Blog Archives

The Real “Humanist Dilemma” in the Asia-Pacific: Striking a Balance between Political Realism and Liberal Idealism


In Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific, Robert D. Kaplan (2014) makes the claim that conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea, between a rising China and its increasingly guarded neighbors, will spell the end of the post-World War II stability in the Asia-Pacific. Referencing John J. Mearsheimer’s belief in the “stopping power of water,” Kaplan (2014) suggests that the particular geography of the Asia-Pacific “will foster the growth of navies, which, while … not as worrisome as the growth of armies in continental Europe at the beginning of the last century,” may provoke “‘routinized’ close encounters between warships of different nations at sea, creating an embryonic risk of armed conflict.” (p. 7, 11) Kaplan (2014) further adds that this risk will only intensify as Asia’s collective energy consumption soars; as countries grapple over increasingly scarce energy resources, he says, their conflicting claims over the resource-rich littoral states of the South China Sea must gain in precedence, leading to a heightened state of military preparedness in the region. Read the rest of this entry

War Memory and Reconciliation / Japan’s Emperor System


Dr. Jennifer Lind (2010) does a fine job of laying out her theoretical framework for when and how (or even if) contrition––i.e., the “apologetic remembrance” of crimes committed in the heat of war––can foster a period of reconciliation among nations with bad blood between them. Drawing on two case studies to advance her thesis––which is that “the [preponderant] view that international reconciliation requires apologies and other contrite gestures” (Lind, 2010, p. 3) is right-minded but quite full of hyperbole in its singular faith in the moral authority of a sincere expression of regret––Dr. Lind (2010) argues for a “middle ground between whitewashing and contrition.” (p. 190) Read the rest of this entry

A Surrender by Atomic Means?


At dawn on August 5, 1945, after “General [Curtis] LeMay finalized the take-off time [of three B-29 bombers], final assembly of the [atomic] bomb proceeded[,] and take-off [from Tinian] . . . occurred on schedule,”[1] setting in motion a portentous chain of events that have since received an inordinate amount of scrutiny. At approximately a quarter past eight in the morning on August 6, the Enola Gay released its load––a single, gun-type atomic bomb––over Hiroshima, Japan, an industrial and military centre. The ten-foot long weapon, christened “Little Boy,” detonated some two thousand feet in the air, leveling a sizable percentage of the city and killing between 70,000 and 80,000 soldiers and civilians––a further 100,000 are said to have perished from acute radiation sickness in the subsequent weeks, months, and years. Three days after the attack on Hiroshima, a second atomic bomb, larger and more powerful than the first, was loosed over the Japanese port city Nagasaki. Fortunately, due to Nagasaki’s uneven terrain, “Fat Man” inflicted fewer casualties (40,000-75,000). In any case, Japan’s Supreme War Council, having convened hours before the Nagasaki bombing at Emperor Hirohito’s bidding, announced on August 14 the country’s surrender as per the terms outlined in the Potsdam Declaration (though only upon receiving a guarantee of immunity for the kokutai, Japan’s monarchy). Given the timing of the surrender––less than a week after Nagasaki––and Emperor Hirohito’s suggestion that the enemy’s possession of “a new and terrible weapon with the power to destroy many innocent lives” rendered useless any further resistance, that the world readily accepted America’s use of atomic weapons as the sole reason for Japan’s swift and orderly capitulation is understandable. And yet, one would be remiss to dismiss from this equation the Soviet Union, whose presence grew increasingly ominous as spring turned to summer in 1945. A close reading of the circumstances surrounding Japan’s surrender suggests that the ever-looming threat of communism, rather than U.S. President Harry Truman’s decision to use atomic weapons, dictated Japan’s actions in this final, terrible chapter of mankind’s bloodiest war. Read the rest of this entry

Freedom in Post-World War II America


In his 1941 Annual Message to Congress (aka the State of the Union address), President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed, “In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.”[1] Christened the Four Freedoms, they included the freedoms of speech and worship, and the freedoms from want and fear. The first two freedoms, their meanings self-evident, need not be defined; the latter two, however, are less explicit. Roosevelt, in the same address, described those latter two––the freedoms from want and fear, respectively––as follows: “the economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants . . . [and] the world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression . . .” The Four Freedoms, American leaders made abundantly clear, embodied that which set the U.S. apart from and above its enemies in Europe (Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy) and the Far East (Imperial Japan), and its grudging communist ally the Soviet Union. They also “provided a crucial language of national unity . . . [for t]he message seemed to be that Americans were fighting to preserve freedoms enjoyed individually or within the family rather than in the larger public world.”[2] However, once World War II ended, the Four Freedoms were eventually subsumed into the larger framework of America’s blueprint for winning the Cold War against its ideological counterpart the Soviet Union. Freedom, at least in the initial stages of the Cold War, became less an empowerment of the individual and his/her civil liberties, and more a habit of unquestioned devotion to the American cause, and of cultural and political conformity in the face of encroaching communism. Unchecked material consumption, perhaps buoyed by the U.S.’s postwar economic prosperity, became a staple of the American way of life, so much so that Vice-President Richard Nixon, in 1959, described to Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev “a conception of freedom centered on economic abundance and consumer choice . . .”[3]; indeed, one might argue that this consumer culture sweetened America’s otherwise unpalatable crackdown on homegrown communism. The U.S., in any case, soon underwent a backlash against this constraining statism, and Americans rediscovered their political autonomy, a development that culminated in the successive civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements of the 1950s and 60s. Read the rest of this entry

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