Tag Archives: japan

There shall be no next war

TW: nuclear war, colonialism

“[T]here shall be no next war” is what President Truman remarked 71 years ago to the day. He announced that publicly after having approved a second nuclear strike against Japan. He was motivated by leaked Japanese intelligence suggesting they were unlikely to agree to unconditional surrender in the nightmarish aftermath of Hiroshima on August 6th.

History makes a mockery of that sentiment, of course, as Truman used that speech to lay the groundwork for a US military presence around the world that has remained to this day. That is a presence that exacerbated Cold War tensions and ignited several proxy conflicts. It is a presence that today has morphed into the bulwark against terrorism and other inheritors of the not-so-long-lived forever war against communism. They are among the bases from which drones today take off and at which they land, having done their deadly work in unmanned skies.

In many ways, the US has seen nothing but war after Truman’s pronouncement.

800px-Nagasaki_1945_-_Before_and_after_(adjusted)(Nagasaki, Japan – before and after nuclear bombing.)

To attribute this militarization of the US to that single decision by Truman – to use nuclear weapons to force a total, complete, and unconditional surrender by Japan – is to inflate it unrealistically. But, still, it seems a notable stop along our way into the modern situation. This was the beginning of the presidency as a position that has a finger eternally perched on top of a button labeled “end the world.”

It was already pushed once with no adequate justification – 71 years ago today. Hiroshima, of course, only has paper thin excuses, of ignorance, of the heat of battle, of the seeping paranoia of a rising Soviet Union. But what happened 71 years ago today, in Nagasaki, followed the tearing down of all of those weak claims. The president by that time had the information key to understanding the pointless inhumanity of nuclear strikes, yet strike he did.

The risk the world faces in November is not our arsenal falling into unwise hands, but it returning to them. We have been here before, and tens of thousands of civilians died in one of the worst ways imaginable.

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Study, mourn, and respond

TW: abortion, sexism, racism, islamophobia, police violence, gun violence

It seems like there’s violence and intimidation cropping up in almost every corner of public life in the United States. This past week, most media coverage and most of my writing on here has focused on the parsing Donald Trump’s language and politics. Today, let me link you to a few examinations and responses to that that were all too easy to overlook this past week.

Anti-abortion violence has crept across the US

UltraViolet came out with a new graphic showing the steady background noise that violence against abortion providers has become in this country. It ticks through the attacks on clinics that have happened in the past ten years, which reveal them to be periodic occurrences, a part of normal life for those working at them.


The image was created within a broader push for greater security at those and related locations, given a sense of urgency after the recent attack in Colorado Springs.

Japan: not quite your islamophobic ally

Originally posted by an NRA administrator but quickly picked up by a variety of conservative media figures, a graphic praising Japanese restrictions on Muslims’ freedom of movement and economic activities has gone viral overnight.

GlobalVoices has a great rundown of how critics from vloggers to Japanese public officials have debunked basically every bullet point it lists, but I suspect that’s not really the point. It’s something of a perfect collision of an overwhelming paranoia of Muslims and an exotifying and isolating view of parts of Asia (chiefly Japan) – the legal, social, and economic realities built by and for members of either of those groups aren’t really relevant to the racist revulsion and fascination now on full display.

The public memorial

In the wake of the many recent violent incidents and prominent calls for more violence, something like a memorial, a place for people to gather in mourning and to commit themselves to peace instead, has a lot of appeal.

A group of organizations, most of them multi-issue but growing out labor organization, have created something like an online version of that. It opens asking “Is this America?” before criticizing the violence against abortion providers, police violence towards Black people, and islamophobic and racist rhetoric. It ends with an affirmation that “We are better than this.”

If that fails to move you, you can continue scrolling, past the organizations and leaders who wrote this statement and into the thicket of average citizen signatories. You are not alone in wanting something better.

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The conflict’s rough edges

TW: racism, Japanese imperialism

The slow boil of tensions in East Asia, primarily between Japan and countries it has occupied or continues to, shouldn’t surprise anyone. The most recent trading of insults was prompted by the use of the Rising Sun flag by Japanese people in celebrating a victory over Korea in a sports match. One Korean comedian responded in kind to the use of what’s seen as the emblem of Japanese imperialism and occupation by making jokes about radioactive contamination of foods from the areas surrounding Fukushima.

(Kwak Beom responding to Japanese officials somewhat apologetic statements with the “gift” of cherries from the Fukushima area, from here.)

It’s fairly easy to read these conflicts in a certain way – as countries essentially trash talking each other, and a bit of cruelty that wasn’t meant to harm anyone. Looking at how the increasing prominence of the Rising Sun flag in Japan has been part of a years-long effort by extremist nationalists to become more public and more accepted in spite of their appeals to violence, however, shatters that presentation common in English media. For instance, here’s the daughter of one of the leaders of the Japanese Zaitokukai, one of the largest ultranationalist organizations, calling for people of Korean descent to leave the country or be killed:

This image of these sorts of conflicts as existing between neatly segregated populations is inaccurate. Rather, the growing use of the original Japanese flag has played a role in decades of anti-Korean violent organization, including campaigns to fingerprint people of Korean descent en masse. As many people of Korean descent have not accepted Japanese citizenship (which comes with expectations of assimilation) and have neither citizenship to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or the Republic of Korea, since their ancestors immigrated or were forced to relocate to Japan prior to either of those states’ existence, they are essentially a stateless population who are vulnerable to the recent increase in racially-imbued nationalism in Japan.

In shot, these long-standing tensions are not mutual aggression from afar but complicated by the at times overwhelmingly complex entangling of Japanese and Korean populations.

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What have we learned?

TW: war crimes, Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, Iraq war

Yesterday was the sixty-eighth anniversary of the US military’s detonation of the nuclear weapon “Little Boy” over the Japanese city of Hiroshima and this Friday will be the same for the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki with “Fat Man”. Together, those two attacks, which are the only uses of nuclear weapons in the history of human conflict, are variously estimated to have potentially killed as many as 246,000 people, which approaches the estimates for the total population of Nagasaki prior to the bombing.

(White doves were released at the memorial in Hiroshima, Japan, this year, from here.)

This November will mark the eighth anniversary of the US military unintentionally admitting to illegally using White phosphorus as a napalm-like incendiary during the Iraq War (specifically the siege of Fallujah). Sixty years and a few months separate those incidents, but the chilling modus operandi of the US military in Iraq suggests that virtually nothing was learned from our actions in Japan.

I think this week should serve as a time of meditation on that distressing fact.

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The state remains king

TW: gun violence

As the United States is gripping for another round of debates on whether the state can actually enforce gun laws, it’s worth looking to the rest of the world to check the American skepticism about the state’s potency is necessarily a universal problem. Luckily, the events of the past week are a pretty resounding counterpoint to the idea of laws being option and states being delicate creatures.

In Japan, the recent election handed the Liberal Democratic Party near total control of the government, ostensibly in response to the party’s tough talk concerning Japan’s mineral rights to the Senkaku Islands (known as the Diaoyu Islands in Chinese), as well as similar border disputes with South Korea. The Japanese state is clearly a major player, as a national conversation begins on whether and how to expand nuclear power capabilities (or “nuclear power” capabilities?) and augment the power and size of the military-esque defensive forces Japan is constitutionally permitted to have. Even having lost an empire, an actual military, and the right to preemptively declare war, Japan is a force in the region.

(The Senkaku and Diaoyu Islands are not only strategically located, but thought to have oil or gas reserves trapped beneath them and conveniently lack an indigenous population. Originally from here.)

In the recent Ghanaian election, which I’ve discussed before, the primary policy-focused difference between the mainstream presidential candidates concerned how to direct the state’s resources, not whether the state should direct them. Incumbent President John Mahama argued for recent windfalls from oil exports to be put to use in infrastructural development, while challenger Nana Akufo-Addo called for the primary focus of state-led investment to be in education. There are clear trade-offs involved. Education spending will more likely to be available to urban-dwelling Ghanaians, to say nothing of the class politics of forcing children to potentially choose between their livelihoods and their education. On the other hand, infrastructure typically translates into lucrative contracts for the well connected, but a product that’s often useful to a wider group of the population. In total, 97 percent of the population voted for either of these candidates, as part of the election became a referendum on the particulars of state involvement in the economy, not the concept itself.

Earlier today, the UN War Crimes Court acquitted militant leader Mathieu Ngudjolo, who participated in violent anti-state activities in the northeastern areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) almost a decade ago. So, while the DRC has been considered incredibly impotent in putting down the almost constant state of revolution in that portion of its territory, it successfully detained one of the premier leaders of an earlier uprising and maintained at least partial control over the region. In contrast, the sub-state actors, like Ngudjolo, who are sometimes referred to as warlords, have never been able to establish even de facto independence for very long even in the unstable corner of one of the most defunct states. To top it off, the non-state entity of the United Nations can’t even persuade its own judges that a warlord is guilty of war crimes. Even one of the least stable states in the world has come out ahead of everyone else in this situation.

Even the DRC can outfox armed gun men, but the US has paralyzed itself into believing its own laws can’t be enforced.

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Billions of people aren’t enough leverage?

The Hindu recently published a rather interesting opinion piece on Chinese foreign policy, that looked over the history of how China has annoyed almost every neighboring country in the past couple of decades, and consequently is feeling a little lonesome. While India is one of those countries, as the two have previously come to blows over a border dispute, a number of different international factors is driving the two to look past those squabbles and focus on the need for joint international action on various issues. Chief among those reasons to unite forces would be climate change.

But the fact that China and India must tactically coordinate in order to influence international policy actually leads to only further questions. Both nations are by far the largest single-state portions of the global population, and the coming decade China is predicted to outpace the United States as the world’s largest economy. While both superstates have per capita wealth that’s dwarfed by the US, Canada, Australia, and much of Western Europe, there’s clearly indications that their economies are actually more stable and in a sense more robust than those of “more developed” countries.

In spite of this, India or China acting independently on the issue of climate change would apparently get nowhere. There’s two potential explanations for that. For one, as individual countries they’re in such completely unique positions that their political views, while influential, fails to connect with the interests of others. Alternatively, their needs are at least somewhat similar to not only each other but many other countries. In spite of that, even when working collectively, their capacity to influence world affairs is disproportionately small. It seems as though both are highly plausible arguments.

For one, a frequently used socio-economic category for countries used since the fall of the Soviet Union and disintegration of the idea of a capitalist first world, socialist second world, and unaligned third world, has been that of BRICS. The steadily more democratic Brazil, ostensibly more open Russia, developing India, increasingly Western-friendly China, and post-apartheid South Africa represented to many analysts a confusing and new national category in the changed global landscape. They were unified by recent indications of growing prosperity and bright political futures in spite of past histories of violent repression and extensive concentration of wealth in a small elite. Likewise, they were all populous regional powers that contained diverse religious and ethnic groups. Occasionally, Mexico and Indonesia would be included within the category as similarly emergent powers.

(The BRICS countries, from here. They contain for approximately 2.9 billion people. If Indonesia and Mexico are included in the same category, they account for 3.3 billion people.)

As negotiations over the original Kyoto Treaty began to become more urgent in the late 1990s and early 2000s, they successfully pushed for the exemption of “less developed countries” (which included all of their categorical members except Russia) from stipulated cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. The economic development of the poorest countries in the world, which to some extent still included the BRICS countries, was understood as an acceptable alternative to stricter environmental protections (especially since most of the historical emissions had been produced in wealthy developed countries).

That said, the classification of Russia as a developed country has led to it pushing for policies more in line with those proposed by Japan, the US, and Canada, rather than India or China. As Al Jazeera’s coverage of the discussions shows, the EU is essentially the lone voice within the “developed world” in even entertaining the idea of a second or additional periods of proposed cuts. India and China have disagreements between each other, and with the coalition of the poorest and most flood-prone countries, but have the beginnings of a consensus among “less developed” countries. The positions of South Africa and Brazil are unmentioned, but it’s unclear why they would disagree with those other nations.

Even assuming that the positions of India and China are unacceptable to their fellow BRICS-type countries, inadequately strict for the most vulnerable nations, and anathema for the developed world aside from the EU, those three collectively are 3 billion people of the planet’s 7 billion. Surely, a few additional millions can be found in places too poor to be considered “developed” and too secure from rising tides to be considered among the most at-risk. Reaching a plurality if not a majority of the world’s population in terms of signatory states to a new treaty is not some unthinkable prospect. But it’s still treated as a long-shot.

The only explanation is that not all countries’ votes count for as much. The treaties are non-binding and there’s not really any clear context for punitive measures for refusing to sign on. So the majority of the population of the “developed” world can burn what we want without a care, even if we number a noticeably minor portion of the world’s people. The oil-rich gulf states (another tiny minority) seem to gladly agree to our right to do that, since they can turn a tidy profit from it.

Not only does climate change spell out a future where your race and class within wealthier countries may determine your security, but the same factors play out across the entire globe. And China and India might be better situated than other nations, but their voices are still devalued in the current debate, even if their nations represent a third of the world.

Edit: I apologize for erroneously calling China the world’s current largest economy in the original published version of this article. I was confused by misleading representations of this argument, that China may have a much larger GDP than largely believed.

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