Rope in China for a nuclear-free world

Beijing is the target of international fire for its pushy policies and aggressive actions

By Tom Plate

Published: Sun 29 May 2016, 4:03 PM

Way back when, rather long ago, a youngish-greenish post-graduate student, obsessing about nuclear war, devoted his first book to it. "Doomsday," I declaimed in Understanding Doomsday: A Guide to the Arms Race for Hawks, Doves and People, "- the moment when all the energies of all the nuclear bombs are released over the heads of the inhabitants of the earth. Not a pleasant thought, and, to be sure, there's nothing to be gained by dwelling on it; but a lot might be lost by ignoring it."
No one in power should; not everyone in power has. In 2010, the far-sighted Ban Ki-moon, barely into his first term, pointedly chose to become the first United Nations Secretary-General to attend the annual Peace Memorial Ceremony in Hiroshima. The fact that he was from Korea, with all its issues with Japan, and indeed had been its foreign minister, didn't stop him: It was a simple matter of conscience, he said.
Now, in 2016, "leading" yet again from behind, President Barack Obama this week became the first active US president to visit the Hiroshima Memorial. Better late than never..
For their demonstrations of remembrance and concern, we applaud both, while devoutly wishing that President Xi Jinping, of the country with the largest population, would choose to do the same some day soon. It would be brilliant and impactful for the world to see China's president free himself from the familiar chain of enmity with Japan by visiting Hiroshima. In all-out nuclear war, after all, China could lose more people than anyone.
Japan, once Asia's number-one, will always have hanging in its closet the brutal ghost of having served as the first target of an atomic bombing: Will a waiting history record Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the last ones? The war-ending consequences of the A-bomb decisions by US president Harry S. Truman still reverberate, mainly ironically. Among other things, politically, they include helping breed a populace that rates among the world's most consistently pacifist; and, paradoxically, supporting a political and military elite that at times seems to suggest Japan was somehow innocent for what preceded its nuclear nightmare.
But please do note sympathetically the patient endurance of the largely pacifist Japanese people with a political system (engineered by conquering America) that has produced too many morally dwarf and politically deaf figures.
In his 2014 novel Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, the globally acclaimed artist Haruki Murakami might have been speaking for many Japanese in this moving passage: "You can hide memories, but you can't erase the history that produced them." Sara looked directly into his eyes. "If nothing else, you need to remember that. You can't erase history, or change it. It would be like destroying yourself."
This implicitly would seem a rebuke of his countrymen for memory loss. But to the rest of us, the passage might also serve to recall the disturbing fact that not only were atomic bombs actually dropped on the heads of human beings, but that the delivery of the atomic attack was by America, the reputed ultra-good nation always and forever on the side of God.
The very fact that America still sincerely believes it did the right thing (by ending the war without further major cost after so many lives had been lost) suggests it is conceivable that another nuclear power might some day seek to justify the nuclear option. What's more, the Obama administration itself, notwithstanding its laudable Hiroshima symbolism, has allocated colossal lumps of additional funds to modernising' its nuclear arsenal. Talk about "leading from behind" by stockpiling on!
What an opportunity for China, which should fear not to lead from ahead. Russia and the US are the nuclear-armament leaders with roughly the same high piles of nuclear stock. By contrast, China holds far fewer - in the same comparatively modest league as the United Kingdom's bomb pile; and, to its credit, has trumpeted an official policy of forgoing the option of ever being the first to use one, claiming deterrence of evil enemies as sole motive for the perilous possession.
But the deterrence argument is bogus and should be buried deep underground, along with all the world's defused bombs: If the reason for deterrence is that others have them, logically it follows that a far less costly and far less risky way of 'deterring' nuclear warfare would be if no nation has them at all. Whatever in the world is the world thinking?
Master Murakami again, this time on the topic of human brain lock: "Like a man who has lost his sense of direction, Tsukuru's thoughts endlessly circled the same place. By the time he became aware of what his mind was doing, he found himself back where he started. Finally, his thinking process got stuck, as if the folds of his brain were a broken screw."
Can we cease circling the same deadly dangerous place, as if targeting ourselves for future nuclear war? This is the issue for someone of Xi Jinping's high position in the global pecking order to consider. In Paris, Beijing worked out a noteworthy climate deal with Washington. Why not a noteworthy nuclear deal? China is currently the target of international fire for its pushy policies and aggressive actions in and around its South and China Sea neighbourhoods. Nothing would show its "peaceful rising" DNA better than helping lead a nuclear downsizing, trending toward eventual nuclear disarmament.
But is Xi Jinping up to it? Time will tell, of course - but maybe time is not on the world's side? Just consider the consequences of non-state terrorists getting their paws on these evil instruments of doomsday.
The writer is a distinguished scholar and a veteran American journalist

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