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難忘的兩城核轟炸

The most unforgettable tale of two cities

--This week marks the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Tom Plate

I find it distinctly irritating when columnists descend to the self-infatuation of quoting themselves. So, my apologies right from the start:

In my first book Understanding Doomsday (1971) I wrote: "The moment the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world entered what has been called the nuclear age. Yet, except for those two blinding moments in August 1945, doomsday has remained within the confines of man’s imagination. On the actual battlefields of the postwar era have raged guerrilla, revolutionary, civil and even generational war – but not, at least as yet, nuclear war."
 
This week, on Aug. 6, Japan will note the 60th anniversary of the only tragic occasion in which nuclear bombs were actually used. The occasion will be noteworthy less as a celebration (that no nukes have been used in war since) than as a rumination -- the point being that we still live in an unsteady era when two nations have too many nukes (the U.S. and Russia), more than a handful of nations have at least a handful (including, possibly, North Korea) and who knows how many -- or, if any -- terrorists have the materials, blueprints and fissionable material to put one together and set it off.

In short, it is a tragedy that the world still needs to understand the possibility of doomsday. A quartet of homemade bombs going off in a municipal transit system is -- I am sorry to say -- a light sprinkle to the utter typhoon of a nuclear weapon exploding in a city, whether conveyed by a cheap suitcase or expensive ballistic missiles.

For this reason, it seems to me, the world owes a measure of debt to the Japanese who "celebrate" the six-decade anniversary of the first use of nuclear weapons by not only refusing to possess a single one themselves but also vehemently forswearing the ambition to acquire them.

It is to its credit that the Japanese electorate remains, on the whole, deeply pacifist, notwithstanding the occasional politician-demagogue or right-wing nut-case popping up to mar the anti-nuclear consensus. As Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura recently put it, "As the only country to have ever suffered nuclear devastation, Japan firmly maintains the Three Non-Nuclear Principles -- not possessing, not producing and not permitting the introduction of nuclear weapons into Japan." To this I say: Bravo.

One must find it extremely telling that sixty years since a B-29 Superfortress bobbed over Hiroshima, opened its bomb bay and deposited an atomic bomb with a 60 kg (130 pounds) core of uranium-235 on the metropolis below, Japan -- second only to the United States in technological prowess -- remains a lead exemplar of the anti-nuclear movement. As the world’s second largest economy, Japan could buy or build virtually anything it wants, yet it has denounced nukes as if the very evil tools of Satin.

Japan’s own vicious conduct during the Second World War is always uppermost in the minds of its Asian neighbors, but so should its suffering from the atomic catastrophe that rained on tens of thousands of Japanese city-dwellers for whom the war could not have ended early enough. Today there are very few survivors left; many perished either in the bombing or from the various radiation-induced illnesses, especially cancer, which inevitably ensued.

But the memories of that nuclear holocaust are fresh in the minds of the Japanese people today precisely because of the horrible uniqueness of the experience. As my former Princeton thesis advisor Richard Falk, a preeminent international law pioneer and proponent, once wrote in words that are valid today: "The depth of the response of the Japanese to their defeat in World War II …is one consequence of the material and spiritual scars left by Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The constitutional prohibition against war and the military establishment, the continuing potency of Japanese pacifism … and the annual commemoratives of Hiroshima, all suggest that Japan, as a victim of this kind of war …, has a special understanding of the war different from that of other nations that have been ravaged and defeated."

As the winds of renewed nationalism (including Japanese) swirl across Asia, as China overtly opposes Japan having a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, and Japan’s erstwhile ally the United States (covertly) adopts a short-sided policy approach that works to  make Tokyo’s dream all the more impossible to achieve, and as so many people continue to bang their fist on the public lectern to demand further official Japanese apologies for the country’s atrocious wartime behavior, let us also not forget Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Whatever Japan’s faults, it is the only nation to have ever suffered thermonuclear holocaust. And it is says something very special about the Japanese that perhaps their most notable ambition is to remain forever unique in that tragic, unforgettable regard.

 
 

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