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Prime Minister Noda’s “Never Give Up” Gaffe [2012年01月16日(Mon)]
Prime Minister Noda’s “Never Give Up” Gaffe

I applaud the determination expressed by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda in his New Year’s press conference on January 4, 2012, to carry out a comprehensive reform of the social security and taxation systems in response to Japan’s graying population and declining birthrate. However, I must reiterate my view, set down in the daily Sankei Shimbun in April and in December 2010 , that unless the government introduces legislation to reduce the number of seats in the upper and lower houses of the Diet and curb government spending through such measures as reducing the salaries and pensions of civil servants, it will be difficult to gain the nation’s approval for a tax increase.

The major dailies had the following to say about the prime minister’s press conference.

“Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda repeated the word ‘never’ four times and followed it with ‘give up,’ quoting former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1874-1965), who led his country through the crisis of World War II, thus laying bare his own resolve. Noda also argued cogently, ‘I shall never give up on a just cause, and I firmly believe change is possible if the reasons for an action are fully explained.” (Mainichi Shimbun, January 7 morning edition)

“Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda called for a dialogue between the ruling and opposition parties on the comprehensive reform of the social security and tax systems, including an increase in the consumption tax. He also said he would push for the early passage of a bill to reduce the number of upper house and lower house Diet seats at the upcoming ordinary session of the Diet to convene this month. Quoting former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who led the country during World War II, Noda said he would ‘never, never, never, never give up’ and expressed his resolve to see his plan implemented.” (Nihon Keizai Shimbun, January 5 morning edition)

“While he replied to questions in a monotone voice, he stressed that a tax increase cannot be put off any longer. In the end, Noda quoted the following words of Winston Churchill that he learned in high school: ‘Never, never, never, never give up.’” [Asahi Shimbun, January 5 morning edition; reprinted from the English-language Asahi Shimbun)

“During World War II, Churchill led Britain in the fight against Nazi Germany under Hitler’s rule, and at the height of the ‘Blitz’ bombings by Germany of London, he made speeches over the radio and in Parliament to galvanize the nation. Ultimately, the country was victorious. ‘Never give up’ is often interpreted to mean ‘Never submit.’” (Sankei Shimbun, January 5 morning edition)

I for one was extremely interested in what views Noda, as the head of Japan, would express in his New Year’s press conference.

At a time when politicians are under public scrutiny for cursory utterances, it is imperative that at the very least, the use of language and the content of speeches made by prime ministers should be checked by administration staff and subject to a review by experts. In this case, the media also failed to double-check the accuracy of the quotation. To make matters worse, it’s questionable whether the quotation was even appropriate to the circumstances under which it was made. On both counts, Noda’s use of the quotation can only be deemed careless.

Churchill did not say “Never give up.” What he said was “Never give in.” “Give up” and “give in” are entirely different things. The daily Sankei Shimbun was correct in stating the common Japanese equivalent is “Never give in.” Unfortunately, it did not point out the mistake.

The quotation is taken from a speech Churchill made on October 29, 1941, at his alma mater, the Harrow School. The correct version is,

“… never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never−in nothing, great or small, large or petty−never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

The developments that unfolded on the world stage in the years up to and months after Churchill’s speech are as follows.

September 1939 - Germany invades Poland, whose allies, Britain and France, declare war on Germany, marking the start of World War II.
June 1940 - France surrenders to Germany.
September 1940 - Germany, Italy, and Japan form a military alliance.
June 1941 - Germany and the Soviet Union go to war.
July 1941 - US government freezes the assets of Japanese nationals living in the United States.
August 1941 - United States enforces an oil embargo on Japan.
- An economic blockade against Japan is implemented by the United States, Britain, China, and the Netherlands.
- US President Theodore Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Churchill release the “Atlantic Charter” statement.
October 1941 - Cabinet of Prime Minister Konoe Fumimaro resigns en masse, replaced by the cabinet formed by Tojo Hideki.
November 1941 - Hard-line “Hull note” presented to Japan by US Secretary of State Cordell Hull
December 1941 - Japan attacks Pearl Harbor

I have tried to provide an overview of the international currents at that time. Japan was among the enemies Churchill referred to when he spoke about not giving in. Though many years have passed since then, the quotation still has no place in a speech by a Japanese prime minister. And the misquotation only makes matters worse. I cringe when I think how foreign academics and others got a good laugh at Japan’s expense so early in the New Year. Am I the only one who feels like crawling into a hole?
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 11:30 | URL | comment(0)