Editorial: Effort needed to make the world a place where 'little people' are protected – The Mainichi – The Mainichi

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The Mainichi Japan’s National Daily Since 1922
(Mainichi Japan)
Japanese version
Japan commemorated the 77th anniversary of the end of World War II on Aug. 15. Meanwhile overseas, Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine. We reconfirm our solidarity with citizens who had their daily lives destroyed by this war of aggression, and once again call on Russia to cease its attacks immediately.
The world faces an increasingly severe situation. On top of the prolonged Ukraine war, tensions around Taiwan are rising following U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island.
The prospect of nuclear weapons again being used in war is looking more realistic. In a speech delivered at the Nagasaki peace memorial ceremony marking the 77th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of the city on Aug. 9, A-bomb survivor representative Takashi Miyata, 82, stated, “On Feb. 24 of this year, the air-raid sirens that rang out in Ukraine inspired the same fear of that pikadon (‘atomic bomb’) in me.”
The spate of crises has brought the resurgence of nation-states to the surface.
After the end of the Cold War, economic globalization progressed, at one point giving rise to the view that nations had run their course, and that borders would mean less and less.
Yet once the coronavirus pandemic set in, each country’s government took center stage, vying for vaccine supplies and taking virus control measures. Meanwhile, Western countries centering on the United States and European nations have bolstered their alliance, while superpower competition among the U.S., Russia and China is intensifying.
— Crisis sparks resurgence of the nation-state
In modern history, nation-states have worked as a mechanism to protect the safety and livelihoods of their individual citizens in exchange for the latter entrusting power to the state.
To bring people together, states tend to seek heroic narratives. However, if a sovereign state resorts to force for a cause, its people are the ones who must be deprived of their safety and become victims.
Belarusian author Svetlana Alexievich, who has conveyed the voices of the “little people” who have suffered in war, said she was afraid of the word “great” as “it always only ends in blood.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is keen to make his nation “Great Russia,” started his war of aggression under the pretext of freeing Ukraine from neo-Nazis, claiming that Russians and Ukrainians are “one people.” Young people have been sent to battlefields by a leader fixated on his own cause.
Taiwanese author Li Kotomi argues that China’s claim that “Taiwan is part of the sacred territory of the People’s Republic of China” is also a narrative. “Once a war breaks out, small voices are engulfed by bigger narratives, making individuals property of the state,” she warns.
Japan, too, once proclaimed a “Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere” during the Pacific War, declaring it sought to free Asia from U.S. and European colonial rule. But the slogan was a means to justify Japan securing its own interests in the region.
After the end of World War II, Japan prioritized compensating former military personnel and affiliates, and public relief for civilians — who were victimized by the nation’s narrative — was pushed aside.
Yumiko Yoshida, 81, who was orphaned by the March 1945 Great Tokyo Air Raids by U.S. forces, saw her younger self in Ukrainian children frightened by Russian attacks.
She has joined a movement in Japan to seek government compensation for civilian victims of World War II air raids, as she “thought of the sorrow of my parents who were killed in the war.” She had wanted a relief bill to pass the Diet during the recent regular session, but watched helplessly as sluggish procedures by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party doomed her hopes.
As time passes, she feels that people’s interest in the war is waning, but her wounds have yet to heal. It is unacceptable for the government to cease its efforts without adopting relief for civilian victims.
— Respect for individuals a top priority
At the same time as it leaves people who suffered wartime damage unaddressed, the Japanese government has laid out a policy to significantly boost defense spending, and called for the U.S. to reinforce its “nuclear umbrella.” The government apparently has China in mind as the latter moves ahead with its own military buildup.
It may be necessary to review Japan’s defense capabilities in accordance with changes in the security environment. Yet if Japan is to bolster its defense equipment in a haphazard manner, it would rather risk raising regional tensions and provoking conflicts.
“War is a man-made calamity. Because it is initiated by humans, it must be halted by humans,” Yoshida stressed, as she continues speaking at elementary schools and elsewhere.
The Ukraine crisis has made it clear that it is difficult to bring a war to an end once it breaks out.
Kiichi Fujiwara, a political scientist versed in international relations and professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, points out, “Though it’s necessary to deter military attacks, it’s dangerous to adopt a deterrence strategy reliant on nuclear weapons. Instead of a military buildup, it’s necessary to forge efforts to lower the risks of war in East Asia.”
Article 13 of the Constitution of Japan, which provides for basic human rights, stipulates, “All of the people shall be respected as individuals.” In other words, the clause is a declaration that it is intolerable for people to be left at the mercy of the state’s narratives.
It is the role of politicians to bring nation-states and their people together, and hold back those in power who have run out of control. A war of aggression, trampling people’s lives and freedom, is the greatest of human right violations. Efforts to prevent the calamity of war, which takes such a heavy toll on individuals, will be a step toward bringing about a world where “little people” are protected.
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