Japan’s Fourth Nuclear Peril

Nevada, 1958, from nuclearweaponsarchive.org Public Domain

Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Fukushima Daiichi, and Trump.

Government-sanctioned child abuse on our southern border has, rightfully, captured our attention. Well, I can’t know about yours but I’m so close to the southern border that I keep rethinking whether I am too old for direct action — using a walker, requiring a pharmacy to keep me alive — -and while I know one more jailing in civil disobedience would certainly get me killed, that’s not what puts me off. It’s that this government has proven time and time again that it can’t be moved by death. And that would particularly be the case if the casualty were just one more Indian.

Then I remember that photo of Dorothy Day, circa 90 years old, with a seat on the end of her walking stick, facing down a line of officers in riot gear. And I feel like a wimp and have to go another round with my conscience.

Government-sanctioned child abuse. I never thought I would type those words about the United States government, and that shock kept my attention diverted from President Donald J. Trump’s trip to Japan. I had thought that in his last trip to Europe he stepped in every cow pie that could possibly be stepped in and left the career diplomats cleaning their shoes and those of their host countries. I was wrong.

Mr. Trump signaled, purposely or not (sometimes with him it’s hard to tell) that he intends to loosen the defensive alliance between this country and Japan. He complained that the treaty is one-sided in favor of Japan. That would be odd if it were true, since the United States dictated the terms back in 1951, when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still smoldering.

The U.S. was granted the right to station military forces on Japanese soil. Under the new Japanese constitution — -written by the man who probably considered himself the Founding Father of modern Japan, Gen. Douglas MacArthur — -Japan was unable to maintain military forces of its own. How could a president of the United States not know this?

That was the legal context of Trump’s insults broadcast on Fox, where there would be no cross-examination. He claimed that if Japan were attacked, the U.S. would have to fight WWIII, but if the U.S. were attacked, the Japanese could stay home and watch on their Sony televisions.

The factual context was even worse. North Korea keeps lobbing missiles over the Japanese home islands. “Testing,” says Kim Jong Un. When the troop sitting at the radar — -Japanese or American — -picks up incoming, what kind of response is required?

What does the POTUS do about these threats to our ally? Most recently, he has hopped over the North Korean border in the DMZ so he can claim to be the first president since the armistice to have done so.

U.S. policy used to be that the only purpose in direct contacts with the North Koreans would be to negotiate a peace treaty. Since Mr. Trump has been charmed by Mr. Kim’s billets-doux, the next purpose might be to set up a tour for the Harlem Globetrotters.

The U.S. sits within the farthest range of North Korean rockets, assuming the Koreans can fit a nuke on the rockets and still have that range. Accuracy is unlikely.

How would you feel if you were South Korea, having been invaded and nearly pushed into the sea, and now Mr. Trump has cancelled the yearly coordination exercises between the U.S. and South Korean militaries? “War games,” he calls them, but if the Commander-in-Chief doubts the value of practicing communication under fire he should get someone to draw him a comic book of the difficulties the U.S. had in Panama and Grenada.

How would you feel if you were Japan, having suffered atomic attack twice? Knowing that Mr. Kim has missiles overflying your homeland and has atomic bombs that will fit on them, how would Mr. Trump’s disparagement of the mutual security treaty affect your sleep?

Mr. Trump also stepped in it because he either was not briefed or did not read the briefing book regarding Japanese domestic politics. Like he did in Great Britain. Like he did in Ireland. It’s hard to get excited when he makes inappropriate comments about the players or the issues within other nations. He flashes ass so often he’s probably quit wearing drawers on overseas trips.

Mutual defense with Japan is something entirely different. Shaking it loose would be as big a deal as his disruption of the NATO alliance. There is a U.S. foreign policy context of which he is probably ignorant.

Since WWII, it has been the public policy of the U.S. to oppose nuclear proliferation. We have wheeled and dealed, threatened and cajoled to that end.

We had a major diplomatic donnybrook over France’s determination to have its own nukes.

As its neighborhood got more dangerous and its technology became the equal of any in the world, we cut a deal to keep Japan under the protection of our nuclear umbrella if they would not build their own.

It was partially in deference to U.S. policy that Israel undertook to keep their acquisition of nuclear weapons secret and to this day Israel does not admit publicly what everyone knows.

Donald J. Trump is the first POTUS since WWII to show indifference to nuclear proliferation.

He is OK with Japan having its own nukes to defend against the North Korean nutcase who writes Mr. Trump such splendid love letters.

He is OK with Saudi Arabia having its own nukes to defend against Iran but he is not OK with Iran having nukes to defend against either Israel or the entire Sunni world.

He is OK with the newest members of NATO — who have the most to fear when Mr. Trump sucks up to Vlad Putin and questions Section Five of the NATO treaty — getting their own nukes to defend against Russia (knowing it’s highly unlikely).

Last I heard, Mr. Trump was still opposed to Cuba having nukes to defend against the U.S.

The nukes that are to me most worrisome are those possessed by Pakistan and India. Both of those nations have radical differences in the quality of their leaders from excellent to awful. If both are led by a bumbler at the same time, the result could be catastrophic.

The gyrations the U.S. has undertaken to avoid the spread of nuclear weapons are something we can be proud of and that makes Mr. Trump’s indifference even more maddening.

Because of Mr. Trump’s contempt for the study of history and his ignorance of it, he is blissfully unaware of the delicate regional balances that could be disrupted by nuclear weapons.

His starting point appears to be that all nations are entitled to have their very own nuclear arsenals except those that might threaten the U.S. His implicit position that a regional nuclear war could be contained is odd for a POTUS who has complete contempt for diplomacy.

He seems innocent of the fact that very little of import is negotiated directly between heads of government and he also seems to not be aware that in many countries the head of state is not the same person as the head of government as he is in our country.

He has said he does not need diplomats because he can tweet, I mean speak, for himself. He speaks as if everything turns on his personal relationship with the person he takes to be the boss in other governments, the structure of which he cannot be bothered to learn.

With a POTUS who has never studied political science or history, and will not listen to people who have, what could possibly go wrong? The answers to that question contain the reason why it’s not unreasonable to avert our eyes just briefly from government-sanctioned child abuse.

Enrolled Cherokee, 9th grade dropout, retired judge, associate professor emeritus, and (so far) cancer survivor. Memoir: Lighting the Fire (Miniver Press 2020)

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