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    過ちは (Nagasaki)

    Posted by Sean at 22:45, August 8th, 2007

    The anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing is today just after 11 o’clock.


    Sleep in peace,
    For the mistake
    is one we will not repeat.

    That’s the inscription on the stone under the memorial arch in Hiroshima. A man broke in and chipped away the word mistake (過ち) a few years ago, maintaining that Japan had nothing to regret. (The we is intended to refer to all of humanity; however, because the sentence in Japanese has no explicit subject, it can be interpreted as meaning that the Japanese themselves are apologizing for entering the war that brought on the bombing.) I’m not sure whether it’s been reinscribed, though I assume it has been; the last time I visited was ages ago.

    On 6 August Cathy Young linked to this post about the Hiroshima bombing. It’s well written and worth reading. She also cites some comments appended to an Oliver Kamm piece in The Guardian defending the bombings. The first sentence of the first one appeals to the authority of Noam Chomsky; they go (further) downhill from there.

    No one can deny that a lot of children and pregnant women and old grandfathers died in the atom bombings. But we are talking about action taken nearly four years into a declared war that had engulfed a good deal of the planet and had already claimed millions of innocent lives. The time for peace, love, and understanding would come, but the first order of business was to demonstrate with finality that there was no point in continuing to fight. And the only reliable way to do that was to send a clear message: We can destroy your land and people utterly if you force us to. No peaceable people wants to run about sending such a message except under extreme circumstances. The Pacific War was an extreme circumstance. Taking the position that it was the Americans (and British and Australians and Canadians) who were demonstrating contempt for individual human lives—-vis-à-vis the early-Showa Japanese, no less–is so morally bankrupt as to defy comprehension. That we all fervently hope that the atom bombings never have to be repeated does not, sadly, make Hiroshima and Nagasaki a mistake.

    The Boor Wars

    Posted by Sean at 02:02, August 8th, 2007

    So we’re back to discussing the difficulties of talking politics politely. Eric says:

    I’ve noticed that the louder and more opinionated a person is, the more likely he is to see a political disagreement with his position as a personal attack. Perhaps it’s because he’s put so much of his persona into it by being so loud. I think these types are best dealt with in blogs, where insults and ad hominem attacks tend to be self discrediting, WHERE YOU CAN’T SHOUT ANY LOUDER THAN THIS, and the loudly opinionated boors are reduced to inferior-looking lines of text.

    Real life is another, very ugly matter.

    I’ve always had friends who disagree with me, but things are getting a little ridiculous where it comes to meeting new people. When I meet new people, I often wonder about the advisability of telling them what I think, especially if they show signs of being in kneejerk group agreement on a given issue.

    Is there a duty to publicly disagree when that can turn an otherwise enjoyable social event into an ordeal?

    I haven’t lived in the States for years, and I frequently socialize in groups in which I’m the only American. Most of the time, conversation stays neutral: life in Japan, where else everyone has traveled, the wretched weather (usually not a bland topic in Tokyo, actually).

    If talk turns to politics, people tend to register the stock surprise that a gay man could possibly be “right-wing”—-not the way I characterize myself, of course, though I try to resist the temptation to bore my dinner partners senseless by explaining how being a libertarian is different—-but I generally find that keeping an even tone and having a sense of humor gets me a fair hearing. In the overwhelming majority of political discussions I’ve had, I’ve been the only person to the right of Hillary Clinton but have been treated respectfully, if not always amiably.

    One does at times, though, encounter people for whom it’s not topics but positions that count as intrusively “political.” More than once I’ve heard someone venture placidly over the rim of his gin and tonic that the Iraq invasion was terrible (or that America is turning into a police state, or that it’s awful how Israel and its allies gang up on the Palestinians), clearly expecting the remark to be no more controversial than “What about all this rain, huh?” If, instead of murmuring assent and passing to the next pleasantry, you respond that you supported the invasion or that you haven’t noticed anyone’s opinions being suppressed in the US or that Israel happens to be the only liberal democracy in its neighborhood, you’re accused of being an agent of acrimony–hijacking an innocuous discussion and trying to turn it into a political debate.

    Well, okay. Frankly, I don’t like conversations that give me indigestion any more than the next guy. Having been brought up the old-fashioned way, I avoid being the person to bring up politics (or religion) among people I don’t know very well. But surely once a topic has been put on the table by others, it’s fair game. I’d generally be happy to let these things pass were it not for the fact that they come from the sort of people who maintain that Americans are complacent and ignorant about the state of the world because we’re not exposed to dissenting views!

    空爆 (Hiroshima)

    Posted by Sean at 21:01, August 5th, 2007

    There are always, in the week before the anniversaries of the atom bombings, articles run about the decreasing numbers of survivors and the effort to keep their stories alive. One such piece was an AP story picked up by the Yomiuri on-line (not sure whether it ran in the print edition:

    Monday’s anniversary comes just a month after Fumio Kyuma was forced to quit as defense minister for seeming to implying that the bombing was inevitable, because otherwise Japan would have gone on fighting and would have lost territory to a Soviet invasion.

    Not so, says Steven Leeper, the first American to head the Hiroshima Peace and Culture Foundation. “Historically, that’s not correct,” he said in an interview, “And it’s unbelievable that he said it.”

    Leeper shares the view of most Japanese: that Japan had already lost the war and that the bombing of Hiroshima, and of Nagasaki three days later, was wrong and unnecessary.

    “Everybody knows on the left and the right that Japan was finished at the time the bomb was dropped,” Leeper said.

    Historically, the American justification was that the bombing ended the war and limited the number of U.S. military and Japanese civilian lives that would have been lost in a land invasion.

    The Japanese perspective argues that Japan was already working on negotiating a peace treaty, as well as a surrender, and that the U.S. dropped the bomb to test its destructive power and to intimidate the Soviet Union.

    I love Japan and am glad that we’re allies today. But sixty-odd years ago, our grandfathers were enemies. It was the responsiblity of ours to crush theirs. I’m glad they did it conclusively. One hopes that no civilized society has to resort to nuclear warfare again, but it’s a mistake to prettify history for the sake of expedient would-be humanitarianism.

    I’ve never seen it disputed that Japan had already lost the war by August, in the sense that it clearly wasn’t going to win. Whether it was “finished,” however, is another matter. The government was hedging over the Potsdam Declaration. There was vocal opposition to surrender from some military leaders–even after both bombings, they tried to prevent the emperor’s surrender proclamation from being broadcast–who wanted to make good on previous promises to resist an invasion of the mainland by any means necessary. The Japanese people’s meek acceptance of occupation and immediate dedication of energy to rebuiding a peacetime economy seems inevitable now, but only because we know that’s how it happened.

    And as for sending a minatory message to the Soviets, that does indeed appear to have been a factor, but I can’t see why it’s evidence of moral turpitude. Japan had mindedly inserted itself into an international conflict, betting that the United States and British Commonwealth would not have the resources to fight effectively in both Pacific and European theaters. It turned out to be a bad bet of global dimensions. What would be done with Japan after its surrender would affect the post-war balance of power, and our military leaders would have been nuts not to factor that in when deciding how to attack it.


    Posted by Sean at 23:24, August 2nd, 2007

    Unlike some of my more popular blog friends, I don’t get more mail than I can handle, and the overwhelming majority of messages I get are thoughtful and mannerly, even if their writers disagree with me.

    But then, presumably in an effort to provide a stimulating foil of some kind, there are the hate mailers. Just had my first strafing from one of these characters in a while, and in a few days we have the A-bomb anniversaries, on which I plan to post much the same thing as I always do. Therefore, just so we’re all clear, please bear the following in mind before you hit the contact button there to the left:

    I am unfazed by any and all messages that consist of nothing more than…

    1. “You’re stupid.”

    2. “You’re self-loathing.”
    3. “You’re an asshole.”
    4. “You suck.”
    5. “I bet your mother engages in exceedingly untoward behavior.”

    I’ve euphemized the last two, failed to make any spelling errors, and been sparing with the exclamation points, but I’m assuming you can imagine the real versions.

    Half the time, these people don’t even tell me which post got them worked into a lather. Is it too much to ask that those who think they can wreck my sense of self-worth with a one-line e-mail at least let me know what the problem is? “Self-loathing” generally limits it to something about gay issues; but otherwise, I usually can’t determine whether my correspondent considers me too leftist, too rightist, too pro-Japan, too anti-Japan, too atheist, too soft on religion, too American, or too brunet. I like a rough-and-tumble argument as much as the next guy, but spasmodic little outbursts like these only convince me that the writers are badly in need of a hobby. My faith in the critical thinking skills of the general population is badly eroded as it is. Please don’t make it worse.

    See also posts on this subject by Connie and Rondi. Vitriol-spewers all seem to lean toward the same locutions. (And when, BTW, will people learn that it is no longer either clever or incisive to respond to a straight-talking woman by calling her a bitch?)

    Insert “bought the farm” joke here

    Posted by Sean at 05:25, August 1st, 2007

    The Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries has resigned:

    Before the election, calls had been growing from opposition parties for Akagi to either prove how the funds were used or resign. Some within the ruling coalition also grumbled that Akagi could become a liability in the campaign.

    However, Abe refused to dismiss the farm minister, saying he does not intend to make the Akagi issue a problem.

    With Akagi now out of the Cabinet, more questions may be raised about Abe’s leadership ability and judge of character.

    Abe appointed Akagi farm minister in June, after his predecessor, Toshikatsu Matsuoka, killed himself amid a similar scandal involving expenses for a rent-free office in the Diet members’ building.

    At least Akagi has apparently been able to escape with his life.


    Posted by Sean at 03:18, July 29th, 2007

    The Nikkei noted on yesterday’s evening edition editorial page, as the headline put it, “War of words revolving around diplomacy boils over.” (Actually, the word used is 舌戦 [zessen: lit., “tongue battle”], though I’m not sure I care to picture Hillary and Barack in a tongue battle with each other. Or anyone else, for that matter.) The subject, of course, was the sparring over head-of-state visits with dictators and military intervention. The content of the article doesn’t give a Japanese viewpoint, really, but it’s significant that it was featured so prominently, with pictures of Clinton and Obama and translations of their biggest soundbites. (I don’t remember what the exact words were in English, but in the Nikkei, Hillary says, “Irresponsible and immature,” at Obama, who responds, “You’re just like Bush.”) Japan knows that it needs to pay attention to these things, especially when the DPRK is mentioned. I liked Steve Chapman’s take in Reason , BTW:

    On the morning after the South Carolina debate, the Clinton campaign trotted out former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to gush about the senator’s declaration that she would not meet with various dictators “until we know better what the way forward would be.” Said Albright, “She gave a very sophisticated answer that showed her understanding of the diplomatic process.”

    Being praised for your diplomatic sophistication by Madeleine Albright is like being complimented on your sense of humor by John Kerry. Albright is the renowned diplomat who helped the Clinton administration blunder its way into an 11-week aerial war in Kosovo. Albright was confident that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic would cave at the first whiff of gunpowder, and was shocked when he didn’t.

    There you have it. A Hillary Clinton presidency promises to unite Madeleine Albright’s zeal for using bombs in pursuit of liberal ideals with Dick Cheney’s vision of the president as emperor. Won’t that be fun?

    I know Hillary sympathizers who’ve argued that Clinton has had to emphasize her willingness to use the military because there are too many voters who doubt a woman would be competent as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. But I agree with Chapman that her pose actually fits in with what seems like her sincere sense of mission. Camille Paglia noted that years ago, too, in her review of Clinton’s memoir:

    But perhaps it is more troublesome for democracy (where religion should be kept distinct from government) if Hillary’s religiosity is genuine. It would certainly explain her air of smug moral superiority and her close to messianic view of her destiny as a reformer. The egotism of career humanitarians was dissected by William Blake and Charles Dickens and later satirised by Oscar Wilde, all of whom saw the nascent tyranny in fervent idealists with a masterplan for humanity.

    On the evidence of this book, Hillary appears to believe that good intentions excuse all. Impediments to her lofty goals may have arisen partly through minor miscalculations on her part, she concedes, but most of the problems, in her view, have come from pigheaded reactionaries “who want to turn the clock back on many of the advances our country has made”, thanks to the Democratic Party, a congregation of the elect whose mission is the salvation of mankind.

    Upper house election today

    Posted by Sean at 02:39, July 29th, 2007

    Polls opened for the House of Councillors (upper house) election this morning. The run-up has been contentious in a rather boring way, with cabinet members suffering from the usual misappropriation scandals and foot-in-mouth syndrome but none of the sense of momentousness of the Koizumi-era show-downs. I miss that guy. Even the Nikkei reports come off somewhat listless:

    Issues such as pensions and “politics and money” are the points of contention in the twenty-first upper house election, for which voting began on the morning of 29 July. Ballot counting will begin today.

    The focus is on whether the ruling or opposition coalition will capture the majority in the upper house. The results of the election will have a major influence on the overall political future of the Abe cabinet. The direction of the results is expected to be clear by late tonight.

    According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, 16.93% of the electorate had voted by 11 a.m., exceeding by 0.21 percentage points the comparable figure for the last election in 2004.

    Nevertheless, this could be a turning point. The DPJ-led opposition is not pushing a policy platform that differs all that much from that of the LDP this time around. It’s focusing instead on accusing the LDP of fat cat syndrome–corruption and lack of transparency.

    The office of agriculture/forestry/fisheries minister Norihiko Akagi obligingly ensured there would be a fresh LDP scandal blanketing the media this election weekend:

    Farm minister Norihiko Akagi flew back from Beijing on Friday and landed in yet another political fund scandal–this one involving photocopied receipts to doubly book spending by his two political organizations.

    The new irregularities were uncovered by The Asahi Shimbun, which obtained copies of Akagi’s political fund reports from Ibaraki Prefecture under the information disclosure system.

    Akagi has been under fire for huge and dubious office expenses reported by the support group based in his parents’ home.

    His mother at one time said the group rarely met at the home, and that she covered the utility bills.

    Added later: What they’re showing so far is 29 wins for the LDP and Shin-Komeito combined and 54 for the DPJ, Communist Party of Japan, and Social Democratic Party of Japan combined. Abe has said that he plans to think carefully about reshuffling his cabinet as a move to “take responsibility.” JNN, one of the networks I’ve been flipping through, has been flashing viewer e-mails across the top of the screen. The running themes, not surprisingly, are “this is what the LDP gets!” and “we’ll be watching you, DPJ!”

    Life to the fullest

    Posted by Sean at 23:29, July 25th, 2007

    My blog friend Rondi “Canada’s Coultier [sic]” Adamson has a post at the individualist site righthinker.com about the Canadian national health system. If you know her writing (and read the post title), you won’t be surprised at her conclusion:

    But in Canada’s rationed system, the choices for humans [as opposed to pet cats] are not plentiful and wait lists are frequently long, though few would question the devotion of medical professionals. What Canadians such as myself question is not the public tier itself, but the wisdom of limiting patients and doctors alike to that tier.

    She sent me the link to this post because it riffs off the (brief) discussion we were having about health care here earlier. The point she makes is not dissimilar from the one Bruce Bawer makes in his July 23, 2007 (5:10 P.M., CEST) post, in his case about Norway:

    Norwegians boast of their system’s “total coverage” – but total coverage doesn’t mean guaranteed care, or care on demand. Far from it. Even the media here, which generally push the official line that Norway’s system is far superior to its U.S. counterpart, run occasional stories about Norwegian children who’ve been turned down for life-saving medications, who’ve had to fly to the U.S. to get the care they needed, or who’ve died while waiting for treatment.

    None of which is meant to suggest that the U.S. system doesn’t need fixing. It does. But the solution to its problems doesn’t lie in copying the Canadian and European systems.

    We Americans are a funny lot. We’ll accept (lamentably) the most egregious quacks imaginable as “experts” if they manage to snag a warm endorsement from Oprah, but we absolutely hate “expertise” that’s forced on us from on high, even if it’s got degrees and studies to back it up.

    No health care system is going to satisfy all users all the time. Even in a rich, dynamic society, resources will always be limited. So the question is who gets to decide which trade-offs are made. Whatever the problems with insurance at it currently exists in the States, I think most people perceive that instituting a national health system means giving consumers less choice. Not a good direction for change, even if it would mean a “healthier” society according to criteria that would gladden the hearts of functionaries at the USDA and various UN organizations.

    BTW, both Rondi and Bawer link to this video clip, in which Ayaan Hirsi Ali is interviewed by an insufferably smug leftist wind-up toy who has to be heard to be believed. The best moment is when the interviewer, wonderfully uncorrupted by self-awareness of any kind, complains that Hirsi Ali is speaking in cliches. He’s not wrong in literal terms, actually–the observation that you can come to America penniless and make your fortune if you have the resolve is hardly an original one. But Hirsi Ali has come by her conclusions through experience: living in illiberal societies and then moving to the West. Accusing her of mindless boosterism is ridiculous, even if you don’t agree with all her criticisms of Islam.


    Posted by Sean at 19:58, July 23rd, 2007

    The Asahi ran a story yesterday that concludes that Japan’s “lost generation” (those who came of age in the years following the bursting of the Bubble) is showing itself ready to assume the role in politics it’s been avoiding. Based on the people profiled, I’m not so sure that’s a good thing:

    After she graduated from university in 1998, Yamamoto decided she wanted no part in “mass consumer society.” Instead, she rented a 20-hectare farm in Niigata Prefecture and set about making a living through organic farming.

    She barely managed and had to supplement her income by working part-time as a waitress at a nearby onsen. After two years, she gave up the farm and her job to volunteer her time and energy to local nonprofit activities.

    She started by joining protests against the planned construction of a nuclear plant in the village of Maki. In 2003, she joined the village assembly. During this period, Yamamoto occasionally found odd jobs which paid little more than 200,000 yen a year.

    While campaigning in a shopping district in downtown Niigata on July 15, Yamamoto emphasized that she understands what it’s like to be young and poor.

    As part of her campaign platform she pledges to correct the income and benefit disparity between full-time and part-time workers.

    There’s a certain droll logic to the idea that becoming a politician is the obvious next step for someone who’s spent her adult life avoiding work that has market value and generates wealth. However, being newly engaged with the political system is not the same as having learned anything useful about policy. There’s young and poor because you can’t find any steady work, and then there’s young and poor because you turn up your nose at the possibility of working in “mass consumer society.”

    Promising to “correct” disparities implies that it’s a good idea for the government to continue the Japan Inc.-era practice of knob-twiddling with prices and wages–exactly the sort of behavior that helped the Bubble to inflate and burst in the first place. Perhaps, despite her overall failure as a farmer, Yamamoto managed to grow a money tree that she can use to make up the difference between freeters’ value to the economy and what she thinks they should be paid. If not, the major problems remain bureaucratic drag and the contraction of the population, neither of which is addressed by the Diet hopefuls quoted by the Asahi.

    Ice that doesn’t need breaking

    Posted by Sean at 09:25, July 22nd, 2007

    Oh, great. One of those party game things. Well, since Eric is a good friend, I’ll play along at least partially.

    1. Let others know who tagged you.
    2. Players start with 8 random facts about themselves.
    3. Those who are tagged should post these rules and their 8 random facts.
    4. Players should tag 8 other people and notify them they have been tagged.

    Just what the world needs–another excuse for people to share private details that no one really needed to know about. But okay, let’s see….

    1. My parents met when they were playing in a cover band together. My mother played drums and my father bass; when I was born, they named me after the Beatles’ rhythm section. (My middle name is Richard, and Sean is, of course, the Irish form of John.)

    2. Those who find my voluble Yank patriotism and devotion to the English side of my family annoying may be pleased to know that the gods of mischief have found a way to stick it to me: People I meet are constantly telling me I “look French.”
    3. Those who don’t tell me I look French tell me I look like Matthew Fox on Lost. I take it as a compliment, as I know it’s intended to be, but for the life of me I don’t see the resemblance.
    4. I was brought up in a very conservative Christian sect and, directly out of high school, went to the small Bible college it ran in the East Texas woods. The atmosphere was friendly and upbeat, but classical-liberal skepticism was verboten (unless trained on the theory of evolution and other such intellectual tools of Satan, of course). I lasted six weeks before I had to get the hell out of there for the sake of my sanity.
    5. I don’t seem to have the personality to succumb to the “addictive” allure of sites like Facebook. A friend invited me to sign up last week, so I did. Or tried to. It turned out I already had an account. Another friend had invited me to join some time before; I’d signed up and then not only not gone back but completely forgotten about it.
    6. I grew up with parents who went to a local dairy farm to buy raw milk, went to another local farm to buy eggs, and had a vegetable garden most years. My mother baked all our bread. To this day, I find few things more irritating than food made with mediocre ingredients.
    7. Well, okay–I do have a major weakness for Burger King.
    8. For the love of Pete, one more? Uh, the first album I ever bought with my own money was Beauty and the Beat by the Go-go’s.

    As far as tagging other people goes, I’m with Connie. But if there are eight people reading who’d like to share eight facts about themselves, comments are open. Knock yourselves out.