grace.

Blaming the victor

I still do not think we as a nation get it. Again and again we look for excuses why the Japanese do things better than we do. If we are being beaten, then the rules must be at fault; someone must be cheating. Every time we think we have a solution, we are proved wrong. For a long time everyone in Detroit and in many other places believed that the key to the Japanese success was the soft yen. So we forced them to reevaluate it and make it harder. They did, suffering a momentary but major shock in their industrial core. For a time their highest executives took major cuts in pay and their work force went on shorter shifts. But because they were process driven, they quickly made their process better. Soon, rather than being the victims of the harder yen, they were its beneficiaries. Their liquidity increased greatly, as ours seemed to decline. American companies and real estate suddenly were for sale at bargain prices. Sometimes it seems to me that the Japanese are so formidable and so supple as competitors that trying to compete with them is like trying to capture mercury. You squeeze it out of one area and it ends up in another. If the yen is harder, they are partially limited as exporters, but they arrive and set up shop in your country as owners, manufacturers, and investors.

Their success, I think, is of a whole; it has no one secret. But let us at least try to understand. For one thing, they continue to want to make things. We have turned our energies to other aspects of commerce, aspects that in other times might have been considered ancillary, such as financing and marketing. Making things has a higher social value in their society than ours, I think. Those who run the industrial lines are considered far more important in Japan than they are in America; as a nation they are closer to being the true children of the original Henry Ford than we are. The purpose of their capitalism seems less diluted in contrast with ours. Ours is to make money; theirs is to make products of excellence, which, if they do well, will also, they are sure, make them money.

An equally important part of the Japanese (and East Asian) success is education. The more I think about Japan, the more important education seems to me. Theirs is a very different type of education from ours, one that many Americans would find unbearable. It emphasizes learning by rote and the acceptance of authority that we consider alien. But even if we dissent from that style of education, we can admire the importance it plays in the society and the respect it inspires in the average Japanese home. A family's position and honor are defined not by how good an athlete a male child is but by how well he does in school.

Japan has been on the ascent since the mid-fifties. It is a nation surging with confidence (and indeed, most recently, for the first time, with overconfidence). It does important things right because it does little things right. Japanese good luck is the product of two generations of Japanese making considerable sacrifices to raise their country from the ashes to economic greatness. Peoples' lives in the past 20 to 30 years have gotten better, and while the rate of improvement has slowed down, there is a sense that things are going to get better still. That generates confidence, and confidence generates optimism, which in turn generates social strength. It is a critical factor in the Japanese ascent, and it is one that eludes detection by mathematical formulation. At this point in the cycle people believe that the traditional class lines in society are blurring, and the usual resentments are at least muted. Everyone believes he or she is a part of the new middle class.

My book The Reckoning began as a book about hardware, about who made better cars, but it became a book about differing social systems and in the end was, somewhat to my surprise, a book about education. After its publication in America, those who were worried about the education gap (instead of the missile gap) seized on it. Because of the book, I became privy to the despair of politicians, businessmen, and finally teachers. I was invited to governors' conferences, regional, national, Republican, and Democratic. The Republican governor of Indiana, wanting to make a major move to upgrade Indiana's schools in his last year in office, used the book as the basis of his state of the state speech and gave every member of the legislature a copy. There was among the governors a consensus that we were in a crisis: We do not value education as we once did, our people are essentially indifferent to it, and no one seems to know how to undo that. Almost all the governors have been to Japan and Korea. They have all seen the quality of what those countries' educational systems are producing (and how seriously they go at it).

Recently I lectured at Hiram College, a very good small private college in Ohio. I spent the evening with a group of bright young people from small towns in the Midwest, representative, I thought, of the core of the country. At one point I asked them to write down on a piece of paper how much homework their highschool classmates had done, on the average, each night. Back came the slips. The average figure was 30 minutes. I thought for a moment of Japan and Korea (where children often double-brown-bag it in lower schools because their teachers are graded on how many of their students go on to the next level). I thought of the comparative innocence of my childhood in Winsted, Connecticut, where we thought we were competing for jobs with the students from the even greater metropolis of Torrington, nine miles away. How do you tell today's kids they are competing not merely with the children of a neighboring town, but with the children of Osaka, Seoul, Djakarta, Singapore, Bangkok, and, perhaps soon, Wroclaw, Budapest, and Bratislava?

In 1988 a candidate finally raised the question of the challenge from Asia. The candidate was Dick Gephardt, an ambitious young congressman from Missouri, and the manner in which he raised the question had a familiar ring. The real message was: Once again we were the victims. Gephardt, sensing that the issue was raw, ran as an instant populist, blaming the imbalance of trade entirely upon the Japanese and the Koreans. His television commercials, featuring American cars and what they might cost in Asian countries, were intentionally explosive and clearly designed to reinforce a jingoistic fear of Asians. There was some small measure of truth to these commercials, but on the whole they only scratched the surface of the problem rather than trying to comprehend it. (Gephardt himself knew better, and when he spoke in private, he was far better informed than his commercials implied. He admitted that even if the Japanese opened up their markets, the effect on the trade deficit would not be that substantial.) I watched those commercials and envisioned the potential Gephardt voter: someone who votes no on all school bond issues, doesn't supervise his or her children's schoolwork, and then wonders why the Asians are doing better than we are.

The world moves faster than ever. Change, driven by technology, has a speed of its own. Not to stay abreast is to fall behind. Work demands ever-higher levels of education and competence. That is true not only here but around the world. But as it happens, we are not responding. We are hemorrhaging blue-collar jobs, not merely to less-developed parts of the world but to increasing automation as well. I have a sense of America's changing, of class lines becoming more sharply defined than at any time since the coming of the New Deal, of a decrease rather than an increase in the forces that work for democracy--not merely political democracy but economic, educational, and social democracy.

The line between those who will be winners and those who will be losers seems sharper than ever, and the line is the product of education. The people at the very top, who go to the best law schools and business schools, become not just winners but big winners. The middle class is steadily diminished, and the people at the lower end lack the capacity to improve themselves.

There are those who still believe that America can move from the most magnificent core industrial economy in the world to essentially a service economy without losing its greatness, its dynamism, and its industrial health. I am absolutely certain we cannot. Very few people who go into the service economy will go into what might be called high-service jobs--that is, jobs of value, with leverage and dignity. Most of them will be jobs in the low-service sector, which require minimal skills and where turnover is constant. Nor does it make any sense to believe that the Japanese will automatically deed to us all financial services necessary to implement the needs of their expanding industrial core. Already seven of the eight largest banks in the world are Japanese.

Slowly and steadily we are creating a new class system, starting at birth, through early education, and finally through colleges and professional and graduate schools. The people on Wall Street who today make such horrendous decisions to close down plants in small towns do it more readily because they have never known the people they are damaging. Because of the way our large companies are structured, there is a lack of accountability at the top as we make endless short-range decisions designed to make the bottom line look better. We will become evermore a nation of social disharmony with a few rich and a great many more poor people who are not only a burden to themselves but a burden on society. That creates a society with distemper, most notably because people have recently lived in greater affluence. This will not be a strong and dynamic America of 250 or 260 million people. In terms of a truly productive society we may well be summoning the talents of only 30 or 40 million people. Can that America compete with other powerful nations in the near future?

National insecurity state

I am not alone in such gloomy projections. I discussed them recently with Lester Thurow, a prominent economist, a Newsweek columnist, and the head of the Sloan School at MIT. "I think it cuts to the core of a question our generation has never faced before: Does America have an establishment or an oligarchy? Every day I pick up the newspapers, and journalists describe--and I think they're right--Japan as having an establishment--that is, Japan has a group of people at the very top who may, in fact, be quite as selfish as any other ruling elite of powerful capitalists. But the members of the Japanese establishment know that they and their children cannot succeed, particularly in so small and vulnerable a nation, unless most of the society succeeds as well. So the members of this establishment are willing to sacrifice some of their own personal privilege and power and riches in order to make sure that the larger society works and is regenerative. At the same time, when virtually the same journalists describe Latin American countries, the word they invariably use to describe the leadership is 'oligarchy.' They are describing a very small handful of immensely privileged people who have it very good and who plan to continue to have it very good and don't care at all about the fact that the rest of the country is doing poorly. In effect, an oligarchy believes it can be successful even if the rest of the country is unsuccessful. And that's the system we're moving toward."

An establishment knows it isn't good enough for just its own children to do well, to get on an elite track, because if its own children are running a country where 60 percent of the children cannot make it, something terrible is going to happen.

Now that the Cold War is over, the price--political, psychic, and economic--that we paid for that obsessive struggle that dominated our lives for the past 40 years is ever more clear. Watching the rise of Japan and our parallel economic and political malaise, I am particularly aware of the cost, and sometimes when I am in Japan and see the degree to which it benefited from Korea, Vietnam, and the Cold War, I know as an American what Englishmen and Frenchmen must have thought and felt when they visited America in the early fifties and saw how we had, however involuntarily, benefited from their two tragic wars.

We grew up fearing the power of a strong Russia; how then do we adjust to a world in which a greater threat to our stability comes from a weak Mexico (or a disintegrating Russia)? The Cold War perverted the nature and the purpose of our society. We went in the beginning from identifying and meeting a real threat with measures that were legitimate, to creating, almost without knowing it, a national security structure with a dynamic and a life and a vested interest of its own. Our federal educational bill and our national highway bill of the fifties, as my friend Martin Nolan of The Boston Globe likes to remind me, are the National Defense Education Bill and the National Defense Highway Bill. And the first commercial computer introduced by IBM was known as its Defense Computer. The farewell warning from Eisenhower was more prophetic than anyone realized. We were, over many years, first and foremost a national security state in a time of peace. That became our governing obsession.

Standing in Red Square in 1990, I could finally see Russia for what it was (and what I had long suspected)--a sluggish society with a great many missiles and not much else. Now we must look at our own shortcomings and judge ourselves not by the standards of competition with the Soviets but by our own norms of a harmonious and decent society. Finally, after all these years, the face in the mirror is our own.

David Halberstam, who adapted this article from his new book The Next Century (Copyright [C] 1991 by David Halberstam, to be published by William Morrow and Co., Inc.), is the author of The Best and the Brightest, The Powers That Be, and The Reckoning.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Washington Monthly Company
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Halberstam, David
Publication:Washington Monthly
Date:Jan 1, 1991
Previous Article:The secret solution to the deficit; what the rich don't want you to know: a fair tax code would take more from the estates of the affluent.
Next Article:The dangers insurance companies hide; insurers don't have to tell you when they know you're about to be killed.

Related Articles
Groping for a security blanket.
Oil and the Gulf War: an "American Century" or a "New World Order."
U.S.-EU Trade Issues.
Another Vietnam Quagmire.
McLuhan's war: TV and Tailgunner Joe.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters