Archive | November 2012

Okinawa’s Struggle – Fighting in the shade

Source: Okinawan Prefectural Government

Click here for the article in Tokyo Weekender

OKINAWA is boiling up again. The last two months have seen two 23-year-old sailors allegedly rape an Okinawan girl, and a US airman break into an apartment and assault an Okinawan boy. It has been reported that since 1972, 5,700 crimes have been committed by US personnel in Okinawa, which suggests some grave failings of law and order for the US Marines of Okinawa.

It must be said that between January 2009 and November 2010, 7,508 Japanese were arrested in Okinawa (compared to 117 criminal cases involving US nationals in the same period). One would of course not expect faultless grace from the locals either, and it would be overwrought to denigrate all Marines on account of a foolhardy minority. But incidences of violent crime from Americans, even when they’re only allegations, evoke a much more visceral response from the locals because of the symbolism involved. If ever a rape or an assault could engender more disgust than would otherwise be expected, it’s when the perpetrator is deemed an unwelcome occupier. Considering that for generations the Okinawan people have had to live in the shadows of a giant US military presence as part of a deal that was made without them, one can start to see legitimate reasons for strife there. Today US military bases cover almost 20 per cent of Okinawa, which makes up 75 per cent of all US military facilities in Japan. The barbed wire fences and the noisy depredation of Okinawa’s tropic environment are a constant reminder to the people of their subaltern status as a dumping ground for geopolitical baggage.

Recently declassified US documents have revealed that the US once wanted to turn the whole of the Okinawan island into one giant military base. The documents were written after the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 – a battle that cost Okinawa roughly one-third of its pre-war population and reduced its towns and farmlands to a slush of blood and debris. The Allied conquest of Okinawa at the time, was designed to provide a launch pad for a subsequent invasion on the Japanese mainland – a plan that was eventually aborted and replaced instead with the dropping of the atomic bombs only a few weeks after the Battle of Okinawa had ended.

The Americans have patrolled the island ever since that time. On September 8, 1951, Japan signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty and brought the Allied Occupation to an end everywhere in Japan except for Okinawa. In Okinawa this day is known as the “Day of Shame” – the day that Japan abandoned Okinawa. US control of Okinawa lasted for another 20 years after this, until its eventual reversion to Japan in 1972. But the post-war negotiations did much to lay the groundwork for an unequal relationship between Okinawa and the Japanese mainland.  Pulitzer Prize-winner and historian John W. Dower has argued that the San Francisco deal in this form had long been in the pipeline, writing that “both the Japanese government and the Imperial Household were willing from an early date to trade away true sovereignty for Okinawa in exchange for an early end to the Occupation in the rest of Japan”.

At this time, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) General Douglas MacArthur was trying to justify US control over Okinawa by declaring that “Okinawans are not Japanese”. Prior to its annexation by Japan in 1879, Okinawa was indeed the centre of the ancient and independent Ryukyu Kingdom with its own rich cultural heritage. One of the most symbolic links to this history was the age-old Shuri Castle, which the Japanese appropriated for use as command headquarters in the Battle of Okinawa and which the US pummeled with shells to its eventual destruction. As Michael Molasky points out in his brilliant book The US Occupation of Japan and Okinawa: Literature and Memory, the desecration of this cultural Okinawan treasure “vividly encapsulates Okinawa’s sense of being trapped by two outside forces”.

But if MacArthur is right that Okinawans are not Japanese, wouldn’t it rather suggest that they be excused from Japan’s war responsibilities, rather than being dumped with the most burdensome of them? The Okinawans should either be acknowledged as a separate people and apologized to for being annexed and involved in imperialist wars, or, they should be embraced as fellow Japanese equals and treated as such. It certainly doesn’t follow that the island should be turned into one giant US military camp as was initially planned, and which was partially realised.

Instead the Okinawans have not been given even a token consideration in the allocation of bases and the subsequent bulldozing of their island. For the US-Japan Alliance the bases there are conveniently tucked away from the collective consciousness of the Japanese mainland majority, thereby relegating most opposition to the Alliance to the fringes. The bases are also strategically convenient for the Alliance due to their location nearer to US ally Taiwan and other disputed territories in the region (notably the Senkaku Islands). Perhaps MacArthur had these factors in mind when declaring that the Okinawans are not Japanese. Of course one may only speculate as to the reasons why Okinawa was traded away in the San Francisco talks and militarized, but the fact remains that the Okinawans have been mere bystanders throughout it all, reduced to a disposable instrument of geopolitics.

The Okinawans are still struggling for their land 40 years after reversion. Nowadays, with the highest unemployment rate, the lowest salaries, and the fewest students finishing high school anywhere in the country, Okinawans would seem to have less and less to feel optimistic about. But after a breakthrough deal was made this year to relocate 9,000 Marines to bases either in Guam or Hawaii, there might well be long and overdue cause for celebration. The deal is a testament to the tenacity of the pro-Okinawan lobbyists who have tried for so long to rebalance unequal relations between Okinawa and Tokyo as well as the unequal US-Japan Alliance. The remaining 10,000 Marines on the island will still have to address their criminal tendencies of course, and questions remain over the relocation of the Futenma base – a base that former US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, while flying overhead in 2003 called “the world’s most dangerous base” on account of the its proximity to the densely populated Ginowan city. But in the process of trying to resolve these issues, the Okinawans will surely be wary of the 40 years since reversion that it has taken for them to secure a political victory and finally get recognition for the sacrifices they have made.


Debate – Revelation and the ethics of a godless world

*An old friend and Christian ethicist posted the below quotation, to which I couldn’t help but respond. What followed was a debate mainly between NR & ART and myself (HW), on Revelation and on the question of whether humans would be worse off morally without a god. Feel free to carry on the debate with any comments of your own.
NR – “I have the impression that many of the debates within the Church around such issues as the papacy, the ordination of women, the marriage of priests, homosexuality, birth control, abortion and euthanasia take place on a primarily moral level. On that level, different parties battle about right and wrong. But that battle is often removed from the experience of God’s first love which lies at the base of all human relationships. Words like right-wing, reactionary, conservative, liberal, and left-wing are used to describe people’s opinions, and many discussions then seem more like political battles for power than spiritual searches for the truth.”

(Henri J. M. Nouwen)

HW – Isn’t the problem in the first place the notion of looking for the truth through revelation? Religious debates around these issues are centred around the premise that an imperfectly evolved human can understand the mind of God – how God wants us to live, what food God wants us to eat, who God wants us to sleep with, and so on. These are things that are simply unknowable, and therefore any attempts to settle them under the rubric of revealed truth ultimately leads to deadlock or worse.

NR – Henry, I take your point, but even if I agreed entirely, I wouldn’t say this puts theologians any worse off than folks in any other field of study. Historians seek to find out what happened in the past but studying evidence people left behind, physical science seeks to find things out about the physical world by studying it. All of their conclusions are in a state of constant revision. The key is to be able to admit honestly when you aren’t sure of something. Theologians are sometimes bad at doing this, but again, I don’t think worse than folks in any other field of study.

HW – I have to say that I do think that theologians are worse off than other folks, simply by virtue of the fact that theologians are not only attempting to provide answers about the metaphysical, they’re looking to the metaphysical for moral guidance. Theologians set themselves the impossible task of trying to find moral truth in things that are unprovable or unfalsifiable. It is therefore very difficult to have a productive political discussion on birth control with one who claims to know that God is on their side. A scientist or historian on the other hand, has an abundance of physical stuff with which to experiment on and draw conclusions from. They are surely far better off in their claims.

J – Frankly I feel much more thoroughly brainwashed than theologians and there are quite a few of “folks” like me so no problem there….. Also, ethicists provide answers to the moral issues… Just thought I would point that out

HW – But at least ethicists make deductions that are grounded in the material world. Utilitarians make mathematical equations. Kantians respect other humans because they are rational beings. Metaphysical guess work is not required to cast moral judgement.

NR –  J: I agree … ethicists do provide answers to moral issues. All Nouwen is saying is that, when looking for those answers, we must be animated by a genuine love of truth, and not by a political desire to see “our side” win the argument. I don’t see the problem with that …

Henry: You seem to assume that most Christian ethicists just make moral judgments based purely on metaphysical claims about revelation, without dealing with the material world. They don’t.

Also, all forms of ethics have metaphysical presuppositions. As David Hume pointed out, it’s almost impossible to move from material data about the world to the act of making a moral judgment (the famous is-ought problem), without some metaphysical framework that gives that material data meaning and significance. Otherwise, your material data is just that: material data, with no moral significance. Utilitarians and Kantians make metaphysical assumptions just the same as Christian ethicists.

ART – NR, top man. I think in principle, theology suffers from the same problems as other forms of metaphysical inquiry.

HW – Sorry to get stuck in like this, but it’s helpful and instructive for me as I hope it is for you.

I’m not clear on the metaphysical assumptions of utilitarians. But I wouldn’t take their arguments seriously without some sort of material basis. The religious principles I respect – The Golden Rule for example, contain absolutely no posturing of the metaphysical kind. The Golden Rule by the way can also be found in The Analects of Confucius. It has a biological explanation, based on empathy and reason. I require the same standards of the is-ought problem. If I make a promise to someone, I know I ought to do whatever was promised, not because God ordained it, but because I have respect for a fellow rational being and because society can only function on such order. I think this sort of humanism is innate in everyone.

The reason I will not take metaphysical justifications seriously is because, as ART alluded to, metaphysical inquiry across the board suffers from the same problems. It’s irrefutable. That’s not to say it’s unimportant. On the contrary, it’s an absolute imperative. But problems inevitably arise when we start to use flimsy metaphysical assumptions to argue one way or another on the above issues i.e. a woman should be stoned for adultery because God said so.

ART – Henry, I’ve no time to reply now in full,  I would say briefly that I don’t agree with this idea that one’s ethical code is weakened necessarily through belief in god as justification or a premise for good action. I just don’t see this dichotomy between rational belief systems and faith-based. I think that ultimately it takes a leap of faith to believe that one ‘ought’ to do good to other humans. There are plenty of rational reasons why one ‘ought’ not in many cases. The argument surrounding abortion is a case in point. Indeed, reason can lead me towards both pro-life positions and pro-choice. Wdyt?

NR – Henry … I agree completely re: people getting stoned for adultery just because someone thinks God said so, or that they should keep promises *just* because God ordained it that way. But as I pointed out above (and you seemed to gloss over this point), this isn’t how Christian ethicists actually reason things out! You seem to be assuming that a few crazy fundamentalists are somehow representative of the entirety of Christianity.

In other words, I agree that you can’t base a position on one of the above issues *purely* on metaphysical assumptions about God’s will, for example.

As for the the Golden Rule, it has a significant metaphysical assumption, which is that all human beings are equal, and must therefore be treated with equal dignity. This is not at all obvious if you are just looking at the material. In fact, if you just look at human beings materially, then you’d have to conclude we are NOT equal.

ART – By the way, Henry, if you’d like an original all-be-it slightly outlandish critique of humanism then I suggest John Gray. Also Alasdair Macintyre’s ‘After Virtue’ I recommend most highly. Good day to you all!

HW – Thanks for the recommendations! Alasdair Macintyre’s work certainly looks interesting. I’m somewhat familiar with John Gray. He’s an almighty pessimist from what I gather. I’ve read one of his called “Enlightenment’s Wake”, but his other work is certainly on the shopping list.

Sorry I glossed over the earlier point regarding the maturer realms of Christian ethics. Needless to say, I welcome such things, i.e the embrace of Occam’s razor – selecting the hypothesis that makes the least assumptions.

On the latter point. I’m not entirely convinced of the metaphysical significance you attach to the Golden Rule. Allow me to pose a hypothetical scenario for a moment: Supposing that by some wild chance, we stumbled upon evidence that categorically disproved the existence of God (or disproved that God even intervenes in human affairs), would one think that our responsibilities to one another suddenly evaporated along with it? I’d wager not. I’d wager in fact, that we’d lean on that which is, and has always been, innate within us. The idea that we wouldn’t know right from wrong without divine permission, I find somewhat degrading.

The Israelites would surely not have been able to make it to the foot of Mount Sinai, if they hadn’t already known that murder was wrong.

NR – The impression I get from reading your comments is that you think all religious ethics are just different forms of divine command theory. This isn’t the case, especially not in Catholicism (since Nouwen was Catholic) — I know of no respected Catholic ethicist who put forward a version of divine command theory for at least 500 years. The last well-known theologian (i.e. that most people might have heard of) who held this idea was William of Ockham, who died in 1347. To use Euthyphro’s dilemma, most Catholic ethicists would say God forbids X because it is wrong, not that X is wrong because God forbids it. All I can encourage you to do is to read what you call the “maturer realms of Christian ethics”, because this IS real Christian ethics.

When Nouwen — or any other Christian — says that our search for answers to difficult moral questions should be “spiritual searches for the truth”, he doesn’t just mean you just open a Bible and expect to get all the answers. You can’t separate what he says here from the general Christian belief in God as Creator of the entire material universe. So a Christian ethicist who was conducting an honest search for the truth would look at material data, human biology, and all of the same things secular ethicists would look at, in addition to Revelation (and even then, an intelligent Christian is obviously going to interpret Revelation itself only in accordance with what we know is true about the physical world).

But thank you for your thoughts, you raise interesting questions.

ART – Henry, you say that we know innately that murder is wrong but is this indeed the case, or should I ask, has this always been so in every case? The answer is clearly no. Indeed the ethics of killing differ greatly in different civilizations and time. The Old Testament’s emphasizes revenge as justifible (eye for an eye) whilst Ancient Greeks considered it perfectly okay to kill a barbarian (a non-Greek) if deemed in the interests of the polis. Sumerians, Aryans, Persians, cave-dwellers; all of them have extremely different attitudes towards murder than we do. For one thing, such ethics are very far from the ”Golden Rule’ as you would have it

HW – NR: I raised the hypothetical scenario in response to your comments on the Golden Rule. Previously you inferred that the rule wouldn’t apply (or would become weaker) without the metaphysical assumptions that give it significance. The point I was making is that if you remove these assumptions, the rule still applies, our morals don’t evaporate, or arguably even falter.

Using your comments on Euthyphro’s dilemma and Nouwen, we seem to have reached a stage where the commands of God can simply be made to follow our own human-based, socially constructed codes of ethics. It seems therefore that invoking God has become an add-on, secondary, and principally only used only for politically expedient purposes, i.e. commanding authority. (It recalls to me a story I heard of the Catholic Belgian Physicist, Georges Lamaitre, who first came up with the Big Bang theory. After making his discovery, he went to show his findings to Pope Puis XII, who is reputed to have said “if you like, I’ll make it dogma”, which needless to say, is besides the point).

You are right however, I am not nearly as well-read on Christian ethics as I should be. Which is probably why I find your comments so absorbing.

Alexander, The Old Testament ALSO sanctions the killing of barbarians – the extermination of the Amalekites for example. But from your list of civilisations, I am struck by how malleable and man-made our gods and divine injunctions have been. Which is a rather different story from what was said earlier, that God hardens our morals, and gives us reason not to kill one another.

We have plenty of humanist reasons not to kill. Socrates called it the inner Daemon, Adam Smith – the internal witness. C.S Lewis decided to call it ‘conscience’ and attribute it to the divine. But I think it’s fair to say that this inner critic would go on functioning even in the above mentioned hypothetical. Would it not?

HW – I suppose I should be more concise. I’ll just put it into one last question. NR made this comment earlier – “it [the Golden Rule] has a significant metaphysical assumption… if you just look at human beings materially, then you’d have to conclude we are NOT equal”. Does this fall under Divine Command Theory?

NR – No, I don’t think the Golden Rule is a Divine Command, as such. I think it follows logically once you accept two things, 1) human beings are equal, and 2) there is something special about humanity which requires that humans be treated in a dignified way (otherwise we could just treat one another equally badly!). But I don’t think either of these things can just be derived purely from nature, especially not 2).

In his book “The Idea of Human Rights” Michael Perry has an essay (the first one I think) in which he argues that there is no coherent secular justification for human rights. Ultimately, he says, the only intelligible idea of human rights ends up grounding itself in religious ideas about human life being “sacred”. And Perry is a Professor of Law, not a theologian, so he doesn’t have a particular theological axe to grind. The link is here if you are interested:

So its not, as you say, that God would therefore just be an “add-on” to our socially constructed codes of ethics. More like the other way around — God grounds the whole enterprise of ethics in the first place by creating humanity with a social and rational nature that necessitates the construction of ethical codes. The concept of “Divine Command” shouldn’t be thought of like God is saying, “do this, do that”. It is the will of God that gives the force of obligation to natural goodness, allowing us to make the leap from the “is” of nature to the “ought” of morality. Insofar as Revelation has an ethical role, it is more to remind us of things that we could know by our powers of reason, but which tend become obscured by the effects of sin/weakness/ignorance/force of bad habit/lack of education/you name it.

Ultimately I agree with you that there are plenty of humanist reasons that can be given not to kill, for example, and that people who do not explicitly profess faith in God can lead ethical lives. But the real question is whether there are compelling reasons (apart from naked self-interest) to be a humanist in the first place, if there is no God.

ART – Ha ha, Henry I just found out where you got that thing about CS Lewis, Socrates and Adam Smith; a certain Mr Hitchens! I must say the more I read about the dear Christopher, the more I think there is a great deal to enjoy, applaud and be inspired by. I personally think his repudiation of religion went too far, but this can be said even more strongly of other modern anti-theists. Ultimately, his arguments break down where all positivistic atheist arguments break down, and this is when they try to assert that atheism is anything more than scepticism. In the final analysis, this argument breaks down because of the following; we have no way of conceiving what God is and thus we have absolutely no way of evaluating the evidence one way or another. Of course the same argument can be used for any organized religion which is why I am of no faith. I like to think this was the position of Socrates too and explains his Apology. Ciao

HW – Haha yes. I’d have referenced it if this was an academic paper (seems to be turning into one!). Having said that, I don’t intend on being a mouthpiece for the late Hitchens, if you were hoping for such a thing. I do on the other hand wish to support secularism and Enlightenment principles, which is why I can’t get behind an argument that claims human rights are indefensible by themselves, and therefore need to be sanctified for our convenience through some shopping in the market of metaphysics.

NR, I’m sure I’d get all the nourishment I need in a conversation with you.

As far as I can see, your comments are a more refined version of divine command theory; one that pays less attention to divine injunctions, but instead posits that God is the author and proprietor of human rationality (although I’m sure many religious people end up honouring the injunctions as a sort of repayment for the percieved endowment of their rational minds). Of course, there is no way that I (or anyone else, for that matter) could possibly know whether we are indeed the property of God. But either way, it’s undeniably that we can devise laws and make moral decisions in a way that is independent of God. If we can decide by ourselves for example, that slavery is wrong (which the bible fails to mention), then we can get by without the assumption there is a God. Humans rights can be sacrosanct without being sacred.

I don’t know if we’ll come to agree on this, but I enjoy the intellectual stimulation all the same!

NR – Thanks Henry. Its been an interesting discussion.

I think you understood what I was arguing quite well, although we would probably disagree about whether it is possible to rationally know that some kind of Divine Being exists. I do agree with you that to a certain extent it is possible for people to live ethically without Divine Revelation. But I don’t think this is the same as saying people have no need for God. That would be to assume that the function of God is just to tell us what to do, and therefore if we already know how to live ethically, we don’t need him. Insofar as religion has a primary “function”, I would say it consists not in telling us how to live, but in loving God and being loved by him.

The Nationalism of “The Small Difference”

Click here for the article in Metropolis

This past summer those poorly stitched up old wounds in East Asia just about turned septic. As Japanese flags went up in flames in China, the prime minister of Japan, Yoshihiko Noda, pleaded with its neighbors to look at the “broader picture,” hoping they would side with their usual pragmatism rather than give in to the nationalist fervor that evidently fills their countries. But if Noda wants to subdue nationalists from across the sea, he has to be willing to stand up to the overbearing nationalist lobby in his own country.

It’s usually around the end of the summer, with the anniversaries of the A-bomb and Japan’s surrender, that East Asia opens the books on “war memory” and goes through its annual disputes over historical records, compensation and island sovereignty. For over 60 years, China and South Korea have refused to accept international adjudication on the island disputes from the International Court of Justice. Without any hope of consensus, the disputes have instead become the symbols of a nationalist cause and an excuse to caricature Asian neighbors in a most bloated and sinister way.

In Japan, the proponents of this are known as the “revisionist conservatives”—the most parochial yet outspoken group in post-war Japan. One revisionist conservative for example, the recently resigned governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, broke the parameters of a city governor by stepping into national foreign policy and pledging to buy the Senkaku Islands unilaterally. The government nonetheless failed to denounce his actions and instead allowed itself to be led sheepishly into the latest confrontation with China.

The revisionists also foiled attempts by the Asia Women’s Fund (AWF) to compensate “comfort women” from eight Asian countries occupied by Japanese forces during the war. Their opposition allowed for only a tepid, carefully worded, lawyer’s apology from the Japanese government to those victims, and it has also forced the omission of the comfort women issue in the most recent middle-school history textbooks.

War memory is readily used as political capital in Japan. Revisionists such as Nagoya mayor, Takashi Kawamura, still think that downplaying or outright denying the Nanjing Massacre is the best way to get under the skin of the Chinese, which evidently it is, and that it’s the best way to restore Japan’s post-imperial national integrity, which most certainly it is not. The mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto, played the same card with his dismissal of the comfort women issue, while Ishihara has made countless ventures into Sinophobia and Nanjing denial.

The fact that these reactionaries have been popularly elected into three major Japanese cities shows that the Japanese electorate prefers either to ignore foreign policy issues or that it favors a more digestible and self-assured foreign policy narrative. But if the Japanese citizenry wishes to carry on their current trajectory, they must be willing to face lasting alienation from the region.

They might bear in mind the lengths their elected revisionist leaders will go to in order to salvage the “glorious” past. They will obsess over fractions in the historical records, and they will feel vindicated when Japan is alienated because of it. To let their attempts discredit the sincerity of the war apology effort embodied in the Peace Constitution—and people like Saburo Ienaga and Yohei Kono—is to make sure the scars of the past stay bloody and exposed. And if anyone in Japan finds this deplorable then they should say so, so that the Chinese and South Koreans, as perceptible as they are, hear only sincere contrition, and not the insufferable ambivalence that they’re hearing now.

Whether it’s rock droppings in the sea or historical records, it’s clear that the small differences in East Asia matter. Freud encapsulated these sentiments well with what he called “the narcissism of the small difference”—the exercise of exaggerating minor differences for the purpose of developing one’s own sense of uniqueness.

Instead of East Asian history, proponents of this nationalism should look back to early 20th century Europe where nationalism collided to inglorious ends. In doing so, they might see the poverty of an ideology that is largely predicated on a hatred for other countries; or an ideology that abhors self-criticism, breeds indifference to the suffering of foreign peoples, but compels its followers to rally for the absorption of a handful of rock droppings in the sea.