A SUNDAY IN DECEMBER : Firing Line: the Lesson of History : * America’s tolerance is running out--Japan must rein in its aggressive economic policies and open its markets.

Iacocca, the chairman of Chrysler Corp. and one of America's leading critics of Japanese trade practices, wrote this article for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate.

The 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor comes as tensions between the United States and Japan are probably higher than at any time since World War II. And that has some people in high places on both sides of the Pacific very nervous.

But it’s here and it can’t be ignored. Too many widows, too many brothers and sisters, too many children and too many shipmates of the 2,400 dead Americans are still with us.

And so is the lesson that America learned on that terrible Sunday morning.

We shouldn’t try to tiptoe past Dec. 7 with euphemistic promises of “understanding” and “mutual respect.” We should remember why Pearl Harbor happened. We should face up to the uncomfortable parallels between then and now. And we should heed George Santayana’s warning that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”


Pearl Harbor happened because an overly tolerant and cautious United States was in the way of an aggressive and expansionist Japan. Japan mistook American caution for weakness, and pushed and pushed until it pushed too far, and the rest is history.

Another kind of Pearl Harbor can happen again if Japan’s current aggressive economic policies continue.

The limit of American tolerance is being reached. The $400-billion trade deficit with Japan in the past decade, the loss of entire American industries, the closed Japanese market, the threat of Japan boycotting our Treasury auctions and the army of high-paid Japanese lobbyists manipulating our government have led millions of Americans to say “enough is enough.”

The groundswell of resentment will erupt if Japan’s economic policies don’t change. America did not take the sting of Pearl Harbor, or endure the pain of almost four years of war in the Pacific, or pour massive amounts of aid into postwar Japan, or allow the Japanese free access to our market while they kept theirs closed to us, or spend billions to defend Japan during the Cold War, just to become an economic colony of Tokyo.


Most of the 5,000 Pearl Harbor survivors in Honolulu for the anniversary will be staying in hotels owned by Japanese. They won’t have much choice. And the irony won’t be lost on them as they toss their wreaths on the water over the battleship Arizona.

For years now, the main Japanese defense against American demands that they begin playing by the rules has been that we’re insensitive to Japan’s mysterious culture and unique needs. The fact is, we’ve been too sensitive and too tolerant for too long. It’s Japan’s turn to get sensitive to America’s needs.

And it will take more than making a few well-publicized contributions to American charities. It’ll take more than sponsoring golf tournaments in California or retaining the most expensive PR firms in Washington and New York. And it will take more than hiring away our own trade officials and former politicians to shill for Japanese companies.

It will take meaningful results. It will take a reversal of Japan’s mercantilistic trade policies. It will take a truly open Japanese market, even if it costs thousands of Japanese their jobs, just as America’s open market has put thousands of Americans out of work. It will take balanced trade.


More than anything else, it will take a Japan that understands America.

America’s culture isn’t mysterious, like Japan’s. It’s easy to figure out. All you have to do is understand the word fairness.

Japan, more than any other country on Earth, should know how fair Americans can be. It should also know about American patience and openness and generosity and tolerance. And it should know better than anyone the consequences of mistaking those qualities for weakness.

There is a new book out with the ominous title, “The Coming War With Japan.” Its thesis is that Japan and the United States are the victims today of the same historical forces that were at work in the 1930s, and that another military clash is unavoidable.


I don’t believe that. Nothing is unavoidable if honest people take an honest look at why the current tensions exist between Japan and the United States, and where they’re taking us.

Pearl Harbor was avoidable. It was the result of miscalculation on both sides. The United States would not believe how far Japan would go to advance its national interests, and Japan would not believe how far America would go to defend its own when pushed too far.

And it adds to the tragic memory of that Day of Infamy that--half a century later--so many people on both sides are still miscalculating.