Tag Archives: war

TRAVEL // In Hiroshima – Meditations on Peace and Humanity (2003)

As a child of about 10 years old, I remember having a great fear of nuclear war destroying the Earth. This was during the early days of the Reagan/Thatcher era and a time of Cold War nuclear posturing between the two World Superpowers – the US and the USSR.

I went on an anti-nuclear march in London with my parents, that ended up in Hyde Park. At midday, a klaxon sounded and everybody lay down on the ground, as if to simulate what would happen in the event of a nuclear strike. Somewhere near me, the then-leader of the Labour Party Michael Foot (a committed believer in unilateral disarmament, with whom I would share a train carriage and an hour of conversation on a train back from the Glastonbury Festival many years later), lay down with the marchers.

The march left a deep impression on me and a few of years later, I created a collage of an anti-nuclear protest march in my school art class. Some of the banners in my creation included the phrase I remembered so clearly as having seen at the march – ‘No More Hiroshimas!’

As soon as I got my first three day weekend off from work after arriving in Tokyo (about 10 weeks on from my arrival in Japan), I took my first trip outside of the capital. There could be no other place to go for a first trip than Hiroshima.

The piece found below was initially written up in my diary as I sat in the Peace Park (where the epicentre of the bomb’s strike was), immersed in my thoughts. I later twisted it around a little and got it published in my trusty outlet, Tokyo Notice Board. Wasn’t sure whether they’d take something of such a heavy nature as they mostly published slightly more frivolous articles along the lines of ‘Isn’t Tokyo funny?’ or ‘What’s different between Japan and my home country’. However, publish it they did.

That visit also laid the foundations for the peace work (Peace Not War Japan) that I later started here too. Personally, I’d recommend that everyone should visit Hiroshima at some point in their life. It shows what people are capable of doing to each other and provides deep grounds for thought and reflection on the nature of war and peace.

All photos shown here are taken from that visit.

In Hiroshima – Meditations on Peace and Humanity

Outside the Park, the city goes about its daily business, the wheel still turning as if it had never been stopped. Modern day Hiroshima looks as if it were constructed from flat-packs, neatly yet hastily reassembled with little serious artisanship. Yet it is testament to the incredible rejuvenative powers that humans possess, the power to rebuild, to start afresh where once there was nothing. Inside the Park, an appropriate oasis of calm in a city with admittedly less of the eye-popping bustle than Tokyo, hordes of schoolchildren pass through. Some draw pictures or recite poems. Others lay wreaths at the Cenotaph. All feel the effects, the traces or the memories left by the fates that befell their ancestral countrymen, women and children.

It could have been any group of people that it was dropped on. Potentially, it could have been any nation that dropped it. Historical circumstances just so conspired that it was America that dropped the Atomic Bomb on Japan. It didn’t cause the greatest number of deaths within that section of that period of conflict. The Americans killed tens of thousands in the bombings of Tokyo. The Japanese themselves, during the Rape of Nanking, brutalised the Chinese in greater numbers than the combined mortals effects of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Hitler’s concentration camps. Stalin’s Gulag. Leningrad. Millions were slaughtered in the name of the growth and eventual decline of the British Empire. But there is just something about Hiroshima, having been victim to the first bomb thus more so than Nagasaki, that represents the sheers horrors and inhumanity of such brazen and naked warfaring.

In the distance, another child chimes the Peace Bell.

Is any one of these children capable of growing up and taking the decision to wipe out such a vast number of his fellow species in one fell swoop (the gene surely cannot be that selfish)? Potentially, although one would certainly hope that a childhood visit to a place like this would leave enough of an impression to last long into later days, and bequeath an understanding of an unknown individual’s right to life. Japan seems quite at ease with its humiliation becoming a focus for tourism. Maybe it goes well beyond such things. It just happened to be Japan that it fell on. Japan therefore has a duty to hold a mirror up to the potentials for human folly.

It rather takes your breath away to walk around the place and think about quite how immediately levelled everything once was.

Then there’s the museum itself, set in the grounds of the Memorial Peace Park, to further knock the breath from your body. It includes an exhibited replica of ‘Little Boy’, the actual A-Bomb that exploded over the city at 8.15AM, August 6th 1945. It’s not much bigger than a Western style bathtub and almost looks like something from a cartoon, an ACME-stamped, Wile-E Coyote number. You just imagine that something that could completely level a city would be a little bigger than that.

What beasts we are. What barbarities against ourselves we are capable of. How tragic that, despite cries of ‘Never again!’ almost sixty years ago, we continue to perpetuate the cycles of violence that deny others the right to live in peace with one another. How right for so many the world over to have protested against last years war, that which we could not stop and it now developing into a struggle for liberation against occupation. How suitably appropriate to have personally bookended 2003 with the march in London and a visit to Hiroshima. Will we ever learn?

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Filed under 2003, Features, Travel

ARTICLES // Revolution # 9 (2006)

What does mankind gain from conditions such as war and occupation? It is rare indeed to find occurrences in human history where something positive can be found in the aftermath.

WWI begat WWII, which in turn begat the Israel/Palestine issue. The French occupations of Algeria and Indochina (Vietnam) led to violent and bloody resistance movements, blowing up into an even bigger conflict involving neighbouring states (Cambodia, Laos) and an international superpower (US) in the case of Vietnam. The Korean War led to the partition of the peninsula and one of the most heavily landmined places on Earth. British occupation of India may have produced a largely nonviolent resistance movement, but independence led to further wars and the division of the subcontinent. Issues still remain here, including the Kashmir question and the ongoing rise and fall of the standoffs between nuclear armed India and Pakistan.

The Asia-Pacific theatre of the Second World War was rife with its own horrors, such as the acts committed by the Japanese Imperial Army across East Asia and the American attacks on Japan, culminating in the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Japanese, exhausted by the war, surrendered to the US and submitted themselves to an American post-war occupation.

Yet under American rule, one small seed of hope was planted that laid out a blueprint for all nations to avoid the scourges of war.

That seed was Article 9 of the then newly written Japanese Constitution. Coming from a nation (UK) that seems to need little prompting to engage in warfare (even within my lifetime during the post-imperial era – witness the Falklands and Gulf War I), I was astonished to discover such a feature in national life as I found in Japan. The country forbids itself from ever going to war again or maintaining a regular army.

What an incredible element to weave into the fabric of a nation! Of course, the sad reality is that Article 9 has been under threat almost since its introduction, with the greatest challenges to it coming now under the current administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Learning about Article 9 and the threats to it compelled me to write the piece found below, in the hope that I could raise further awareness of a tool that could benefit all nations and of the challenges that it faces.

The article was first published online here and an edited version later appeared in the Canadian quarterly ‘Peace Magazine’.

The Japanese NGO Peace Boat is co-ordinating a global campaign to raise further awareness of Article 9 and the threats posed to it. The campaign site can be found here.

Peace Not War Japan, the organisation I founded in 2004, provides further information about issues relating to peace and Japan, and also has a collection of great peace-related songs by Japanese artists.

Keep the peace, people!

Photo of A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima by Dom Pates

Revolution # 9

‘Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.’

(Article 9, Japanese Constitution)

In the journey through life, individuals maintain allegiances to friends, family, lovers, employers and educators for help along the way. A wider bond is often also upheld – that of a sense of belonging to one’s nation. Of just over 6.5 billion humans on Earth, most would consider themselves as being part of at least one of the roughly 190 nations whose territories (‘countries’) cover the planet’s land surfaces. Members of these ‘nations’ are usually distinguished by at least a common identity, and often a common origin such as ancestry.

A nation can simply be a state of mind. A state, however, is much more tangible. Comprised of buildings, hierarchies and officials it is designed to represent both the nation and the country. Given the immense power held over the lives of individuals by ‘the state’, it is crucial to have a system of checks and balances to ensure that the power wielded is not abused. More fundamentally, it is vital for the interests of the people that are represented by that nation, and peoples of other nations too, to have the principles and rules by which they are governed clearly defined and agreed upon.

A constitution is just that, a system that covers the principles and rules by which an organisation is governed. Certain powers are granted to that organisation on the grounds that it abides by what is set out in that constitution. Most commonly, a constitution is a set of rules that define the nature and extent of government.

The Constitution of Japan was established after World War II and was intended to replace the country’s previous imperial system with a form of liberal democracy. Written under close supervision of General MacArthur and the occupation forces, the Meiji Constitution, the demands of Japanese lawyers and the opinions of pacifist political leaders were taken into account and the document came into effect in May 1947.

The implementation of the Japanese Constitution came during an international trend towards the outlawry of war. For example, Article 12 of the Costa Rican Constitution, put into effect in 1949, stipulates that ‘armed forces as a permanent institution is prohibited’. Since then, Costa Rica has never maintained armed forces.

Article 9 is the unique provision within the document whereby Japan both renounces war and is prohibited from maintaining a military force. It was a strong and clear promise by Japan to the world, and particularly people of the Asia-Pacific region that the imperialistic aggressions acted out during WWII would never be repeated. It also served as a brake on Japan’s arms build-up during the post-war era, which has provided a sense of security for the entire region.

It is the main reason why Japan has been able to live through such a long period of peace and stability, with the country having militarily not taken part in a war in over half a century.

It has made a strong contribution towards attempts at the resolution of international problems of disarmament and the abolition of nuclear weapons. A UN General Assembly Special Session on Disarmament in 1978 declared the desire for complete disarmament of nations. The Hague Peace Conference of 1999 stated in its final document that every national parliament should adopt a resolution that renounces war like Article 9.

It is no less than a blueprint for how to save future generations from the scourge of war.

The previous century was the bloodiest and most violent in all of human history. It contained two world wars, three decades of arms-fuelled tensions between the world’s superpowers, and hundreds of genocidal purges, civil wars, armed invasions, military coups, revolutionary struggles, border disputes and localised conflicts, and led to the deaths of over 100 million people. As the new century gets underway, prospects for major downturns in this trend are not looking too good.

Article 9 is under serious pressure and has been since its inception. Even whilst Japan was still under US occupation, moves were made towards creating some sort of military organisation. Thus the creation and development of what became the Japan Self Defense Forces (SDF), which has seen constant court battles between government and critics over its legitimacy. Extensions of Article 9’s ethos, such as Japan’s non-nuclear principles and ban on arms exports, face strong and active opposition from those keen to remilitarise the country.

The US has continued into the 21st Century to encourage Japan to abandon what it adopted after WWII. The Japanese military were dispatched to assist the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan and utilised for refuelling U.S. and British warships. In July 2003, Japan’s parliament passed a law authorizing the use of Japan’s SDF in Iraq, as long as they were confined to conducting humanitarian missions.

While some consider the removal of Article 9 as a natural stage in the evolution of post-war Japan, this would undoubtedly have a serious effect on the foreign policies of Asia’s most powerful states. If Japan were to again become a military force to contend with, it would undoubtedly reinvigorate China’s push for a powerful military. Russia could see an increasingly powerful Japan as a possible threat to its territory and interests in East Asia, and North Korea could feel itself backed even further into a corner. Memories of Japanese wartime aggression are still fresh even in South Korea, and the normalisation of good relations still has a long way to go.

As the prospects rise of a future with more wars over ever dwindling energy supplies, a world of environmental refugees fleeing within their own national borders, nuclear proliferation across the planet and the unravelling of the meticulously constructed systems of international law and order, it is vital that the signposts and beacons to a better and more peaceful future that we currently have within our possession are upheld, maintained and built upon. In the interests of a peaceful future for Japan and the rest of the world, for today and long into our distant tomorrow, Article 9 must be maintained and its principles spread.


Filed under 2006, Articles, Features