Was the Japanese Driver Insensitive?

This year’s Indianapolis 500 auto race classic was won by Takuma Sato. He is Japanese. Terry Frei, a veteran sportswriter for the Denver Post, seemed to ask, how dare he? After all, the event was held on Memorial Day, May 29, a day set aside to venerate American war dead from all of its wars, including our war against Japan, 1941 – 1945. Terry Frei’s father fought in that war.

Frei has now been fired by the Post, for his allegedly racist remark.

But wait just a minute. In case no one noticed, Japan is not a race, but a country. Nor is Japanese a race, it is a nationality.

Therefore, with all of that in mind, the question I ask now, because I have heard no one else ask it, is this: What if the winner of the 500 had been a German? What if Frei had remarked, I don’t feel comfortable about a German winning the Indy 500 on Memorial Day? Would that have been a racist remark?

Perhaps Frei would never have made the remark had the subject person been a German. If not, then one might insinuate anti-Asian racism into his motive. But it is entirely thinkable that, had a German won, some news writer somewhere, let’s say of German descent, would have thought the irony worth a mention. Would racism have been the motive?

While the following would never be an excuse for me to say or do anything racist, allow me to interject some personal background here, just for context. My wife of 47 years is Asian. My mother’s cousin died in the Battle of Okinawa against Japanese Imperial forces in 1945. My father fought in the U.S. Army against Germany, serving from pre-Pearl Harbor to 1945. During my 20 years in the U.S. military, I spent seven years in Asia, three of them living in Japan (1973-1976).

My experience with Japan left me with the strong impression that the Japanese people are polite, moral and civilized. They were my neighbors and coworkers for three years, and I thoroughly enjoyed their company.

The Japanese also have a racist society, at least to this extent: based on my experience, I am sure that, had a Japanese sports writer made the converse remarks about an American winning a Japanese event associated with its traumatic experience in World War II, it would have gone completely unnoticed by the Japanese press. They have too much sense to get worked up over things like that.

During the war years, the Japanese forcibly imported thousands of Koreans to Japan as slaves. Many of those Korean lived and died under hideously cruel conditions, comparable to the slavery of Africans in the antebellum South. After the war, the Koreans were freed from bondage, but to this day, unless matters have radically changed, their descendants live as an official underclass in Japan, ineligible for citizenship and its perquisites.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe makes an annual pilgrimage to the Yasukuni Shrine, where Japanese War dead, including some of its most infamous war criminals, are revered. In case you might not know this, the scale and cruelty of Japanese war crimes is no less than that of that of the German Third Reich Nazis, of Holocaust infamy, and lasted much longer.

In a brief online discussion I had with a Japanese man about ten years ago, I remember that he was horrified to discover that we Americans largely find the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to have been justifiable. He seemed apoplectic. Many Japanese regard those bombings as barbaric, uncivilized, and unnecessary. Trying to persuade the man that the bombings, in net, saved Japanese lives, and prevented Tokyo from being overrun by the Red Army, proved futile.

Americans, on the other hand, are often surprised to discover that movies (and TV shows, etc.) in Japan are censored by the government, and at least while I was there, were forbidden to portray the Japanese war imperialists in any negative light. That is probably why my Japanese correspondent had no clue.

The real problem here, however, is much bigger than one American writer on an arguably racist rant. It is this: in today’s racially charged social environment, cluttered with myriad forms of political correctness, it is dangerous to one’s livelihood to speak off the cuff, candidly, without first vetting one’s remark past a number of tight-fisted editors, who will not permit any words that might offend any protected class of persons.

This is nuts. How long can a nation walk on eggshells?

The Japanese of today are too busy to fritter away their energies on this kind of nonsense. Whatever their shortcomings, we might learn something from them.

This year’s Indianapolis 500 auto race classic was won by Takuma Sato. He is Japanese. Terry Frei, a veteran sportswriter for the Denver Post, seemed to ask, how dare he? After all, the event was held on Memorial Day, May 29, a day set aside to venerate American war dead from all of its wars, including our war against Japan, 1941 – 1945. Terry Frei’s father fought in that war.

Frei has now been fired by the Post, for his allegedly racist remark.

But wait just a minute. In case no one noticed, Japan is not a race, but a country. Nor is Japanese a race, it is a nationality.

Therefore, with all of that in mind, the question I ask now, because I have heard no one else ask it, is this: What if the winner of the 500 had been a German? What if Frei had remarked, I don’t feel comfortable about a German winning the Indy 500 on Memorial Day? Would that have been a racist remark?

Perhaps Frei would never have made the remark had the subject person been a German. If not, then one might insinuate anti-Asian racism into his motive. But it is entirely thinkable that, had a German won, some news writer somewhere, let’s say of German descent, would have thought the irony worth a mention. Would racism have been the motive?

While the following would never be an excuse for me to say or do anything racist, allow me to interject some personal background here, just for context. My wife of 47 years is Asian. My mother’s cousin died in the Battle of Okinawa against Japanese Imperial forces in 1945. My father fought in the U.S. Army against Germany, serving from pre-Pearl Harbor to 1945. During my 20 years in the U.S. military, I spent seven years in Asia, three of them living in Japan (1973-1976).

My experience with Japan left me with the strong impression that the Japanese people are polite, moral and civilized. They were my neighbors and coworkers for three years, and I thoroughly enjoyed their company.

The Japanese also have a racist society, at least to this extent: based on my experience, I am sure that, had a Japanese sports writer made the converse remarks about an American winning a Japanese event associated with its traumatic experience in World War II, it would have gone completely unnoticed by the Japanese press. They have too much sense to get worked up over things like that.

During the war years, the Japanese forcibly imported thousands of Koreans to Japan as slaves. Many of those Korean lived and died under hideously cruel conditions, comparable to the slavery of Africans in the antebellum South. After the war, the Koreans were freed from bondage, but to this day, unless matters have radically changed, their descendants live as an official underclass in Japan, ineligible for citizenship and its perquisites.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe makes an annual pilgrimage to the Yasukuni Shrine, where Japanese War dead, including some of its most infamous war criminals, are revered. In case you might not know this, the scale and cruelty of Japanese war crimes is no less than that of that of the German Third Reich Nazis, of Holocaust infamy, and lasted much longer.

In a brief online discussion I had with a Japanese man about ten years ago, I remember that he was horrified to discover that we Americans largely find the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to have been justifiable. He seemed apoplectic. Many Japanese regard those bombings as barbaric, uncivilized, and unnecessary. Trying to persuade the man that the bombings, in net, saved Japanese lives, and prevented Tokyo from being overrun by the Red Army, proved futile.

Americans, on the other hand, are often surprised to discover that movies (and TV shows, etc.) in Japan are censored by the government, and at least while I was there, were forbidden to portray the Japanese war imperialists in any negative light. That is probably why my Japanese correspondent had no clue.

The real problem here, however, is much bigger than one American writer on an arguably racist rant. It is this: in today’s racially charged social environment, cluttered with myriad forms of political correctness, it is dangerous to one’s livelihood to speak off the cuff, candidly, without first vetting one’s remark past a number of tight-fisted editors, who will not permit any words that might offend any protected class of persons.

This is nuts. How long can a nation walk on eggshells?

The Japanese of today are too busy to fritter away their energies on this kind of nonsense. Whatever their shortcomings, we might learn something from them.