News

    60 Years After A-Bombings, Nukes No Longer Taboo in Japan

    Japan Saturday (August 6) marked the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima - the first time nuclear weapons were used in warfare. The American aerial attack, followed three days later by a plutonium bomb dropped on Nagasaki, prompted the Japanese to surrender and ended World War II. For Japan - the only victim of nuclear war - the attacks scarred the national psyche - creating what many call a "nuclear allergy." But, six decades later Japan has become a nuclear energy nation and taboos concerning possible nuclear weapons are receding.

    Each year on August 6 in the Hiroshima Peace Park at precisely 8:15 a.m., an invocation begins for silent prayer; followed by a tolling bell marking the exact moment an atomic weapon was dropped from above Japan's industrial city.

    At Hiroshima and Nagasaki, more than 100,000 civilians were killed outright. Hundreds of thousands of survivors suffered radiation poisoning - many succumbing over the next weeks, months or even years.

    Hiroshima and Nagasaki stand as testaments to the horrors of atomic warfare and propelled a devastated Japan to become known as the Switzerland of Asia - a pacifist and strongly anti-nuclear nation. Since 1956, it has been national policy not to possess, manufacture or allow nuclear weapons in the nation.

    By that time, Japan, however, was snugly under the U.S. nuclear defense umbrella as a new ally of Washington. And that alliance included secret agreements - in defiance of Japanese policy - overtly or tacitly permitting American nuclear weapons on outlying Japanese islands or on U.S. warships in Japanese ports.

    Japan went on to become a nuclear energy power, building dozens of plants to provide electricity for the resource-poor nation.

    And by the 1970s, Japan was secretly examining whether it made sense to have its own nuclear weapons.

    "Each time it came to the same conclusion that this was not a good option for Japan," explains Senior Research Fellow James Przystup at America's National Defense University. "Japan is a very small country that has absolutely zero strategic depth. And in a nuclear exchange that's not the kind of position you want to be in."

    More recently, however, that thinking is changing. Policymakers in Tokyo are concerned about new possible threats from North Korea's ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs and China's rising power.

    So now the idea of creating a nuclear defense - which was taboo just a decade ago - is being debated in mainstream political, academic and media arenas.

    "If worse comes to worst and North Korea takes the plunge into nuclear testing, even louder calls are likely to be made in Japan to arm ourselves with nuclear weapons as a deterrent. This cannot be ignored," says Kazuhiro Haraguchi, a member of Parliament from the opposition Democratic Party.

    To many Asia watchers, such as Balbina Hwang at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, the North Korean question will probably be the catalyst for a possible nuclear arms race in Asia.

    "If it is not managed well by the United States then, I think, then we are in for a very dangerous future," she said. "I do see a great potential for an arms race. In the classic sense, buildup of conventional arms, but, of course, if you add North Korea, into the mix, now we're talking about an arms race with nuclear weapons."

    Ms. Hwang says Washington is tacitly acknowledging that a nuclear-armed Japan is a possibility, dropping hints to Beijing that if it does use its influence with Pyongyang to curb it's atomic ambitions, the United States might not be able to prevent Tokyo from going nuclear.

    "That, I think, is a very dangerous game to play," she said. "I think that China probably has those latent fears anyway. I don't think the United States needed to dangle it."

    But some analysts believe it would take much more than a North Korean nuclear test to prompt Japan to go nuclear.

    "I don't think that a North Korea [nuclear] test or a fully declared status would be the trigger for Japan going nuclear," says Weston Konishi, who is with the policy group, Mansfield Foundation, in Washington. "What I'm talking about is more a scenario in which the U.S.-Japan alliance starts to disintegrate. In other words, if the U.S. nuclear umbrella were to some day disappear, then Japan would go nuclear."

    All analysts agree that is not likely to happen anytime soon with the alliance between Tokyo and Washington as strong as ever.

    Japan did have a nuclear weapons program once before. That was during World War II. Back then it had insufficient resources and time to make progress. These days, Japan would not face such difficulties. It has the raw materials, technology, and money to develop nuclear weapons. What is still lacking is a national consensus.

    So far indications from national polls show that for the time being, most Japanese still believe that the long-standing national "nuclear allergy" will keep Japan immune from ever crossing from atomic victim to possessing its own nuclear arsenal.


    Steve Herman

    A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.