By Ron Leir
As we mark the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941 – “a date,” as FDR put it, “which will live in infamy,” we mourn the loss of those 2,000+ uniformed men and woman and civilians who perished that day.
And we take in the fact that fewer and fewer WWII survivors remain to bear witness to the horrors of war which, it seems, we – humankind – are fated never to escape.
The folksingers of my generation yearned for a time when we would “study war no more,” but on the other hand, there is probably some practicality to learning how and why nations “lift up sword” against each other – in the theory, at least, that we can avoid repeats.
In that context, let’s examine today’s geopolitical landscape where – with the passage of 75 years – we can see that things are very much topsy-turvy: the old NATO alliances are shaky at best and global relationships are shifting with every Tweet.
For starters, let’s look at Japan, courtesy of an analysis we’ve culled from theglobalist.com compiled in July 2015.
After its defeat by the Allies, Japan’s Constitution was amended in 1947 to mandate, under Article 9, that the country would renounce its sovereign right to declare war and would no longer maintain a military force.
While it has pretty much abided by that self-imposed restraint, the government’s current leader, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has been pushing for more money in the national budget to build up the military, despite vocal opposition by Japan’s citizenry.
Abe, according to theglobalist.com, is aligned with a “powerful ultra-nationalist lobby known as Nippon Kaigi (Japan Conference)” which “insists that the American Occupation and the Constitution emasculated Japan.”
Members of this lobby advocate “restoring the Emperor to his pre-war divine position and cleansing the minds of students sullied by left-wing teachers ….”
Then there have been the visits in 2013, by Abe, and in 2014, by two of Abe’s Cabinet ministers, to the Yasukuni Shrine to 14 Japanese war crime figures; the government’s denial that it coerced Korean women into becoming prostitutes for Japanese soldiers during WWII; and discrimination against ethnic Koreans and immigrants.
More recently, there is the ongoing enmity with China over conflicting claims to a string of islands in the South China Sea.
President-elect Trump’s comments that Japan should be prepared to pay more for a defense force of U.S. troops stationed in the country or get its own nuclear weapons could further fuel the nationalist lobby’s campaign.
Similarly, Trump’s opposition to the U.S. signing the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement with Japan and others could stir more hostility.
Meanwhile, the political tide appears to be turning in other countries as well.
Britain, our old WWII ally, has turned inward by having reconsidered its ties to the European Union by going the Brexit route and where that will leave the Brits is anybody’s guess, especially if Scotland opts to go its own way.
In France – where there are several cemeteries containing the graves of thousands of American soldiers – Socialist President Francoise Hollande is not seeking re-election, leaving open the door to populist and far-right campaigners.
Greece, which has stayed alive with periodic infusions of cash from international and European lending sources, is teetering on the brink, along with Italy and Spain, each suffering from high youth unemployment rates and public unrest.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who must be trying to recreate the Ottoman Empire, is having a field day closing newspapers that dare criticize his policies and is pressing for a constitutional change that would allow him to stay in office through 2029.
Australia has made a point of turning away immigrants and recently passed a law that would allow the continued detention of terrorists for years beyond their completed terms if they are deemed to be a continuing threat to local communities.
And in Myanmar, whose leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the military for the past several months has, according to the New York Times, uprooted thousands of Rohingya Muslims from their communities after nine local police officers were reportedly attacked and killed.
On the U.S. Homefront, Native Americans this week celebrated an apparent victory with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denying a permit for the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline to cross Lake Oahe. But the developer can appeal and the president-elect has said he favors the project.
All in all, 2017 promises to be another rousing year of conflict, heartache and plenty of lessons to absorb.