Friday, September 12, 2014

Myths About Myths: Wakefield and Martin vs. Green and Hornung

In a short essay published by Japan Focus this week, Bryce Wakefield and Craig Martin try to set the record straight on the significance of the July 1 Cabinet Decision removing the block on Japan's exercise of the right of collective self-defense (Link). The essay is a response to a longer work, "Ten Myths About Japan's Collective Self Defense Change," by Michael Green and Jeffrey Hornung, published by The Diplomat. (Link)

I am forced to say "try to set the record straight" rather than "set the record straight" because the Wakefield/Martin essay fails to thump the Green/Hornung opinion article hard enough. Wakefield and Martin do dissect the misleading assertions in the Green/Hornung piece and do offer some suggestions as to the sources of the misunderstandings, if not outright misrepresentations, therein.

Wakefield and Martin's argumentation, however, is not crisp. The essay compares unfavorably with "Abe's Law: Domestic Dimension of Japan's Self-Defense Debate," the magisterial paper Wakefield produced earlier this year for the Wilson Center's Japan's Vision of East Asia conference review (Link). That paper describes with great clarity the constitutional red lines the Abe administration was proposing to and eventually did cross in crafting the July 1 Cabinet Decision.

A lack of crispness in the more recent work should not be ascribed to anything Wakefield and Martin may have done or left undone. One has to indeed applaud them for the time and intellectual capital they expended in the effort of nailing down Green and Hornung.

The problem with confronting the assertions of the Green/Hornung article and knocking them down is that the whole process is rather like punching a bale of kapok. Try as one might, one cannot inflict much damage on what is, no matter its size or sense of self-importance, a bag of fluff.

In their article Green and Hornung set out to debunk ten "myths" about the collective self defense debate. However, there is no sourcing for these "myths" -- indeed, there is, in the whole length of the article, not a single person quoted as an author or transmitter of any of the ten propositions being debunked. Since what is presented is not the assertions of identifiable, real persons, Green and Hornung are jousting with the made up quotes of imaginary persons -- or, looking at the problem from a slightly different angle, since they and no others are the authors of the text, they are debunking themselves.

Hence the difficulty of the task Wakefield and Martin have taken on. If Green and Hornung had attacked the assertions of real persons, Wakefield and Martin could go back ro the original assertion, look at the context in which that assertion was uttered or even email the author to ascertain whether or not Green's and Hornung's characterizations of the so-called myth make any sense. Since the assertions are figments of Green's and Hornung's imaginations, however, Wakefield and Martin must first demonstrate the relevance of the "myth" to the actual intellectual and political debate going on in Japan. It is not surprising that Wakefield and Martin should get bogged down, as more often than not the "myth" only vaguely resembles actual assertions by actual actors in the drama.

It would be unfair to condemn Green and Hornung too much for having handed over to their opponents the responsibility of proving the salience of their essay. Though Green and Hornung both teaching academics, they have spent much of their careers in the trenches of America's think tanks, where wargaming against imaginary opponents has become confused with -- or has completely replaced -- argument. Many major think tanks only rarely take the time to paint pictures of reality. Such pictures are messy and require a certain level of knowledge to understand. More useful to the consumers of think tank-style writing is a set of smart-sounding answers to potential talking points of foes: i.e., "If Ms. X says A, you can respond by saying B."

In the combat of ideas, wargaming is probably indispensable as a preparatory measure. The problem is when, as in the piece by Green and Hornung, wargaming purports to be an explanation, rather than what it is, a set of responses to conjectures.

The real portrait of collective self defense debate has yet to be produced. Wakefield in his March paper presented a stunning sketch of the debate prior its July 1 denouement. Perhaps Wakefield and Martin, or even Green and Hornung, if the fancy so strikes them, will tackle the task of revisiting the struggle as it has been fought these last few month using the actual words of the combatants -- with a preview of the potential future fights tacked on. If none of the four gentleman is willing to take up the task, I know of at least one major scholar laboring away at what will most likely be the definitive presentation and analysis of the collective self defense debate.

That paper I will definitely blog and tweet about, if I am still blogging and tweeting when it comes out.

No comments: