Commentary

Resetting the Peace Clock

in Program

By Brittney Washington – The 64th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and
Nagasaki was commemorated in early August. A few months earlier,
Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial’s “peace clock” (with the purpose of
counting the number of days since the world’s last nuclear test) was
reset after North Korea’s May test. The clock is a reminder of the
tension in East Asia. North Korea’s nuclear program, recent missile
launches and the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korean agents
have been obstacles to productive relations with Japan. China’s growing
role as an economic power worries Japan, which fears that US foreign
policy will become China-oriented and less attentive towards relations
with Japan.  A loss of faith in the United States as an ally and
security guarantor could weaken Japan’s commitment to the alliance and
the development of a Japanese nuclear program to ensure its security.

In
the debate over how to strengthen Japan’s security, Japanese
politicians and scholars have discussed the possibility of a nuclear
program. Although the majority has concluded that a Japanese nuclear
program would further destabilize the region, Japanese youth are viewed
as the factor that will tip the scale in favor of nuclear weapons.
Eugene Matthews, former Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign
Relations, warns the United States against failing to note a rise in
nationalism amongst the Japanese, particularly in Japan’s conservative
youth in his piece “Japan’s New Nationalism.” He suspects that Japanese
nationalism could transform into militarism because today’s youth did
not witness the aftermath of WWII, and would provide the military more
power once they move into leadership positions.

Japan’s
youth seek to promote a strong image of Japan in politics. This does
not, however, imply that nuclear weapons are essential to this goal. As
the only country to fall victim to the atomic bomb, there is a large
consensus that Japan must act as a power player in issues of
disarmament and non-proliferation. Besides believing Japan should be a
country “focused on enhancing welfare” in the future, a January 2008
Yomiuri Shimbun poll affirms that many Japanese believe Japan is a
“peaceful nation” obligated to “safeguard peace and security.” Young
people oppose nuclear proliferation, a stance reflected in the
reluctance to amend Article 9 of Japan’s constitution, which binds the
country to pacifism. According to a recent Asahi Shimbun poll taken in
April of this year, 64% thought Article 9 should not be revised. Most
of the respondents seeking revision only requested that the Self
Defense Force’s present role be outlined in the constitution.

Polls
also reveal that the Japanese are highly supportive of the Obama
Administration. Research conducted by the Pew Research Center Project
on “confidence in the U.S. President” shows a significant rise in trust
in the president; the level of confidence rose from 25% in 2008 to 85%
in 2009. President Obama’s pledge to strive for the abolition of
nuclear weapons during his April speeches in Strasbourg and Prague
struck a chord with Japan, particularly its youth who view Obama as a
prominent figure in eliminating nuclear weapons. Students from schools
in Hiroshima gathered near the Peace Memorial on Peace Day and asked
people from a crowd of 50,000 for their help in making origami cranes
(a symbol of peace in Japan) and writing messages to Obama in hopes of
encouraging him to speak at Hiroshima. They believe Obama’s presence in
Hiroshima will be a tremendous step towards creating a nuclear-free
world.

This student-led campaign is one of many ways
Japanese youth have been involved in promoting nuclear
non-proliferation. Summits, article writing, blogging, and rallies have
been other venues. Though today’s generation did not witness the
horrors of WWII, their efforts serve as evidence that they are
cognizant of the consequences of nuclear weapons and are hopeful for a
world without them. The Japanese belief in Japan’s role as a pacifist
nation as well as their confidence in the US-Japan alliance are echoed
in the words of Hiroshima’s mayor, Tadatoshi Akiba, during the August 6th
Peace Day ceremony, “We refer to ourselves, the great global majority,
as the ‘Obamajority,’ and we call on the rest of the world to join
forces with us to eliminate all nuclear weapons by 2020.” If his views
reflect those of Japan’s younger generation, we should not have to
reset the “peace clock” for Japan.

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