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Kyoko Altman

Hong Kong, China

Kyoko Altman has worked as a correspondent and anchor for CNN and CNBC, and as a news-magazine reporter for Japan's top-ranked news program 'News Station' on TV Asahi. more »

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An Explosion of Japanese Nationalism

Tokyo, Japan - After Sunday's explosion, Japan's new hawkish Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, might bring nationalism and nukes to foreign policy.

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All Comments (17)

OKO, TOKYO JAPAN:

Paulhayashi - we are talking about the same Tokyo???

Your address book must be HUGE.

Theo, Chicago, USA:

Whether Japan holds it's own nuclear arsenal seems to me irrelevant in that it presently sits beneath the american "nuclear umbrella", more pressing is the re-militarization, in a more general sense, of Japanese society which could carry with it greater reverberations throughout Asia...this is the last thing, I would GUESS, that China would like to see...a counter balance of conventional forces in it's own neighborhood. Perhaps this would be a positive development for a strained US military and a possible counter balance to a rising China which may not be so diplomatic if her only deterent where weapons whom her enormous population, in the eyes of a future hard liner, could see as acceptable toward a larger end (Iran vs. Isreal...a couple well placed nukes would destroy the jews but the exchange would leave Iran standing, though bloodied)...but hey...these are just thoughts...and not very well developed...I must admit

Paulhayashi, Tokyo:

I've asked every Japanese person I know in Tokyo whether Japan will choose to develop nuclear weapons.

Not one has said yes.

I guess we're talking to different people.

Steve in Princeton:

I view the real problem here differently. It does not matter whether Japan decides to build nuclear weapons. Unlike other Asian powers without such weapons, Japan could build and deploy them swiftly in any emergency. Thus I consider Japan a "half" nuclear power as it is. As a reliable American ally nuclearization in Japan would not threaten stability in other ways.

As for North Korea's probable response to nuclearization? Alas, this situation is so frightening because every possible outcome is fraught. War would be terrifying. Collapse, with millions of refugees and new military fiefdoms, would be horrific. The status quo is intolerable. Given the options, perhaps any event that spurs North Korea to commit the first move will be a small benefit to our response. In conflict, as in chess, patience invariably improves ones odds.

kt, New York, USA:

"Until Sunday the nuclear question was unthinkable in Japan."

This is true. Most Japanese are so averse to having nuclear weapons that building them has always been politically impossible. If you're in government and you want to explore all possible options, if you want to be re-elected, you need to look into nukes very quietly. The existence of secret studies does not negate the overwhelming Japanese disdain for nuclear weapons.

Personally, I don't see why this test is such a big deal. We were already pretty sure they had or were close to having nuclear weapons. North Korea is all about self-preservation, so mutually assured destruction should function as an adequate deterent. As for proliferation, Pakistani, or even rogue Russian or Libyan scientists are probably a greater threat. The sad part is that it further protects a regime that had caused millions of its own people to die. Some want the US to offer security guarantees, but guaranteeing Kim Jong Il's security is like guaranteeing Hitler's security. There is something in a person that cannot stomach the idea of guaranteeing the security of someone who is torturing and slaughtering his people, or allowing them to die of starvation. It would make us feel complicit. Anyway, most likely, things will just continue as they have been.

Vivaldo Latoche, Ottawa, Canada:

Time has come to show the North Korea lider, Kim Jong Il, that the world can no longer be taken as hostage because he has nuclear weapons.

Strong actions must be taken against this dictator before he does pass a nuclear bomb to his terrorist friends. A blockade is not enough. Total distruction of his labs and weaponry factory has to be done so that the world can be safe again.

Vivaldo Latoche

Jerry, Silver City, NM:

The fact is that a pendulum has swung back and forth between xenophobia and periods like the last 50 years in Japan. This period, in fact, would be an aberration, since most periods of Japanese history show more militancy and military power.
The Yasukuni Shrine displays aren't going to happen now that a distinctly more bellicose Prime Minister has been elected. As with George Bush's SECOND win, Abe's is a referndum on how Japanese see their nation in the shadow of a declining American Empire and a rising Chinese Empire.
The speculation that the Japanese already KNOW it will be difficult for the terribly over-taxed conventional American military to do much to help out, initially, in a regional outbreak of war on the Korean Peninsula, is exactly the stew that ferments more Japanese militarism and xenophobia.
Japan, if it moves towards aquisition of nuclear weapons, will absolutely send China up the wall.
The Chinese will very likely look for a propitious opportunity to strike Taiwan, because a Japanese-Taiwanese Alliance, with South Korea added to that, could easily make China paranoid.
I could see China make a first strike, or provoke the Taiwanese to the point that some incident occurs that would allow the U.S. treaties with Taiwan to be breached ... i.e., Taiwan appears to have made the first move.
The entire region will be further thrown into turmoil if the Japanese begin a nuclear weapons program.
The consequences are grim.
Bush has made a horrific error in NOT talking with North Korea.
Read Madeline Albright's chapter in "Madam Secretary" to see what was gained and what might have been gained had the Clintonistas been allowed to proceed with the moves they had in play with North Korea.
If Bush wants to preserve the regional peace, he will have to negotiate with North Korea.
At some point, Kim Jong Il will test another weapon, and then another. The neocon hawks will DEMAND a military response, and then there it goes.
I was in South Korea (1965-66), 6 miles south of the DMZ, and having a clear historical awareness of the Korean War, I realized that six miles north were probably two or three full armored divisions, and several thousand artillery pieces which could shell our base and absolutely FLOOD the Chorwon Valley with hordes of infantry.
We knew we were but a speed bump for that force.
Even with modern battlefield area munitions, and air power, the North Koreans will exact a fiercesome price from the U.S. The 37,000 American troops -- including the 3d Mar Div on Okinawa -- will be slaughtered.
Japan needs to stay out of the nuclear arms business, but I doubt it will.

Sumit Kumar, Grands Rapids, MI, USA:

Other than genuine, verifiable global nuclear disarmament by all powers the other option is to get ready for a multipolar world with several nuclear armed nations. It is no longer possible to keep 8 nuclear powers and keep others away from nuclear weapons using a failed treaty like NPT and bluff of armed action by a failed body like the UN. Japan has a right to self defence & if that involves nuclear weaponization so be it. Japan will have to factor in the consequent arms race in the region in its security calculus, however that is better than the existing US security gurantees to Japan that may only exist on paper. I dont see US using it power to defend its allies if it involves a nuclear exchange with the likes of North Korea or Pakistan. We should start preparing for a new multipolar world of shifting global alliances & regional nuclear arms races, fantasy of disarming North Korea by words alone must be given up. No one has given up nuclear weapons for paper treaty gurantees in human history and North Korea is unlikely to be the first to do so. Japan must take appropriate action to safeguard itself.

sami:

The solution : let the superpowers dismantle their nuclear arsenal first: lead by example!

seajay14:

Inasmuch as security is the primary interest of all countries we shouldn't be surprised by Abe's stance. In fact in light of N. Korea's nuclear explosion it brought into legitimate focus the Japanese government's responsibility towards relying on itself for security. And not to mention other nations that are thinking along those lines.

Ray:

Nuclear weapon has done nothing bad since it's developed. The first and the only time it was used it stopped the Jap war machine which might cost much more people's lives than the A-bomb. It's some countries' ambition like that of the Jap's that's threatening the world like nothing else.

Kris:

OMG, please do your research before publishing in such widely read media. You wrote; "Until Sunday the nuclear question was unthinkable in Japan." But that is simply not true. Japanese officials have on several occasions opened the nuclear debate, including:
1. Prime Minister Kishi, who stated to the Diet in 1957 that it was not unconstitutional for Japan to develop nuclear weapons should it decide to do so, trying to legitimize Japan's right to a bomb.
2. Vice Defense Minister Shingo Nishimura in 1999 implying that Japan may be "better off" with nuclear weapons.
3. A secret study conducted in 1968 (The1968/1970 Internal Report) on Japan's nuclear option.
4. A secret Japan Defense Agency (JDA) investigation in 1995 on the same subject.
The outcome of all this reaffirmed that it was not in Japan's interest to develop nuclear weapons at the time, but that does not mean that they did not consider it. Saying that Japan made "made peace the cornerstone of its foreign policy" is just oversimplifying the complex realities in which Japan was FORCED to demilitarize by the Americans merely because they lost the war.

yoshi:

"Rather, nationalism is, in part, based on the fact that we Westerners admit those flaws, face them squarely, and correct any injustice that we may have committed. That attitude is real nationalistic strength."

I think that this comment is too much idealizing the Western culture blindly.
A good example of nationalism clouds flaws of own nation.

About Yasukuni, many people miss understand it. In a way, the museum beside the shrine might miss lead as Yasukuni glorifies past aggression and enhance current militarism. And most of all, Yasukuni is for soothing the spirit (consecrated soul) of millions who died for saving nation.

Many people outside Japan don't know that it's impossible to segregate sprite that are once enshrined to regardless class A war criminals or not by religious reason. And many believe that the Tokyo trial is unlawful because the court was held by only victors. In terms of war criminality, how do you define nuclear bombing on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and massive bombing all over Japan that killed millions non combatants. Unlike Chinese and Koreans sickly overly blaming Japan, Japanese people don't blame America. But if Americans argue over Yasukuni, you have to once consider the validity of the Tokyo trial and war criminality of Nuke bombs and massacre happened all over Japan which is ban from hero oriented American history text-book. That means we need to come up reassessment of war crime.

KJ:

"Rather, nationalism is, in part, based on the fact that we Westerners admit those flaws, face them squarely, and correct any injustice that we may have committed. That atttitude is real nationalistic strength."

In theory, yes, this is true. However, this is rarely practiced in real life. American politics since its early foundings should explain why it rarely occurs.

Admitting mistakes and taking corrective actions only occurs when it is considered a political victory. Indeed, taking steps to reverse segregation and allowing civil rights to minorities was only taken up when it was deemed too politically costly to ignore.

How long did it take for us to "declare victory" in Vietnam?

What about the native Americans? Even today American's shy away from ever saying "we were wrong, we shouldn't have swindled / slaughtered Native Americans out of their land" We're perfectly content knowing that they live in reservations, often in poor conditions, as long as we don't have to hear about their problems.

President Bush was prodded about admitting to his mistakes in several interviews and declined in admitting to anything.

We, the common people, have the best of intentions. Politicans, by nature, do not.

By contrast, asking countries such as Germany and Japan to continuously whip themselves for their roles in WWII is hypocritical. In our textbooks, we always cast ourselves as heroes in every conflict, regardless of any "atrocity" we may have been involved in. No country is going to rewrite THEIR history books to make themselves out to be the antagonist.

Finally, we have no right in telling Japan who it is allowed to bury at what shrine. I'm sure certain Japanese nationalists would have a problem with us celebrating our military personnel who dropped two nukes on them. Should we remove them from their graves? Oh, right, they are heroes in our books.

If Japan wants to celebrate their dead, let them.

I do agree with you though that nationalism is, in part, admitting mistakes, learning from it, and rectifying it. I just don't think we can name any country that actually follows this logic.

reporter, USA, http://theclearsky.blogspot.com/:

Beijing and Seoul regularly try to paint Tokyo as an ultra-rightwing government. The reality is quite different.


Viewed through the lens of Western values, Shinzo Abe is only somewhat to the right of the American mainstream. His support for repealing Article 9 and for a tough stance (including a military strike) against North Korea is normal. Note that, in 1986, the Reagan administration bombed Libya after the Libyans killed some American soldiers by bombing a night club in Berlin.


http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/april/15/newsid_3975000/3975455.stm


What causes Abe to be on the right of the American mainstream is (1) his support for deleting facts (about World War II) from the textbooks in order to create patriotic Japanese youth and (2) his support for the Yasukuni Shrine. Despite his time in the USA, Abe fails to understand that American nationalism (and nationalism in other Western nations) is not based on hiding the flaws of our Western societies. Rather, nationalism is, in part, based on the fact that we Westerners admit those flaws, face them squarely, and correct any injustice that we may have committed. That atttitude is real nationalistic strength.


Both China and South Korea have far, rightwing nationalism. For example, both Beijing and Seoul deliberately alter history (taught in high school) in order to teach Chinese and Korean youth to despise Japan and the USA. The Japanese should not stoop to the level of the Chinese or the Koreans. The Japanese should rise to the level of Western society, of which Japan is a member.


http://theclearsky.blogspot.com/#115794503217846124


Abe should not advocate patriotic education that deletes historical facts.


Further, Abe should stop visiting the Yasukuni Shrine. The shrine maintains a museum which portrays Japan as a good-natured liberator of Asia. That Abe and other Japanese politicians support the shrine is shocking.


Of all the rabid, asinine criticisms of the Japanese by both the Chinese and the Koreans, only one criticism is genuinely valid. That criticism is the justified condemnation of Japanese politicians who visit the Yasukuni shrine.


Tokyo should either (1) nationalize the Yasukuni shrine, remove the war criminals enshrined there, and tear down its museum or (2) create a new national, secular war memorial. Indeed, Tokyo should do so concurrently with repealing Article 9 of the constitution. The aim is to confer the necessary moral clarity on a Japanese military unleashed by repealing Article 9.

loadedgun:

It's a shame North Korea feels the need to aquire such weapons. I don't think matters will improve if we cut them off from everyone.
The last few days have left me wondering why we were chasing Iraq's denied WMD's - but not Korea's transperent ones.
While the Bush administration has made people in the middle east despise the USA more, our western world is also a little jumpy.
I live in the west, but If I lived in one of the "Axis of evil" countries, while Bush is the chief -I'd want the bomb too.

After we've detroyed our planet and all that we have worked for, - I hope we will learn from our greed and stop it. Til then, what's good for the goose....

loadedgun:

It's a shame North Korea feels the need to aquire such weapons. I don't think matters will improve if we cut them off from everyone.
The last few days have left me wondering why we were chasing Iraq's denied WMD's - but not Korea's transperent ones.
While the Bush administration has made people in the middle east despise the USA more, our western world is also a little jumpy.
I live in the west, but If I lived in one of the "Axis of evil" countries, while Bush is the chief -I'd want the bomb too.

After we've detroyed our planet and all that we have worked for, - I hope we will learn from our greed and stop it. Til then, what's good for the goose....

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