World faces frightening future if Jong-un is not stopped
I am old enough to remember Emperor Hirohito, the god who fell to earth amid the ruins of the Second World War. Hirohito, known now to the Japanese by his posthumous name Emperor Shõwa, was the 124th emperor of Japan reigning for much of the 20th century and dying in 1989.
Hirohito translates as ‘abundant benevolence’, and Shõwa means ‘enlightened peace’, but the regime he presided over was anything but benevolent. The first part of his reign was distinguished by a rise in militarism; and the country used its economic and military power malignly in Asia.
It ignominiously entered the Second World War with an unprovoked attack on the United States, when it tried to wipe out America’s naval might at Pearl Harbour. Japan’s execution of that war, and its treatment of allied prisoners of war, rankles still today. Some have not yet forgiven them, although Hirohito made peace with London at a state visit in 1971 when the rode with the Queen down the Mall, and then America in 1975 when he was entertained by President Gerald Ford.
When Hirohito visited London, Private Eye’s front page carried the strapline “Nasty Nip in the Air, Hirohito Flies in” above a headline “The Eye says Piss Off Bandy Knees”.
When he ascended the throne, the Emperor was regarded as divine. And, although forced to set aside his divinity as the price for retaining the throne, many in Japan still think of the Emperor with the type of reverence reserved for gods. His son, Akihito has attempted to cement the role of Emperor as a constitutional monarch – much against the wishes of the Imperial Household which remains one of the most conservative forces in Japan today. He is expected to take the almost unprecedented action of abdicating the throne.
Japan has been much on my mind in recent days as I have been reading John Hersey’s book Hiroshima in preparation for a module I am teaching this coming semester. Hersey deals with the aftermath of one of the most momentous episodes in modern history – the bombing of the city at the end of the Second World War.
This was no ordinary bombing. It was the first time a nuclear device had been used to destroy a city. The number who died in Hiroshima that day remains unknown today, but it is believed that more than 100,000 lost their lives in the explosion itself, and from the effects of radiation in the months after the bombing.
Hersey’s book is remarkable for a number of reasons – not least the way he brought together the skills of a journalist and a novelist (shortly before he had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his first novel). But perhaps the most astonishing thing about Hiroshima (published in the New Yorker in 1946) was the way he rejected the racial stereotyping of the Japanese – the enemy as they would still have been regarded – and brought to public attention the impact the bombing had on six individuals, five ordinary Japanese men and women and a German Jesuit priest.
It is one of the most remarkable humanitarian acts to come out of the Second World War – and it says a lot about the American people of that time that the responded so positively to what must have been a tough message. Hersey, in his dispassionate prose, brought home the fact that in war, the people who suffer are ordinary men and women like you and me.
Whatever the debate about the rights and wrongs of using this weapon, and whether or not it brought an earlier end to the war than might otherwise have been the case, Hiroshima makes explicit the human cost of mankind’s failure to fight its quarrels by peaceful means.
It is worth remembering that as we look at how to respond to North Korea’s unacceptable infringement of Japan’s right to peaceful existence with this morning’s missile test.
Tension is being ramped up on all sides, and we have in the White House a President who cannot be trusted to behave in a rational way. But Kim Yong-un cannot be allowed to continue in his reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Yong-un is paranoid about the threat to North Korea from the West. That is the primary reason for the course he has chosen to take. Yet the more he pushes his nuclear ambitions, the more likely he is to get the type of response that feeds further his paranoia.
Rather than sabre rattling, the West must look to China to bear down on North Korea. It is the only world power with the capacity to make a meaningful intervention with the Yong-un, and it should do so.
Its people are in the front line should this conflict descend into war, so it has a strong self-interest. But more importantly China is on a mission to transform its economy and drive up the quality of life of its people. Instability is the last thing it needs. If it can deal with North Korea, the entire world will be in its debt.
Japan carries still the scars of what Hersey called “a noiseless flash”. There must be no more Hiroshimas.
Threat to world peace: Kim Jong-un