The president appointed a Japan hand from Harvard named Edwin O. Reischauer as his U.S. ambassador to Tokyo. The next year, he sent his brother Robert F. Kennedy on a special trip to try to rescue the troubled alliance. Reischauer and Robert Kennedy, Lind writes, were able to save the “precarious” relationship that had been merely “a military marriage of convenience between Washington and a sliver of Japan’s elite.”
Remember that American military occupation of Japan had ended less than a decade earlier, in 1952. As of 1961, there was no guarantee that Japan would become the free market democracy that it is today, nor that Japan and the United States would enjoy such close cultural, economic and political ties. Lind points out that, as of the 1950s, America’s relationship with Japan looked a lot like its alliance today with places such as Saudi Arabia, in which “Washington partners with a sliver of elites who preside over populations that revile the United States.”
There are many reasons that the alliance with Japan became what it is now, but the Kennedy family’s role, particularly at the pivotal moment of the early 1960s, is unmistakable. That doesn’t mean that Caroline Kennedy has special DNA that would make her a particularly adept ambassador to Japan, of course. But her family name means something more than just “political royalty” in Tokyo — it’s a reminder of how special the relationship is between the two nations and a badge of what it took to achieve it.