Saturday, April 21, 2007

A banal pacifist in Hiroshima

Having lived in Hiroshima for more than 20 years, I found it not easy to remain as a pacifist in this ‘Peace City.’ You receive criticism that to keep raising a voice for Hiroshima’s horror is only one sided. The A-bomb saved tens of thousands of the lives of American soldiers (and of course, battles in the mainland Japan, thus
Japanese lives). Plus, I used to live quite close to the A-bomb Dome. I saw the structure everyday on my way to and from work. The A-bomb became too familiar to me, as it were. To keep a critical awareness of nuclear issues was not easy.

Yes, being a pacifist in Hiroshima probably means living a life of cliché and banal peace talk. When critics said that the mantra of peace messages means nothing in real politics, I used to take their point. If becoming an intellectual requires you to stay away from banality, you cannot be a pacifist and intellectual at the same time.

But who assumed that you need to be an intellectual to be against war and nuclear armament? It may only take ordinary but determined and courageous citizens to prevent war and nuclear proliferation. Having read ‘Hurry up again please it’s time’ by Jason Epstein (The New York Review of Books, March 15, 2007, pp. 28-30), I once again realize that I am not, and choose not to be, an intellectual. I am naïve, impractical, blind and banal. I take the blame and choose to be a pacifist (I admit a minimum degree of self-defense, though).

As the title of the article suggests, Epstein thinks that we now need to do something to prevent possible future nuclear catastrophes in advance:

Assume the worst and most likely outcome: negotiations and threats fail and Shiite Iran a decade or less hence, like North Korea today, tests a bomb with impunity provoking its Sunni neighbors – Saudi Arabia and Egypt – to arm themselves accordingly. Or the Musharraf government falls and jihadis come into possession of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and A. Q. Khan network. Or perhaps Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear sites, precipitating a Middle East arms race fueled by a nuclear industry revived by the rising cost of fossil energy. (pp. 29-30)

Sounds too pessimistic? Epstein also writes:

Today’s impending nuclear arms race echoes the frenzied militarization of a century ago when the European powers still had time to avert the senseless catastrophe that would soon befall their people, a catastrophe whose unforeseen consequences include, among others, the Bolshevik Revolution, Hitler, World War II, nuclear weaponry, the Holocaust, the cold war, and the unstable entity known as Iraq. Urgent disarmament proposals dismissed then as naïve, impractical, blind, and so on must be seen in light of the madness that followed to have been the greatest wisdom. It was the sleepwalking war makers who proved to be naïve, impractical, and blind as they led their countrymen into the abyss from which emerged the disasters of the twentieth century and beyond. The difference between then and now is that there may be no one left to render a similar retrospective judgment should the nuclear powers fail to disarm. (p. 29)

Again, some political analysts may well express reservation or disagreement. They may invite you to technical arguments. Technical arguments we need, but we need simple common sense more. We want no nuclear war. We want no nuclear proliferation. And in order to prevent nuclear proliferation, we must also urge the nuclear disarmament of the U.S., Russia, Great Britain, France and China, as was agreed in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty many decades ago.

No nukes! What a banal slogan! However, banality for goodness may be our way of resistance in a complex issue like international politics. Could common sense in the form of banality be the best policy? Here is a remark of Hermann Göring quoted in the above NYRB.

Naturally the common people don’t want war…. But, after all, it is the leaders… who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship…. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifist for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country. (p. 30)

I’d like to keep receiving the denunciation as a banal pacifist in Hiroshima.

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