Opening Remarks by Ambassador Kazuo Kodama
At the VIP Dinner hosted by the Japan America Society of Southern California
Thursday, November 29, 2012
InterContinental L.A. Century City at Beverly Hills
Mari Miyoshi, President of Sumitomo Realty USA, owner of the InterContinental Hotel and a member of the Japan American Society of Southern California Board,
Steve Choe, General Manager of the InterContinental L.A. Century City,
Nancy Woo Hiromoto, Chair of the Japan America Society of Southern California,
JAS Chair Emeriti Russell Hanlin, Edward Perron and Robert Brasch,
And distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to be here tonight and I am very excited to be back in Los Angeles. This is my first return visit to the City of Angels since my wife Keiko and I left nearly five years ago in January 2008, when my assignment as Consul-General ended. My beloved wife cannot make it tonight because she’s in Tokyo, but she asked me to convey her best wishes and greetings to you all. Some of you may remember the humorous haiku, or senryuu that I shared with you at my residence when I was last here: “Tsumano koe, mukashi, tokimeki, ima, doki. Or in English, “From hearing my wife’s voice, long ago, my heart skipped a beat, but today my heart tremors!” Let me tell you that I am not a hen-pecked husband, but rather a “uxorious” husband. According to Webster’s dictionary, uxorious means excessively fond of or submissive to one’s wife.
Tonight I would like to share a few stories which are related to every one of us. Some are based on interactions with you all while I was posted here in Southern California. By so doing, I hope to reciprocate my indebtedness to you and express my deep gratitude to all of you for being connected with me and my wife during our stay here.
Before going into detail however, let me ask you to note that the views expressed on this occasion are my own and are not to be construed as any official position of the Government of Japan.
Now my first story is related to the tragic killing of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three members of his staff in the terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on September, 12th 2012. I know this is not something that can be lightly discussed over dinner, but I would like to share my thoughts on this tragedy as a requiem to Ambassador Stevens, a California-native, and his colleagues. We know that being a diplomat requires acceptance of risks inherent to overseas postings wherever they may be. So when I learned of Chris’ death, I couldn’t help but relate to this tragedy. It is sometimes a forgotten truth that diplomats are oftentimes assigned to postings in harm’s way, just like soldiers.
Indeed, on November 29th, 2003, exactly nine years ago from today, two Japanese diplomats, Ambassador Katsuhiko Oku and First Secretary Masamori Inoue, and their Iraqi driver were ambushed and killed by terrorists in Tikrit in Iraq. I have been struck with a strong sense that both Japanese Ambassador Oku and American Ambassador Stevens were truly first class diplomats, undaunted and fully cognizant of the dangers inherent in their work. Yet they dove headfirst into Iraq and Libya right after each country’s liberation in order to help the people of these nations wade through challenging transitions to new democracies. They must have felt that what they were doing was their calling. With such a sense of duty, they gladly immersed themselves in communities to take the pulse of the people for whom in the end they made the supreme sacrifice in helping to rebuild these nations.
After Stevens’ death, President Obama declared that the United States would never retreat from the world. Anne Stevens, Chris’s younger sister, told Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about her brother, “Don’t let this stop the work he was doing.”
Let me make two more observations on this saga. However offensive the video mocking the prophet Muhammad, it could not justify the violent response it elicited, just as it did not justify the killing of diplomats in the Middle East. In a similar vein, the anger and pent-up violent nationalism against Japan expressed by the Chinese people over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea should never justify their violence against Japanese factories, stores and restaurants in China. When I learned that the offensive and disturbing video on Muhammad was produced in the United States, I felt a great sadness. What I cherish most from all my memories in L.A. is the virtue of tolerance towards diversity and differences that you all have over races, gender, ethnicity and faiths, all the while, fully aware of politically divisive fault lines over these differences.
The Japanese American people taught me this hard earned lesson. Tolerance, with courage, is not a passive virtue but a prime mover to dissuade others from bigotry and hatred against minorities or people of other faiths. The virtue of tolerance is firmly anchored in the belief that each one of us is an agent entitled to live a life of dignity irrespective of whatever different identities each one of us has in this world.
When I watched the newly released film called “Lincoln” in New York, I could not help but swell up with tears.Though I am not Christian, I feel that President Lincoln might have been a messiah who sacrificed his life shouldering the sins of slavery to save humanity in the mid-19th century world. Like Ambassadors Stevens and Oku, like their colleagues, and like you in the Japan American Society who teach tolerance, Lincoln exuded a message of peace and understanding, of appreciation of differences and diversity and bridged gaps where there was a large divide.
Let me also touch on the recent elections in the United States. There is an old canard that states a diplomat is an honest person sent abroad to lie for his or her country. While I am not such a diplomat, I know I have to be very discreet in discussing the outcome of this election. I guess that tonight’s audience is composed of people belonging to different parties. Because the following is closely related to the stories which I have already shared with you this evening, I would put it to you.
In 2008, the U.S. voters elected Mr. Barack Obama, who happens to be an African American and also quite fond of Abraham Lincoln, to the White House. That verdict sent a message of hope and courage to the people of the world. This month, the American people re-elected President Obama for a second term, which is in my view a way of endorsing his commitment to the principle of fairness fundamentally rooted in his deep respect for the dignity of every single human being and his values of diversity and tolerance.
Now I am in the Golden State where residents also exhibited their sense of fairness and courage at the ballot box. Surprising the nation, Californians recently casted a majority of ballots saying “yes” to Proposition 30, that would begin temporary tax increases to raise $6 billion U.S. dollars a year to shore up the state’s public school and university system. A New York Times editorial on November 9th, described your collective verdict by saying, “Of all the state election results across the nation, few can top the shocking good sense of California voters saying Yes to Taxes.” The editorial closed by asking whether or not your great state would initiate a national movement.
The issue highlighted by Proposition 30 is that many mature democracies, including the U.S., Japan and several countries in Europe, experience the same problem – voters want benefits they do not want to pay for. Your response to this proposition is that if we act collectively and soon, we can deal with this conundrum by shared sacrifice but without any segment of our society having to sacrifice too much.
To conclude my remarks, I’d like to express thanks to all of you at the Japan American Society of Southern California for the kindness you have shown me and my wife. The stories I have discussed tonight I believe are some of the most important ones heard far and loud all over the world. I close my speech with these positive notes and I thank you very much for your attention.