JUST last Wednesday, a memorial bell tolled over a silent and sombre crowd of observers in the Japanese city of Nagasaki. Some wept as the ominous tones rang out. All had their eyes down in deep contemplation.
Just three days prior, a similar ceremony took place in Hiroshima to mark the 72nd anniversary of the world’s first nuclear attack in which over 200,000 people lost their lives.
It was a moment for us, as a planet, to remember the fallen and to be reminded of the untamed cruelty of man. A time to take stock and contemplate the savagery of war.
But as the bell tolled out, I now wonder who was listening.
As we find ourselves once again bandying nuclear threats, I fear it may have fallen on deaf ears.
With the US and North Korea once again posturing for war, the escalating rhetoric being hurled from both sides has taken an unsettlingly familiar ire.
US President Donald Trump has threatened North Korea will be “met with fire and fury like the world has never seen”; comments I feel disturbingly echo those of President Harry S. Truman – the only man in history to launch a nuclear strike – who in 1945 subjected Japan to “a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.”
Military solutions are now fully in place,locked and loaded,should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 11, 2017
In response to Trump’s bellicose comments, North Korea has accused the president of driving the situation “to the brink of nuclear war” and made claims it has plans in place to bomb the US territory of Guam at a moment’s notice.
The bombastic threat slanging remains (so-far) just that – wild threats. But to hear such alarming warnings being thrown so callously by a US president just days after the remembrance of the last nuclear disaster, just shows how quickly we forget.
It is easy to look back on history through a warped lens of self-preservation. A lens that distances us now from the horrors of then, with a distorted belief that we, somehow, would never have been capable of such heinous acts.
We assign the atrocities of history, not to men, but to monsters. Bigots who are not like us. People who are barely people at all, but scary unrelatable bogeymen.
We convince ourselves that we are different, that we have moved on, that we are more civilised, more caring, more self-aware than those monsters of the past – strong in the belief that I could never have worked in Auschwitz, I would never have raised a weapon in genocide, I could never press the button.
By distancing ourselves, we assign such barbarisms to remote and isolated actions of the past, rather than seeing them as warning signs for the future.
There is a quote that US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley made back in March regarding global nuclear disarmament that has stuck with me ever since.
On explaining the US’ decision to abstain from the General Assembly on the topic, Haley said:
“We can’t honestly say that we can protect our people by allowing the bad actors to have them and those of us that are good, trying to keep peace and safety, not to have them.”
I appreciate the geopolitical landscape has drastically shifted since the end of World War II, and fresh dangers in the world do indeed exist, but the profound lack of self-awareness coming from the only country on the planet to ever use nuclear weapons struck me as quite jarring.
And I think the description of the US as a “good” guy, just “trying to keep peace and safety” would not sit too comfortably with many residents of Iraq and Afghanistan in today’s current landscape.
From Haley’s viewpoint on the situation, the over 200,000 souls who lost their lives due to the orders of one man are no longer a part of the conversation.
It was a different time, we claim. It was extreme circumstances, we say. It could never happen again, we tell ourselves – until it does.
Do I think this latest confrontation will lead to nuclear war? No. It will likely remain the chest beating and macho posturing we saw back in April with little, if any, physical action.
But there is danger in these verbal strikes as this is how it begins. History has shown us things can all too easily slip in to the despicable mire of war and destruction, not through the actions of outside monstrous forces, but by the cumulative actions of men.
We would do well to remember this. If we continue to assign the atrocities of history to monsters, then we will avoid looking ourselves in the mirror.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent