December 15, 2017

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An Appeal for Peace

The Angel Wings project by Colette Miller allows people at different places around the world to interact with an image commonly associated with peace.

To my fellow Americans,

For the past seven years I have been living in Japan as an American expat. Within my first year in Tokyo, the Tohoku earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear explosion at Fukushima took place. I remained then despite fears of nuclear radiation, just as I continue to live in Tokyo now despite the threat of a nuclear attack from North Korea. The difference this time is that I feel I cannot share my fears with my Japanese friends, because though I have the option of returning home to my family, where would the Japanese people go? Though there are many days when I feel powerless to influence change, I also feel that we Americans have a responsibility to try.

Unfortunately the Trump administration continues to threaten Kim Jong Un that we will annihilate his country, while simultaneously alienating governments around the world that used to be our allies. When US bombers flew over North Korea last month, the South Koreans and Japanese did not join them. This is because South Korea and Japan are so close to North Korea that we would have less than ten minutes to take cover here if a nuclear weapon was directed at us, and they do not want war.

Since the end of the Second World War, by order of General MacArthur, Japan has followed a constitutional policy of upholding peace and not investing in a military. During this period, Japan flourished economically. Ironically, the incentive to uphold peace in Japan was strongly influenced by the memory of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

My grandfather’s experiences of fighting in the Pacific Theatre during the Second World War, and his photos and stories of Japan immediately after the war, influenced my desire to study Japanese. Grandpa Bill was a great lawyer, and he and I used to enjoy debating for many hours. The only time that he lost his cool and walked out on a debate is when we spoke about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As a patriotic member of the US Air Force, my grandfather believed that the nuclear bombings were necessary to end the war. When I imagine the extent of their destruction and the immense loss of human life, I find that hard to believe. I do not want to even imagine the possibility that we may do the same to the North Koreans.

While he believed that the nuclear bomb was necessary to put an end to many years of continued violence, my grandfather also recounted his horror in surveying the destruction American bombers wreaked on Tokyo in the Tokyo Great Air Raid. Bill worked from the radio control towers in Guam, and did not personally operate bombers; however one of his friends who did, invited him for a flight over Tokyo shortly after the bombing. The devastating sight of a burnt down city remained one of his strongest memories of the war over sixty years later.

Many of my grandfather’s close friends were killed in the war, so when the war ended and the US military declared their victory of the Japan, he did not celebrate in the same way as those Americans who had not experienced the tragedy of war first-hand. Perhaps as a way to mourn the loss of his friends, Bill stayed on in Tokyo for some time afterwards to work on the reconstruction, before returning to the US to attend Harvard Law School.

Despite this very painful chapter of our shared histories, the US and Japan have been close allies since the end of the Second World War, and I have rarely encountered Japanese exhibiting anti-americanism.

Recently in a ballet class in Tokyo, a man in his late sixties who usually joins the barre lesson asked me very politely if it would be alright for him to practise speaking in English with me for a few minutes, as he had not had the opportunity to visit the US for a number of years. He then preceeded to tell me his lifestory. He was the son of a Japanese woman from Okinawa and an American G.I. who had left her and the baby behind a couple years after the war at a time when mariage between Japanese and Americans was not recognized in the US. Some years later, but while he was still a young boy, his mother left for Los Angeles to marry another GI, as in the meantime interracial marriage had become legalized. So this man, just a few years older than my own parents, became an orphan in Tokyo. He saw his mother again for the first time fifteen years later when he travelled to the US as an adult. By this time, she had a few American children, who at her death made sure that the Japanese son was not included in her inheritance. He never reconnected with his biological father, who apparently had married an American upon returning to the US.

What struck me in his story, was that the elderly dancer did not feel any anger towards our country, which I would have thought he would have every reason to resent. Instead he wanted to visit the US again and to continue improving his English. To me his attitude was a poignant example of forgivance.

Since the end of the Second World War, and throughout the Cold War, the US has continued to engage in a worldwide competition of increasing militarization to the point where we now have the capacity to destroy the total earth landmass. Why would we want to do that? Are there no more useful outlets for our vast resources, knowledge, expertise and ingenuity than developing ways to destroy ourselves and all of humanity?

North Korea and Iran, by entering this very dangerous game, have decided that they would like to assert themselves on the world stage, therein highlighting the extent of our folly. If we do not believe that our adversaries should bear nuclear arms, then as a true world leader, why can we not demonstrate this point by de-arming ourselves? Given the current international tensions, perhaps no one will agree with my idealistic suggestion, but then why can we not comprehend why North Korea and Iran would want to have the same nuclear capability, if for nothing else, than to deter their enemies?

In a world where everyone is on social media (including our leaders), and people are constantly pursuing their thirty seconds of fame on youtube or the Amazon bestseller list, ironically it seems that people have lost the ability to make their voices heard. And even as we post selfies on Instagram and Facebook, giving us the illusion of being constantly connected to the world, we avoid looking too closely at those images that remind us of the tragedy experienced by those caught up in the midst of conflicts or the very real and painful situations of refugees.

Over the last year I have felt increasingly anxious about the future, and some of the destructive policies that the US government is pushing on the geopolitical, diplomatic and environmental fronts. Recently I frequently checked my smartphone for news of Trump and Kim’s War of Words, praying that it will not blow up into a real war.

I have had nightmares of being caught with friends under planes dropping explosives, being radiated and burning. Perhaps I am irrational, or perhaps this is a fear shared by others in my generation, in particular in the two Koreas and Japan, and maybe even in the United States.

I believe in peace. I also believe that most Americans, Japanese, Koreans, Iranians, Chinese, Russians and other peoples of the world, even those who work for the military, do not want war.

When the Vietnam War happened, Americans were shocked by images of terrified children trying to escape chemical warfare. My parents’ generation went out into the streets and protested, even if the US was never at risk of being attacked by the Vietnamese, simply because they disagreed with the horrors of that war.

Today we run a serious risk of being attacked with nuclear weapons or seeing our own government use them to wreak massive destruction. We are also putting the countries around North Korea at a huge risk, including the country in which I live now. And yet we sit quietly in front of our computers, following the opinions of like-minded people on social media and feeling powerless to stop a seemingly inevitable advance of history.

Today if I were in the US I would like to go out onto the street and start a protest. I believe that the American people have no desire to annihilate an already impoverished people living in a hermit kingdom halfway around the world. We need to stop threatening Kim Jong Un and driving him into a corner, from which he will feel that his only hope to defend his family and people is to attack. Most importantly, I believe that the only way we can retain any importance on the global stage is through promoting peace, acceptance and diversity.

We want to be able to sleep peacefully at night in a land of opportunity, to love and not fear for the lives of friends and families. Hopefully we also want these opportunities for the largest number of people from all backgrounds, rather than only for a privileged minority. The United States was founded on Christian values. Then why have we forgotten some of the most fundamental teachings of the Bible? “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:14) “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

As Americans, we cannot afford to sit by quietly any longer as a couple powerful individuals threaten the world with a war so terrible that it is beyond our imagination. Please go out, proclaim peace and show the world that we do not believe in “America first” at the expense of others and in bullying and threats, but in the power of humanity.

Bryerly Long (29)

As I visited the exhibit at the Marine and Walk in Yokohama by myself, I asked passersby to take these photos. In a big city like Tokyo, it is easy to feel sometimes lonely and anonymous. Interactive exhibits like this one allow us to engage with strangers.

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