Thursday, December 15, 2011

Okinawa Dreams #11: Nationalism and Solidarity

After attending two international conferences in Japan, the initial luster has faded a little bit. The conferences are still impressive, but I am starting to see their limitations, but also the ways the organizers are attempting to overcome them.

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.

So naturally when I attended these massive conferences in Japan, and everything at least on the surface appeared to run smoothly and efficiently, I was blown away. Coming from Guam where we can't get a meeting with 10 people to start on time, I felt so inefficient and incompetent, like we had such a long way to go until we could really organize ourselves and our time effectively. It seemed at first that the Japanese had everything together, and that I needed to learn from them and emulate them in order for Guam to gain a similarly well-put-together peace movement.

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.

Although I enjoyed a great deal this past conference I attended in Okinawa (The Japan Peace Conference) part of the learning experience for me, was seeing the limits of the Japanese in their organizing for peace. Their peace movement as I wrote about earlier on this blog is robust compared to many other countries, but one of its weaknesses (which is not unique) is the nationalist core of it. So much of their demilitarization activism stems from the idea that Japan, as a nation has been taken advantage of and politely subjugated by the US since World War II through their network of bases through the Japanese islands, as well as the crimes their servicemen commit and sometimes get away with.

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.

Japan has been slow on how to actually do this work of international solidarity. It has made great efforts through various international conferences to bring people from around the world, who are struggling against nuclear weapons, power, US bases, in order to inform the Japanese about what is going on elsewhere, and inform others what is going on in Japan. This is admirable since no other country in the Asia-Pacific region has a peace movement that is doing anything comparable. But, given the rhetoric of Japan possibly being a leader, what are we supposed to expect? Japan has already created a solid infrastructure for itself in terms of peace, but this is also its current limits. How can it take that next step to being not just a model, but also something that sets that pace? Something that creates the dialogue and leads the charge for peace and demilitarization?

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.

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