Japan's Nuclear Identity Crisis

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The annual anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6th inevitably prompts an outpouring of a lot of well-meaning pablum. One bracing, eloquent exception to that is novelist Kenzaburo Oe's column on yesterday's New York Times op-ed page.

Ignore Oe's spluttering about the current imbroglio over the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Okinawa. Although it ought to be moved, and although there's no excuse or serious strategic rationale for why Okinawa needs to keep "hosting" the bulk of U.S. forces in Japan, those debates are tangential to Oe's larger point: that many Japanese seem to want to live under the righteous penumbra of the Hiroshima dome AND enjoy the protection of the U.S. nuclear umbrella. Discussing how atom bomb survivors might view a decision by Japan to allow the transit of U.S. nuclear weapons through its territory, Oe writes:

Wouldn't they feel a sense of outrage if they were told that it's their moral responsibility, as citizens of the only atom-bombed country, to choose to live under the protection of a nuclear umbrella, and that wanting to discard that umbrella in favor of freedom is, conversely, an abdication of responsibility?

I doubt Mr. Oe and I would agree with each other on either the decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima and the desirability of a truly nuclear-free world. But his insight provides the basis for a more honest discussion about Japan's claims to moral privilege and its strategic future.

Read the full story at The New York Times.  

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James Gibney is a features editor at The Atlantic. He was a political officer in the U.S. Foreign Service, where he wrote speeches for Warren Christopher, Anthony Lake, and Bill Clinton.

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