How long does it take for a person enjoying a relatively good life to understand the sufferings of others? To borrow the words from Bob Dylan, we can say in a vague way that the “answer is blowing in the wind.”
Saying is of course easier than turning into practice what is being said. For more than sixty years, people around the world have been talking about the sufferings endured by those who had the sad experience of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, as two powerful explosions in two Japanese cities heralded the emergence of a new era in modern warfare when, for the first time in human history, a total destruction of our mother earth no longer seemed an absurdity.
Those who immediately perished did not even have the slightest idea of the transition that our world had made through their sacrifices. But they always remind us of the perils of a mad arms race that takes humanity nowhere. And those who survived and continued to suffer for many more years carried the flag of our common conscience, aiming at alerting all those who are still in a deep sleep.
But, despite such efforts by many in different parts of the world, are we becoming more aware of the danger that we’re heading towards? Probably not, when we look at how those around us, who determine the nature of the course that a society or a country takes, behave or react on issues that form the core of our understanding about good and evil.
Fumio Kyuma is Japan’s first full-fledged defense minister in the post World War II period. Defense in Japan is a very sensitive and controversial issue as, according to constitutional provisions, Japan is not supposed to have a defense force of its own.
So, those who, in the early post war period, cherished the desire to rearm the country and bring Japan back to a position of modest military might coined a new term to cover the real meaning, and also to bypass the constitutional bindings.
Since then, the armed forces in Japan have been renamed Self-Defense Forces, though Japan did not have a defense ministry to oversee the activities of the army. Instead, a defense agency, which in theoretical terms ranks below a ministry, continued to perform the supervisory role under the leadership of a director general.
But this arrangement did not prevent Japan from spending lavishly on military hardware as well as training of personnel. The country now ranks fourth or fifth (depending on where we place China in real terms) in the world in terms of defense expenditure.
The inflation of the military budget and gaining of strength prompted policy makers in Tokyo to opt for a full ministry under the guidance of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is aspiring to make Japan a “beautiful country”. The ministry of defense emerged on the first day of the current year to take the position of what until then was known as Defense Agency.
Fumio Kyuma, until then the Director General of Defense Agency, was elevated to the rank of full cabinet minister, and took over the helm of the new ministry. Kyuma has been known for making comments that in time might annoy people or groups close to him and the government.
Belonging to the hawkish block of the main ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), his comments do not always follow the policy guidelines maintained by the administration. Last year, for example, he annoyed Japan’s closest ally, the United States, by saying that the war in Iraq was wrong.
Many in Japan were no doubt happy to hear such a comment coming from an insider of the government, who also seems to be influenced by nationalistic ideas, as the war in Iraq was most unpopular even during the reign of the populist government of Junichiro Koizumi.
Kyuma made the comment as the defense chief of a country that actively supported the Iraq invasion and, for quite sometime, maintained her own military presence in Iraq as a token of support to the policy being pursued by Washington.
This mere fact ignited criticism, and he soon came under fire, not only from the US government but also from the Abe administration, and had to swallow his own comment by saying that it was his personal opinion and did not reflect his position as defense chief.
Many at the time wondered what prompted him initially to utter such strong words, and then retract them. This probably reflects the position of nationalist circles within the ruling block, who see the United States both as an important ally and also as an irritation.
As the controversy over his Iraq comment settled down, and everything seemed to be turning again in his favour, he once again came in the limelight by making another controversial comment on the dropping of atomic bomb on Nagasaki in August 1945.
If his earlier comment was a matter of great annoyance for the United States Washington must have felt happy this time, listening to the opinion of the defense minister of Japan on the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
But it raised fury in not only those who were victims of such barbaric acts, but also in others around the world for whom Hiroshima and Nagasaki stand as symbols of our common aspiration to make the world free of nuclear weapons.
Speaking to an audience at a university in Tokyo’s neighbouring Chiba prefecture last Saturday, Kyuma said that deep in his mind he had come to accept the fact that, to end the war, it could not be helped that an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.
Soon after he made the comment, Kyuma came under fire not only from the atomic bomb victims and his political opponents but also from the government. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe criticized his defense minister by saying that comments causing misunderstanding among the people should be avoided.
It didn’t take much longer for the defense chief to realize that his real feeling, coming out as a slip of the tongue, might jeopardize his political position. A desire to fight for his own political life prompted Kyuma to retract the statement that he had made only a day before. He apologized for the comment and said that it was wrong of him to use the example of the atomic bombings in his speech.
Kyuma is not a lonely wolf among hawkish politicians who find the memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as irritating factors in Japanese politics. Those who still cherish the desire of turning Japan into an Asian powerhouse, both economically and strategically, find it odd that the sufferings of the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki carry a very strong anti-war undertone that go contrary to their desire.
As a result, justifying the bombing as an effective way of bringing the war to an end is for them convenient logic that serves their political purpose as well.
But fortunately for Japan, there are still quite a few dedicated groups who are determined to keep the memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki alive for the sake of peace in our world. As long as they remain active, the tears of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will never dry up; no matter how hard the hawkish politicians might try to make that come true.
Monzurul Huq is a columnist of The Daily Star.