Thursday, December 15, 2011
Okinawa Dreams #11: Nationalism and Solidarity
When I attended the 2010 World Conference Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs, I was completely blown away. Nina'manman yu' ni' i lini'e'-hu guihi. Compared to conferences that I have organized in both Guam and California around similar issues, the level of attention and precision at this conference, (which by the way lasted for more than a week) was incomparable. Kalang taiparehu este. There were more than 100 overseas delegates, and in Hiroshima over 7,000 conference attendees (more than 2,000 in Nagasaki). And despite this logistical nightmare, almost everything started on time and finished on time.
Compare this to the three Famoksaiyan conferences that I helped organize in San Diego and the Bay Area California in 2006, 2007, and 2008. The amount of people attending these conferences ranged from 70 the first year, 350 the next, and 50 the final year, but the logistics were all over the place. Each conference day started two hours later than they were supposed to, and while each day was filled with energy and excitement, things were completely and openly all over the place all the time. This made them chaotically priceless moments and memories.
This is the type of feeling that I always want to resist. I have called it in other posts the idea of "future fighting," and resisting the notion that in order to improve you don't borrow or adapt based on the examples of others, but you in fact have to transform and submit yourself until you become a minor and reflected version of that other who is greater than you. The problem with this idea is of course that the figure of the successful and prosperous other who you are supposed to follow and become is never real, and you end up submitting yourself and offering up your very future and the rules you will play by for something which is never meant to pay off.
The infamous Washington Consensus was and is a perfect example of this. It is a rulebook where developing countries are supposed to follow which will make them rich like first world countries. But as Noam Chomsky has pointed out many times, no country in human history, not even the currently rich countries, have ever gotten rich by following these rules. It is for that reason, that even in contexts like this where we are discussing progressive advancement, it is important to not assume that improvement means giving up who you are in order to be someone else.
Japan's rehabilitation as a nation after World War II required a massive, almost unbelievable dosage of amnesia. They had not only been an blatant aggressor (as opposed to others who were passive aggressors), but had committed atrocities in China, that could be considered on par with those that the Nazis are famous for. If Japan won the war in Asia and the Pacific, and their allies won their wars in Europe, then their imperialist adventure would have been worth it. All that they had done and suffered through would have been worth it. But since they lost, the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the bases they were forced to host, and the millions of lives that were sacrificed, all became central in building an identity that made Japan an unquestioned victim in the postwar world.
This amnesia and feelings of victimization have helped to create this peace and demilitarization movement in Japan. On the one hand, this movement was formed from the idea that what happened to Japan should never again happen anywhere, and so Japan becomes the leader in ensuring that there are "No More Hiroshimas." But when you look at much of the discontent at the more local levels, it is riddled with nationalist victimization. It is about how Japan is oppressed by the US, how local communities suffer at the hands of the US. This is a normal reaction, I am not saying that it is wrong, but the way these two dynamics interact becomes the limitation of the Japanese peace movement.
At the International Forum, so many speakers argued the need for Japan to be a global leader for peace. That it needs to pave the way in promoting peace and not war. From Article 9 of their Constitution to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, everyone had their own way of mixing in their local concerns about noise pollution and military contamination with a global idea of peace, at which Japan should be at the forefront. But this aspiration always had a very perfunctory quality to it. It was not something that people truly organized or acted around, but was something that the forum required. It was something that either Japan has the obligation to do, even if people don't really expect it to, or know how it would do it, or it is just something that you are supposed to say at an International Forum. You are supposed to speak to issues outside of your borders.
The problem is always that the nationalist sentiment can always stunt this evolution and inhibit this drive. Every community always struggles with the notion of attending to itself before moving on to others. At the same time, there is also a drive to attend to others to keep from having to deal with yourself or your own. The move to international solidarity is always difficult because the lure of the local. It can make it seem like you are never ready to make that move. It can make it feel like you have too many problems locally to try and address what is going on elsewhere.