Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Reflecting on Peace

The modern world is a frightening place. These days, even minor countries possess nuclear weapons. One such minor country in Northeast Asia has been openly holding nuclear tests and missile launchings. It is provoking its neighbors. This is an extremely dangerous situation.

In an age when many countries possess nuclear weapons, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is becoming even more of a misnomer.

The United States of America developed the atomic bomb at the end of World War II. It dropped these weapons of mass destruction on Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945. Both cities were annihilated.

Reports on the experiences of A-bomb victims in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were tightly controlled under the US military occupation; the Japanese people heard about them solely through word of mouth. Only when the San Francisco Peace Treaty went into effect on April 28, 1952, (after being signed on Sept. 8, 1951) and administrative control of the country was returned to a sovereign Japan was it possible to report on the victims of the bomb.
I was a college student then. I was a student union leader and I quickly helped develop an exhibit of the atomic bomb victims to be shown throughout the country. I opened the exhibit in my hometown of Ito on the Izu Peninsula. From that moment on, I was committed to opposing nuclear weapons.

In the ensuing 57 years, I took a politically neutral position and maintained no party affiliation. For nearly 40 years, my main work has been as a political commentator. While I have not taken part in peace rallies, I have been against war of any sort. At the very core of my pacifism is the deep hurt parents experienced when they lose their sons (including my older brother) on the battlefield.

The anniversaries of Aug. 6 and 9 are upon us. And then there is Aug. 15. On these three days, the people of Japan pray for peace and pledge to never wage war again.

We are in the midst of a campaign for the general election. The timing is right for politicians to vow to uphold peace. I want all of them to recognize that their No. 1 priority as politicians is to defend that peace.

The great Eastern philosopher Confucius said, "Politics is justice." What he meant was that politics had to be based on justice. The great Western philosopher Aristotle said that the goal of politics is to realize the ultimate good, which is the achievement of happiness. And in 19th century England, William Gladstone said, "It is the duty of the government to make it difficult for the people to do wrong, easy to do right."

I believe that all these definitions of politics are correct. But I also believe that as the 20th century has brought us two horrific world wars, politics needs to be redefined. Here's my new definition: "The goal of politics should be to shield us from the worst outcomes" such as war, the loss of autonomy (and subsequent subjugation to another power), massive unemployment, runaway inflation and the destruction of our way of life.

The ultimate goal of politics should be to avoid the worst situations. And the worst of the worst is war.

A lot of politicians are running in the Aug. 30 general election. Among them are some young belligerent types to whom the words of the Greek poet Pindar apply: "War is sweet to those who have no experience of it." These hawks are in both the Liberal Democratic Party and the opposition Democratic Party of Japan.

It's easy to start a war but difficult to finish it. And a nuclear war could bring about the destruction of the human race.

The 45th election of the House of Representatives on Aug. 30 shouldn't be about which party one supports. It should be about which candidates will stand up for peace.