Sunday, May 20, 2018

How Are Nuclear Weapons Like the Frankenstein Monster?

Mary Shelley
There are many voices contributing, in many ways, to the effort to extract us from nuclear peril.

Some voices come from the past.

For the past several weeks, I have been reading the novel Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. It is marvelous and prescient. It was first published in 1818. I became interested in Frankenstein after it was singled out by Paul Johnson as a watershed cultural event in his book, The Birth of the Modern: World Society 1815-1830.

For me, as for most people, Frankenstein means the "monster" portrayed by Boris Karloff in the movies. But of course "Frankenstein" is the scientist, the one who imparts life to an assemblage of inanimate parts; indeed, the novel's full title is Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, and the story is really about this man.

Frankenstein is about a man who is so carried away with what he finds himself able to do that he is heedless of the consequences. It is, indeed, a fable for the modern era; as someone concerned particularly about nuclear weapons, I find over and over that the words of the novel bring to mind the dilemma that human civilization finds itself in because of the activities of some among us who are most brilliant and privileged.

This morning I read a portion in which Frankenstein sees in himself one

whose selfishness,
had not hesitated
to buy its own peace
at the price,
of the existence of the whole human race.
                 (Frankenstein, Chapter 20)

Can there be any more precise description of the nuclear weapons states?

Who is this Mary Shelley, who two hundred years ago could have so brilliantly summed up the predicament that we would face in 2018?

Just a few chapters of this wonderful book remain - I find myself rushing forward to the conclusion, while simultaneously jamming on the brakes so that I can relish every word.

How will I satisfy myself when I reach the end?

Two possibilities suggest themselves: The Last Man, another Shelley novel, about what happens when human society brings itself to the brink of extinction; and the great account of the Manhattan Project director J. Robert Oppenheimer: American Prometheus.

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Friday, May 18, 2018

"Denuclearization" - A Graphic to Focus the Mind

ICAN logo
I've recommended an important article in the New York Review of Books.

I featured the logo of the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) in my post. The post (and the article it recommended) was not about ICAN and the nuclear ban treaty -- at least not directly. But I used the image for three reasons.

Ad hominem

First: I have a strong objection to the image that did accompany the NYRB article. Oh, I think the graphic is very artistic, with its portrait of a deathly pale Kim Jong-un flanked by skulls. But I object to the use of it in connection with this article -- which is, after all, about multiple nuclear weapons states. The suggestion of death is appropriate to any discussion of nuclear weapons, but it is false to focus on the deadliness of a person instead of the deadliness of the nuclear weapons, themselves, and the nuclear weapons architecture and the roles people play in it.

Kim Jong-un by Siegried Woldhek in the New York Review of Books

This is especially true at a moment when people in the US -- that is, many of the very people who make up the readership of NYRB -- are struggling to develop a fact-based understanding of Korea, its northern and southern parts, and the role of the US in negotiations about conflict and nuclear weapons there. That's why I wrote A Checklist for Critically Reading (and Writing) About North Korea and Can You Judge a Nuclear Confrontation by Its Cover?

(By the way: you could fault me for the many times I have used pejorative images of Donald Trump to suggest the danger he poses as the commander of US nuclear weapons. More to come on this subject . . . . )


Second, one of the essential points of the NYRB article is that the term "denuclearization" is being used by both Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump, but the two mean different things when they use it.

Kim means, in essence, "we want a situation in which we're not threatened by your nuclear weapons and you're not threatened by ours."

Trump means "we want a situation in which you give up your nuclear weapons capability and we keep ours."

Anyone who is familiar with US nuclear doctrine to date understands why Trump thinks his version is the way things work.

Anyone who is familiar with the history of Korea understands why Kim is committed to his version.

And what results is a discourse. People get to dig into the issue, learn about it, try to understand it, and discuss it with others.

So: back to that graphic. I believe that the ICAN logo -- the image of a nuclear weapon being broken -- is an image that helps us focus on the core discourse: denuclearization.

A Proprietary Image?

It's debatable whether the logo of ICAN is fair game for the Korea Spring and denuclearization. ICAN is not a party to the talks, and the talks are not connected to the central project of ICAN, the nuclear ban treaty -- directly.

And yet . . . .

The discourse on denuclearization is impossible to separate from the discourse on the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which has now become impossible to separate from the discourse on the global nuclear ban treaty.

Just as "Nature abhors a vacuum," people innately sense and reject inequity. The longstanding de facto architecture of nuclear weapons -- "some've got 'em and others don't get to have 'em" -- withers a little more each time another person comes to see it and think about it and understand it and talk about it.

And right now the Trump-Kim Summit is shining a bright light on the discourse of denuclearization and that inequity.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

"Denuclearization": Let's Get Serious

Symbol of the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)
(Why here?)

I commend to all the article by Jessica T. Matthews in the May 10, 2018, New York Review of Books, "Jaw-Jaw Better Than War-War."

The crux is found in these three sentences:

Former defense secretary William J. Perry, who has years of experience with arms control, including a failed effort in Pyongyang twenty years ago, believes that the very modest goal of a ban on further nuclear and missile tests and on the export of nuclear technology is all that can be hoped for. He argues that it would be impossible to verify even a freeze in the number of existing warheads, much less cuts. There is a stunning contrast between the modest goals that might be realistically achievable in North Korea and the stringent cuts and verification measures already in place and working under the Iran deal.

(The article is dated April 10 - before Trump de-certified the Iran Deal.)

Three thoughts on getting serious about denuclearization:

Serious analysis: It's important to advocate for broad goals; it's also important to participate in thinking about the details. How we as a species are going to "unlearn" nuclear weapons technology is a problem filled with devilish details.  (More to come on this subject . . . . )

Serious conversations: It's important to participate in conversations with all kinds of people. I'm particularly interested in the role of people like Matthews and Perry right now -- the kind of people who hold many views on security and international affairs that I don't agree with, but who do carry tremendous influence with respect to the task in front of us.

By the way, the expression "jaw jaw better than war war" -- a Harold Macmillan/Winston Churchill mashup -- expresses a kind of crude, patronizing attitude, the condescension of the warrior-reluctantly-turned-diplomat (there's an unspoken "I suppose" there . . . ) and perfectly encapsulates the idea that it's worth putting up with some attitude in order to get some dialog.

(More to come on this subject, too.)

Serious citizenship: Predictably, the daily ups and downs connected to the Korean Spring continue. There's an important role for ordinary citizens like you and me: to help the wide array of people we interact with day-to-day understand the larger arc of what's happening -- between the two parts of Korea, between the US and Korea, and with denuclearization broadly.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Marukis' Antiwar Paintings: A Lesson in Collaboration

Toshi and Iri Maruki

Yesterday I began profiling a list of films about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Today I'm continuing with thoughts on one of those films: Hellfire - Journey from Hiroshima (Michael Camerini, 1986).

Hellfire - Journey from Hiroshima is a beautiful portrait, above all, of collaboration. In it, we meet the husband-and-wife team, Iri Maruki (1901-1995) and Toshi Maruki (1912-2000). I have long been an admirer of their Hiroshima panels, and of Toshi Maruki's book for children, Hiroshima no Pika (The Flash of Hiroshima). But I wasn't expecting to be as moved as I was by the story of how these two artists work together.

One of the reasons I loved Hellfire - Journey from Hiroshima is that it features long sequences of Iri and Toshi Maruki sharing a studio, working to complete their wall-sized artworks. Iri works standing, tracing figures onto the paper spread across the floor, using a brush with a long extension handle. Iri kneels, adding ink washes with a broad sweep.

The Marukis were trained in different styles -- traditional, expressionist, water-based ink vs. modern, realist, oil -- and in the film we get to see some of the ways they learned to synthesize their gifts and complement each other, and to do so without working at cross-purposes. We learn in the film that their shared vision sustained the Marukis, and that they concluded that, "If two people are alike, even oil and water will mix." What makes the film particularly interesting, however, is that in it the Marukis also tell us, very candidly, that they had to do a lot of hard experimentation, painting and re-painting over each other's work, before they found the right blend. Their successful collaboration came about despite a fair dose of "selfishness . . . stubbornness . . . dissatisfaction . . . ."

The film also describes another aspect of the Marukis' collaboration that I found instructive: their annual rhythm of devoting three seasons of the year to their respective art, and one season of the year (e.g. winter) to work together on a collaborative project.

from the Marukis' Hiroshima panels

The Marukis spent decades creating and promoting their panels documenting the terrors of war - Hiroshima, the Rape of Nanking, the Holocaust, and the atrocities on Okinawa. They did a lot of thinking about war and other types of violence, like the violence we do to our environment. "At a deep level, the violence we do in war and the violence we do in peace are the same," they say in the film.

Near the end of the film, speaking about their series of Hell panels, Toshi says that she and Iri came to understand that hell is not just a place for the great evildoers of history, like Hitler, but includes a very wide circle of people indeed. Ultimately, she concludes:

We are in hell
because we have been unable
to prevent war.

If all life on earth perishes
in a nuclear war,
no one will be saved;
we will all be responsible.

This brief film and the example of the Marukis is a powerful tool for all of us seeking inspiration for our collaboration with like-minded people to become able to prevent war, and to make sure life on earth doesn't perish in a nuclear war.

The story of the Marukis is also told in a book by one of the film's producers, the scholar John Dower: Hiroshima Murals: The Art of Iri Maruki and Toshi Maruki.

An animated video version of Hiroshima no Pika is available for viewing on Kanopy.

See also: more films and resources about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

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Monday, May 14, 2018

On Tanabe's "Message from Hiroshima"

Film series on Hiroshima on Filmstruck

There are five films related to Hiroshima featured on Filmstruck right now:

Children of Hiroshima (Kaneto Shindo, 1952)

Hiroshima (Hideo Sekigawa, 1953)

Hiroshima mon amour (Alain Resnais, 1959)

Hellfire - Journey from Hiroshima (Michael Camerini, 1986)

Message from Hiroshima (Masaaki Tanabe, 2015)

I've raised the importance of lifting up the experience of Hiroshima (see list of links below) and it's worth emphasizing it again. I've decided to post some brief notes on each of these films (plus one additional film, I Live in Fear (Akira Kurosawa, 1955), also available on Filmstruck) to my blog. Today I'm starting with Message from Hiroshima.

Filmmaker Masaaki Tanabe as a little boy.
(Image from "Remembering Hiroshima Through Cinema".)

Message from Hiroshima

Having recently visited Hiroshima, and walked around the exact ground featured in Masaaki Tanabe's Message from Hiroshima, I was deeply impressed by his film concept and how Tanabe carried it out.

Tanabe's concept is to encourage the viewer to connect to the people living in the neighborhood around the epicenter of the bomb -- as people. To do this, he combines testimony of survivors, old family photographs, footage of the places as they appear today, and computer simulations of the neighborhoods before the bomb struck.

What Tanabe has done here is so important -- getting beyond the well-known photographs of the destroyed buildings of Hiroshima, and the statistics, and enabling us to think of the individual victims as they lived their lives.

A shoe store . . . a temple . . . people playing and fishing in the river . . . games of hide-and-seek around the big ginkgo tree . . . women shopping for kimonos . . . and wigs . . .

I thought of having a meal with people in Hiroshima at an oyster boat restaurant on the river . . .

I imagined myself weaving through alleys full of children playing marbles and menko cards . . .

 . . . past the barber shop . . . the movie theater . . . the seafood store selling clams and seaweed and dried bonito . . . the public bath that stayed open until midnight so the shop owners could visit after they closed for the night . . . the mom-and-pop candy store (the one that sold the model airplanes).

After an hour watching the film and listening to George Takei's narration, I have a much more powerful sense of what one of the speakers means when he says, "Many souls of the dead call out, "I'm here!'"

(Watch trailer for Message from Hiroshima.)

(Read more about Message from Hiroshima: "Remembering Hiroshima Through Cinema" on the Golden Globes website.)

Links to related posts

The Fire and Blast of Hiroshima: Why Are We Still Hiding It?

Can We Confront the Fire and Blast of Nuclear War and Still Remain Human? (Watching "Grave of the Fireflies")

"People Will Find the Way to Eliminate Nuclear Injury"

An extensive list of resources on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on this AFSC event page.

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Friday, May 11, 2018

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: "Korea's Place in the Sun" by Bruce Cumings

US President Donald Trump and North Korea President Kim Jong-un have set their summit for June 12 in Singapore.

Some people think this event will be all about North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

Others realize it is much bigger -- it includes the resolution of the war that has left Korea divided, and about the US nuclear weapons program, too.

On the nuclear weapons topic -- those of both North Korea and long-standing "nuclear weapons states" like the US -- I've previously told readers here about a vital resource: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: ElBaradei's "Age of Deception."

For the important facts about Korea -- facts that most of us in the US seldom really hear about -- the book to read is "Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History," by Bruce Cumings.

If, like me, you like to start the story in the middle and then spread out in both directions, you might want to dive right into the section describing "The Division of Korea," which starts like this:

In the days just before Koreans heard the voice of Emperor Hirohito for the first time, broadcasting Japan's surrender and Korea's liberation [from four decades of being Japan's colony] on August 15, 1945, John J. McCloy of the State-War-Navy Coordinating Committee (SWNCC) directed two young colonels, Dean Rusk and Charles H. Bonesteel, to withdraw to an adjoining room and find a place to divide Korea. It was around midnight on August 10-11, the atomic bombs had been dropped, the Soviet Red Army had entered the Pacific War, and American planners were rushing to arrange the Japanese surrender throughout the region. Given thirty minutes to do so, Rusk and Bonesteel looked at a map and chose the thirty-eigth parallel because it "would place the capital city in the American zone"; although the line was "further north than could be realistically reached . . . in the event of Soviet disagreement," the Soviets made no objections -- which "somewhat surprised" Rusk. General Douglas MacArthur, the hero of the Pacific campaigns, issued General Order Number One for the Japanese surrender on August 15, including in it (and thus making public) the thirty-eighth parallel decision. The Russians accepted in silence this division into spheres, while demanding a Russian occupation of the northern part of Hokkaido in Japan (which MacArthur refused). (p. 186, 2005 edition)

This is just a taste. We who live in the US need to take much, much, much more responsibility for understanding how things got to be the way they are.

PS - I have previously referred to "Korea's Place in the Sun" - see Korea: A History of Living Under Nuclear Terror.

PPS - Bruce Cumings is one of a handful of scholars in the US who have, for decades, been urging a much more thoughtful approach by US people to the affairs of the countries of Asia - see A Checklist for Critically Reading (and Writing) About North Korea.

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Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Seven Days in May (2018)

Movie poster for Seven Days in May
I have been quietly thinking about and awaiting the events of "Korea Spring" - particularly the meeting between the leaders of South Korea and North Korea, and the meeting between the leaders of the US and North Korea.

"Korea Spring" has the potential to contribute substantially to global peace and denuclearization . . .

 . . . but only if sovereignty, diplomacy, and constitutionality are respected.

The news today that the Trump Administration has renounced the Iran Deal throws those values very much into question.

A few nights ago I watched a movie from the '60s: Seven Days in May.  It's about a US government effort to implement a peace treaty, and to eliminate nuclear weapons . . . and about an attempt to seize power by those who oppose those goals.

It is a worthy complement to the other film I recently mentioned here: Dr. Strangelove. (See Doomsday Machine: Same As It Ever Was . . . .)

Could something like this really ever happen? Well, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was concerned enough about who's taking orders from whom, and how our leaders interpret the US Constitution, that it held a hearing on these issues at the end of 2017:  "Authority to Order the Use of Nuclear Weapons," November 14, 2017.

Do you ever wonder who's running the show?

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