" The fear that North Korea’s nuclear capability could lead to a catastrophic war on China’s doorstep prompted a surprising consensus Saturday when the UN Security Council voted unanimously — including China, North Korea’s only friend — to apply additional sanctions against the already dirt-poor and much-sanctioned North Korea. "
There’s a little bit of irony in the fact that at the ASEAN meeting (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) which kicked off earlier this week in Manila, coincidentally on the 72nd anniversary of the US dropping the atom bomb on Hiroshima, the principal US focus was that North Korea, Asia’s least developed country, will soon have the ability to drop a nuclear bomb on the continental US.

If you’re looking for some further irony, as President Trump’s erratic behavior makes daily headlines, consider that this was the week, in 1974, when Richard Nixon finally threw in the presidential towel. Summer doldrums? Not always.

But back to 2017: the fear that North Korea’s nuclear capability could lead to a catastrophic war on China’s doorstep prompted a surprising consensus Saturday when the UN Security Council voted unanimously — including China, North Korea’s only friend — to apply additional sanctions against the already dirt-poor and much-sanctioned North Korea.

North Korea reacted quickly, and furiously, saying it had no intention of stopping its nuclear warhead and missile development, threatening “There is no bigger mistake than the United States believing its land is safe across the ocean.”

At the ASEAN meeting the next day, Secretary of State Tillerson and his Chinese counterpart had well-publicized but inconclusive discussions about North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, clearly the most dangerous threat in today’s increasingly unstable world.

By mid-week President Trump was upping the rhetoric in responding to North Korea’s threats: “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” And, tit-for-rhetorical-tat, Pyongyang yesterday promised to create “an enveloping fire” around Guam, where the US maintains one of its largest Asian air bases.

Meanwhile, and unsurprisingly, even 72 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed, the debate as to whether the US was justified in using its newly developed monster weapon against civilian targets has never ended.

It’s estimated that over 50,000 were killed in Hiroshima; even more in Nagasaki. Tens of thousands were injured and probably another 100,000 suffered painful deaths later from the after-effects of radiation.

To put the atomic casualties in perspective, however, many more Japanese civilians had already been killed during the first half of 1945 by regular bombs. And German cities were being bombed incessantly. While the firebombing of Dresden, which had killed an estimated 25,000 civilians in February of 1945, gained much notoriety, an estimated 300,000 civilians were killed by Allied aerial bombings of German cities during that last year of the war.

At the time President Truman authorized the dropping of the two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the fear was that the Japanese had no intention of surrendering short of an American invasion of Japan, with all the civilian deaths (and American military ones) that would entail.

And the Japanese, after all, had started the war with their unprovoked attack at Pearl Harbor.



Those against the use of the bomb were later to suggest that the US could have dropped one on a sparsely inhabited area of Japan, thus showing its lethal potential without killing so many civilians — or, conversely, that the second bomb, three days later on Nagasaki, was unnecessary. But at the time, the US had only two atomic bombs: to waste one for show would have been inconceivable; to delay using the second might have indicated how few bombs we had.

Nor is it impossible that the devastation from those two early, and relatively primitive, atomic bombs provided a strong deterrent in keeping both the US and the USSR from resorting to atomic weapons during the onset and early years — a particularly dangerous time — of the Cold War.

Let me end this perennial debate — and the growing war of words between Trump and North Korea — with a weird personal encounter I had in Japan nearly 50 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, I lived for seven years in Asia, primarily in Hong Kong but one year in Japan as well.

That particular day, I had been in Nagoya, in central Japan, on business and was going to meet my wife, coming from Tokyo, at the Nagoya station to travel together to Nagasaki. I had never had any desire to visit Hiroshima, but somehow the Nagasaki story interested me: its unique, nearly 500-year-old history of contact with Europeans, first Portuguese and Dutch traders, later Christian missionaries.

Aware that my skill in Japanese was not an advantage in getting me to the train station, I asked the manager of the ryokan where I was staying to arrange a taxi to take me there.

He lined up an English-speaking driver, an old man, his English halting but understandable.

“I take you to train,” he confirmed as I got in his car.

“Yes,” I answered.

“Ah, you take bullet train?”

“Yes.”

“Very good train. Not like America.”

“No, very good,” I agreed.

“Where you go?” The question I suddenly realized I dreaded. Why had he gotten me an English-speaking driver?

“Nagasaki.”

“Ah yes, where America dropped atom bomb.”

“Um-huh,” I acknowledged, hoping to end the conversation.

“Good thing America did,” he said.

I thought I had mis-heard him, but in the conversation, now unavoidable, that followed, he told me that during the war he had joined the Japanese air force — and at the time when we were dropping the two atom bombs, he was being trained as a kamikaze pilot: “No atom bomb, I dead.”

There are, proverbially, always two sides to every issue. But there can be no doubt that the escalating war of words between the US and North Korea, to the extent it raises even the possibility of a nuclear war, needs to be stopped.

Tone it down, Trump, tone it down.