Our President's bow

Medicine Globally by Dr. Rene Menguy



Dr. Rene Menguy

Truth goes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident.

This business about making fun of our President because he bowed to the Emperor of Japan has gone too far. As an American first and as a conservative second, I feel embarrassed by the comments made about our President’s meeting with the Emperor of Japan. It’s being compared here and there with the behavior of our past Presidents and to whom they bowed or not. In a blog posted yesterday, I suggested that since the bald eagle is our national icon, we ought to behave like eagles. All of this carping is not only stupid, but worse, it is petty, and beneath us.

President Obama bowed, to a man, to be sure, but, more importantly he bowed to a revered icon. This was, in my opinion, entirely appropriate. It goes back to that old saw: “when in Rome, ”.

Japanese are different, to say the very least; capable, as we all know, of acts of barbaric cruelty, their behavior, on the other hand, to each other as well as to foreigners in peacetime is characterized by an exquisite, formalized courtesy. Their form of greeting is the bow carried out according to a strict protocol. There are usually several bows depending on the social standing of the parties. The party on the upper rung always stops bowing first. Of course, the Emperor does not bow to anyone.

Things were a little different in the Japanese Imperial Army. In that army, corporals hit soldiers, sergeants beat up corporals and officers strike and slap non-coms. Perhaps, this explains why Japanese soldiers were so cruel to prisoners. At last, they had someone beneath them to beat up. The Japanese Army in Phnom Penh used a field next to our school campus as a parade ground. From time to time we used to watch their morning muster. The Officer, well dressed in a crisp, white short sleeve shirt, forage cap with the neck protector hanging down, sword dragging at his side, walked ever so slowly down the line of soldiers presenting arms. Grab the rifle, slam the bolt back and forth a few times, peer into the muzzle, thrust the rifle back, exchange of grunts. Next man, grab the rifle, pull the bolt….aha its sticking. Shouting, throw the rifle down and start slapping, again, and again and again. Start walking toward the next man, stop, turn around and hit him one more time…for good measure. It was more fun than watching a Laurel and Hardy movie.

The purpose of this digression is to point how vastly different national cultures can be. We all remember what happened to one of our finest generals in WW II when he lost his cool in anger and slapped a soldier.

My only criticism, and a very minor one, of our Presidents bow is that it was not done quite correctly. If one of our dignitaries plans to greet a head of state in a manner foreign to our culture, he should get some pointers from the White House chief of protocol. Nevertheless, I’m sure our President earned some “Brownie Points” from the Japanese people.

I suspect that by doing so, he earned the respect of all the Japanese people who saw it.

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