On the same day, Friday Aug 14, two historic speeches were given that presage turning points in history and an improvement in hopes for the future. The first speech was that of the Japanese PM Shinzo Abe, on the 70th Anniversary of the end of WWII on VJ Day, and the second speech was by US Secty. of State John Kerry on the reopening of the US Embassy in Havana, Cuba, after 54 years of hostility. What is the true significance of these speeches and these events?
The opening to Cuba represents another in Pres. Obama’s liberal policies of reversing previous hard-line policies that hark back to the Cold War. There is no doubt that when the Embassy in Cuba was closed and diplomatic relations were severed back in the 1960’s there were serious problems between Castro’s Cuba and the USA. The fact is that in a deliberate act of hostility Castro agreed to the setting up of Soviet missiles on Cuba targeted at the USA, only 90 miles away. Pres. Kennedy would not stand for this and so the Cuban Missile Crisis erupted that nearly led to nuclear war between the USA and USSR. Luckily that was averted and the missiles were withdrawn. Since then the USSR no longer exists and Cuba has returned to what it always was, a Caribbean backwater with few resources struggling to survive. It needs the US more than the US needs Cuba, but there are still serious issues of human rights and freedom of speech that are denied in Cuba. With diplomatic relations re-established it is hoped that the US can have a positive influence on these issues. At least in that respect this is a positive move.
PM Abe and Emperor Akihito both expressed “sincere remorse” for the suffering that Japan’s war of conquest throughout East Asia unleashed on the peoples of China, Korea, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Burma, etc. They were also thinking of the suffering of the Japanese people as a result of the Allies military response that ended with the dropping of the Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that together killed ca. 200,000 people. For the peoples and countries of East Asia, nothing they could say would be enough to satisfy their animosity towards the Japanese for the atrocities that they committed during WWII. As a result there was rioting in China and S. Korea criticizing the speeches for not going far enough. It is similar to the situation of the Jews and Germany, nothing can ever make up for the terrible atrocities that the Germans inflicted on the Jewish people.
Here is a small anecdote from my experiences in Japan, that I visited three times mostly for scientific meetings. I gave a lecture at a biotechnology company outside Tokyo, actually within sight of Mt. Fuji. I had had three Japanese post-doctoral students and their opinions must have been sought before I was invited (this is how things are done in Japan). After the presentation and meeting several people, we all went out to dinner, about 25 people seated around a large circular table. After dinner and drinking of much sake, conversation turned to things other than science. Perhaps they thought that I was very sympathetic to Japan, that I am, but someone asked me “what do you think of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan?” I replied candidly that I supported it, because the Japanese military Government had started the war and it was estimated that it would cost another 1 million American lives to actually capture Japan and bring the war to an end, and in order to avoid that, dropping the A-bombs was justified. They are after all merely more destructive bombs, that no doubt Germany and Japan would have used if they had developed them first. The response I got was complete silence. I had obviously said the wrong thing, not what they were expecting. Scientifically they liked my work, but I never heard from them again.
Unfortunately, for all the plaintive hopes for peace, war is still continuing in Syria and Iraq, and hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and millions displaced. What could we expect if either the Shia Revolutionary State of Iran, or the putative Sunni Islamic Caliphate, ever get their hands on nuclear weapons? Then mass destruction would once again be released on the world, and we would be first in the firing line.