Washington, DC is fairly abloom this month with the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, filling the capital’s streets with the first wave of blossom lovers to arrive after the past two years’ pandemic-muted instances of the 87-year-old celebration of arboreal beauty and amity between the United States and Japan.
The United States and Japan? Dwindling numbers of Americans and Japanese remember that on December 7, 1941, a “day that shall live in infamy,” Japanese forces attacked the American Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, sinking many warships and killing over 1,800 American soldiers and sailors. The next day, the US congress reciprocated Japan’s declaration of war as millions of Americans donned uniforms and marched off to war against the expansive Empire of Japan.
The Japanese cherry trees, hastily rechristened the “Oriental” cherry trees for the duration of the war, stood unmolested for four days. Then, on the night of December 11, 1941, someone cut down four of the hundreds of trees. The rest have lived on, showering Washington with pink-blossomed beauty every year since, including the war years of 1942, 1943, 1944, and 1945. And all the years since.
Russia, for having invaded its sometime possession (Soviet Socialist Republic) of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, is today being cancelled in a tidal wave of repressed Western vengeance not seen since the days of the virulent Jap-bashing from which Washington’s cherry trees were somehow, miraculously, spared. No Americans, nor other Westerners, were killed, nor was any of their military infrastructure harmed in any way in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The first day’s death toll among Ukraine’s defenders, who enjoyed weeks of notice before the attack, likely fell well below the carnage of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Yet Tchaikovsky’s works are expunged from musical programs, Russian ballerinas bolt the ranks of the Bolshoi for better-favored companies in the West, and Russian singers have been barred from Eurovision’s annual musical competition. The cancellation continues afoot.
To what end? Japan invaded China on July 7, 1937. What if, four days later, American bulldozers had uprooted the hundreds of Japanese cherry trees that had been growing in Washington since 1912, when the City of Tokyo donated them? Or in 1941, after Pearl Harbor? Would Japan have canceled its invasion of China and withdrawn to its home islands? Would it then not have attacked American, British, French, and Dutch possessions in the Pacific? Would the atomic bombs never have exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
If only. The only certain result would be that after 1941, no cherry blossoms would have graced the margins of the Tidal Basin in Washington unless, of course, in some later reconciliation, new cherry trees were somehow salvaged from the smoldering postwar ruins of Japan to replace them. More-likely, they would eventually be replaced by … what? Willows, from … China? Chestnuts from Ohio? No living monument to the reconciliation of former mortal enemies would bedeck the streets of America’s capital—the seat, ironically, of a government that has been instrumental not only in setting the stage for the conflict in Ukraine, but likewise for the conflict that erupted at Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Comparing America’s and the West’s responses to the aggressions of Japan in 1941 and of Russia in 2022 leaves me with the strong feeling that “the lady doth protest too much.” Does some subconscious guilt complex underlie the vicious spasm of conspicuous retribution now washing over Western society against all and everything Russian? Or are all these theatrics mere virtue signaling of concern for a hapless European “democracy” presided over by an American-installed puppet being consumed by the hordes from the East with the 21st Century’s new Hitler at their head?
The times, they clearly have changed.
And not for the better.