Most people had their own reactions to news that MCA Inc., the American corporate giant that owns TV stations, movie studios and publishing houses, is being sold to the Japanese. That sale, plus the recent sale of Columbia Pictures, will give the Japanese control over at least a fourth of the TV shows and movies you will see.
This deal gives me the creeps. Yuppies can charge off my reaction as a generational reflex. I remember where I was when I heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor the way most people remember how they heard about President Kennedy's death.
The MCA sale prompted a flash-back to my hallway encounter with a Japanese clerk for a Tokyo news agency as I was cleaning out the bureau office years back. She walked up to me as I was setting out for the trash man a set of books about crucial U.S.-Japan naval battles during World War II. You know, the one we won.
She pored over one volume containing minutely detailed graphics positioning the vessels at Midway (our first victory.)
"See," I said, "this one shows where the Japanese fleet was at Midway." She looked at me tentatively, pouted, and then asked:
"You got Pearl Harbor?"
"Sure," I said. With a broad smile and a short bow, she scooped up the Pearl Harbor book, leaving the rest on the floor, and scooted to her office with the day's prize.
You couldn't have a better example of the selective and positive thinking bred into many native Japanese. I've wondered ever since how much of that nation's experience is some sort of game -- and where it will stop. It's too bad for us they started playing economic hardball as we began giving it up.
The rules have gotten tougher in the last decade. Even eight years ago when Rep. John J. LaFalce, D-Tonawanda, held his famous hearings into American industrial decline, we could have easily struck a trade deal with Japan. If only President Reagan insisted that Japan open its markets in exchange for the right to milk ours. But he didn't.
By 1988 the Washington editor of a Japanese business magazine could arrogantly assign his reporters to ask members of Congress, "What would you do if Japan bought your state?"
The editor insisted the question be as blunt as possible to see how ready key members of Congress were to engage in "Japan-bashing." They found out. The congressmen spumed and flailed. They did little else. Many of them have been "bought."
Using the profits from our purchases of their products, Japan is now America's national bank. So much so, the supply-side deficit politics of the Reagan-Bush administrations can't survive without Japanese loans.
With the profits from American enterprises they have close to "bought" Tennessee and Kentucky with their new auto plants. They have "bought" a big hunk of the government of Canada as far as trade talks with the U.S. are concerned.
Japan's businesses are spinning off profits of $1 billion a day while our banks and manufacturers are gasping for breath, with its capital investment in the U.S. climbing from $5 billion to $35 billion a year. More and more of this country is going to tumble into Japan's lap because the recession will let them buy America on the cheap.
If this looks xenophobic, put the shoe on the other foot. Lately, it's the Japanese mogul who seems to be pluming himself on racist remarks about black Americans. Unlike the Irish, Poles, Italians, Vietnamese, Chinese and the Koreans who emigrated here, Japanese businessmen don't seem to want to assimilate, much less become American citizens. There are some wonderful exceptions. But they are bucking a trend.
As a culture Japan doesn't seem to want to join us. It will do to just buy us. To buy our soldiers to get their Persian Gulf oil for them.
Apologists, some of whom are well paid to say it, counsel us to be patient with this long isolated island nation. Last week, I heard a famous author advise America to take the world view, to welcome this flood of investment. Everybody will be richer for it, he said.
No place on earth has cooperated better with this world trend than Buffalo, N.Y., I responded. Our once-throbbing steel mills, employing more than 35,000, are moonscapes. The rail yards are rusting, the shops that made musical instruments are now empty hulks whose barren windows scan the industrial wasteland like sockets in a skull. We can't pay our bills. And we almost lost the town band. I've had a belly full of the world view.