The Laying Of The Wreath And All That It Means

John Hudson at The Atlantic with a round-up. Hudson:

For the first time ever, a U.S. delegation will attend Japan’s annual memorial commemorating America’s atomic bombing of Hiroshima. U.S. Ambassador John Roos is expected to lay a wreath at the memorial in remembrance of the bomb victims. While the appearance could hold political risks for the Obama administration, it could also strengthen U.S.-Japan relations.

Interestingly, President Obama’s latest gesture isn’t stirring much outrage among hawkish foreign-policy writers. Instead, what has emerged is a discussion about Japan’s need for a more honest assessment of World War II

Kenzaburo Oe at NYT:

At the annual Hiroshima Peace Ceremony on Friday, this year marking the 65th anniversary of the dropping of the atom bomb, representatives from Britain, France and the United States planned to be in attendance, for the first time. This is a public event at which government leaders give speeches, but it also has a more profound and private aspect, as the atomic bomb survivors offer ritual consolation to the spirits of their dead relatives. Of all the official events that have been created during the past 200 years of modernization, the peace ceremony has the greatest degree of moral seriousness.

I’m using the term “moral seriousness” deliberately here, to echo a passage in the speech President Obama delivered in Prague in April 2009. “As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon,” he said, “the United States has a moral responsibility to act.” The president’s call is yet another indication that a sense of crisis is germinating, fueled by a growing awareness that if decisive steps are not taken, before long the possession of nuclear weapons will not be limited to a few privileged countries.

Mr. Obama’s Prague speech reflected the sentiments expressed previously by George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn in a 2007 article for The Wall Street Journal titled “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons.” They wrote: “Deterrence continues to be a relevant consideration for many states with regard to threats from other states. But reliance on nuclear weapons for this purpose is becoming increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective.”

The antinuclear mood in America and Europe appears to be gaining momentum; indeed, the American, British and French presence at the peace ceremony may be seen as a small symbolic step toward a nuclear-free world. However, as things stand now, Japan still has no concrete plan for moving the air base. In the same vein, there’s the possibility that we will allow nuclear weapons to pass through Japan in exchange for American protection.

At a meeting of the United Nations Security Council before he was deposed, Prime Minister Hatoyama responded to Mr. Obama’s Prague speech by noting that Japan, too, had a “moral responsibility” because it was “the only victim of nuclear bombings.”

But what sort of action will result from all this antinuclear rhetoric? If Prime Minister Kan also takes the time to think about President Obama’s phrase, how might he interpret it? It probably wouldn’t go over very well if, in his speech at the peace ceremony, he were to side with the crowd advocating transport of nuclear weapons through Japan.

But suppose he did — how would such a declaration be received by the foreign dignitaries who have allied themselves with Mr. Obama’s pledge? And what about the bombing victims who will fill the venue? Wouldn’t they feel a sense of outrage if they were told that it’s their moral responsibility, as citizens of the only atom-bombed country, to choose to live under the protection of a nuclear umbrella, and that wanting to discard that umbrella in favor of freedom is, conversely, an abdication of responsibility?

James Gibney at The Atlantic on Oe:

The annual anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6th inevitably prompts an outpouring of a lot of well-meaning pablum. One bracing, eloquent exception to that is novelist Kenzaburo Oe’s column on yesterday’s New York Times op-ed page.

Ignore Oe’s spluttering about the current imbroglio over the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Okinawa. Although it ought to be moved, and although there’s no excuse or serious strategic rationale for why Okinawa needs to keep “hosting” the bulk of U.S. forces in Japan, those debates are tangential to Oe’s larger point: that many Japanese seem to want to live under the righteous penumbra of the Hiroshima dome AND enjoy the protection of the U.S. nuclear umbrella. Discussing how atom bomb survivors might view a decision by Japan to allow the transit of U.S. nuclear weapons through its territory, Oe writes:

Wouldn’t they feel a sense of outrage if they were told that it’s their moral responsibility, as citizens of the only atom-bombed country, to choose to live under the protection of a nuclear umbrella, and that wanting to discard that umbrella in favor of freedom is, conversely, an abdication of responsibility?

I doubt Mr. Oe and I would agree with each other on either the decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima and the desirability of a truly nuclear-free world. But his insight provides the basis for a more honest discussion about Japan’s claims to moral privilege and its strategic future.
Warren Kozak at The Wall Street Journal

Jonathan Tobin at Commentary:

In theory, there ought to be nothing wrong with an American representative appearing in Hiroshima. Mourning the loss of so many lives in the bombing is both understandable and appropriate. But the problem lies in the way Japan remembers World War II. One of the reasons why it would have been appropriate for the United States to avoid its official presence at this ceremony is that the Japanese have never taken full responsibility for their own conduct during the war that the Hiroshima bombing helped end. Indeed, to listen to the Japanese, their involvement in the war sounds limited to the incineration of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the fire bombings of many other urban centers in the country, followed by a humiliating American occupation. The horror of the two nuclear bombs didn’t just wipe out two cities and force Japan’s government to finally bow to the inevitable and surrender. For 65 years it has served as a magic event that has erased from the collective memory of the Japanese people the vicious aggression and countless war crimes committed against not only the Allied powers but also the peoples of Asia who fell under their cruel rule in the 1930s and 1940s. The bombing of Hiroshima was horrible, but it ought not, as it has for all these years, to serve as an excuse for the Japanese people to forget the crimes their government and armed forces committed throughout their empire during the years that preceded the dropping of the first nuclear bomb.

Richard Fernandez at Pajamas Media:

As the New York Times remembers Hiroshima, try this quiz. Name the two greatest losses of civilian life in the Pacific war. Hint. In both cases the civilian casualties were greater than Hiroshima’s. In one case the event took place on American soil.

Casualties

Hiroshima 70,000–80,000

Battle of Manila 100,000
Nanjing 300,000

[...]

Hiroshima, Manila and Nanjing are tragic in their own ways. But one tragedy that continues even to this day is the selective memory in the capitals of nations who the inhabitants of Manila and Nanjing once called their Allies.  Bravery and sacrifice is fine; but politics is finer. Hiroshima is remembered not only because of the suffering and loss that took place there but because it renews an ongoing narrative, and those Japanese dead can still march in its cause. Manila and Nanjing, which hold the graves of nearly 400,000 people who once fought on the side of the democracies, are forgotten.  But that is no matter. After the first death, there is no other.

Bruce McQuain:

The Japanese people supported the war, cheered the victories and reveled in the spoils it brought. They were brutal and murderous conquerers. And they refused to surrender.After the first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the Japanese war cabinet of 6 split in their vote, refusing to surrender. After Nagasaki, they still refused to surrender until, in an unprecedented move, the Emperor intervened and essentially ordered them to do so.

If those who survived the atomic bombings at Hiroshima feel “outrage”, they should look in the mirror. They enabled and supported a regime that “outraged” the world. They cheered and shared in the spoils of a war they started which devastated much of Asia. They supported a brutal, murderous and criminal militaristic war machine that raped and murdered at will. If anyone should be “outraged”, it is those who suffered under the horrific but thankfully short Japanese rule of that time. If anyone should be apologizing yearly, it is the Japanese.

Well, for a time I organized my World Politics classes around case study analysis, and I used Carolyn Rhodes’, Pivotal Decisions: Select Cases In Twentieth Century International Politics. One of the best chapters is “The Decision to Drop the Bomb on Japan.” A lot of students were overwhelmed by the case studies, and I imagine that’s because Rhodes’ cases were extremely in-depth and rigorous, and thus required more advanced training than many entry-level students possessed. That said, there were some beefy discussions. I can remember at least one student — and a couple of others to a lesser degree — who basically broke down during the discussion of whether the U.S. should have used nuclear weapons to end the war. I mean, really, the discussions were almost traumatizing for some. So while the article above notes that the Japanese are perhaps the world’s most pacifist people, especially with regards to nuclear weapons, some the post-’60s cohorts of neo-socialist youth have internalized tremendously strong feelings about this as well. Of course, I don’t think such ideological sentiment leads to rigorous thinking, but at least those views are deeply held.
About these ads

Leave a comment

Filed under Foreign Affairs, History

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s