Which world war is this?

A very interesting story today cites poll results on American versus Japanese attitudes about the likelihood of a new world war, even if random guy-on-the-street quotes are by definition never presented objectively. It is certainly very telling that Americans are more afraid of North Korean aggression than the Japanese, who are far more likely to be its targets. Also telling that these results come on the heels of a wave of anti-Japan protests in China. Japan is an island nation with a limited armed forces, no nuclear weapons and a constitutional prohibition on war; it faces at least two hostile powers—one by actual policy; the other by tradition—to its immediate east, the latter of which is the most populous nation on earth by far, with a vast territory, a nuclear arsenal and an armed forces of over 2 million active trooops. The US is a continent-spanning super-power (generally held to be the only remaining super-power), isolated by vast oceans from any hostile powers, real or potential; its far-flung military bases and control of the seas and global airspace have no remote parallel in all world history, and it has the planet’s biggest and most state-of-the-art nuclear arsenal by far. Yet Americans are more afraid of a new world war. Maybe this is because Americans realize that this new world war is likely to be “asymmetrical,” and the United States is likely to be its target precisely because it is the global superpower—and, in fact, this war has already been underway since (at least) Sept. 11, 2001. This, however, raises a question (which this blog/zine has always been obsessed with): if this is a new world war, which number will historians assign it? We, of course, argue Four.

It is also comforting that a majority in both countries believe that first use of nuclear weapons is never justified. It is worth noting that the US is the only nuclear power which has never committed to a no-first-use policy. (The Soviets did, but Moscow has since followed Washington’s bad example, officially abandoning this doctrine in 1997. See the Arms Control Association report on Russia’s revised national security strategy.) Even China, which recently engaged in some unseemly nuclear sabre-rattling (via a general’s “unofficial” comments) adheres to a no-first-use policy—as the Pentagon acknowledges in a new Congressionally-mandated report on the growing Chinese military threat. (UPI, July 19)

Via TruthOut:

Poll: Six in 10 Americans Expect New World War
The Associated Press

Sunday 24 July 2005

60 years after WWII, US public, Japanese differ on global conflict.

Washington – Americans are far more likely than the Japanese to expect another world war in their lifetime, according to AP-Kyodo polling 60 years after World War II ended. Most people in both countries believe the first use of a nuclear weapon is never justified.

Those findings come six decades after the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The war claimed about 400,000 US troops around the world, more than three times that many Japanese troops and at least 300,000 Japanese civilians.

Out of the ashes, Japan and the United States forged a close political alliance. Americans and Japanese now generally have good feelings about each other.

But people in the two countries have very different views on everything from the US use of the atomic bomb in 1945, fears of North Korea and the American military presence in Japan.

Some of the widest differences came on expectations of a new world war.

Already Started?

Six in 10 Americans said they think such a war is likely, while only one-third of the Japanese said so, according to polling done in both countries for The Associated Press and Kyodo, the Japanese news service.

“Man’s going to destroy man eventually. When that will be, I don’t know,” said Gaye Lestaeghe of Freeport, La.

Some question whether that war has arrived, with fighting dragging on in Afghanistan and Iraq as part of the US campaign against terrorism.

“I feel like we’re in a world war right now,” said Susan Aser, a real estate agent from Rochester, N.Y.

The Japanese were less likely than Americans to expect a world war, less worried about the threat from North Korea and less inclined to say a first strike with nuclear weapons could be justified.

“The Japanese people take peace for granted,” said Hiroya Sato, 20, of Tokyo. “The Japanese people are not interested in things like war.”

Atomic Controversy

President Truman decided to try to end the war by dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and on Nagasaki three days later.

The first two atomic bombs killed tens of thousands in Hiroshima and Nagasaki; thousands more gradually died with severe radiation burns. Those bombings led to Japan’s announcement on Aug. 15 that it would surrender.

Two-thirds of Americans say the use of atomic bombs was unavoidable. Only 20 percent of Japanese felt that way and three-fourths said it was not necessary. Just one-half of Americans approve of the use of the atomic bombs on Japan.

Bob Garapedian, an 81-year-old retiree from Colchester, Conn., was preparing to fly fighter planes over the planned invasion of Japan when the war ended. Asked whether using the atomic bomb was appropriate, he said without hesitation: “Absolutely!”

But military instructor Hugh “D.J.” Carlen, who lives near Fort Knox, Ky., said: “I don’t think we really needed to do it. We darn near had the country starved to death. We could have effected a blockade.”

Skepticism about the bombings is widespread in Japan.

“I often hear the bombings were not necessary,” said Toyokazu Katsumi, a 27-year-old engineer from Yokohama. “They just wanted to experiment with them.”

For 63-year-old Masashi Muroi of Tokyo, the attacks with atomic bombs “were mass, indiscriminate killings and perhaps violated international law.”

Vivid Memories

For younger people, World War II is something seen only on newsreel footage, in the movies and in history books. For those who lived through it, the memories are vivid.

Hideko Mori, a 71-year-old Tokyo housewife, said that as a child in Nagano in central Japan, she and her neighbors had to take refuge to avoid American air raids.

“Around the time I was in the 5th grade, when we went to school, instead of attending classes, we plowed the school grounds and planted potatoes and pumpkins, and we dug up bomb shelters,” she said.

People in both countries overwhelmingly perceive the other country favorably now.

Four in five Americans have an upbeat view of Japan and two-thirds of Japanese feel that way about the US. But older people were not quite as enthusiastic.

“I dislike the Japanese military, but not the Japanese people,” World War II veteran William Aleshire, 84, of Peachtree City, Ga., said during a recent visit to a war memorial in Washington.

Some of the good feelings may stem from the close cooperation between the US and Japan in postwar rebuilding and from America’s financial support.

Postwar Reconstruction

During the years when American troops occupied Japan, economic reforms enabled Japanese farmers to own their own land. With US help, Japan grew into an economic power.

“The Americans contributed so much to the reconstruction of Japan after the war. I think their influence was very significant and positive,” said 62-year-old Yasuzo Higuchi of Tokyo. “Even now, because of their presence in our country, North Korea can’t attack us.”

Americans’ good will about the Japanese extends to their government, with six in 10 in the US regarding it as trustworthy. But more than half of the Japanese distrust Washington.

Asked whether a first strike with nuclear weapons ever could be justified, a majority in both countries said no. But Americans were twice as likely as the Japanese to think such a strike might be justified in some circumstances.

Since the war, the US military presence in Japan has come to be accepted in most of Japan, but stirs resentment on the island of Okinawa.

The Japanese are evenly split on whether the US troops should stay or go, the polling found. Three-fourths of Americans said this country should keep its military in Japan.

“Any country that will allow us to keep a base there as a forward lookout post, I think we ought to do it,” said Wade Hill, a copier technician who lives near Dallas. “We need a buffer zone.”

Economic Rivalry

The strongest rivalry between the US and Japan now is economic. The presence of Americans products has increased in Japan, though Tokyo continues to have a large trade surplus with Washington.

Japanese are most likely to name the US as the most important country for their economy, possibly a reflection of the success among Americans for Japanese automobiles and electronics. Americans were most likely to name China as most important for the US economy.

Trade tensions have increased between the United States and China after America ran up a $162 billion deficit with China last year, the largest ever with a single country.

Some see economic competition as the most important battle between countries these days.

“I don’t think it will be like World War II,” said James DiVita of Sandusky, Ohio, who works in manufacturing. “It will be more of a silent takeover with dollars, buying up companies.”

The poll of 1,000 adults in the United States was conducted for the AP by Ipsos, an international polling company, from July 5-10 and the poll of 1,045 eligible voters in Japan was conducted for Kyodo by the Public Opinion Research Center from July 1-3. Each poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

See also our last post on China’s resurgent imperial ambitions, and on the far more sinister commentaries that occassioned the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe earlier this year.