A militant Japanese government launched a sneak attack at Pearl Harbor, and the United States responded with righteous indignation and massive military force. “Before we’re done with them, the Japanese language will be spoken only in Hell!” Adm. William Halsey famously proclaimed.
Amazingly, while the hard-fought American victory in World War II crushed the Japanese empire, it didn’t destroy U.S.-Japanese relations. After Japan surrendered, the country worked with American leaders to rebuild under a constitution that emphasized peace.
The U.S. was generous in victory, offering financial and military support. That helped turn an enemy into a friend (a process mirrored in Europe with West Germany). Across the ensuing decades, Japan became a crucial ally in Asia and a valued trading partner. The Japanese were responsible for many economic innovations, including the concept of “Just in Time” manufacturing that delivers parts when they’re needed and keeps manufacturers from having to stock massive warehouses.
For a time, it seemed Japan’s economy would surpass that of the U.S. But we learned from them -- as they had learned from us -- and American innovation helped us remain the world’s largest economy. That could serve as an object lesson for the future of U.S.-China relations.
There’s a lot of history here in Washington. Some of it is, literally, growing up out of the ground. As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of our lovely cherry trees, let’s pause this year to remember what they symbolize. The fact that a former foe has become one of our best allies is certainly something worth celebrating.