The historian, Arno Mayer, once wrote words to the effect that it is difficult if not impossible to compose reasoned, ordered analysis of a conflict (a military and civil conflict) when the stakes are a fight to the death over a “Holy of Holies.”¹ He was referring in that text to the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the manner in which political claims on a piece of land [and its strategic location, its water, its resources, and most of all, the layers of cultural symbolism encoded in the territory are thought] are suffused with repressed content – words that diplomatic manners ordinarily proscribe from being uttered: like, the lingering of imperial West-supremacist contempt for those who were formerly colonized, the Arabs of Palestine and the surrounding states; like, the immense historic guilt that Europe must atone, for its internal colonization, and in particular, the unpayable debt that is owed for the military occupation, murder, and destruction in all lands where the Jewish people of Europe lived for a thousand years, based as each was in centuries of ultimately catastrophic invention of “communities to die for,” the foundations of official nationalism and imperialism and the excesses of state violence that plagued the 19th, 20th, and now 21st centuries.²
Maybe this is as good a starting point as any. My topic is one such Holy of Holies: and though it is almost impossible to exhaust or encapsulate with a word or a name, I’m forced to admit, despite some reluctance, that the topic is in large measure concerned with an institution with immense baggage, considerable importance, and fraught politics, inclusive of all its countless transformations, the family relationship, between a parent and his child.
Sigh! That reluctance shouldn’t be misunderstood! But my friends know by now that I have rapidly moved into the ‘schoolroom’ of thought where it is not possible to use a term like family without invoking the vast historical, period, legal, gendered, national, social, psychological, developmental, and economic placements, privileges, and painful histories that complicate and situate the thing. The family must be historicized and periodized, as Jameson would have us do. All of these have deep and complex affects associated with them; so the first order of business in approaching this, whether I choose it or not, is to do battle with the emotions. Strong emotions. Shattering emotions that disrupt, interfere and don’t ever let go, no matter how much clinical intervention takes place. That reflective work is work, taxing work that is so often invisible to the socially constructed eye, well, is another topic for a book, or at least, another blog post. Or two.
Americans have a psychological ‘thing’ they talk about a lot: it’s got something to do with the obligation to recover. Well! I am writing today from a kind of knowledge- a place of experience – that says the obligation may sit up in its superego spot and cast aspersions down on us mortals, (and does so with a totalitarian smiley face imposed over its brutal demands); but no matter how much bio-neurological, brain-structure and chemical materialism we bring into battle with the free-will mafia, no matter how much synthesis in defense of faith in future miracles somewhere further on into the utopian horizon, the real horizon, for me at least, remains with Freud’s “Third Copernican Revolution” that we are , most certainly not masters of our own houses, nor are we simply engaged in building rational-mastery to arrive at an inevitable outpost of Virtue, nobly perched at the apex of our species being.
Spinoza left this pearl in part 3 of his Ethics, completed and circulated clandestinely some 25 years after the Treaty of Westphalia supposedly brought all sorts of rational, sensible, concrete order to the world (well, to Europe), where religious passions would supposedly be contained in an evolving rule of law that would tame the violence at the heart of Civilization. (It’s a famous passage, but I love to quote it anyway.)
The human condition would indeed be far happier if it were equally in the power of men to keep silent as to talk. But experience teaches us with abundant examples that nothing is less within men’s power than to hold their tongues or control their appetites. from this derives the commonly held view that we act freely only in cases where our desires are moderate, because our apppetites can then be easily held in check by the remembrance of another thing that frequently comes to mind; but when we seek something with a strong emotion that cannot be allayed by the remembrance of some other thing, we cannot check our desires. But indeed, had they not found by experience that we do many things of which we later repent, and that frequently, when we are at the mercy of conflicting emotions, we “see the better and do the worse,” there would be nothing to prevent them from believing that all our actions are free.” ³
So it would be. I am struggling to write about this, and so is everyone else struggling, fighting fierce demons, memories and internal and external upheavals, on top of those end-of-the-world apocalyptics we witness daily. The irrationality with which humans are now behaving seems to me fueled by an excess of traumatic, rending social forces, invisibly removing the foundations on which lives have been lived, where a new foundation is hardly yet imagined, much less in fieri.
Eventually, I hope there will be many of us working on the topic of Japan’s parental abductions in various contexts, its history and genealogy, its place in the history of U.S.-Japanese and international relations, in politics, in the psychological and ideological space of loves and hatreds, and the evolving regime that is now taking shape in which those abductions are formalized into an evolving “legal” framework. In the news this April 2014, Japan joined the other 90 member countries of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction after 30 years of evasion, stalling and delay while the annual rate of abductions skyrocketed in the era of globalization, year after year. A game with language continues (that is, in the realm of law games, court decisions, and their reception and diffusion in the media) but the stakes of the consequences of those games couldn’t be higher for us. It is our Holy of Holies. The Japanese state has stolen our children from our homes, and the message could not be clearer: the United States and the Government of Japan have used this Convention as a means to rinse us and our children off of their plates, to prevent justice from being done, to evade the obvious outrage that this prevents our children being returned to us, and prevents the parents – both the abductors and the victims – from receiving fair treatment and protection.
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On the Japanese side of this catastrophe are roughly 2.7 million children who do not have a parent/ child relationship because the Japanese state and its family courts have long condoned and rewarded kidnapping children as the best and only means to custody, sewing tremendous division and contention by enabling and supporting it, refusing to protect children from this form of predation, and only bringing the ‘decision’ of the judicial system to bear (along with its accompanying means – police force, arrest, imprisonment) when bereaved parents have tried to assert their will to maintain their parenting relationships with their children after an abduction has taken place. Japanese legal practice holds that only one parent maintains parental right after the couple separate or divorce; the other half of the child’s identity and family are damned and lose any protection from the practices of law. The results of this have been, and are, horrific. The scale of this nightmare is not widely known, but is only now gradually emerging as compared with four years ago when my 4½ year old son, Rui, was kidnapped from the United States and kept hidden in Tokyo’s shadows.
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Recently, in light of the adoption of the international ‘Convention’ on highly limited civil responses to the abduction of children, Kyodo News Agency published the following numbers, most of which I and my friends and collegaues among the left behind parents have posted, advertised, and sent to law enforcement and diplomatic agencies over and over again, trying to impress their tragic character on press and on supposedly responsible officials, to little or no avail:
“More than 150,000 children in Japan every year are estimated to lose contact with noncustodial parents following divorce” Kyodo says. And at a public meeting, a lawmaker and member of the LDP (the perennial rightist and conservative U.S. client and ruling party of Japan) recently said, according to Kyodo, “not being able to meet with their own child would “violate the human rights of fathers.” 4
30 long-suffered years since this convention went into effect internationally, and decades of abuse of children repeated ad infinitum, parents’ lives lost in despair and suicide, and children with rampant social adjustment problems, emotional and psychological pain, and today, there are lawmakers whose mouths have acquired new movements, as brain waves previously impervious t0 the loss and agony inflicted upon their offspring and ours, have been touched by an increase in static. It is a remarkable, ugly record. Kyodo continued:
“16.3 percent of fathers said they have agreed on a scheme of exchanges between children and their separated parents…
“42.3 percent of 225 single fathers said their children have met with nonresident parents more than once a month.”
This means that 84% of fathers have NO scheme of parenting or “visitation” with their children.
This means that 58% of single/ divorced fathers are able to see their children once a month or less, with no legal recourse should even that obscenity be made more difficult by an irritable or uncooperative custodial parent (and what kind of parent should one expect to find among abductors who the law pressures into taking on the entirety of their children’s raising, eliminating the one other person who most loves and cares about the child’s well-being, her or his other parent!)
That comes to 12 or fewer”visits” per year, with the child you have raised from birth and in whose care you have invested your love and self.
The statistics for women and mothers are also very poor, as the article indicates. 77% of mothers say they have no post-separation parenting arrangements to protect their children’s parent/ child relationship, and 65% see their sons and daughters 12 times a year or less.
Now, what about “State-sponsored, legalized parental abduction” is hard to understand!?
Japan has now created a new agency in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Where else would you expect to adjudicate family matters and kidnappings? Ministry of Justice? Ministry of Interior with jurisdiction over family matters? No… the ministry of Foreign Affairs, because after all, the governments of Japan and the United States have made this is a diplomatic issue, rather than one of caring for children and parents and protecting them from harsh abuse. And in a predictable but nonetheless devastating blow, the government has announced that while the Hague Convention requires that a country that has actively supported and condoned international child abduction for decades with impunity create a new all Japanese “Hague” court whose mandate should theoretically be to re-decide which country should have jurisdiction over the futures of kidnapped kids and their families (and should have been charged with this responsibility decades ago), they will continue to remand the cases to the same Japanese family courts that stole jurisdiction. Nothing substantive changes; NO provisions for joint custody or legal requirement of parental or children’s rights exist in the law, case law, or history.
To ice the cake, Japan will retain full autonomy in the appointment of mediators, evaluators, social workers and psychologists. Should this be a problem? Most assuredly, yes! Because Japan has NO accreditation or licensing process for these professions in the court, not now, not before, and predictably, will not later either. This is because no licensing agencies or licensing process exists for social workers and psychologists in Japan. Pass a psychology course or not, and you may hang up your shingle, buy ads and advertise your services. Given the impulsion the arrival of the convention provides, this is bound to be a growth industry in the near future – with life and death decision making power over parents and their children, including mine.
The agreement of the U.S. and Japan (and the other member states, junior partners in the treaty) to such an arrangement which cedes our children to the network of abductors and sketchy lawyers who have made a career of supplying fodder to feed into the machine of Japanese State-sanctioned abduction of children must be seen in as clear a light as possible. They are in the process of legally reinforcing the sanctioning of the abduction of my son, Rui, and countless other little ones, in a new fold of the envelope, an appearance of an emerging legal order which bears remarkable similarities to the one that came before.
If we look at this at all, we find that the governments of Japan and the United States, (as well as most governments worldwide today) have concluded – long ago really – that as representatives of their respective elites – and we must NEVER forget that that is what they are – they are happiest with a weak institutional foundation of global “governance” (or, we call it, international law) and prefer a consensus between them by which they can evade or interpret what international rules do exist, tending toward a specific issue and particular geography. That’s why we got the vague Hague Convention, instead of our children.
This is also why the idea that one can advocate effectively for our kids without challenging authorities and the fat cushions of power, privilege and money that they sit on is, in my view, foundationally impossible or implausible.
Sovereignty: What’s in a word?
When I went to the State Department years ago to plead on my knees with the people who are supposed to be representing our interest in the repatriation of our abducted children, I got the lesson of a lifetime with the answer that “Japan is a sovereign country.”
Now I know better… that is, Japan is sovereign when the U.S. elite wants it to be. As Gavan McCormack elaborated extensively throughout his book, Client State: Japan in the American Embrace, “The Koizumi-Abe ‘revolution’ actually meant the liquidation of some important residual layers of Japanese autonomy, and the acceptance of an even higher level of submission and exploitation within the US global empire. The embrace becomes increasingly stifling.”5
Japanese political life has not been free since the war years to take a direction in which it might have flourished by pursuing the popular or democratic inclinations of its people. Japan has, rather, been governed by elites that either met with U.S. approval or succumbed to its pressures, serving themselves and their American masters in a cycle of tit for tat. A recent example: ask former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who lead the first DPJ government to defeat the LDP with a moderately revised national program for Japan, and who lost his job in less than a year due to his having been elected on a solemn promise to the Japanese people that he would demand and negotiate the elimination of U.S. military bases from Japanese territory, once and for all. Needless to say, he could not deliver on this promise, and he didn’t last long before the U.S. forced him to back off and leave office in disgrace. 6 )
There is much to explore about the nature of contemporary sovereignty here, in this context, in the days ahead. Which population, and which resources are protectable, and which are mourned? Ask the State Department, and the answer is in so many words, tough luck.
Standing before them as they betrayed me to my face, I felt an urge to cry, to scream out loud, or to whomp these officials with a fat book by Michel Foucault, who said in early 1976, “We have to study power outside the model of Leviathan, outside the field delineated by juridical sovereignty.”7
Please stay tuned, and check back with me. And share our story wherever you can. The Hague processes will begin fairly soon, with parents’ full awareness of how badly rigged this game is against us. There is much elaboration to be done to make this more fully and contextually explicable.
[Thanks for reading.
My title, “Persistence of the Old Regime” is borrowed from the great historian Arno Mayer, who wrote a book with that title (Pantheon, 1981) which portrays the crisis that wracked Europe in the 20th century, two world wars and a struggle with viciously regressive politics, as a product not of an avant-garde, forward thrusting, revolutionary capitalism, eager to transform a world with utopian dreams; but rather as a world dragged down by economic corruption, and an alliance of a newly empowered exploiting class with an aristocratic elite tenaciously grasping onto its slippery, ever less justifiable privileges, an alliance of forces more than willing to subjugate masses of people, and subject them to the eventual mayhem of empire building, world war, and the deaths of millions.
All contemporary parallels are intentional.
1 Arno Mayer, Plowshare Into Swords: From Zionism to Israel. Verso, 2008. p 89
2 See Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities. Verso, 1983. See esp. pp 83-111
3 Baruch Spinoza, Ethics, Part III Proposition 2. Hackett, 2002. p 281
4“Lawmakers launch group to ensure visitations after divorce.” Kyodo News International, 03-18-2014 – from URL:
5 Gavan McCormack, Client State: Japan in the American Embrace. Verso, 2007. p 5
6 Perry Anderson, Imperium. New Left Review 83, September/ October 2013. p 107
Of Obama, Anderson wrote:
“As elsewhere in the world, but more flagrantly, an undisguised asymmetry of pretensions belongs to the prerogatives of empire, the US regarding as natural a claim to rule the seas seven thousand miles from its shores, when it would never permit a foreign fleet in its own waters. Early on, Obama helped to bring down a hapless Hatoyama government in Tokyo for daring to contemplate a change in US bases in Okinawa, and has since added to its seven hundred-plus others in the world with a marine base in northern Australia, while stepping up joint naval exercises with a newly complaisant India.”
The section of Anderson’s essay concludes by explaining US designs on incorporation of China into a world system in which US corporations and military postures maintain profitability and something approaching the old goals of full spectrum dominance, the nostalgic aim of a fumbling, crumbling empire.
See also, Chalmers Johnson’s studies of the role of U.S. insistence on its military bases in Japanese political affairs:
in Blowback, in the chapter, Okinawa: Asia’s Last Colony, p 36;
in The Sorrows of Empire, in the chapter entitled The Empire of Bases. p 151-86;
and in Nemesis, which contains a study of the impact of the Status of Forces Agreement in Japan, from pp 171-207.
7 Michel Foucault, “Society Must Be Defended:” Lectures at the College de France, 1975-1976. Picador,2003. p 34