Tag Archives: Japan

Open Letter to the Japanese Prime Minister on Eve of Visit to Pearl Harbor

25 Dec

[Prefatory Note: The press release and open letter to the Japanese Prime Minister concern the complex issues surrounding the ethos and politics of apology. I would have liked the statement to include an acknowledgement of accountability by the U.S. Government. President Barack Obama, several months ago, took a step in that direction by his visit to Hiroshima, the first sitting American president to do so, but he deliberately avoided language that could be construed as an apology, representing the event as ‘a tragedy’ of warfare, which it was of course, but it was also a flagrant violation of the laws of war due to the indiscriminate nature of the weaponry and an act of war that defied the prohibition of customary international law on violence that cannot be justified by ‘military necessity. Yet the open letter as it reads is primarily an initiative emanating from Japan, in worried reaction to the moves of Prime Minister Abe to disvalue, and if politically possible, abandon the constitutional provisions adopted after World War II to ensure that Japan would not again victimize itself and its neighbors by a revival of militarism in the future. That assurance is now in jeopardy. I am proud to be among the signatories. The full list follows the Japanese original version of the open letter, issued on Christmas Day. The letter is preceded by a press release also released today.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

 

An Open Letter to Prime Minister Abe Calls for Clarification of His Understanding of the Asia-Pacific War

 

Washington, DC/Tokyo, Japan (December 25, 2016) – 53 international scholars, artists, and activists sent an Open Letter to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the eve of his upcoming visit to Pearl Harbor.

 

The signers include Oliver Stone, an Academy Award-winning filmmaker, his co-author of “The Untold History of the United States” Peter Kuznick of American University, Richard Falk of Princeton University, Tetsuya Takahashi of the University of Tokyo, Lim Jie-Hyun of Sogang University (Korea), Shue Tuck Wong of Simon Fraser University (Canada), and Gavan McCormack of Australian National University.

 

Assessing the Prime Minister’s statements about the war, the signers ask whether he still doubts that Japan’s Asia-Pacific War was a war of aggression. They ask whether he has plans to visit China, Korea, other Asia-Pacific nations and other Allied nations to “mourn” the major victims of Japan’s war.

 

As Peter Kuznick comments, “Unlike Germany, Japan has never made a sincere effort to deal with or atone for its wartime atrocities that resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of people. Prime Minister Abe has been in the forefront of efforts to whitewash Japanese history. We hope he will take this opportunity to once and for all correct that shameful record.”

 

As Mark Selden of Cornell University observes, “The time has come to lay to rest the denial of wartime responsibility and war atrocities by Japan and other nations to reduce frictions in an Asia-Pacific region that is experiencing rising conflicts.”

 

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 Oliver Stone and internatonal scholars and activists send an Open Letter to Prime Minister Abe on the eve of his Pearl Harbor visit

 

53 international scholars, artists, and activists sent an Open Letter to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the eve of his upcoming visit to Pearl Harbor. See below English and Japanese versions, followed by the list of signers.

 

 

USS Arizona Memorial, which Mr. Abe plans to visit.

 

 

 

An Open Letter to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe 

On the Occasion of Your Visit to Pearl Harbor 

 

December 25, 2016

 

Dear Mr. Abe,

You recently announced plans to visit Pearl Harbor in Hawai’i at the end of December 2016 to “mourn the victims” of the Japanese Navy’s attack on the U.S. naval base on December 8, 1941 (Tokyo Time).

 

In fact, Pearl Harbor was not the only place Japan attacked that day. The Japanese Army had attacked the northeastern shore of the Malay Peninsula one hour earlier and would go on to attack several other British and U.S. colonies and bases in the Asia-Pacific region later that day. Japan launched these attacks in order to secure the oil and other resources of Southeast Asia essential to extend its war of aggression against China.

 

Since this will be your first official visit to the place where Japan’s war against the United States began, we would like to raise the following questions concerning your previous statements about the war.

 

1) You were Deputy Executive Director of the “Diet Members’ League for the 50th Anniversary of the End of War,” which was established at the end of 1994 in order to counter parliamentary efforts to pass a resolution to critically reflect upon Japan’s aggressive war. Its Founding Statement asserts that Japan’s more than two million war-dead gave their lives for “Japan’s self-existence and self-defense, and peace of Asia.” The League’s Campaign Policy statement of April 13, 1995 rejected offering any apology or issuing the no-war pledge included in the parliamentary resolution to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of war. The League’s public statement of June 8, 1995 declared that the majority parties’ resolution draft was unacceptable because it admitted Japan’s “behaviors of aggression” and “colonial rule.” Mr. Abe, do you still hold such views about the war?

 

2) In the Diet questioning period of April 23, 2013, you as Prime Minister stated that “the definition of what constitutes ‘aggression’ has yet to be established in academia or in the international community.” Does that mean that you do not recognize Japan’s war against the Allied and Asia-Pacific nations and the preceding war against China as wars of aggression?

 

3) You state that you are going to visit Pearl Harbor to “mourn” the 2,400 Americans who perished in the attack. If that is the case, will you also be visiting China, Korea, other Asia-Pacific nations, or the other Allied nations for the purpose of “mourning” war victims in those countries who number in the tens of millions?

 

As Prime Minister, you have pressed for Constitutional revision including reinterpretation and revision of Article 9 to allow Japanese Self-Defense Forces to fight anywhere in the world. We ask that you reflect on the signal this sends to nations that suffered at Japan’s hands in the Asia-Pacific War.

 

(The list of signers follows the Japanese version.)

 

 

 

真珠湾訪問にあたっての安倍首相への公開質問状

 

2016年12月25日

 

親愛なる安倍首相、

安倍首相は先日、1941年12月8日(日本時間)に日本海軍が米国の海軍基地を攻撃した際の「犠牲者を慰霊する」目的で、12月末にハワイの真珠湾を訪問する計画を発表しました。

 

実際のところ、その日に日本が攻撃した場所は真珠湾だけではありませんでした。その約1時間前には日本陸軍はマレー半島の北東沿岸を攻撃、同日にはアジア太平洋地域の他の幾つかの英米の植民地や基地を攻撃しています。日本は、中国に対する侵略戦争を続行するために不可欠な石油や他の資源を東南アジアに求めてこれらの攻撃を開始したのです。

 

米日の開戦の場所をあなたが公式に訪問するのが初めてであることからも、私たちは以下の質問をしたく思います。

 

1) あなたは、1994年末に、日本の侵略戦争を反省する国会決議に対抗する目的で結成された「終戦五十周年議員連盟」の事務局長代理を務めていました。その結成趣意書には、日本の200万余の戦没者が「日本の自存自衛とアジアの平和」のために命を捧げたとあります。この連盟の1995年4月13日の運動方針では、終戦50周年を記念する国会決議に謝罪や不戦の誓いを入れることを拒否しています。1995年6月8日の声明では、与党の決議案が「侵略的行為」や「植民地支配」を認めていることから賛成できないと表明しています。安倍首相、あなたは今でもこの戦争についてこのような認識をお持ちですか。

 

2) 2013年4月23日の国会答弁では、首相として「侵略の定義は学界的にも国際的にも定まっていない」と答弁しています。ということは、あなたは、連合国およびアジア太平洋諸国に対する戦争と、すでに続行していた対中戦争を侵略戦争とは認めないということでしょうか。

 

3) あなたは、真珠湾攻撃で亡くなった約2400人の米国人の「慰霊」のために訪問するということです。それなら、中国や、朝鮮半島、他のアジア太平洋諸国、他の連合国における数千万にも上る戦争被害者の「慰霊」にも行く予定はありますか。

 

 

首相としてあなたは、憲法9条を再解釈あるいは改定して自衛隊に海外のどこでも戦争ができるようにすることを推進してきました。これがアジア太平洋戦争において日本に被害を受けた国々にどのような合図として映るのか、考えてみてください。

 

 

  1. [endif]Ikuro Anzai, Professor Emeritus, Ritsumeikan University 安斎育郎、立命館大学名誉教授

 

  1. [endif]Herbert P. Bix, emeritus professor of history and sociology, Binghamton University, SUNY ハーバート・P・ビックス、ニューヨーク州立大学ビンガムトン校歴史学・社会学名誉教授

 

  1. Peter van den Dungen, Formerly, Lecturer in Peace Studies, University of Bradford, UK, and general coordinator of the International Network of Museums for Peace ピーター・バン・デン・デュンゲン、元ブラッドフォード大学(英国)平和学教員、世界平和博物館ネットワーク総括コーディネーター

 

  1. Alexis Dudden, Professor of History, University of Connecticut アレクシス・ダディン、コネチカット大学歴史学教授

 

  1. Richard Falk, Albert G. Professor of International Law and Practice, Emeritus, Princeton University リチャード・フォーク、プリンストン大学国際法名誉教授

 

  1. John Feffer, Director, Foreign Policy In Focus, ジョン・フェッファー、「フォーリン・ポリシー・イン・フォーカス」ディレクター

 

  1. Norma Field, Professor emerita, University of Chicago ノーマ・フィールド、シカゴ大学名誉教授

 

  1. Kay Fischer, Instructor, Ethnic Studies, Chabot Collegeケイ・フィッシャー、シャボット・カレッジ(カリフォルニア州)講師

 

  1. Atsushi Fujioka, Emeritus Professor, Ritsumeikan University 藤岡惇、立命館大学名誉教授

 

  1. Joseph Gerson (PhD), Vice-President, International Peace Bureau ジョセフ・ガーソン、国際平和ビューロー副会長

 

  1. Geoffrey C. Gunn, Emeritus, Nagasaki University ジェフリー・C・ガン、長崎大学名誉教授

 

  1. Kyung Hee Ha, Assistant Professor, Meiji University 河庚希、明治大学特任講師

 

  1. 1Laura Hein, Professor, Northwestern University ローラ・ハイン、ノースウェスタン大学教授(米国シカゴ)

 

14.Hirofumi Hayashi, Professor, Kanto Gakuin University 林博史、関東学院大学教授

 

  1. Katsuya Hirano, Associate Professor of History, UCLA平野克弥、カリフォルニア大学ロスアンゼルス校准教授

 

  1. IKEDA Eriko, Chair of the Board, Women’s  Active  Museum on War  and  Peace(wam) 池田恵理子 アクティブ・ミュージアム「女たちの戦争と平和資料館」(wam)館長

 

  1. Masaie Ishihara, Professor Emeritus Okinawa International University 石原昌家、沖縄国際大学名誉教授

 

  1. Paul Jobin, Associate Research Fellow, Academia Sinica, Institute of Sociology

ポール・ジョバン 台湾国立中央研究院社会学研究所 アソシエート・リサーチ・フェロー

 

  1. John Junkerman, Documentary Filmmaker ジャン・ユンカーマン、ドキュメンタリー映画監督

 

  1. Nan Kim, Associate Professor, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee ナン・キム(金永蘭)、ウィスコンシン大学ミルウォーキー校准教授

 

  1. KIM Puja, Professor of Gender History, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies金 富子、ジェンダー史、東京外国語大学教授

 

  1. Akira Kimura, Professor, Kagoshima University 木村朗、鹿児島大学教授

 

23.Tomomi Kinukawa, Instructor, San Francisco State University絹川知美、サンフランシスコ州立大学講師

 

  1. Peter Kuznick, Professor of History, American University ピーター・カズニック、アメリカン大学歴史学教授

 

  1. Kwon, Heok-Tae, Professor, Sungkonghoe University, Korea 権赫泰(クォン・ヒョクテ)、韓国・聖公会大学教授

 

  1. Lee Kyeong-Ju, Professor, Inha University (Korea) 李京柱、仁荷大学教授

 

  1. Miho Kim Lee, Co-founder of Eclipse Rising ミホ・キム・リー、「エクリプス・ライジング」共同創立者

 

  1. Lim Jie-Hyun, Professor of transnational history, director of Critical Global Studies Institute, Sogang University 林志弦(イム・ジヒョン)、西江大学教授(韓国)

 

  1. Akira Maeda, Professor, Tokyo Zokei University 前田 朗、東京造形大学教授

 

  1. Janice Matsumura, Associate Professor of History, Simon Fraser University, Canada ジャニス・マツムラ、サイモンフレイザー大学(カナダ)歴史学准教授

 

31.Tanya Maus, PhD, Director, Wilmington College Peace Resource Center, Wilmington, Ohio タニア・マウス、ウィルミントン大学(オハイオ州)平和資料センターディレクター

 

  1. David McNeill, Adjunct Professor, Sophia University デイビッド・マクニール、上智大学非常勤講師

 

  1. Gavan McCormack, Emeritus Professor, Australian National University ガバン・マコーマック、オーストラリア国立大学名誉教授

 

  1. Katherine Muzik, Ph.D., marine biologist, Kauai Island キャサリン・ミュージック、海洋生物学者(ハワイ・カウアイ島)

 

  1. Koichi Nakano, Professor, Sophia University 中野晃一、上智大学教授

 

  1. NAKANO Toshio, Professor Emeritus, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies中野敏男、社会理論・社会思想、東京外国語大学名誉教授

 

  1. Narusawa Muneo, Editor, Weekly Kinyobi, 成澤宗男、『週刊金曜日』編集部

 

  1. Satoko Oka Norimatsu, Editor, Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus 乗松聡子、『アジア太平洋ジャーナル:ジャパンフォーカス』エディター

 

  1. John Price, Professor of History, University of Victoria, Canada ジョン・プライス、ビクトリア大学(カナダ)歴史学教授

 

  1. Steve Rabson, Professor Emeritus, Brown University (U.S.A.) Veteran, United States Armyスティーブ・ラブソン、ブラウン大学(米国)名誉教授 米国陸軍退役軍人

 

  1. Sonia Ryang, Director, Chao Center for Asian Studies, Rice University ソニア・リャン、ライス大学(テキサス州)チャオ・アジア研究センターディレクター

 

  1. Daiyo Sawada, Emeritus Professor, University of Alberta ダイヨウ・サワダ、アルバータ大学名誉教授

 

  1. Mark Selden, Senior Research Associate, East Asia Program, Cornell University マーク・セルダン、コーネル大学東アジア研究プログラム上級研究員

 

  1. Oliver Stone, Academy Award-Winning Filmmaker オリバー・ストーン、アカデミー賞受賞映画監督

 

  1. Tetsuya Takahashi, Professor, University of Tokyo 高橋哲哉、東京大学教授

 

  1. Nobuyoshi Takashima, Professor Emeritus, the University of Ryukyus 高嶋伸欣、琉球大学名誉教授

 

  1. Akiko Takenaka, Associate Professor of Japanese History, University of Kentucky竹中晶子、ケンタッキー大学准教授

 

  1. Wesley Ueunten, Associate Professor, Asian American Studies Department, San Francisco State University ウェスリー・ウエウンテン、サンフランシスコ州立大学アジア・アメリカ研究学部准教授

 

  1. Aiko Utsumi, Professor Emeritus, Keisen University内海愛子、恵泉女学園大学名誉教授

 

  1. Shue Tuck Wong, Professor Emeritus, Simon Fraser University シュエ・タク・ウォング、サイモンフレーザー大学(カナダ)名誉教授

 

  1. Yi Wu, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Clemson University イー・ウー、クレムゾン大学社会学・人類学部助教授

 

  1. Tomomi Yamaguchi, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Montana State University 山口智美、モンタナ州立大学人類学准教授

 

  1. Lisa Yoneyama, Professor, University of Toronto リサ・ヨネヤマ、トロント大学教授

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why Okinawa Should Matter

12 Oct

 

[An earlier version of this post appeared in the Japanese publication, Ryukyu Shimpo. The article is devoted to a critical discussion of Okinawa’s role in serving American and Japanese strategic interests. Since the end of World War II Okinawa has been a mostly unhappy host of American military bases, and the issue has been prominent at times on the agenda of the Japanese peace movement. The interplay of overseas bases and U.S. foreign policy is a crucial and often hidden dimension of the global projection of American power, which gives rise to friction with and opposition from the peoples living in the vicinity of the bases. This has certainly been the case in relation to Okinawa. The essay below offers some reflections on this underlying reality, as well as the linkage between this network of foreign military bases and the emergence of the first global state in history, a new political phenomenon that should not be confused with ‘empires’ of the past.]

 

Remembering Okinawa

 

When President Barack Obama visited Hiroshima in May of 2016 there was an effort to persuade him to put Okinawa on his travel itinerary, but as has happened frequently throughout the long tortured history of Okinawa, the request was ignored, and the people of the island were once more disappointed. In an important sense, Okinawa is the most shameful legacy of Japan’s defeat in World War II, exceeding even the sites of the atomic attacks by its daily reminders of a continued colonialist encroachment on Okinawan national dignity and wellbeing.

 

Actually, Okinawa is being victimized by overlapping exploitations with that of the United States reinforced and legitimized by mainland Japan. For the United States Okinawa serves as a hub for its strategic military operations throughout the Pacific, with at least 14 separate military bases occupying about 20% of the island, with Kadena Air Base having been used for B-29 bombing missions during the Korean War more than a half century ago, the island being used as a major staging area throughout the Vietnam War and as a secret site for the deployment of as many as 1,000 nuclear warheads in defiance of Japanese declared no-nukes policy. Actually, in recent years Okinawa rarely receives global news coverage except when there occurs a sex crime by American servicemen that provokes local outrage, peaceful mass demonstrations followed by the strained apologies of local American military commanders.

 

Japan’s role in the misfortunes of Okinawa is more than one of a passive acceptance of the enduring side effects of its defeat and humiliation in World War II. After a series of military incursions, Japan finally conquered Okinawa and the Ryukyu island chain of which it is a part in 1879, and then imposed its rule in ways that suppressed the culture, traditions, and even the language of the native populations of the islands. What is virtually unknown in the West is that Okinawa was the scene of the culminating catastrophic land battle between the United States and Japan in the Spring of 1945 that resulted in the death of an astounding one-third of the island’s civilian population of then 300,000, and its subsequent harsh military administration by the United States for the next 27 years until the island was finally turned back to Japan in 1972. Despite an estimated 60-80% of Okinawans being opposed to the U.S. bases, confirmed by the recent election of an anti-bases governor of prefecture, the government in Tokyo, currently headed by a dangerous militarist, Shinzo Abe, is comfortable with the status quo, which allows most of the unpopular continuing American military presence to be centered outside of mainland Japan, and hence no longer a serious political irritant within the country.

 

What the plight of Okinawans exemplifies is the tragic ordeal of a small island society, which because of its small population and size, entrapment within Japan, and geopolitical significance, failed to be included in the decolonizing agenda that was pursued around the world with such success in the last half of the 20th century. This tragic fate that has befallen Okinawa and its people results from being a ‘colony’ in a post-colonial era. Its smallness of current population (1.4 million) combined with its enclosure within Japanese sovereign statehood and its role in pursuing the Asian strategic interests of the United States, as well as joint military operations with Japan make it captive of a militarized world order that refuses to acknowledge the supposedly inalienable right of self-determination, an entitlement of all peoples according to common Article 1 of both human rights covenants. In this respect Okinawa, from a global perspective, is a forgotten remnant of the colonial past, which means it is subjugated and irrelevant from the perspective of a state-centric world order. In this respect, it bears a kinship with such other forgotten peoples as those living in Kashmir, Chechnya, Xinjiang, Tibet, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Palau, Marianas Islands, among many others.

 

There are other ways of being forgotten. I have for many years been concerned about the Palestinian ordeal, another geopolitical and historical casualty of Euro-American priorities and the colonialist legacy. Here, too, the indigenous population of Palestine has endured decades of suffering, denials of basic rights, and a dynamic of victimization initiated a century ago when the British Foreign Office issued the Balfour Declaration pledging support to the world Zionist movement for the establishment of a Jewish Homeland in historic Palestine, later placed under the tutorial role of the United Kingdom with the formal blessings of the League of Nations until the end of World War II. Instead of Japan playing the intermediate role as in Okinawa, it is Israel that pursues its own interests and teams with the United States and Europe as a strategic partner to carry forward its shared geopolitical goals throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Of course, there are crucial differences. Japan is constrained as a partner by its postwar peace constitution, which Abe is keen to circumvent and dilute, while Israel has become a military powerhouse in the region, enjoying a special relationship with the United States that includes the incredible assurance by Washington of a military capability capable of defeating any foreseeable combination of Arab adversaries. Also, unlike Okinawa, there are no American military bases in Israel. There is no need for them. Israel acts as an American surrogate, and sometimes even vice versa. Yet the result is the same—force projection unconnected with self-defense, but vital for upholding regional strategic interests that involves maintaining a visible military presence and offering allies in the region credible promises of protection.

 

When we raise questions about the future of Okinawa, we come face to face with the role and responsibility of global civil society. The Palestinian goals appear to remain more ambitious than those of the Okinawans, although such an impression could be misleading. The Palestinian movement is centered upon realizing the right of self-determination, which means at the very least an end to occupation and a diplomacy that achieves a comprehensive, sustainable, and just peace. For Okinawans, long integrated into the Japanese state, earlier dreams of independence seem to have faded, and the focus of political energy is currently devoted to the anti-bases campaign. Taking moral globalization seriously means conceiving of citizenship as borderless with respect to space and time, an overall identity I have described elsewhere under the label ‘citizen pilgrim,’ someone on a life journey to build a better future by addressing the injustices of the present wherever encountered.

 

In this respect, acting as citizen pilgrims means giving attention to injustices that the world as a whole treats as invisible except when an awkward incident of lethal abuse occurs. Okinawa has been effectively swept under the dual rugs of statism (Okinawa is part of the sovereign state of Japan) and geopolitics (Okinawa offers the United States indispensable military bases), and even the mainly Japanese peace movement may have grown fatigued and distracted, being currently preoccupied with its opposition to the revival of Japanese militarism under Abe’s leadership. Whether attention to the plight of Okinawa will give rise to false hopes is a concern, but the aspiration is to produce an empowering recognition throughout the world that for some peoples the struggle against colonialism remains a present reality rather than a heroic memory that can be annually celebrated as an independence day holiday. Until we in the United States stand in active solidarity with such victims of colonialist governance we will never know whether more can be done to improve prospects of their emancipation. This awareness and allegiance is the very least that we can do if we are to act in the spirit of a citizen pilgrimage.

A Moral Revolution? Reflections on President Obama’s Visit to Hiroshima

5 Jun

There is no doubt that President Barack Obama’s visit to Hiroshima this May crossed some thresholds hitherto taboo. Above all the visit was properly heralded as the first time a sitting American president has dared such a pilgrimage, which has already been critically commented upon by patrioteers in America who still think that the Japanese deserved such a punishment for initiating the war or believed that only such ‘shock and awe’ could induce the Japenese to surrender without a costly invasion of the mainland. As well many in Asia believe that Obama by the visit is unwittingly letting Japan off the accountability hook for its seemingly unrepentant record of atrocities throughout Asia, especially given the perception that the current Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, is doing his conservative best to reinvigorate Japanese nationalism, and even revive imperial ambitions.

 

Obama is a gifted orator who excels in finding the right words for the occasion, and in Hiroshima his rhetoric soared once more. There he noted “[t]echnological progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us. The scientific revolution that led to the splitting of the atom requires a moral revolution as well.” Such stirring words would seem to be a call to action, especially when reinforced by a direct challenge: “..among nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them.” Obama at Prague in 2009, shortly after being sworn in as president, set forth an inspiring vision along the same lines, yet the small print there and now makes us wonder whether his heart and head are truly aligned. The words flow with grace and even passion, but where are the deeds?

 

As in Prague, Obama expressed the cautionary sentiment in Hiroshima that “[w]e may not realize this goal in my lifetime.” At which point Obama associates himself with the stabilizing agenda of arms control, reducing the size of the stockpile, making the weapons less obtainable by ‘fanatics,’ and implementing nonproliferation goals. Apparently, neither Obama nor the media take note of the tension between eliminating the weaponry and these proposals designed to stabilize the nuclear weapons environment by making it more reliably subject to prudent and rational policies of control. Yet at the same time making proposals to eliminate the weaponry seem less needed, and even at risk of threatening the stability so carefully constructed over the course of decades.

 

The real reason for skepticism about Obama’s approach is his unexplained reasons to defer the abolition of nuclear weaponry to the distant future. When Obama declares that a world without nuclear weapons is not likely to happen in his lifetime without telling us why he is changing his role from an advocate of the needed ‘moral revolution’ so as to achieve the desired political transformation to that of being a subtle endorser of the nuclear status quo. Of course, Obama may be right that negotiating nuclear disarmament will not be easy or quick, but what is the argument against trying, why defer indefinitely?

 

The global setting seems as favorable as it is likely to get. We live at a time when there are no fundamental cleavages among leading sovereign states, all of whom seek to benefit from a robust world economy and to live together without international wars. It would seem to be an overall situation in which dramatic innovations of benefit to the entire world would seem politically attractive. In such an atmosphere why could not Obama have said at Hiroshima, or seven years earlier at Prague, “that during the Cold War people dreamed of a world without nuclear weapons, but the tensions, distrust, and rivalry precluded a reliable disarming process, but now conditions are different. There are no good reasons not to convert dreams of a world without nuclear weapons into a carefully monitored and verified disarmament process, and there are many important reasons to try to do so.” What holds Obama back? Why does he not table a proposal or work with other nuclear governments to produce a realistic timetable to reach nuclear zero?

 

Worse than the seeming absence of what the great theologian, Paul Tillich, called ‘the courage to be’ is the worrisome evidence of double dealing—eloquent words spoken to warn us of the menace of nuclearism coupled with deeds that actually strengthen the hold of nuclearism on the human future. How else should we interpret by plans of the U.S. Government to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years for the modernization and further development of the existing nuclear weapons arsenal, including provocative plans to develop nuclear weapons with potential battlefield, as opposed to deterrent, missions? Such plans are provocative because they weaken inhibitions on use and tempt other governments to emulate the United States so as offset feared new vulnerabilities to threat and attack. What stands out is the concreteness of the deeds reinforcing the nuclear established order and the abstractness of the words challenging that same order.

 

Beyond this, while calling for a moral revolution, Obama seems at the same time to give his blessings to nuclear energy despite its profound moral shortcomings. Obama views nuclear energy as a contribution to reducing carbon emissions in relation to global warming concerns and as a way to sell nuclear technology abroad and at the same time satisfy the energy goals of countries, such as India, in the global South. What is not acknowledged by Obama is that this nuclear energy technology is extremely dangerous and on balance detrimental in many of the same ways as nuclear weapons, prone to accidents of the sort associated with the incidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima, subject to the hazards of accumulating and disposing of nuclear wastes, vulnerable to nuclear terrorism, and creating the technological capacity for the development of the weapons in a series of additional states.

 

Obama made a point of announcing before visiting Hiroshima that there would be no apology for the attacks by the United States. Clearly, Obama was unwilling to enter a domain that in America remains inflamed by antagonistic beliefs, interpretations, and priorities. There is a scholarly consensus that the war would have soon ended without an invasion or the atomic bomb, but this thesis continues to be challenged by veterans and others who think that the bomb saved American lives, or at minimum, ended the captivity of captured soldiers far sooner than would have been the case without the attacks.

 

In fairness, Obama did acknowledge the unspeakable tragedy for Japanese civilians that experienced the Hiroshima bomb, and he showed real empathy for survivors (hibakusha) who were there in the front rows when he spoke in Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park, but he held back from saying the use of the bomb was wrong, even the second bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Obama’s emphasis, instead, was on working together to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. In this sense, Obama was indirectly legitimating the impunity that was accorded to the victors after World War II, which contrasted with the punitive measures of accountability used to deal with the crimes committed by the surviving leaders of defeated Japan and Germany. The main value of an apology is to bring a degree of closure to those directly and indirectly victimized by those terrible, events that took place more than 70 years ago. By so doing the United States would have moved a bit closer to suspending its self-serving insistence on impunity and this would have withdrawn geopolitical legitimacy from the weaponry.

 

There is something disturbing about America’s unwillingness to live up to the full horror of its past actions even while making a never again pledge. In another recent development that is freighted with similar moral ambiguities, former Senator Bob Kerrey was named the first Chair of the Board of the new Fulbright Vietnam University, a laudable joint educational project of the two countries partly funded by the U.S. Congress, despite his apparent involvement in a shameful atrocity committed during the war. The incident occurred on February 25, 1969 in the village of Thang Phong where a unit of Navy SEALS was assigned the task of assassinating a Viet Cong leader believed to be in the vicinity. Instead of a military encounter, 20 civilians were killed, some brutally. 13 were children and one a pregnant woman.

 

Kerrey contends that the carnage was a result of mistakes, while both a fellow member of the SEALS squad and village residents say that the killing of the civilians was a result of deliberate actions, and not an accident in the darkness. Kerrey received a Bronze Star for the mission, which was reported falsely to his military superiors as resulted in killing 21 Viet Cong militants. What is almost worse, Kerrey kept silent about the incident for more than 30 years, and only spoke about it in public after learning there was about to be a published piece highly critical of his role. Kerrey now says “I have been haunted for 32 years” and explains, “It was not a military victory, it was a tragedy, and I had ordered it.” The weight of the evidence suggests that Kerrey participated as well as ordered the killings, and that although certainly a tragedy it is more properly acknowledged as a severe war crime amounting to an atrocity.

 

We can only imagine what would be the American or Chinese reaction if Japan sent to the United States or China a comparable person to provide an honorific link between the two countries. For instance, sending a Japanese officer to the U.S. who had cruelly administered a POW camp where Americans were held captive and tortured or sending to China a Japanese commander who had participated in some of the grisly happenings associated with ‘the rape of Nanking.’ It is good that Kerrey is finally contrite about his past role and appears to have been genuinely involved in promoting this goodwill encouragement of quality education in Vietnam, yet it seems unacceptably insensitive that he would be chosen to occupy such a position in an educational institution in Vietnam that is named after a prominent American senator who is particularly remembered for his efforts to bringing the Vietnam War to an end.

 

What connects these two seemingly distinct concerns is the steadfast refusal of the United States Government to take responsibility for its past crimes, which ensures that when future political pressures push toward immoral and unlawful behavior a similar disregard for minimal decency will be papered over. Obama’s refusal to consider accountability for the unabashed reliance on torture during the presidency of George W. Bush similarly whitewashes the past while unconvincingly promising to do better in the future. Such a pattern makes a mockery of claims made by Obama on behalf of the United States that unlike its adversaries this is a country that reveres the rule of law whenever it acts at home or abroad. From the pragmatic standpoint of governing America, in fairness, Obama never really had a choice. The political culture would have rebelled against holding the Bush administration accountable for its crime, which brings us closer to the truth of a double standard of suspending the applicability of international criminal law with respect to the policies and practices of the United States while championing individual legal responsibility for its adversaries as an expression of the evolution of moral standards in international life.

 

I believe that double standards has led Obama to put himself forward both as a visionary who seeks a transformed peaceful and just world and also as a geopolitical manager that accepts the job description of the presidency as upholding American global dominance by force as necessary. Now that Obama’s time in the White House is nearing its end we are better able to grasp the incompatibility of his embrace of these two roles, which sadly, and likely tragically, leads to the conclusion that the vision of a world without nuclear weapons was never meant to be more than empty words. What the peoples of the world need to discover over and over again is that the promising words flow easily from the lips of leaders have little significance unless supplemented by a robust movement from below that challenges those who are governing from above. As activists in the 1960s began to understand is that only when the body pushes against the machine will policies incline toward peace and justice, and we in the 21st century will have to rediscover this bit of political wisdom if hope for a nuclear free world is to become a genuine political project.

 

If more than rhetoric is attached to the call for a “moral revolution,” then the place to start would be to question, prior to abandoning, the mentality that is comfortable with double standards when it come to war making and criminal accountability. The whole idea of impunity for the victors and capital punishment for the losers is morally regressive. Both the Obama visit to Hiroshima, as significant as it was, and the Kerrey relationship to the Fulbright Vietnam University, show that American society, even at its best, is far from prepared to take part in the necessary moral revolution.

 

 

Jeopardizing Japanese ‘Abnormality’: Rejoining the War System

23 Sep

[Prefatory Note: The following post was originally published as an opinion piece in the leading Japanese newspaper, Asahi Shimbun, and appears here with their permission. The link to the Japanese version: http://digital.asahi.com/articles/DA3S11975719.htmlThere are two converging dangers of a new Cold War—one is confronting Russia in the Middle East and Central Asia and the other is confronting China in the South China Sea and elsewhere with a containment mentality within their own immediate sphere of operations. Washington’s encouragement of Prime Minister Abe’s campaign for a ‘normal’ Japan represents a regressive move regionally and globally, and deserves critical attention from a wider geopolitical perspective as well as from the viewpoint of Japan. It may in the end do more to limit the flexibility of the American approach to China than to free Japan from Article 9 constraints, a post-1945 ‘abnormality.’]

 

 

 

Commenting on the Japanese National Security Debate

 

At its peril, most of the world is ignoring the intense Japanese debate that surrounds the passage by the Diet of national security legislation that fulfills Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s vision of Japan’s proper role in the world of the 21st century. The core of the debate is about whether famous Article 9 of the Constitution can be interpreted to permit Japan to engage in collective defense arrangements around the world. Despite various prior tests of the outer limits of Article 9, and its seeming restriction of international force to territorial self-defense, the new legislation stakes out a far broader claim to engage militarily in a variety of situations around the world.

 

Most profoundly at issue is whether a changed national security environment resulting from issues involving nuclear weaponry, extremist non-state actors, and cyber warfare justify this more expansive approach to the use of force. Clearly, Abe’s belief that Japan’s national interests require an expanded role for force, and specifically the option to take part in overseas collective self-defense underlies the crafting of this new national security legislation.

 

There seems to be other issues at stake as well. The most salient of these is the continuing primacy of the United States in shaping of Japan’s security policy. It is ironic that it was U.S. occupation policy that initially demanded an anti-war clause in the new Japanese constitution, and even more ironic that the current prime minister announced his proposed policy reform with respect to collective self-defense on a state visit to the United States prior to informing the Japanese public. This posture long urged by the U.S. was welcomed by its Secretary of Defense as signaling a Japanese shift from a ‘local’ to a ‘global’ view of national security.

 

Most of the internal Japanese debate, pro and con, has been focused on the constitutional issues, especially on whether Article 9 can be interpreted in a manner that is compatible with collective self-defense and other features of the new security proposals. An informed consensus appears to be a resounding ‘no’ as expressed in expert testimony in the Diet and strong statements of opposition circulated among constitutional law professors in Japan. The effective LDP control of both houses of the Diet ensured from the outset that whatever the government proposed would be approved regardless of public opinion or constitutional objections. What seems clear is that legislative endorsement is only the first step in what is expected to be a lengthy battle in court to determine whether the ‘legalization’ of this contested interpretation of Article 9 survives judicial scrutiny.

 

There are more crucial issues at stake than raised by the legal controversy. Abe has previously argued that Article 9 was imposed on a defeated Japan when it was a helpless country without the capacity to form a national will of its own. In effect, his new approach, presented under the banner of making Japan a ‘Proactive Contributor to Peace’ is a bid to overcome the abnormal situation that existed in Japan after 1945. Flexibility for a sovereign government in defining its security priorities should not be, according to this kind of realist thinking, subject to arbitrary and rigid territorial restrictions that Article 9 has imposed. In effect, the new legislation is not militaristic at all, but a recovery of ‘normalcy,’ a restoration of full Japanese sovereignty in a manner enjoyed by other states.

 

This raises the deepest and most meaningful question: Was Japanese ‘abnormality’ a good or bad thing for the people of Japan and of the world? As someone with a commitment to peace and justice I long ago found the Article 9 approach taken by Japan inspirational, pointing the way toward making the international law of the UN Charter come to life, an example that could beneficially be followed by others, including in my wildest fantasies, by the United States itself. It is also encouraging that the Japanese public appears to agree with the positive contributions of Article 9, opinion polls indicating that a clear majority of the Japanese people oppose the new national security legislation and its implicit endorsement of collective self-defense. As is often the case, society is more peace-oriented than the elected leadership, and when party politics endows those in control of the government a capacity to defy the values and opinions of the citizenry, a crisis for democracy becomes embedded in what is put forward as a revision of security policy in light of changed circumstances.

 

The last question contained in such reflections is whether changed regional and international circumstances justify abandoning Article 9 and the peace mentality associated with it. Although Prime Minister Abe promises to carry forward Japan postwar tradition of ‘peace and prosperity’ this effort to normalize Japan is a deliberate policy rupture, especially when tied so indiscreetly to a more active geopolitical partnership with the United States. From my perspective, Japanese abnormality remains a most precious reality, a beacon pointing toward the kind of ‘new realism’ that the 21st century urgently requires.

The Nuclear Challenge (6): 70 Years After Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Fukushima and Beyond

30 Aug

 

The terrifying nuclear disaster of March 11, 2011 associated with the reactor meltdowns, hydrogen explosion, and release of radioactivity at the Fukushima Daiichi reactor complex was an anguishing complement to the awful collective memories of the Japanese people arising from the atomic attacks seven decades ago. We can only wonder about the lingering effects on the Japanese national psyche of being twice so severely victimized by the diabolical power of the atom?

 

Fukushima was an exemplary tragedy of this new century, exhibiting the destructive force of nature in lethal interaction with the Promethean embrace of nuclear technology, a gigantic earthquake causing oceanic fury in the form of a massive tsunami engulfing Fukushima and surrounding areas, and causing the terrible nuclear accident, with its long-lasting harmful effects. And it could have been worse. Had the winds been blowing in the direction of Tokyo as many as 30 million people would have been exposed to high density radiation, causing severe harm and immeasurably great anxieties as well as increasing the incidence of cancer, infant mortality, and genetic defects.

 

According to recent assessments, an estimated 2,000 persons died due to the disruptive effects of the accident among the 160,000 evacuated from Fukushima to avoid further exposure to the high radiation levels, occasioning an upsurge of suicides and a range of serious mental disorders, including many victims of Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder (PTSD) and thyroid cancer, fears of contaminated food, and projections of 5,000 eventual fatal cancers. [For details see Ian Fairlie, “Fukushima: Thousands Have Already Died: Thousands More Will Die,” Counterpunch, August 20, 2015] The economic damage resulting from these events, including the lengthy and costly cleanup, are estimated at between $300 and $500 billion. There was also evidence that the management of Fukushima Daiichi, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) bears significant responsibility for what has been called a ‘human-induced catastrophe’ due to ‘regulatory capture’ (the Japanese government adopting the corporate outlook rather than protecting the public) that produced corruption, collusion, and nepotism, which undermined compliance with safety standards. Whether these failures were responsible for causing the disaster, or more plausibly, the inability to contain the damage, remains contested.

 

Naoto Kan, the Japanese prime minister in 2011 reacted to the Fukushima by opposing any further reliance on nuclear power to meet Japanese energy needs.

Mikhail Gorbachev, who had been the Soviet leader at the time of the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in 1986, the only comparable event to Fukushima, also expressed his subsequent opposition to nuclear energy. Yet, the dominant official reactions in Japan are consistent with the presuppositions built into the political consciousness of modernity as shaped by neoliberal capitalism: no matter what, don’t depart from the path of capital efficiency; trust always in the self-corrective capacities of technology; and stress the social costs of alternatives, especially if small-scale, local, and capital non-intensive.

 

The current Japanese leadership under the conservative prime minister Shinzō Abe favors reopening nuclear plants in Japan, which had been shut down, as soon as they are approved as having adopted revised safety measures and procedures, and indeed announces plans to rely on nuclear power for 20-22% of the country’s energy needs by 2030. This policy is based on studies that conclude that nuclear power is cheaper than all other energy sources and ignores the opposition of the majority of the Japanese public to future reliance on nuclear power. As with decisions pertaining to nuclear weaponry, the determination of policy on nuclear power reflects the priorities of political and economic elites rather than the preferences of the affected society or the weight of morality and public opinion, not only in Japan, but worldwide, a gigantic gap in democratic political practice.

 

Prior to Fukushima there was a growing enthusiasm for nuclear power as a partial antidote to global warming. A widely publicized MIT/Harvard study in 2003 (“The Future of Nuclear Energy”) concluded that “the nuclear option should be retained precisely because it is an important carbon-free source of power.” This conclusion was reached after a decent interval had passed since the impact of the Chernobyl disaster, and memories of the American accident at Three Mile Island (1979) had faded, and supposedly improved safety procedures would were installed to ensure the avoidance of such future mishaps. Surrounding nuclear energy since its inception has been a variety of debates about whether the release of low-level radiation causes damage to human health. There are also serious economic and safety issues associated with the absence of any permanently reliable manner of disposing of nuclear waste, which has been accumulating over the years.

 

Further in the background is the linkage between the proclaimed benefits of nuclear energy as juxtaposed against the dangers associated with the existence of nuclear weapons. This distinction was central to the double bargain stuck in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (1970), as outlined in Article IV:

“1. Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty.

  1. All the Parties to the Treaty undertake to facilitate, and have the right to participate in, the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Parties to the Treaty in a position to do so shall also co-operate in contributing alone or together with other States or international organizations to the further development of the applications of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, especially in the territories of non-nuclear-weapon States Party to the Treaty, with due consideration for the needs of the developing areas of the world.”

 

In effect, the deceptive double bargain is this as operative in 2015: first, all but the nine weapons states are expected to forego nuclear weapons in exchange for one broken promise (Article VI’s obligatory commitment to seek nuclear disarmament along with a more ambitious outreach to general demilitarization) and secondly, a snare and delusion (Article IV as the sorcerer’s apprentice dangerously luring governments to seek and enjoys the benefits of nuclear energy without any appreciation or recognition of its ominous dark sides). As the recent diplomacy with Iran has memorably illustrated, this supposedly unrestricted availability and accessibility of nuclear power is manipulated by geopolitical forces. The justificiation for this manipulationis the unavoidable connections between the energy side of the nuclear equation and the weapons side. What is more apparent, and contrary to the language of Article IV, is the discriminatory ways in which access to supposedly peaceful uses of nuclear energy and its technology has been implemented. Countries such as Germany and Japan have long had the technologies and stockpiles of enrichment that Iran is prohibited from possessing.

 

Against this background, it would seem that several conclusions follow:

–for Japan, already disproportionately victimized by the onset of the nuclear age, seems to be imprudently and immorally ignoring the opposition of its own citizenry, and planning a future increased reliance on nuclear technology to meet its energy needs;

–one way of signaling a serious intention to shift from the existing managerial approach to nuclear weapons and nuclear power would be to phase out reliance on nuclear energy as Germany did unilaterally at considerable cost in reaction to Fukushima on the basis of enlightened self-interest;

–there seems to be no way that deep nuclear disarmament can occur as a result of international diplomacy without a parallel process that involves phasing out the nuclear energy option for all countries;

–the Article IV approach in the NPT context misleadingly posits nuclear energy, and related technology transfer, as a partial reward for renouncing the right to acquire nuclear weaponry rather tempting non-nuclear states to accept an additional high risk burden;

–there can be no persuasive and durable normative distinction drawn between the permissibility of nuclear power and impermissibility of nuclear weaponry; a convincing moral, political, and legal repudiation of nuclearism should encompass both the weaponry and the energy dimensions of nuclear capabilities .

Reviving My Blog After China

27 Sep

 

 

            After three weeks in China I have returned to the United States  yesterday before departing for Turkey and Rhodes later today. I mention this to explain my failure to post during this period or to comment or monitor comments on the blog. This failure was not due to a lack of access to the Internet or even finding time during a busy travel schedule. It was due to my lack of skill in circumventing what is known as ‘The Great Firewall of China’ that blocks entry to most blogs, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, as well as assorted other sites. Sophisticated Chinese know how to circumvent, and the authorities do not seem to mind, as the blockade is apparently intended to limit access on the part of ordinary Chinese. This is true of the Chinese media generally, which is highly regulated, especially TV, giving only officialviews, although the English language dailies, which are quite informative aremore objective, and do not read as propaganda.

 

            While in China the media was dominated by the intense Chinese reaction to the Japanese government decision to purchase the Daioyu Islands (called Senkaku Islands by Japan) from private Japanese owners, which was interpreted as a provocative step toward implementing Japanese disputed sovereignty claims. There were sustained, sometimes violent, demonstrations against the Japanese move in all major Chinese cities, interpreted by residents as events largely orchestrated by the Chinese Communist Party. At the same time there is an undercurrent of anti-Japanese resentment that is genuine, activating memories from the era of Japanese imperialism, which inflicted many harsh abuses on China. There seemed to occur anti-Japanese spontaneous acts throughout China in recent days that probably exceeded what the authorities in Beijing wanted, including attacks of Japanesecars, restaurants, and boycotts of products. Some Japanese business establishments flew Chinese flags or posted notices to show that they supported the Chinese position with respect to the islands. It is generally in believed that neither government wants the dispute to escalate further as it could severely harm, if it has not already done so, the extensive trade and investment relations between the two countries. It was a widely shared opinion that while the government took the lead in promoting the popular demonstrations, it might experience difficulty in containing this genie of anti-Japanese sentiment once in gained its freedom. Similarly, in Japan, nationalist sentiments in internal politics will complicate any diplomatic retreat by Tokyo.

 

            This was my third visit to China. The first in 1972 involved a delicate mission to escort three American pilots, shot down in the Vietnam War, from their prison cells in Hanoi to the United States. The pilots had been prisoners of war for varying lengths of time, and were released into my custody along with other ‘representatives of the American peace movement,’ William Sloan Coffin, Cora Weiss, and David Dellinger, on condition that they return to territorial United States in our custody. There was an express understanding that nay future prisoner release would be influenced by whether we could uphold this condition, which we took seriously. After their release, we spent another week in what was then North Vietnam, especially visiting various cities and villages that had experienced serious bomb damage. I was struck by the astonishing lack of bitterness on the Vietnamese side considering their extreme vulnerability to these high tech attacks. There was political sensitivity on all sides: the pilots were concerned that they might be denounced, or even prosecuted, as collaborators, the U.S. Government was worried at a time close to the presidential elections that these pilots could influentially criticize the war policies, China was concerned at a time shortly before the Nixon-Kissinger visit that Washington might cancel or defer this historic diplomatic breakthrough, and we were worried that we might be in trouble for engaging in ‘private diplomacy’ prohibited by an old and unused law. Actually none of these concerns materialized, but our ten days or so in China were very circumscribed partly because the authorities did not want to publicize their facilitative role, and it was the last throes of the Cultural Revolution, which was evident in the city of Wuhan where we were confined for a week while the remainder of the logistics of the trip were worked out. After a long journey via Beijing, Moscow, and Copenhagen we did manage to get these pilots back to Kennedy Airport in NYC where before deplaning they were, in effect, rearrested, this time by the U.S. Government, to avoid media contact under the pretext of the need for a ‘medical debriefing.’ Among those who boarded the plane was a Pentagon official who had studied at Princeton, and made a point of apologizing to me for this harsh welcome being given to these young Americans who had endured being shot down, Vietnamese imprisonment, and the uncertainties that awaited them at home. 

 

            My second visit in 1987 was comparatively low profile so far as media attention was concerned . I gave a few lectures in Beijing and Shanghai as part of an exchange program with Princeton, and my Chinese hosts arranged three weeks of travel throughout the country, which included a trip along the Yangtze River including the Three Gorges segment prior to the construction of major dams, Chunking, and Tibet; I did meet with the Deputy Foreign Minister of China who told me that if United States wanted positive relations with China it should show support for the remnants of the Khmer Rouge (in Cambodia) and stop encouraging resistance to the sovereign Chinese presence in Tibet. As a strong critic of the genocidal behavior of the Khmer Rouge and a supporter of Tibetan self-determination, I was somewhat surprised that a high Chinese official was naïve enough to suppose that I was a suitable conduit for such an unwelcome diplomatic communication. More satisfactory, by far, was a meeting of China’s Vietnam experts in Beijing that had been organized at my request. I had heard the Vietnamese side of the story as to why relations between the two supposed allies had so badly deteriorated after the American departure in 1975, and wanted to get a sense of how the Chinese portrayed the relationship. In essence, the Vietnamese claimed that China wanted the war to go on until ‘the last Vietnamese’ while the Chinese generally faulted Vietnam for being ‘ungrateful’ for extensive assistance at a time of economic hardship in China. While in China I was accompanied at all times by a Chinese ‘interpreter’ who monitored my agenda and became a friend; during our river travels he asked that I give him a daily lecture on international relations, which I gladly did; he later took a bold step and allowed us to meet some young fiction writers in Shanghai, departing from the approved agenda, which at that time, took a measure of personal courage. In China there was a sense of relief that the Cultural Revolution was over, and repudiated. There were few signs of the historic move to modernization, or receptivity to foreign capital, which were destined to revolutionize China in the following decades. Traffic in the big cities was almost exclusively by bicycle, with a few government cars and occasional taxis. I remember being in a taxi in Shanghai that had stopped at an intersection when it was struck by a cyclist who had fallen asleep. The taxi was immediately surrounded by an angry crowd, which dissipated only when it became clear that the accident was entirely the fault of the man on the bicycle.

 

            On this third trip China had become a different country!  The ‘New China’ had many extraordinary features, including the darks sides of rapid modernization—terrible pollution and traffic gridlock. On Nanjing Road in Shanghai, a shopping thoroughfare closed to cars, there were huge Western stores, including an Apple mega-store and many world class luxury shops. It was notable that many of these stores were rather empty, although the street outside was jammed with pedestrians. Modern China is an enigma in many ways. It still almost impossible for a foreigner to get along unless fluent in the language, and even difficult to do such routine things as go to a well known hotel or train station without a native speaker and guide. We had great difficulties going from the Shanghai train station where the fast train arrived and a large Marriot hotel in the city center. Many taxis refuse to take foreigners, and it takes great perseverance to find someone, usually a person under 25, who speaks some English. The fast train, traveling at speeds in excess of 185 mph, was comfortable, on time, an excellent way to get from Beijing to Stanghai, and a grim reminder that the U.S. enslaved to the auto industry, is a backward country when it comes to public transportation.

 

            There is much that could be said about this visit to China. I will write a separate post about a workshop and public meeting at Peking University and a quite extraordinary conference on religious traditions in China that took place in Dengfeng, China’s ancient capital and a UNESCO cultural heritage site since 2010.  At this point I will limit myself to a few reflections: there is taking place a serious effort to blend traditional Chinese culture and thought with the new China; few expect any change for the better politically within China over the course of the next ten years; there is great appreciation of American higher education and no hostility toward the United States (the Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, visited a few days ago and was greeted as a valued friend by Chinese leaders, who spoke of greater cooperation between the armed forces of the two countries), not much interest in the world outside of East Asia (although American popular culture is a definite exception, divided attitudes on the part of Chinese intellectuals toward Mao who remains the face of modern China (e.g. a massive portrait at the entry to the Forbidden City), blamed for the mistakes of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s but appreciated as the dominant revolutionary leader; a sense that there is a widening sphere of freedom of thought so long as the red lines of anti-state activism are not crossed, particularly in organized fashion; some realization that the rapid growth of recent years is unlikely to continue due to a mixture of internal and global reasons, especially rising labor costs and insufficient consumer demand; and a seeming rising dissatisfaction with the one-child policy.

 

            Despite all the qualifications and criticisms, what China has achieved for its people, and in a sense for the world, is remarkable, unsurpassed in human history. I remember attending an off-the-record briefing by the lead journalists (I recall Dan Rather, Eric Severeid, but there were others)who had accompanied Nixon to China in 1972 that was held for invited guests at the Plaza Hotel in NYC. I was seated at a table with several presidents of American airline companies who seemed as astonished as I was by what we were told.  The journalists formed a panel and took questions, and I remember, especially, the words of Severeid, which I paraphrase from memory: “We were scared to tell the American people how impressed we were by what we saw and experienced in China. We came away with the belief that China possessed a superior civilization.” Of course, China had been off limits to Westerners since the Communists took over in 1949, and American Cold War propaganda had been intense during the period of the Vietnam War. It is odd in light of later developments, including the war between China and Vietnam in the 1970s, that the U.S. Government believed that North Vietnam was essentially an extension of China, referring to the Vietnamese in official documents at the time as ‘ChiComs.’ So much for the great political understanding of the Washington cable-reading intelligence community!    

Learning from Disaster? After Sendai

15 Mar

Learning from Disaster? After Sendai

After atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki there was in the West, especially the United States, a short triumphal moment, crediting American science and military prowess with bringing victory over Japan and the avoidance of what was anticipated at the time to be a long and bloody conquest of the Japanese homeland. This official narrative of the devastating attacks on these Japanese cities has been contested by numerous reputable historians who argued that Japan had conveyed its readiness to surrender well before the bombs had been dropped, that the U.S. Government needed to launch the attacks to demonstrate to the Soviet Union that it had this super-weapon at its disposal, and that the attacks would help establish American supremacy in the Pacific without any need to share power with Moscow. But whatever historical interpretation is believed, the horror and indecency of the attacks is beyond controversy. This use of atomic bombs against defenseless densely populated cities remains the greatest single act of state terror in human history, and had it been committed by the losers in World War II surely the perpetrators would have been held criminally accountable and the weaponry forever prohibited. But history gives the winners in big wars considerable latitude to shape the future according to their own wishes, sometimes for the better, often for the worse.

Not only were these two cities of little military significance devastated beyond recognition, but additionally, inhabitants in a wide surrounding area were exposed to lethal doses of radioactivity causing for decades death, disease, acute anxiety, and birth defects. Beyond this, it was clear that such a technology would change the face of war and power, and would either be eliminated from the planet or others than the United States would insist on possession of the weaponry, and in fact, the five permanent member of the UN Security Council became the first five states to develop and possess nuclear weapons, and in later years, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea have developed nuclear warheads of their own. As well, the technology was constantly improved at great cost, allowing long-distance delivery of nuclear warheads by guided missiles and payloads hundreds times greater than those primitive bombs used against Japan.

After Hiroshima and Nagasaki there were widespread expressions of concern about the future issued by political leaders and an array of moral authority figures.  Statesmen in the West talked about the necessity of nuclear disarmament as the only alternative to a future war that would destroy industrial civilization. Scientists and others in society spoke in apocalyptic terms about the future. It was a mood of ‘utopia or else,’ and ‘on the beach,’  a sense that unless a new form of governance emerged rapidly there would be no way to avoid a catastrophic future for the human species and for the earth itself.

But what happened? The bellicose realists prevailed, warning of the distrust of ‘the other,’ insisting that it would be ‘better to be dead than red,’ and that nothing fundamental changed, that as in the past, only a balance of power could prevent war and catastrophe. The new name for balance in the nuclear age was ‘deterrence,’ and it evolved into an innovative, yet dangerous, semi-cooperative security posture that was given the formal doctrinal label of ‘mutual assured destruction.’ This reality was more popularly, and sanely, known by its expressive acronym, MAD, or sometimes this reality was identified as ‘a balance of terror,’ both a precursor of 9/11 language and a reminded that states have always been the supreme terrorist actors.  The main form of learning that took place after the disasters of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was to normalize the weaponry, banish the memories, hope for the best, and try to prevent other states from acquiring it. The same realists, perhaps most prominently, John Mearsheimer, have even gone so far as to give their thanks to nuclear weaponry as ‘keepers of the peace’ during the Cold War.  With some plausibility these nuclearists insisted that best explanation for why the Soviet Union-United States rivalry did not result in World War III was their shared fear of nuclear devastation.  Such nuclear complacency was again in evidence when in the 1990s after the Soviet Union collapsed, there was a refusal to propose at that time the elimination of nuclear weaponry, and there were reliable reports that the U.S. Government actually used its diplomatic leverage to discourage any Russian disarmament initiatives that might expose the embarrassing extent of this post-deterrence, post-Cold War American attachment to nuclearism. This attachment has persisted, enjoys wide and deep bipartisan support in the United States, is shared with the leadership and citizenry of the other nuclear weapons states to varying degrees, and is joined at the hip to an anti-proliferation regime that hypocritically treats most states (Israel was a notable exception, and India a partial one) that aspire to have nuclear weapons of their own as criminal outlaws subject to military intervention. The counter-proliferation geopolitical regime has been superimposed upon the legal regime, and currently being used to threaten and coerce Iran in a manner that violates fundamental postulates of international law and the UN Charter.

Here is the lesson that applies to the present: the shock of the atomic attacks wears off in a few years, is unequivocally superseded by a restoration of normalcy surrounding the role of hard power whether nuclear or not. Because of evolving technology, this meant creating the conditions for repetition of the potential use of such weaponry at greater magnitudes of death and destruction. Such a pattern is accentuated, as here, if the subject-matter of disaster is clouded by the politics of the day that obscured the gross immorality and criminality of the historical use of the weapon, that ignored the fact that there are governmental forces associated with the military establishment that seek maximal hard power as an unconditional goal, and overlooked the extent to which these professional militarists are reinforced by paid cadres of scientists, defense intellectuals, and bureaucrats who build careers around the weaponry. This structure is, in turn, strongly reinforced in various ways by private sector profit-making opportunities, including a globally influential corporatized media. These conditions also apply with even less restraint across, undergirding the dirty business of international arms sales. At least with nuclear weapons the main political actors are much more prudent in their relations with one another than was the case in the pre-nuclear era of international relations, and have a shared and high priority incentive to keep the weaponry from falling into hostile hands.

We should also take account of the incredible ‘Faustian Bargain’ sold to the non-nuclear world: give up a nuclear weapons option and in exchange get an unlimited ‘pass’ to the ‘benefits’ of nuclear energy, and besides, the nuclear weapons states, while furtively winking to one another when negotiating the notorious Nonproliferation Treaty (1963) promised in good faith to pursue nuclear disarmament, and indeed general and complete disarmament. Of course, the bad half of the bargain has been fulfilled, although selectively, even in the face of the dire experiences of Three Mile Island (1979) and Chernobyl (1986), while the good half of the bargain (getting rid of the weaponry) never gave rise to even halfhearted nuclear disarmament proposals and negotiations (and instead the world settled irresponsibly for managerial fixes from time to time, negotiated arrangements known as ‘arms control’ measures that were designed to stabilize the nuclear rivalry of the U.S. and Soviet Union (now Russia) in mutually beneficial ways relating to financial burdens and risks. Such a contention has been recently confirmed by the presidential commitment to devote an additional $80 billion for the development of nuclear weapons before the U.S.  Senate could be persuaded to ratify the New START Treaty in late 2010, the latest arms control ruse that was falsely promoted by Washington as a step toward disarmament and denuclearization. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with arms control, it may usefully reduce risks and costs under certain circumstances, but it is definitely not disarmament, and should not presented as if it is.

It is with this background in mind that the unfolding Japanese multidimensional mega-tragedy must be understood and its effects on future policy discussed in a preliminary manner. This extraordinary disaster originated in a natural event that was itself beyond human reckoning and control. An earthquake of unimaginable fury, measuring an unprecedented 9.0 on the Richter Scale, unleashing a deadly tsunami that reached a height of 30 feet, and swept inland in the Sendai area of northern Japan to an incredible distance up to 6 kilometers. It is still too early to count finally the number of the dead, the injured, the property damage, and the overall human costs, but we know enough by now to realize that the impact is already colossal, and will continue to grow, that this is a terrible happening that will be permanently seared into the collective imagination of humanity, perhaps the more so, because it is the most visually recorded epic occurrence in all of history, with real time video recordings of its catastrophic  ‘moments of truth’ and sensationalist media reportage, especially via TV.

But this natural disaster that has been responsible for massive human suffering has been compounded by its nuclear dimension, the full measure of which remains uncertain at this point, although generating a deepening foreboding that is perhaps magnified by calming reassurances by the corporate managers of nuclear power in Japan (Tokyo Electric Power Company or TEPCO) who already had many blemishes on their safety record, as well as by political leaders, including Prime Minister Naoto Kan who understandably wants to avoid causing the Japanese public to shift from its impressive posture of traumatized, yet composed, witnessing to one of outright panic. There is also a lack of credibility based, especially, on a long record of false reassurances and cover ups by the Japanese nuclear industry, hiding and minimizing the effects of a 2007 earthquake in Japan, and actually lying about the extent of damage to a reactor at that time and on other occasions. What we need to understand is that the vulnerabilities of modern industrial society accentuate vulnerabilities that arise from extreme events in nature. There is no doubt that the huge earthquake/tsunami constellation of forces was responsible for great damage and societal distress, but the overall impact has been geometrically increased by this buying into the Faustian Bargain of nuclear energy, whose risks, if objectively assessed, were widely known for many years, yet effectively put to one side. It is the greedy profit-seekers, who minimize and suppress these risks, whether in the Gulf of Mexico or Fukushima or on Wall Street, and then scurry madly at the time of disaster to shift responsibilities to the victims that make me tremble as I contemplate the human future. These predatory forces are made more formidable because they have cajoled most politicians into complicity and have many allies in the media that overwhelm the publics of the world with steady doses of misinformation and tranquilizing promises of greater future care and protestations of societal need.

The reality of current nuclear dangers in Japan are far stronger than these words of reassurance that claim the risks to health are minimal because the radioactivity can even now be contained to avoid dangerous levels of contamination, although the latest reports indicate that already in nearby regions milk and spinach have tested as containing radiation above safe levels. A more trustworthy measure of the perceived rising dangers can be gathered from the continual official expansions of the evacuation zone around the six Fukushima Daiichi reactors from 3 km to 10 km, and more recently to 18 km, and more, coupled with the instructions to everyone caught in the region to stay indoors indefinitely, with windows and doors sealed. We can hope and pray that the four explosions that have so far taken place in the Fukushima Daiichi complex of reactors will not lead to further explosions or fires, and that a full meltdown in one or more of the reactors will not occur. Even without a meltdown the near certain venting of highly toxic radioactive steam to prevent unmanageable pressure from building up due to the boiling water in the reactor cores and spent fuel rods is likely to spread risks and harmful effects.  It is a policy dilemma that has become a living nightmare: either allow the heat to rise and confront the high probability of reactor meltdowns or vent the steam and subject large numbers of persons in the vicinity and beyond to radioactivity, especially should the wind shift southwards carrying the steam toward Tokyo or westward toward northern Japan or Korea.  In reactors 1, 2, and 3 are at risk of meltdowns, while with the shutdown reactors 4,5, and 6 pose the threat of fire releasing radioactive steam from the spent fuel rods.

We know that throughout Asia alone some 500 new reactors are either being built or have been planned and approved in the pre-Fukushima mood of energy worries, with as many as 150 destined for China alone. We know that nuclear power has been touted in the last several years as a major source of energy that is needed to deal with future energy requirements, a way of overcoming the challenge of ‘peak oil’ and of combating global warming by some decrease in carbon emissions. We know that the nuclear industry will contend that it knows how to build safe reactors in the future that will withstand even such ‘impossible’ events that have wrought such havoc in the Sendai region of Japan, while at the same time lobbying for insurance schemes to avoid such risks. Some critics of nuclear energy facilities in Japan and elsewhere had warned that these Fukushima reactors some built more than 40 years ago had become accident-prone and should no longer have been kept operational. Similar reactors are still operating around the world, including in the United States, with several near earthquake zones and close to large cities.And we know that governments will be under great pressure to renew the Faustian Bargain despite what should have been clear from the moment the bombs fell in 1945: This technology is far too unforgiving and lethal to be managed safely over time by human institutions, even if they were operated responsibly, which they are not. It is folly to persist, but it is foolhardy to expect the elites of the world to change course, despite this dramatic delivery of vivid reminders of human fallibility and culpability. We cannot hope to control the savageries of nature, although even these are being intensified by our refusal to take responsible steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but we can, if the will existed, learn to live within prudent limits even if this comes to mean a less materially abundant and an altered and less consumerist life style. The failure to take seriously the precautionary principle as a guide to social planning is a gathering dark cloud menacing all of our futures. Some specialists, including Amory Lovins and Jeremy Rifkin have argued that a blend of conservation, energy efficiency, and safe energy sources would satisfy the energy cravings of modern society without life style adjustments. Others, including Thomas Homer-Dixon, advocate the development of new major energy sources, in his case, deep geothermal drilling to tap into the heated core deep below the surface of the earth. [Globe and Mail, March 17, 2011, Canada]

Let us fervently hope that this Sendai disaster will not take further turns for the worse, but that the warnings already embedded in such happenings, will awaken enough people to the dangers on this path of hyper-modernity so that a politics of limits can arise to challenge the prevailing politics of limitless growth and consumerist profligacy. Such a challenge must include the repudiation of a neoliberal worldview, insisting without compromise on an economics and a human-centered vision of development based on needs and people rather than on profit margins, capital efficiency, and macro-economic indicators. Advocacy of such a course is admittedly a long shot, but so is the deadly collectivized utopian realism of staying on the nuclear course, whether it be with weapons or reactors. This is what Sendai should teach all of us!  But will it?

III..15…2011 (updated III..20…2011)