Years ago, I had a conversation with my father about a concept I’d been wrestling with. “Has there been any time in history,” I remember asking him (inarticulately, of course) “when a specific knowledge of something…like a scientific discovery…well, when everybody realized it was a bad idea, and got together and…suppressed it? Like it never happened?”
He gave it some thought, and said no, probably not. He couldn’t think of anything like that having ever occurred. Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, the secret told, the change wrought, it can’t be undone. As in the myth of Pandora’s jar (evidently ‘box’ was a mistranslation), once the troubles inside escaped, there was no putting them back in the jar. Only hope was left…why hope was keeping such bad company, I don’t know…and whether this was good or bad for humanity is up for debate. Did it mean ‘we always have hope’, or…are we hopeless?
I can’t remember if I mentioned to him what I was thinking about, but it was ‘The Bomb’. As in, “Ban the” and “No Nukes”. Referred to nowadays as “nuclear weapons”. My stance on when it’s an acceptable time to use them is the same as that of the SGI: never.
Some history…my father was a Marine during WWII, fighting in the Pacific theater. I didn’t find out until after he passed that he’d been a tail gunner, so he’d probably had firsthand experience of being shot at by the Japanese. I don’t actually know that, because he never talked about his war experiences. There was a book in my parents’ bookcase, “Where did you go? Out. What did you do? Nothing.” that I conflated with the movie title “What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?” into “What did you do in the war, Daddy? Nothing.” (Now that I think about it, my father may have done this himself, to discourage questions.) He certainly never volunteered any information about his experiences. What I do know is that he came home with a severe disinclination to travel, and he never, ever bought anything made in Japan, his entire life.
I don’t know what he thought, if anything, when I started practicing Nichiren Buddhism, which originated in Japan. I probably wouldn’t ever have known about it, if it hadn’t been for the war. An educator, Tsunesaboro Makaguchi, had developed a humanistic teaching methodology based on the concept of value creation…and children’s happiness. After being introduced to Nichiren Buddhism by a colleague, he incorporated its philosophy into his theory of value-creation and founded the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai in 1930, primarily for educators like himself. His approach to teaching was in stark contrast to the Japanese educational system, which focused on turning children into fervently nationalistic, robotic little future soldiers for the empire. During this time, the Japanese government established Shinto as the state religion; Shinto’s principle deity is the Sun Goddess, of whom the emperor was believed to be the direct descendant. All other religions were forced to accept a subservient role, and anybody who found this unacceptable was arrested and imprisoned. Guess who was among those so-called “thought criminals”? Makiguchi, along with his disciple Josei Toda.
Sad to say, most of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai members who were also arrested caved in and renounced their religion. Makiguchi died in prison, and Toda, emaciated and sickly, was freed shortly before the war was decisively ended by the dropping of ‘The Bomb’. Two bombs, actually…one on Hiroshima, and the other on Nagasaki, three days later. Approximately 200,000 people died, most of them civilians. More deaths followed from residual effects of the blasts, and in the wake of this devastation, the emperor finally agreed to unconditional surrender.
One of the surrender terms was “Freedom of speech, of religion and of thought, as well as respect for the fundamental human rights, shall be established.” (The complete documents can be viewed here: http://tinyurl.com/7qa5jxh ) This was carried out under the command of U.S. General Douglas MacArthur. In the ruined country of Japan, and from the ruins of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai, Josei Toda made it his mission to build a new Soka Gakkai. Its purpose was of course to spread the teachings of Nichiren and to alleviate the sufferings of the Japanese people, but it also had a much broader scope, that of the abolition of nuclear weapons. (You can read his address here: http://www.joseitoda.org/vision/declaration/read ) This was Toda’s vision for the future, which he entrusted to those who would inherit the mantle of the Soka Gakkai. The young Daisaku Ikeda assumed that responsibility, and starting with a trip to the U.S., Canada, and Brazil, began transforming the organization into a global entity. The Soka Gakkai International was established in 1975, and Ikeda is its president. I was introduced to Nichiren Buddhism in 1985, and have been an SGI member ever since.
You might be wondering why I’m rehashing what may seem like ancient history. Well, the “War to End All Wars” (WWI) didn’t. “The Last Good War” (WWII) may have been that, but it didn’t end all wars either. There are still diehards who insist that we could have “won” the Vietnam War if we’d just “stayed the course”, and who have condemned the drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan. Every day I hear or read something about what we should be doing to keep Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons; almost every day I hear or read about somebody saying we should bomb them, and/or kill their scientists. Many of these people are highly placed government officials, or presidential candidates. I also hear and read of people saying the U.S. is a Christian country, and we need a government that is based on “Christian values” (which, evidently, include preemptively bombing other countries). This sounds a lot like theocracy to me…like Iran. It also reminds me of prewar Japan. The children of Japan were taught that the emperor was God’s representative on earth and that it was their duty to obey all orders, including dying for the sake of the empire, and because of this deep-seated indoctrination the bombing of Japan may have seemed inescapable. I believe my father thought so, but then he had a much better reason than most, because he was there, risking his life. I even met a Japanese woman whose attitude was “the emperor may have surrendered, but I didn’t”. For the most part, though, the Japanese people were brainwashed into believing the dreams of empire, just as the Germans were seduced into Nazism. Think it couldn’t happen here? Don’t be so sure. Consider two other surrender terms: “The time has come for Japan to decide whether she will continue to be controlled by those self-willed militaristic advisers whose unintelligent calculations have brought the Empire of Japan to the threshold of annihilation, or whether she will follow the path of reason” and “There must be eliminated for all time the authority and influence of those who have deceived and misled the people of Japan into embarking on world conquest, for we insist that a new order of peace, security and justice will be impossible until irresponsible militarism is driven from the world.”
In reading this, I can’t help but make comparisons, and conclude that we need to be mindful of “self-willed militaristic advisers” and the tendency toward “irresponsible militarism” in our country, and to remove them from influence. I also think we need to be very, very careful not to blur the line between church and state, especially when it comes to waging war in the name of religion. When a nation’s government and religion are hopelessly enmeshed, criticism of the government becomes an attack on the religion. Is it any wonder that Muslims see the U.S. as engaged in a “war on Islam”? In WWII Japan, Buddhist priests despicably exhorted believers to pray for the destruction of the U.S. (part of the reason the SGI is no longer connected to the priesthood). There is no such thing as a “holy war”; war in the name of religion is the epitome of unholy.
We can’t ‘undrop’ The Bomb. (That’s the trouble with bombs.) The U.S. is the only country that has actually used nuclear weapons against another nation, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union became known as “the world’s only superpower”. It follows, then, that other nations would want to obtain their own nuclear weapons, so that they can feel powerful too. But in light of their capacity for destruction, does it make sense for any nation to have nuclear weapons?
Nichiren states, “When great evil occurs, great good follows.” If we regard the visiting of nuclear weapons upon the world as a “great evil”, what is the “great good” that follows? Is it bombing the countries with governments of which we don’t approve? Is it amassing stockpiles of weapons that we presumably don’t ever want to have to use (and thereby encouraging other countries to do the same), while poverty levels rise, educational achievements diminish, and infrastructure crumbles? I don’t think so. If we truly want “a new order of peace, security and justice”, we need a different approach. The “great good” doesn’t follow automatically; it must be created. We must create it. We humans.
Nuclear abolition is a good start. There’s more to power than having the biggest arsenal. Sure, we could bomb Iran into oblivion (and anyone else that seemed threatening, I suppose), but what would that solve? There will always be another enemy, unless we extinguish all life, and that makes us the “great evil”. Let’s stop looking for enemies everywhere, and concentrate on making friends.
And I really think it’s time Hope came out of that jar…