WHEN EMPEROR HIROHITO wafted on to his just rewards, the Showa Jidai, Japan's "Era of Brilliant Harmony," stopped cold. A huddle of ruling LDP politicians and top bureaucrats from the Imperial Household Agency then called in a few experts, puffed a couple cigars and declared to the multitudes that the next era of their lives would be "Heisei" ( kanji - "Becoming Flat/Common/Peaceful"). And that, though not egregiously democratic, was that.
So now, like it or not, the age of Heisei is upon Japan's hundred and twenty-two million souls - a surprising fraction of whom vociferously don't. Like it, that is - scorn and opposition have been recorded by the media since Day One. The right hates the "namby-pamby" meaning and lispy pronunciation. The left detests the authoritarian arrogance of the selection process. And to the Green front, Heisei reads as just another script for capital-intensive monoculture and a darkening future of bulldozers, parking lots and cultural homogenization. In truth, Heisei's opening has not been exactly auspicious. The era has barely begun and it is already so associated with unpopular taxes, burgeoning scandals, and near total paralysis of national political leadership that even ordinary citizens are beginning to wonder with the Bard: "What's in a name?"
Asian cultures have traditionally put much importance on the "rectification of names" and centuries ago when an era's appellation seemed displeasing to the gods and invited karmic plagues, it was briskly "reconsidered." Some Japanese reigns ran through three or more official eras before a propitious designation was found. As yet, no one in the current establishment appears too sensitive to such animistic niceties. But one atavistic group of activists, the Nancho Ijin Butai, is working to rectify not just Heisei's name but also the imperial injustice for which it stands. The patron saint of the society is Kusunoki Masashige, 14th century outlaw and strategic genius, who spearheaded Emperor Godaigo's revolt against the military/industrial complex of his day. The success of their Taoist rebellion was short-lived, but Godaigo did manage to found the Nancho (Southern Court) and father a parallel line of imperial princes with a still pending claim to the throne (see Japan's Other Emperor, Kyoto Journal, Winter 1989). Godaigo's early heirs were savagely pruned by the victorious Ashikaga warlords and replaced with a line of Hokucho or Northern Court puppets (the same line, in fact, now offering us Emperor-designate Akihito for coronation next autumn). Although the legitimacy of the Nancho claim was reaffirmed as recently as 1906 (by Emperor Meiji and the National Diet no less), the line' remains in a state of suspended usurpation.
The Nancho Ijin Butai today is a "consulting coalition" of variously motivated foreign and Japanese activists rallying around the fallen Nancho banner and its last surviving heir, a 65-year-old Kyobashi bookbinder. The founding members, including yours truly, are mostly Green-ish populists, less concerned with claims to the imperial furniture than with finally pulling off Godaigo's Taoist coup. The true arbiters of imperial legitimacy today are the people (and, of course, the Sun Goddess), and nothing is really decided until the coronation next fall. The Nancho therefore has a full year to "pretend" itself into existence as a maboroshi chotei or "virtual court". (Pretense politics, like self-fulfilling prophecies, represent the energetic triumph of imagination over reality akin to holding up a rope in the rain and spinning it so fast you have a "virtual umbrella.")
"Beware when the great God lets loose new thoughts upon the planet. Then all things are at risk..." -- Ralph Waldo EmersonIf nothing else, this shadow court promises a foundation for Japan's first public interest think tank and a "bully pulpit" to attract attention to its ideas. Getting noticed, always a big challenge for grassroots reformers, might not be such a problem this time. In fact with its schedule of offbeat rallies, modern media's smoke & mirrors and foreign fascination with the Chrysanthemum Throne, the Nancho campaign should be damn difficult to ignore. Confident supporters have already announced their own reign name: "Genno" ( kanji "Mysterious Powers") as a ballsy and inspirational alternative to Heisei.
Historical Note: The original Genno was a famous 14th century shaman. In his most celebrated exploit he ended a great plague by breaking up a towering stone monolith with his magic staff, freeing a cloud of trapped and angry spirits. His myth is poetically relevant because many activists here feel that organizational scale is the common factor causing or exacerbating almost all of our social & environmental plagues. Breaking up society's huge monoliths - corporations, bureaucracies, unions, even churches into much smaller, more convivial units, they believe, would likewise release a torrent of humanity's trapped energy and goodness.At any rate, the Nancho crowd is plotting a lot of mediagenic weirdness before the Millennium to dramatize the Nancho claim and call for a national referendum to decide it. (A demand actually intended' to create the first legal precedent for democratic plebiscites in Japan - the lack of which has crippled citizen reform movements here since the war.) The Old Genno's name was passed on to his serpentine staff which, in the retelling, gradually grew to the size of a bludgeon. Finally the genno became the lucky god Daikoku's mysterious hammer which sparks off small miracles each time it strikes the world. Today the word connotes mankind's inexplicable talents and powers but colloquially still means a large workman's sledge. One Anglophile historian pointed out that King Arthur's Camelot also literally meant "Court of the Hammer" and gave his benediction to Genno as "Camelot East".
The Old Man of Kyobashi is laying low right now for family reasons, but he has commissioned us to explore possible campaign strategies. As an ex-POW (seven years, Siberia) and a small subcontractor constantly being screwed over by the big companies, he is a populist by training. He asked for an agenda that would decentralize power, strengthen the hand of the common man and require no force (or money) to administer. We've therefore started to string together a kind of platform committee network to gather ideas and suggestions from people's power advocates of all persuasions. Domestic advisors are mainly Japanese and include proponents of jury trials, minority rights, neighborhood control of schools, FM band liberation, small farm agriculture, etc. Nancho foreign policy brainstorms, however, are more global or "Gaian," and call cordially upon alien energies. Human rights advisors, for example, range from the Forum of Democratic Leaders in the Asia-Pacific and indigenous tribal leaders to Asian immigrants and Jesse Jackson. (See Nancho Advisor Index)
Our advisors' mandate is to generate new visions, strategies and uppaya (Buddhist-speak for "savvy tactics") for delivery to beleaguered activists and popular awareness. Platform deliberations will soon be opened to public participation, but early sessions seemed determined to prove that "Yes, Virginia, there are easy answers." Current proposals emphasize simple ideas with radical implications - e.g., "ovulation awareness classes" in schools to defuse the abortion/contraception/ population controversies; cheap, clean "cold fusion & hydrogen" energy systems to save the environment and Third World economies; stinging "eco-taxes" on disposables, garbage and planned obsolescence to discourage corporate waste and pillage; a globally simultaneous "Earth Hour" observance each month to awaken the collective unconscious and create a "Spirit of the Earth"... The list goes on, but I shouldn't quote all the plums out of context.
Since it is summer, though, and Japan's season for lavish, ineffectual peace festivals, I would like to offer at least a sampling of Genno era defense thinking. The following is my gloss on several of the more striking concepts now making the international brainstorm circuit. Hiroshima, are you listening?
Petition the Nobel Committee to stop awarding an annual Peace Prize until some person or group actually earns it, actually achieves Peace for the planet.No more awards for good tries, nice guys or noble futilities - just for Peace - a generation of it, a habit of it, a planetary consciousness informed by it. Pull it off, and boom! - you get the whole endowment. Dynamite tycoon Nobel, one expects, might be gratified by such a final, effective detonation of his bequest.
Hold national and international peace organizations accountable.Good intentions are not enough. Require peace groups to set some objective standards or timetables by which we might judge their strategies, tactics, and cost-effectiveness. Require them, in short, to put up or fold up, and clear the way for more innovative and promising approaches. "Cause" organizations, like most social organisms, tend to grow more fiercely devoted to their own continued existence than to discharging (and thus voiding) their avowed purposes - that is, those which originally afforded them meaning and a claim upon our hearts & checkbooks.
Solutions have always been bad business for one-issue problem-solvers. Imagine, for example, the magnitude of economic and professional disaster a cancer cure would present to the international cancer research community, its thousands -of highly specialized laboratories and tens of thousands of equally specialized workers. Without impugning the sincerity at work, we must recognize the subliminal force of this "succeed & perish" proposition, and its tendency to shift the focus of effort from urgency ('finding solutions') to safer, more sedate activities ('studying causes', I 'educating' and fund-raising).
Modern peace organizations might also gain somewhat in credibility if they were more "Managed by Objective" and less concerned with "Organizational Development," to borrow two trendy concepts from modern corporate theory. Ideally, Management-by-Objective subordinates all traditional organizational concerns (hierarchy, routines, perks, etc.) to the single-minded realization of a common goal, whether it be ousting the tyrant or landing on the moon. As they are often tackling unprecedented tasks, and solutions tend to rise from unpredictable quarters, MBO groups try to cultivate the values of pioneers - vitality, innovation, and irreverence: "If the experts, professionals and authorities are so damn smart, why is there still a problem?"
An MBO peace group would, in effect, nail its target to the barn, in full public view, and bend heaven, earth and all the idiosyncratic talents of its members to that single achievement. Plush home offices, flashy brochures and computerized direct mail operations are fine if an organization is methodically approaching its goal. But if it has been in business for ten or twenty years and hasn't palpably improved much but its own facilities, it's time we start asking questions and looking for alternatives.
Jettison "conventional wisdom" and learn to think in "metamedical" ways about modern warfare and governmental behavior.In perhaps the least modest of these proposals, we are challenged to perceive and reinterpret military geopolitics in a novel and radically enlightening way. Less a theory than a populist vantage on capital-intensive corporate warfare, this new thinking starts with a half dozen simple assumptions:
By these lights, present defense establishments hardly appear strong, rational, intelligent, etc., not to mention Buddhist/etc/etc. These are not crashingly original observations. For years now it has been obvious that our leaders and "defense forces" have abandoned their historical role as front-line defenders of the population. The traditional militant resolve of "Over our dead bodies..." has quietly given way to strategies that would allow our defenders to preferentially outlive those "defended."
- A good, strong Defense would render us, as a people, more secure in both our liberties and longevity, more confident of our children's future.
- A rational Defense would align the fundamental interests of the defenders with those of the defended.
- An intelligent Defense would diffuse defensive capacity as widely as possible throughout the population.
- A scientific Defense would place a premium on elegance, cost-effectiveness, and a comprehensive grasp of the nature of the conflict.
- A democratic Defense would build an advantage into the geopolitical game plan favoring free and open societies against totalitarian regimes of any ideological persuasion.
- A Buddhist/Christian/Humane/etc. Defense would focus less upon the slaughter of an adversary than upon his disablement and neutralization.
Moreover, while common sense might dictate that our protectors should prosper in proportion to our increasing security, they are actually awarded more power, money and attention the more anxious and endangered we become. Our weakness has become their strength, and our interests dangerously misaligned. And we as a people had better start deciding for ourselves what constitutes real security and why current defense policies seem to be carrying us ever farther from it.
Genno thinking also focuses on the fact that it is not "foreigners," but governmental and military organizations - huge predatory social bodies - that threaten our common future. We should thus be less interested in weapons of mass murder than in those that destroy or paralyze governments. This simple insight generates a new, almost medical perspective on rational defense:
"People don't cause wars, governments cause wars." -- Ronald Reagan
- Modern governments are predominantly creatures of communication. The Pentagon's most august acronym these days is C31: Command, Control, Communication and Information. But greatest among these is obviously communication. It enables all else - governance, warfare, basic organizational survival.
- To manage a modern government or military requires a vast and complex techno-nervous system with all manner of sensors, computerized ganglia and telecommunicated varieties of stimulus/ response. Though frighteningly potent in final effect, such systems are also quite delicate.
- To disable even the most planet threatening of social organisms one has only to attack its most vulnerable neural components, i.e. its microcircuitry, and induce a paralytic nervous breakdown.
- Thus an elegant answer to our MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) dilemma seems to lie in redefining the ends and consequently the means of modern warfare. If, as sage Ronald observes, our actual adversaries are complex and expansionist organizations, it is their internal physiology and functioning we should be targeting. Kill men, no matter how powerful, and their positions will be taken by others. Kill the system, and its members, while surviving, will be stranded, impotent, disarmed. Neutron bomb strategy would kill people and preserve the system structure. Its advocated antithesis, a computer bomb, if you will, would devastate the system without collateral human or ecological damage.
Although such thinking has never been popular among computer-dependent military leaders, and nobody has ever publicly championed such weaponry as an alternative to megadeath civilian casualties, an appropriate strategic weapon does in fact exist.
"Targeting only the technology is an interesting concept but who the hell is going to pay you to research it? The Pentagon knows that without just its phone system it would be the ultimate Chinese fire drill. They're not about to offer prizes for the ten easiest ways to destroy the systems they too need to survive. These things get around...." -- Herman Kahn
No one was looking for it but in 1966 when a high altitude nuclear test over the Marshall Islands tripped burglar alarms, blew circuit-breakers and fused microprocessors in Oahu over 800 miles away, it was -'noticed." An army of physicists converged upon the phenomenon and discovered EMP (Electro-Magnetic Pulse), a powerful wave of high voltage electrons that propagates from a nuclear blast at the speed of light. It turned out to be an electromagnetic side effect of any thermonuclear detonation, but the effect was radically intensified by altitude - the optimum being nearly 300 miles up. Calculations published in Science Magazine ("Awakening to the Chaos Factor," 5/29/81) showed that a one megaton bomb exploded at this height over Kansas would send a 100,000 volt wave front burning out across the country from New York to California within a few billionths of a second. The speed of its passage renders it harmless to organic life, but for microcircuitry, which functions at comparable speeds but with power tolerances measured in millionths of a volt, the effect is terminal. (Viewers of "The Day After" may remember the mass automobile stalling and radio blackout that accompanied the air drop over Kansas City. That was EMP at work.)
The military people found it mildly interesting - "So besides everything else, atom bombs kill computers. But so what? Dead computers are hardly going to be our biggest problem in the wake of a nuclear exchange...," observed one analyst. The Pentagon has nevertheless incorporated the effect into first strike scenarios - to blind the enemy's radar and disrupt its vital C31 functions before the main body of the attack arrives.
To anti-nuclear theoreticians, however, the EMP effect proves a godsend. Dubbed the "Buddhist Bomb," it appears to answer all requirements for an effective and non-violent strategic weapon. "It's the only humane and appropriate technology for industrial age warfare," says Nancho tactician Kim Yong Duk. "The military types persist in seeing everything as mere prologue to the final human slaughter. But if victory is knocking out your adversary's ability to respond, you don't need anything after an EMP attack. You don't need to kill anybody. Generals are coming to grips with the idea of a war without human warriors but they can't, or are not yet willing to, conceive of one without human death....
"Because of the altitude, EMP air bursts of even the largest bombs would have no biological effects upon the ecosphere - no blast damage, no heat damage, no radioactivity, no contaminated earth to rain down as fallout. Nothing. Just a lot of fused chips sitting around in metal boxes staring at each other. Gandhi would have loved it..."
One can protect against EMP effects by a complex shielding process called "hardening," but it is enormously expensive. The Pentagon estimates that it would cost nearly $40 billion just to secure its own internal communication structure, and there is little money or motivation in Congress today for the task. Our countries could, on the other hand, agree by treaty not to defend their technology against EMP - much as the U.S. and Russia have agreed in their ABM treaty not to defend their cities with anti-ballistic missiles. As long as you knew you could cripple an enemy's military and industrial capacity for a couple of years and he could do the same to you, you have a credible deterrent and no obvious need for bloodshed.
A feasible EMP strategy would imply a phased destruction of all nuclear weapons except the few dozen EMP enhanced missiles it would take to destroy most modern industrial societies, and perhaps, for the rightfully paranoid, a few treatied and hardened ABM emplacements to protect major cities. (EMP weapons are still powerful thermonuclear devices, and malfunctioning or maliciously redirected, could still incinerate New York or Moscow in a flash.)
Besides assuring our children that we could inflict only economic and organizational carnage on ourselves damage they could conceivably both survive and undo - such a strategy yields some interesting corollaries. Civil defense in an EMP-armed world would encourage decentralization, regional self-sufficiency and less dependence on huge corporate structures. The less computer determined and hierarchically stratified a society's life, the less vulnerable it becomes to serious technological disruption. Compared to the corporate chaos and dislocation technology mastered societies might suffer in an EMP assault, simpler technology-served societies would experience little beyond inconvenience.
This also has obvious political implications. The more decentralized, politically mature and locally autonomous a population, the greater its ultimate security in this kind of world. Totalitarian states thus, by their very centralized authoritarian nature, become the most endangered. Illegitimate governments, tyrannical governments, unrepresentative governments - in short, governments that don't or can't trust their populations, are at highest risk. For in repressively managed societies even a temporary breakdown of centralized control carries the risk of sedition and revolt.
Population-threatening warfare has often forced free societies to adopt the autocratic ways of their enemies. Organization-threatening warfare, however, can only force defense-minded totalitarian systems to disperse power, foster local autonomy, and generally emulate the values that have given democratic societies their resilience and vitality.
When Japan finally sits down as a mature and self-respecting democracy to rewrite the Constitution in her own hand, all eyes will be upon her handling of war-renouncing Article 9. (Since this noble fiction has somehow generated the world's third largest military budget, the hypocrisy of the status quo is beginning to chafe.) Were a Nancho muse enchanting her, she would renounce not her sovereign right to self-defense, but only the murder and mayhem of anachronistic combat.
EMP bursts, computer viruses and other system scrambling weaponry are of course not a final panacea for international hostilities. But until we rid ourselves of these bootless games completely, non-violent warfare may be an idea whose time has come.