unforgettable tale of two cities
--This week marks the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and
I find it
distinctly irritating when columnists descend to the self-infatuation of
quoting themselves. So, my apologies right from the start:
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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
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.