In the Christmas “Peace on Earth – Part I” I quoted three stanzas from the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s (1807-1882) Christmas Bells. In this New Year “Peace on Earth – Part II”, I propose to quote from Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936).
This may seem a strange choice. Kipling is a controversial figure. He was the poet of British Imperialism: “Take up the white man’s burden / Send forth the best ye breed”. He was also a warmonger and initially enthused jingoistically at the outbreak of war in 1914.
Wars affect generations
One of Kipling’s best-known poems is “If”, dedicated to his son John. The first two lines read:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
And the final stanza:
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!
Yet just over a year after the war broke out his son, aged 18, died at the Battle of Loos, providing in most tragic manner the true meaning of war. He then wrote one of the most poignant short war poems, Epitaph of the War: “If any question why we died/ Tell them, because our fathers lied”. It is an epitaph I frequently reflect upon and perhaps especially now as we approach the centenary of the outbreak of World War I. Old men lied, including John Kipling’s father, Rudyard. They created logic of war, indeed a frenzy of war, and sent their sons and grandsons to kill and to die.
The prospects of peace for 2014 are not encouraging. As I suggested in Part I, without in any way minimising the human tragedies of all wars, from a global perspective by far the greatest cataclysm would be war breaking out in Northeast Asia. For sure if there is war, it will be dramatically different from that of 1914-1918. Young men will not be sent to fight in the trenches. In fact perhaps much of the fighting will be carried out by machines and methods derived from high tech. Still the impact on the future peace and prosperity of the planet will be devastating for generations to come, as was the impact of 1914-18 on ensuing decades of the 20th century.
Imperative for peace initiative
To try to prevent the cataclysm of war in Northeast Asia, there is an urgent need for a major peace initiative.
First, it is imperative to honestly address the events of World War II and to speak out on the dangers of war in the region. Northeast Asia should learn from the tragic errors committed in Europe both before 1914 and after 1918, and also from the initiatives taken by Europeans after 1945 that resulted in lasting peace. In particular, Japan should learn from the example of post-World War II German repentance and reconciliation.
In a recent article, “Abe’s Yasukuni visit isolates Japan”, retired Japanese diplomat Kazuhiko Togo, states how over time he has “argued that the Japanese themselves need to come to terms with their own history. In particular, the question of Japan’s war responsibility needs to be definitively addressed.” While this is the starting point for lasting peace in the region, the peace initiative should be broadened to include other regional issues such as territorial disputes. Thus consideration should be given for establishing something like a “Regional Truth and Reconciliation Commission”.
Second, this peace initiative must be multi-pronged, involving government, business, academe, the media, civil society and, especially important, youth groups. In the process of seeking to create an Asian free trade area, for example through RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership), consideration should be given to establishing something along the lines of a Regional Forum for Trust and Peace Building (RFTP).
Third, business has a critical role not only to generate regional trade and investment, but also regional trust. Take the example of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), which was created in 1919 after World War I with its founders proclaiming themselves as “merchants of peace”. The ICC could be an important forum for creating an alliance of Asian merchants of peace.
While none of these can be achieved overnight, all steps – no matter how modest – should be taken to reverse the current trends of mutual suspicion and hostility. Ideas should not be lacking in seeking in 2014 to start laying solid foundations for lasting peace in Northeast Asia. The imperative is for them to be aired and for action to follow. This should be THE New Year Resolution of 2014.