The Hibakusha: the Ethical Case for Independence
Over the last few months, James Kelman, Alasdair Gray and more recently Alan Riach in The Herald have all argued passionately and persuasively for independence on the grounds of the survival of Scottish culture.
There are others, social democrats mostly, who are disenchanted with a UK political system which no longer offers Scottish voters any real choice and see it as simply a question of governance and democracy: Scotland will always be outvoted by the South of England under Westminster rule.
And then there are the more traditional civic nationalists in the YES campaign who – quite reasonably it seems to me – argue that they want their country back.
All of these reasons obviously overlap, and yet each stands on its own merits; none of them has anything to do with money or oil, though that is primarily what the newspapers report on – or misreport on in the case of the BBC and most of the mainstream press.
But perhaps the most universal argument in favour of a YES vote – the humanitarian or ethical case for independence – comes down to this: anybody who votes NO will effectively be voting for the renewal of Trident submarines; and Trident, nuclear arms and weapons of mass destruction do not just have a bearing on the people of Scotland, they have a bearing on the whole of humankind.
It just so happens that the referendum has been called at around the same time that Brown’s Labour government, followed by Cameron’s Conservatives, have committed to spending 100 billion pounds on renewing a weapons system with the power to kill five million people at the touch of a button.
Trident, it has always seemed to me, is a moral calamity for the people of this country, a monstrous responsibility thrust upon us, a looming shadow which penetrates our dreams and feeds into our fears in a manner in which we are scarcely aware.
We didn’t ask for it, we never wanted it, but we’ve been handed this fight, and we must rise to the challenge, with the weekend of action from the 13th to the 15th of April organized by the Scrap Trident campaign a key date for those opposed to nuclear arms and against Westminster rule.
For this much we do know: Trident and Westminster go hand-in-hand. It doesn’t matter if you vote Labour, Conservative or cast your ballot for the Zelig of British politics, the Lib Dems; a vote for any of them is a vote for nuclear weapons.
The universal, ethical case for independence, the case which you could explain to anybody almost anywhere in the world is: we don’t want nuclear weapons, we don’t believe in them, and we don’t believe that there ever could a justification for using them.
Because to use Trident would be to commit a humanitarian crime on an unprecedented scale, an act of utter barbarity. To possess these weapons amounts to a threat to the rest of the world, and an abuse of power. Trident, more than anything else, is the symbol of the obstinate stupidity and parochialism of the British ruling class, who still fail to see that everything changed after Auschwitz and Hiroshima,
Nor can anybody believe Trident is a deterrent; the military junta in Argentina back in 1982 which ordered the invasion of the Falkland Islands didn’t seem to think so, and nor did any of the terrorist groups which have attacked British targets over the years.
More importantly, Britain has backed every single US foreign war of aggression since Vietnam. To talk of Trident as a deterrent in this context is like talking about somebody who keeps a bazooka under the bed at home and from time to time goes out into the countryside to hold up post-offices with a pistol.
In short, anything other than a YES vote in 2014 is a vote to threaten the rest of humankind with another Hiroshima.
What actually happened there on the 6th of August, 1945, the day “Little Boy” was dropped on that unfortunate city by an American B-29 bomber? You see the photos, you watch the film footage, but it is hard to get a true picture of what Hiroshima means.
But the people who survived that crime against humanity have a name in Japanese, and some of them are still around today; they are known as the Hibakusha.
I know this because – Wikipedia aside – one day, on my wanderings around the city of Madrid, where I lived for many years, I came across an old bookshop in the Lavapiés neighbourhood where I found a copy of Kenzaburo Oé’s Hiroshima Notebooks, in Spanish.
Oé, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1994, visited Hiroshima a number of times over almost two decades and wrote down his impressions of what he saw there. What does Oé talk about in Hiroshima Notebooks?
He talks about the dignity of the people of Hiroshima; the heroism of the doctors and medical staff who fought the effect of the bomb for years, risking their lives and often dying while helping others; he talks of the resistance of the authorities to accept that the effects of radiation were due to the nuclear explosion; and the collusion between the Japanese government and the Americans in obscuring the facts and silencing the population.
Oé talks of tragedy, of suicide, of death and despair on an almost unmatched scale, the suffering of a people, the suffering of the Hibakusha; but he also talks of their dignity, their defiance, and their self-sacrifice.
Above all, though, Oé talks about the need to rid the world of nuclear arms:
“In the widest context of human life and death, those of us who have escaped from the atomic holocaust must consider Hiroshima as an inseparable part of the history of Japan and an inseparable part of the history and destiny of the world. If we, the survivors, want to expiate Hiroshima and grant it some positive value, we must mobilize our efforts against nuclear weapons under the motto “the human suffering of Hiroshima” and “the renovation of all humankind”(“Hiroshima Notebooks”, Kenzaburo Oé)
I would argue for independence using any of the reasons outlined at the beginning of this article. But I am not someone who feels proud to be Scottish, if only because I find it hard to understand how people can feel pride at something which come down to a question of chance – where you happened to be born in the world.
Nor am I somebody who necessarily believes in being loyal to a country or nation. As far as I’m concerned, loyalty is best paid to ideas – the kind enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
But if the people of Scotland vote YES and we can get rid of Trident, that would be something to be proud of, a decision which would resonate around the world.
If, on the other hand, Scotland returns a NO vote and Trident is renewed, future generations will have every right to look back at us with recrimination and reproach. You had this chance, they will say, why didn’t you take it?
The future generations of Scotland, that is, and also the future generations of Hiroshima…
© Douglas Stuart Wilson