The whole world was watching and paying attention to President Obama’s speech on his Nobel Peace Award ceremony ? what he will say. After all, there were great controversies about awarding him the Nobel, and USA has just decided to send troops of 30,000 to Afghanistan.
Unlike the days when television was the only live visual media, now we have tools to see the lecture on our computer screen (Ref.1), repeat it as we like, read the text, examine how it is treated on variety of major newspapers of the world, or editorials.
Although the awarding committee’s decision was controversial, and the timing of the award speech was very challenging, I think that the script was very good, very much effort was put in. I can well imagine the difficulty and effort the President and his staffs made for this. Especially, President Obama has been pressed particularly hard with issues such as sending additional troops to Afghanistan, its poor economy with high unemployment rates, handling of financial institutions, healthcare policy reform, etc…so challenging that the polls were indicating declines in the support of the President. In such circumstance, the words of the Leader matters so much.
I happened to be in Washington DC at the occasion. In the Washington Post in its December 11th issue, the President speech in Oslo was well received (Ref.1, 2), as the ‘President of America in wartime’ and the role of USA in these several decades, in accord with the philosophy and ways of thinking of President Obama. In our age, many people express their opinions through new tools such as blogs, but the weight of the words of the leader of a nation is incomparably heavy.
Comments before the ceremony by ‘experts’ on what they thought President Obama should say at Oslo just was also an interesting collection.
By the way, I found another interesting article on the same day’s Washington Post titled ‘Does Japan still matter?’ . The message was to ask readers not to forget Japan, a country which is forgotten now. It ends by saying ‘So far, Japan’s new government has not defined policies that could restore economic growth and lift the country out of its funk. But America should be hoping that it can. And if it wants to regain some confidence, it makes sense to treat Japan as though it matters. Because it does.’
On the other hand, the New York Times of the same day has a column with a title ‘Obama’s Japan Headache’
I am sad – no, worried about a series of unsteady messages from the leaders of Japanese government. They continue to be insular minded and lack enthusiasm or energy to send out messages to the outside world. However, the fact is that the words of Prime minister or ministers even in many seemingly insignificant occasions are followed and read by the rest of the world, even when they are addressed to domestic audience. But the problem is that many abroad (or even in Japan) cannot see what Japanese policy makers are actually thinking. It is dangerous to under-evaluate the impact of the spoken words of the leaders. You cannot take back what you have said.
The problem lies not only in government. The other day, a team of guests from a well known ‘Think tank’ in Washington DC visited me and during our discussion they asked me, “Why did Keidanren close their Washington office early this year?” Does everyone in Japan know this? I imagine so. I knew it, too, but was so embarrassed in answering.
Anyway, the age of Internet is convenient but also provides you risks. Your ability, words, actions, or thoughts will be known to the world often in seconds, and be mindful it is hard to convince people abroad with reasons that work just for Japanese people. The leaders of this global age, admitting that each has their own situations and problems to face, carry very, very heavy responsibilities.