Ed Driscoll

The Chrysanthemum, the Sword and the Cowboys

While Mad Men occasionally seems to think of itself as a period domestic soap opera that only tangentially focuses on advertising, invariably, its best scenes are in the office. “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword,” yesterday’s episode, pitted the firm’s founding owners, World War II vet Roger Sterling against office Japanophile Bert Cooper over their firm’s attempts to land the account of Honda, looking to break into the American motorcycle and car market in 1965. It certainly seemed like one of their more dramatic inter-office conflicts of the new season. (Language warning in clip below):

Mike Potemra of National Review wondered in the Corner last night if this episode was hastily rushed out as a metaphor for the Ground Zero Mosque controversy, but in actuality, it was probably written well in advance for this. (Certainly, Bert’s obsession with all things Japanese dates back to his debut early in the show’s first season, as does Roger’s WWII Navy background; no doubt the writers had planned to have the firm handle a Japanese account at some point in its run.)

While Roger’s actions may seem surprising to modern eyes, it took quite a while for many American businessmen who were World War II vets to forget the sting of the war. Witness this passage near the end of Skip Bayless’s 1989 iconclastic biography of Tom Landry, God’s Coach, describing former Dallas Cowboys owner (and former Army World War II vet) H.R. “Bum” Bright’s efforts to sell the team that year:

[Jerry] Jones simply was tap dancing as fast as he could, trying to find a way to put together a $140 million package that would keep him in the running with dozens of “big boy” bidders. Besides [Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss] there was a Japanese group said to be “price insensitive.” A source close to the sale says, “The Japanese were ready to make an offer with no real sense of how much the Dallas Cowboys were worth. To them it was like, ‘Oh, Dallas Cowboys! How much? Two hundred million? Three hundred?’ [Tom] Landry might have coached for another century if the Japanese had bought the team. But World War II had a profound effect on Bum. He just wasn’t comfortable with the thought of selling the Dallas Cowboys to the Japanese, whether or not the league would have approved it.”

And that was 1989. Meanwhile, even as tensions from World War II were still winding down in 1965, the Cold War was beginning to get hot. As Mad Men mentioned last night, in another ironic commentary with multiple modern connections, there were even the occasional Russian secret agents on American TV back then…