Is Japan Being Too Polite About Nuclear Disarmament?

Why is it that when the leaders of the G-8 go to Japan, they scrupulously avoid visiting Hiroshima and Nagasaki? The Japanese government doesn't invite their guests to these cities that suffered the atomic bombings in 1945, and the guests don't go out of their way to make such a visit. Perhaps Japanese leaders think it would be impolite for the guests, many of whom have control of nuclear arsenals, to see first-hand, in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Peace Memorial Museums, the destruction that these weapons have caused. But then again, it might be highly educational for them.

Nuclear weapons have become surrealistic. It has been nearly 63 years since they were used in warfare. For most people, they are out of sight and out of mind, but not for all people, and particularly not for the leaders of the G-8. They still talk about nuclear strategy, nuclear proliferation and nuclear umbrellas. What they should be talking about, though, is nuclear disarmament, and this doesn't happen much in these dark closing days of the George W. Bush era.

Bush's Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, came to Tokyo and proclaimed that the US "has the will and the capability to meet the full range, and I underscore full range, of its deterrent and security commitments to Japan." One wonders how such a statement is received in Japan. Does it make the Japanese feel secure to know that the US is prepared, if necessary, to retaliate with nuclear weapons on behalf of Japan? The steady refrain of the hibakusha, the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, is "Never Again!" But as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, "again" cannot be ruled out.

North Korea's test of a nuclear weapon was worrisome, but surely the way forward with North Korea is not the threat of their nuclear obliteration by the US in the event they attacked Japan. At any rate, retaliation would give very little solace to Japan if it were attacked again with nuclear weapons. The key is nuclear disarmament, not only by North Korea, but by all nuclear weapons states. Why isn't Japan pushing harder to achieve this goal?

An appropriate Japanese response to Condoleezza Rice, and to George W. Bush, whose policies Rice was articulating, would have been: "Thank you very much for the offer, but we don't want to sit under your nuclear umbrella and have you threaten massive annihilation in our name. We know what it means to be attacked by nuclear weapons, since we suffered this fate by your hands at the end of World War II. We stand with the hibakusha in calling for a world free of nuclear weapons. We want you to get on with serious nuclear disarmament talks now."

Taking it even a step further, the Japanese could have responded that no one should have control of nuclear weapons without witnessing the artifacts at the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Peace Memorial Museums and without meeting survivors of the atomic bombings and hearing their stories. In fact, no country should have nuclear weapons in its arsenal. Until Japan takes such a posture, it will remain just another country that directly or indirectly supports the nuclear status quo with all its dangers.

The people of Japan should be proud of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, so magnificently rebuilt after the tragedies of the US atomic bombings, and they should be proud of the spirit and courage of the hibakusha. Japan has a key role to play in ending the nuclear weapons threat to humanity, but it will not be successful in this role by being a polite host, keeping its powerful guests away from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and failing to demand more from its G-8 partners in ridding the world of nuclear weapons.

David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and a councilor of the World Future Council.

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