bookmark_borderPost-418: Hiroshima Day

Back in the early days here, I mentioned “Hiroshima Day,” August 6, when the first atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

I visited both Hiroshima and Nagasaki in March 2015. Living in Korea at the time, I was in the process of transferring visas, which at the time meant one needed to physically leave Korea to get a fresh 90-day visa, which as far as I know can be done by all the rich-country passport holders, certainly the US, Canada, EU, and Australia. So anytime a visa status would change people would have to leave. Realizing I had one coming up, I planned a two-week trip to Japan to take full advantage of it.

Hiroshima has a large park near the atomic blast site which they call the Hiroshima Peace Park. Nagasaki has something similar but smaller.

I wasn’t thinking about it at the time but I was there in the seventieth anniversary year (1945–>2015). Now the eightieth anniversary year is in sight (2025). What is the legacy of the atomic bombings now?

For one thing, there is a direct line between the bomb’s explosion and the geopolitical picture of today’s East Asia. The Emperor of Japan announced by radio (at noon Tokyo time, August 15, 1945) the surrender and the immediate release of most of the overseas territories Japan had acquired over the past fifty years, including the long-held possession of the island of Taiwan, all the possessions on the mainland of China, the entirety of the Korean peninsula whose fate was to be cast to an open geopolitical open sea, and many of the islands of the Pacific transferred to US administration as spoils of war, and of course the evacuation of all conquests since the expansion of the was in December 1941.

The entire justification for the atomic bombings, and to a lesser extent to the policy of firebombing cities in Germany, German-aligned Europe, and Japan proper, was to induce a non-negotiated peace, full surrender and full-occupation, a radical aim in any war. The Hiroshima atomic bombing’s defenders say it was necessary to ensure a swift and full surrender, allowing for a total occupation and reestablishment of Japan on neutralist and US-friendly terms, to be a weak power in military terms and a jumping-off point for US power in the West Pacific.

In retrospect, the way 1945 geopolitically played out was a net negative. Too much changed, too wildly, too fast, in directions too unpredictable. Several of these problems with us trace indirectly to the atomic bombing and the policy of full-occupation, immediate dispossession of all Japan’s territories, and a rapid carve-up of all its overseas holdings. Those arguing for giving some of these places something like protectorate status for a period were shouted down in the excitement of the time.

As I think over the vast sweep of US foreign policy in East Asia, Southeast Asia, and the West Pacific since the 1940s, this full-occupation-and-puppetization-of-Japan decision was the bedrock on which everything since rests, and the atomic-bombing was simply the application of the full-occupation policy. I don’t know how it could have gone better.

A lot of memorials of Hiroshima are pacifist in nature, of course, with the message being that violence is bad, bombing of civilians is very bad, and atomic bombing is very very bad. But dropping a bomb under orders is just an act, one of millions, billions, trillions of acts, in war. Less often have I seen any critique of the policy behind the act. Not the decision to drop the bomb or not, but the decision for full-occupation that made the atomic bombing a logical tactic.

In the mid- and late-2010s I started to drift into the “policy” world in graduate school and then at a job and in general in “policy adjacent” circles. Earlier I had been an interested observer but in getting close to the action you realize what an enormous establishment the “security state” is, but how largely incurious the whole of it is. For twenty years there were hardly any voices against leaving Afghanistan, one of the least important places in the world for US interests and a well-known graveyard of empires. A lot of these ossified attitudes in Washington foreign-policy circles are simply coasting on a path-dependency and inertia that dates to 1945.

bookmark_borderPost-388: Virus Panics; the COVID19 panic vs. the June 2015 MERS panic in S.Korea, as I remember it

The COVID19 virus is all over the news. Though it began in the Chinese interior in Dec. 2019, South Korea is again in the news for an outbreak, as if on cue re-earning its sometime-nickname of the Land of Extremes. S.Korea has racked up more confirmed COVID19 virus infections (called in Korea “Corona19,” 코로나19), by a considerable margin, than anywhere outside the epicenter around Wuhan.

I have a few things I’d like to say related in some way to this latest big virus panic and/or to Korea’s place in it, in descending order of how long ago:

(1) My observations on what’s going on around me now with regard to the virus panic;
(2) China’s soft-power problem; COVID19 as a potential serious a blow to China’s image/prestige;
(3) S.Korea and the negative influence of the Shinchonji group [신천지] (my experiences with this group, which is definitely a cult by popular understanding of the term, date to 2014; second-hand as early as 2012; the experiences were through no fault of my own, as they use front groups and all manner of deceptions to get in contact with people, effectively like an intelligence agency);
(4) My memory of the MERS virus panic of June 2015 that hit South Korea.

I’ll do these in succession in separate posts, starting with the last and most distant, the MERS virus panic of 2015 (2015년6월의 메르스 바이러스-감염병 위기).

I remember “MERS” well. What’s strange to me is how few others seem to, or their memory of it as something minor. I doubt it made the news much at all in the US.

Here we go with this MERS memory post.

The MERS crisis as I remember it:

Continue reading “Post-388: Virus Panics; the COVID19 panic vs. the June 2015 MERS panic in S.Korea, as I remember it”

bookmark_borderPost-374: “A Generalized Crisis of Confidence” (on the political situation in the West by the 2010s)

Like many, I have an interest in the question of why cultural-political entities “decline” — call them states (or proto-states), cultures, or, most-grand of all, civilizations. (This includes “lost civilizations.”)

This interest has informed some of the writing on these pages over the 2010s, most usually indirectly but sometimes pretty directly. Post-252, Western Civilization’s long-forgotten collapse, circa 1200 BC, is an example of the latter.

I recall once being put on a team of three and given ten minutes to come up with something that made sense on the following question: “Was the the French Revolution inevitable?

This is a classic question, or maybe better stated is a variant on the classic question, Why did the French Revolution occur. Many, many volumes have been published on this.

This question was posed to be by a Dr. C. Ch., in a course in my first semester at graduate school, fall 2016. The course had an elaborate name but was effectively on European political history from 1648 to 1945.

I think the team was split between Yes, No, and Unsure. At my suggestion, our team finally agreed on a ‘No’ general response. It was not inevitable. The single critical element was poor leadership. This not only at the level of the king or royal court alone, who definitely are guilty of mismanagement, but all throughout the leadership classes in France and they didn’t seem to “want it” anymore, had stopped trying. Phrased another way is, there was a crisis of confidence in the mid-late 18th century in France.

Continue reading “Post-374: “A Generalized Crisis of Confidence” (on the political situation in the West by the 2010s)”

bookmark_borderPost-356: Unlimited Economic Growth Forever

There is a sense among economists, I would propose, that they constitute a latter-day priestly class ruling over the destiny of civilization regardless of who sits on the throne of overt political power, thus that the priestly (economist) class is above the political class. This priestly economist class sees itself as responsible for the steering of society in the right direction, as responsible for pleasing the gods, for performing the proper rituals, for overseeing that the holy teachings be obeyed to a sufficient degree that the good times go on and the wrath of the gods be averted.

This priestly class has its own debates over theological specifics:  Continue reading “Post-356: Unlimited Economic Growth Forever”

bookmark_borderPost-353: Herr Genscher Speaks (1989): Viewed from the Present

I am studying the German language again after a long hiatus. The last time I formally studied in a classroom setting was 2008. It surprises me how much I can still do in that language.

In my class are two good-humored Greeks I think their mid 20s. One spent a few years in the U.S. as a boy.

This week and next, the teacher’s topic for us is the final year or so of the German Democratic Republic (fall 1989 to fall 1990). Their system, in retrospect, was showing serious signs of strain by August and September 1989; the anti-communist silent protests centered on the Lutheran churches had been ongoing for years Leipzig and Dresden but began to mushroom in October 1989.

The marchers’ two principal chants were “Wir sind Das Volk” [‘We are the People,’ an odd slogan in some ways; some today, long after the days of communist rhetoric, may not realize that their slogan deliberately mocked communist rhetoric about “the People”] and “Gorbi! Gorbi!” Gorbi” [Gorbachev, seen as a savior]); the Berlin Wall was opened by the authorities on November 9th, 1989; the GDR formally continued to exist for another eleven months and held an election which featured a young Angela Merkel as a candidate for the first time; she attached herself quickly to the ruling CDU machine, =inherited this very machine later on, and has been Chancellor 2005 to present at the head of this machine — likely now through 2021, after the latest German election).

What was the “key point” in the dissolution of the German Democratic Republic? The state security services choosing not to suppress October demonstrations was clearly vital. October may already be too late a date, though.

Today the German teacher spent some time on the so-called Genscher Rede [speech] of September 30, 1989 at the West German Embassy in Prague. That is 28 years ago today. At that time, hundreds and then thousands of East Germans had camped out on the West German embassy grounds in Prague hoping for permission to emigrate to the West. The fact that the Czech-Communist security services allowed them to simply jump the embassy fences is another sign in retrospect that the end was near.

We watched the speech. Genscher’s “speech” was just a few seconds long and delivered in a mood reminiscent of a team winning the World Cup.


Genscher gave the speech on the embassy balcony overlooking thousands — some youths (above left) seem to have climbed onto the window sills or balcony to hear it.

This is how a Wiki writer describes Genscher’s speech:

“He announced that he had reached an agreement with the Communist Czechoslovak government that the refugees could leave: “We have come to you to tell you that today, your departure …” (German: “Wir sind zu Ihnen gekommen, um Ihnen mitzuteilen, dass heute Ihre Ausreise …”). After these words, the speech was drowned in cheers.”

Hans-Dietrich Genscher (1927-2016) was actually himself an ‘East German,’ having been born, raised, and lived there until 1952, when he emigrated to West Germany at age 25; in other words, he was an example of the East German state’s problem of losing good people to the much-more-attractive U.S.-backed West German machine. They lost millions this way in the early years. Then, on Sept. 30, 1989, Genscher brought in thousands more. This was a blow the East German state could not handle.

Genscher rose to West German Foreign Minister and Vice-Chancellor (1982-1992) under Helmut Kohl and was previously West German Interior Minister (1969-1974) under SPD Chancellor Willy Brandt). He rose in politics within the Free Democratic Party (FDP), a freemarket-liberal party. In the old days when West Germany’s CDU was still widely considered primarily a “Catholic Party” by Germans, the FDP was a safe place for Protestants on the right. (Almost all pre-communist ‘East Germans’ were, at least nominally.) Genscher was a high government minister under both left- and right-wing governments.

The Genscher speech viewed from almost thirty years later:

There was an federal (Bundestag) election in Germany last weekend. I think two things can be said about the Genscher Speech legacy given the results of the election.

(1) The ruling apparatus and its system may not have been as unpopular as this kind of imagery suggests. The “necoCommunist” party called Linke (which is descended directly from the East German ruling party) got 18% of the eastern vote, and generally does even better than that at the regional level (generally 20-25%). See, e.g., Post-246: Here Comes Bodo Ramelow.

(2) Refugee Imagery and its Political Discontents. I know that today’s Germans have two political/historical memories of Germans-as-refugees: This case is one, this imagery of thousands crowding the embassy grounds in Prague and elsewhere in 1989; the other is earlier but even more important, I think, as it is a kind of ‘foundation myth’ of the Federal Republic [West German state] itself: Following WWII, tens of millions across Europe were homeless and many were expelled or could not return for some reason, i.e. refugees. This included something like 12 million  Germans from points east of the GDR’s eastern border. These expellees formed a large part of the Federal Republic’s population.

These two memories may have been what impelled Chancellor Merkel to suddenly and without consultation announce an open-border policy for refugees in late August 2015, which soon saw 1.5 million Islamic refugees enter Germany. German birth rates are low and the refugees were mainly young and male: One estimate has it that this 2015-2016 refugee wave alone constitutes 10% of the military-age population of Germany; in one fell swoop. This decision seems to have caused a significant exodus of support from Merkel’s party, to the FDP and to a brand-new party to the right of the CDU. For the first time, the Bundestag has a party that threatens the CDU from the right. Their platform is dominated by: “Stop Merkel’s Refugee Policy.”

The new party, the AfD, which was co-led by a man (Alexander Gauland) who left the CDU after forty years over the refugee crisis, did very well in the eastern states, even coming in as the largest party in some districts and a strong second in most of the rest. (The ruling CDU got 27.5% of the vote in the east to the AfD’s 22%.)

bookmark_borderPost-7: No Love for Robot Teachers

Last week’s essay prompt for the high-level students:

Do you agree or disagree:

Robots should replace humans as teachers in the classroom.

I had 27 students complete the essay. Twenty-six opposed robot teachers. Many seemed violently opposed.

The single student of mine who supported robots-as-teachers? A boy in a ninth-grade, born in the fall of 1998, according to his profile on the institute’s staff website. I have not had him in any class before. So far, he strikes me as shy and not particularly  intellectually-curious. His reasons for supporting robots: They are “disinterested” (fair, not taking favorites) and will “always have the correct information”.



Apparently, there have been some so-called “robots” used in classrooms in Korea for two years now:

The 29 robots, about one metre (3.3 feet) high with a TV display panel for a face, wheeled around the classroom while speaking to the students, reading books to them and dancing to music by moving their head and arms.

The robots, which display an avatar face of a Caucasian woman, are controlled remotely by teachers of English in the Philippines — who can see and hear the children via a remote control system.

I don’t think they actually fit the criteria of being robots, though.