- James Tam
Updated: Aug 21, 2021
The American President tells the Japanese Prime Minister to apologise to wartime victims. The PM in return asks if the President would do likewise!
THE hotline rang in its old fashioned tone, more tired than hot. Nishihara let it ring a couple more times before picking it up. ‘Yoshio Nishihara.’ It sounded Japanese, but was English — the Lingua Hotline with the President. Not having an interpreter gave Yoshio a bit of pressure, a pressure he treasured.
‘Mr. Prime Minister? The President of the United States wishes to speak with you. Is it convenient?’ A man’s voice came through.
‘Ah, yes, of course.’
‘Please hold, Sir.’
While holding, Nishihara took a comb from his breast pocket and ran it through his thin hair. A strand of hair came off with it. He noticed regretfully that the oily dandruff had returned. He wiped it off carefully, almost ceremoniously, with a paper tissue, then folded it into a perfect square before depositing into the top secret dust bin.
A voice came through, energetic and charming: ‘Sorry to keep you waiting, Mr. Prime Minister.’
‘No Poblem, Mr. Pesident. Just call me Yoshio.’ Nishihara had been advised to always be casual and relaxed with the Americans.
‘It’s okay, Mr. Prime Minister,’ the President’s tone was indeed casual and relaxed, a bit too bouncy perhaps. ‘You guys change so often I find it easier to address you Mr. Pime Minister. That’s how I have it on my contact list you know.’
‘Ah so… Uh…’ Yoshio’s head reeled for an appropriate response. He thought the President’s accent sounded Japanese. Was he teasing? Being frivolous? That would be very rude… or friendly. Only old friends do that to each other, no? Maybe that’s how Americans sound like. This was only his second telephone chat with the President. He first called two weeks ago to congratulate him for becoming Prime Minister. It lasted only one minute, with a sincere promise to call back today.
‘Just joking, Yoshio! My apologies! Too much stress in this job.’
‘Ah! Haha! Mr. Pesident, you are so vely humourlous.’
‘Listen Yoshio. Sorry to rush. I’ve only got a few minutes. To make a very long story short, I need to talk with you about apologies.’
‘Yes! Right on, Yoshio! That’s all it takes.’ Nishihara thought he heard the President slapping himself, probably on the thigh. ‘You know I’ve decided to pivot back towards Asia Pacific. Your refusal to apologise for the last war has created, should we say, unnecessary complications with your neighbours, since we are the closest allies, you know…’
‘Ah! I see. So sorly.’ Yoshio regretted being casual too soon. The President had neglected to reciprocate, and he was too polite to just go ahead and call him Bob. Now he was at an unfair disadvantage, which, alas, was nothing new.
‘Would you issue a formal apology about World War Two — I mean a good solid unequivocal one — so we can get this over with once and for all?’
‘Ah nor… Mr. Pesident. This issue nei… Maybe little complicated. Ah nor —’
‘Sorry to be blunt, Yoshio. But what’s the big deal about saying sorly? Germany did that long ago.’
‘Uh, you see, Mr. Pesident, historly —’
‘Let’s face it Yoshio —’ Nishihara had been warned that American Presidents seldom waited for Japanese Prime Ministers to finish their sentences. Just a cultural difference, nothing personal. ‘— With respect, Japan did kill a lot of innocent people after all, didn’t it? Come on, just a show. One deep bow and a little tear will make you look generous and civilised before the whole world. You might even get a Peace Prize for that, who knows?’
The Peace Prize? That’s a thought though… Nishihara scratched his scalp with the pinky of his free hand, then realised the tissue box was empty. He stuck his pinky out like a sore thumb. ‘Mr. Pesident,’ he said, slowing down his normally thoughtful pace even further. ‘Domestically nei, somewhat difficult…’
‘Ha! You’re telling me. Domestic politics is always a bitch isn’t it? But you guys did kill a lot of people during the war, so, hope you don’t mind me saying so… an apology shouldn’t be a big deal, but will help our strategy greatly. You know what I mean?’
‘So sorly to be lude, Mr. Pesident, but you killed a lot of people in Yilaq too, no? Have you apologised?’ Nishihara was surprised by the sudden surge of Bushido valour, but the words were out. He had the distinct feeling of something coming to an end, like in the few seconds of tranquil stillness after slitting one’s own belly, before toppling over. He felt his face turning red, and was glad this was not a video phone.
‘Come on Yoshio, we’re not talking about the same thing now.’ The President suddenly sounded serious.
‘Mr. Pesident, you went into Yilaq to catch Osama san. He was never there. You said Yilaq had weapon of mass destuction, which was not so. More than one million have died. Perhaps you should also apologise?’ Nishihara felt his heartbeat gathering pace, and wondered if he had forgotten to take his pills this morning. But now that he had slit his own belly, he actually felt a refreshing sense of freedom.
‘You know I was not the president then, Yoshio.’
‘Ah, I was not even bon during the war, Mr. Pesident.’
A little pause. There’s a draft of cold air coming from the hotline.
‘Yoshio, why don’t we talk about this when we meet.’ The voice was bouncy and friendly again.
‘As you wish Mr. Pesident.’ Nishihara smiled, swallowed, and felt the triumphant pleasure of a kamikaze pilot.
‘How’s things otherwise?’
‘Ah, not so good. Our lating is down to eleven par-cent.’
‘Hmm. That’s not good. But as long as the other party’s lower, you know…’
‘The LDP is twenty-four,’ Nishihara reported.
‘Well, I’m sure you know how to knock that down. As long as their’s lower…’
‘Thank you for your confidence, Mr. Pesident. We’re hoping to make theirs less than nine par-cent before the Febualy election.’
‘Hey, that’d make the combined approval rating below twenty. Are you aiming for the Guinness Record or something?’
‘Ha ha. You are so humourlous, Mr. Pesident.’
‘Look, Yoshio, got to go. I’m seeing you here in March, right?’
‘I vely much hope so, Mr. Pesident. Either me, or my successor.’
‘Haha, you’re vely humourlous too, Yoshio. Good talking to you.’
‘Good talking to you, Mr. Pesident.’
‘See you, Yoshio.’ The line dropped dead.
Nishihara put the phone down lightly, then stared at it for a few seconds before pressing the intercom for his secretary: ‘Mrs. Nomura, can you bring me a new box of tissue please?’
‘Hai, right away, Mr. Prime Minister.’
Approval Rating of Japanese Cabinet as of Aug 2012:
Approval Rating of both Japanese parties as of Nov 2012: DPJ 11%, LDP 24%. Combined 35%!