Joint Press Conference Predictions: Little Asia

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:17 pm

It’s not a debate, in any meaningful sense of the word, unless they break the rules. It’s a joint press conference, and the only thing that makes it interesting is that they will be in the same room and might react to each other (within prescribed limits). But it’s great political theater, and there are a lot of people who really do seem to care about how the candidates perform (and that is the right word) under these conditions, conditions which are relevant only to past and future debate-like appearances.

That said, I have a few predictions about how the Thursday debate, on Foreign Policy, will go.

  • Japan will be mentioned, at most, twice: once as a member of the coalition of the willing (bribed, not bullied), and once in regard to the Six-Party North Korean nuclear crisis negotiations.
  • China, the largest country in the world, will be mentioned only in connection with North Korea. They won’t talk about (mostly because they won’t be asked about) their rapid industrial growth or consumer growth (and rapidly rising demand for oil), our import-export imbalance, their strategic position, Taiwan (ok, there’s about a 1/5 chance Taiwan could come up), internal ethnic tensions, rising nationalism, or the recent shift in power from (rather US-friendly) Jiang Zemin to (Euro-friendly) Hu Jintao. Our China and Taiwan policies have had exactly one noteworthy shift since Nixon-Kissinger — dropping human rights issues because they weren’t listening anyway — and it isn’t likely to change anytime soon unless China does something dramatic.
  • India, the second largest country in the world, might be mentioned in connection with its tensions with Pakistan over Kashmir and nuclear weapons, but otherwise we’ll have to wait until they talk about the economy, when outsourcing will come up.
  • South Korea will get the usual mention if North Korea comes up, as well as a mention if military force redistribution is raised.
  • North Korea will almost certainly be discussed, which will make Kim Jong Il very happy, particularly as neither of them seem inclined to say (or do) anything concrete. I doubt Kerry will contrast North Korea and Iraq policy but it would be fun to see how the spin on that played out if he did.
  • Vietnam….. boy, I hope not.
  • South and East Asia will not get any other substantive mentions.
  • A few other Asia-related topics they won’t talk about:
    • HIV/AIDS (except perhaps with regard to promises to Africa that were not kept), either Thai successes or the coming explosion in China and India
    • SARS and the threat of new communicable diseases
    • immigration policy (that’ll be a domestic issue, if at all, and mostly Mexico)

I’d love to be wrong. [crossposted at Cliopatria]

Post-event update: Aside from a mention of Koizumi’s upcoming Iraqi Donors’ Conference, I was pretty much on the money. Oh, well.


Self-Introduction: Luck and Curiousity

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 1:55 am

My name is Jonathan Dresner, and I consider myself a very lucky man. I had no particular interest in Japan or history in High School, until I spent a year in Nagoya. I then became interested in Japan, but still wasn’t interested in history: after finishing up a degree in Japanese language, I decided, in an act which seems in retrospect incomprehensibly uninformed, to take up the study of history as a way to answer my questions about contemporary Japanese society. I had never liked history in high school, didn’t care for it much in college. I did have an interesting teacher during my junior year at the Keio International Center, a classical Japanese Marxist who was less impressed with the Great Buddhas than he was interested in the number of people who died producing them.

Still, I applied to graduate schools in history, and after turning down Hawai’i’s East-West Center as “too far from home” I decided to go to Harvard. I had no idea what I was doing. Now I admit that I’d always been a nerd, but graduate school was nerd heaven: spending all of my time studying the things I was interested in, with lots of other people interested in the same things! Though I didn’t entirely realize it at the time, since I had so little training in history, studying with Albert Craig, Hal Bolitho and Akira Iriye (and later, Andy Gordon) was a real treat. My initial idea was to study the early development of Japanese views of foreigners, particularly Jews, by studying journalism and education as the pathways of the formation of non-elite opinions.

Another stroke of luck: a failed relationship. Seriously: an offhand comment by my advisor, Albert Craig, in reference to my grad-school girlfriend led me to realize that I could study Japanese emigration as a concrete example of information gathering, processing and decision-making by non-elites with regard to foreigners and overseas conditions. At that point my perspective shifted from a cultural/intellectual historian to something more like a social historian. I also followed her to Berkeley for two years, which was a dumb thing to do for a relationship that wasn’t that healthy, but which allowed me to study in a very different department with very different methods, and to work with Andrew Barshay, Irwin Scheiner and especially Mary Elizabeth Berry, as well as soaking up a great deal of Asian American studies (in which field I’ve done most of my book reviewing).

Somewhere between Berkeley and Harvard and Yamaguchi, I realized that the sources I needed for my cultural/anthropological study didn’t exist. I also realized that the answer to my initial questions were actually pretty easy and pretty clearly laid out in existing scholarship. But I did archival research in Yamaguchi, where, in another stroke of luck, the Prefectural History Compilation office was in the process of working on their Modern Sources collection. So I would go into the office, and they would give me an index of the sources they’d catalogued, and I’d pick out the ones I wanted…. Aside from the writer’s block, graduate school was great. Only took me twelve years, start to finish. In the end, my research was about local history, global migration, economics and politics, big businesses and former peasants, and there are about three different directions I want to take this research. More about that another time.

Some of that time was also spent teaching, and it didn’t take me long to realize that I really, really like doing that, too. Talk about luck. Teaching has required that I become much more of a generalist than my graduate courses and reading prepared me for. In the process, though, I’ve realized that I’m not just interested in Japan, but in history as a discipline, in world history as a field of study in itself, and in history education. I’ve always taught as a generalist: 1/3 of my teaching has been either Western Civilization or World History surveys, and Japan-related courses have never been more than 1/3 of my teaching. I love the broad view, the sweep of world history, the comparative exercises, the interactions and cross-fertilization: this is part of why I am a member of the group weblog Cliopatria, part of the History News Network project. My initial impulse to get into history was to understand the present, and I still believe that history is the field which most successfully integrates all the social sciences and, though it remains more art than science, best explains who and where we are today.

As much fun as I’m having as a generalist, I also want to be — need to be, professionally and personally — a specialist. So, I’m here.


Self Intro: Rod Wilson

Filed under: — rod @ 8:58 pm

I am a graduate student in East Asian history at Stanford University and since the fall of 2003 a research student with the Architecture Department at Hosei University in Tokyo. My dissertation research is focused on the environmental and social history of Tokyo’s Sumida River from the 1850s to the 1950s.

On this blog I imagine most of my postings will relate to Tokyo, its history, and its environment as well as to the perennially fascinating and frustrating debates about Japan’s role in the Asia Pacific War. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu!

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