The Nuclear Hegemon
: Key Issue for Peace in Our World
Prof. Kim Yong-Bock, Chancellor, Asia Pacific Center for Integral Study of Life;
Chair Professor at Hanshin University;
Professor at Chosun University with special assignment for peace studies
Co-Presidents of New Silk Road for Life and No-Nukes
The Nuclear Hegemon was born in the context of the Pacific War in East Asia. In early August 1945, just before the end of World War II, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on the East Asian people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This act bequeathed a unique history to the people of East Asia.
The atomic bombings are recognized as the most catastrophic event in the history of human civilization. But in what way do we understand this? The question is crucial for us, to grasp of the reality of nuclear genocide.
Who are the victims of the terrible bombs of August 1945? To understand the historical reality, our basic assumption must be that the victims are all those who experienced harm from the bombings.
So who are they? The statistics are ambiguous. It is said that about 700,000 people suffered death or injury, among them approximately 100,000 colonized Koreans. The immediate victims were the peoples of East Asia: Japanese, Koreans, Chinese and Taiwanese, plus various other residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The scope of suffering includes also the descendants of the first-generation victims, and their families, since radiation causes genetic mutations.
It happens that I am closely associated with the community of Korean atom bomb victims in Hapcheon, who have been actively seeking to transcend their reality, ever since the atomic explosions of 1945. This association gives me a special vantage point from which to attempt a historical understanding of the event.
I propose to examine the atomic bombings and the victims’ experiences, using the framework of Zoegraphy, meaning “biography of life,” in connection with Zoesophia, or “wisdom of Life.” This is a new historical hermeneutic that I believe will help us grasp the depth of victimization caused by the A-bombs, and the ongoing suffering caused by the development and testing of nuclear weapons. A new hermeneutic is necessary, for us to get beyond the reductionist frameworks of sociology and medicine.
The Zoegraphy of the A-bomb victims is intertwined with thanatography, the story of death, but I prefer to use the term Zoecide: “destruction of life.” The story of life—lives—involved in the atomic bomb explosions is a story of the destruction of life at such a magnitude that it can only be called nuclear genocide. What is the reality of nuclear genocide in the context of Oikonomia (fellowship, communion) of Life in East Asia?
I. The Nuclear Hegemon: Origins and Present Path
From the perspective of Zoesophia, the nuclear genocide against the people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the modern event that has most starkly reflected the clash between East and West at the civilizational level. It was a brutal, deadly attack by the modern national technocratic power of the West—not simply one part of the corrosive impact of the modern West upon the East as explained by Toynbee’s historical hermeneutics.
1) The atomic bombing in 1945 was a terminal consequence of Western colonial expansionism, expressed in modern military terms. It combined the core power of the modern nation state, still defending the colonial enterprise, with the power of the modern industrial capitalist regime. This convergence of powers marked the high point of military technocracy, in its creation of the nuclear weapons system. This took place during the culmination of hegemonic struggle among the nation states around the Korean peninsula. In this period, the peoples of East Asia made crucial responses through the Meiji Restoration, the T’aiping Peasant Revolution, and the Tonghak Peasant Revolutionary Movement.
2) Already in the 19th century, hegemonic struggle among the four nation states of China, Japan, Russia and the USA had begun in East Asia. The first Sino-Japanese War (1894), the Russo-Japanese War (1904), and the second Sino-Japanese War (1937) took place in East Asia and led the region into WW II, the Pacific War. In this process the US emerged as the major hegemonic power in East Asia and the world.
3) At the end of the Pacific War, when the US used atomic weapons in East Asia, thus committing nuclear genocide for the first time in human history, it became the de facto global Nuclear Hegemon. This Hegemon, like the Leviathan and the Behemoth, is a divine monster with the power of ultimate control over all other powers.
4) The US nuclear hegemon has consolidated its position through the production and testing of nuclear weapons of genocide, and continuously solidified its nuclear military regime through the global Cold War process. The global Cold War regime was established at the end of WW II by the division of the Korean peninsula and its occupation by US and Soviet military power, and by the resultant Korean War, which provided the ultimate justification for the nuclear arms race against the Soviet Union. The Cold War regime has underpinned the US nuclear hegemon up to the present.
5) This hegemony is beyond control by any governance, whether national or international, legal or ethical. The chief of the hegemon can launch a nuclear attack any time, at will. This situation is a grave danger to all living beings on earth. International treaties on nuclear weapons and nuclear power, international disarmament regimes, humanitarian dimensions—all can be bypassed, ignored, or even violated without restriction. Existing nuclear disarmament processes and agreements such as the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) have no influence over the nuclear hegemon.
6) The reach of this nuclear hegemon includes outer space and the oceans, with the setting up of military stations in space and the dispatch of nuclear-powered submarines with nuclear weapons under the sea.
7) Even more dangerous, the technological convergence of advanced artificial intelligence (AI) with the nuclear weapons system is poised to grant the nuclear hegemon absolute supremacy over all living and nonliving beings.
8) The nuclear genocide against the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in East Asia, which created 700,000 victims including 100,000 Koreans, has not ended. The aftereffects of the radiation continue to afflict succeeding generations, but to this day they are not receiving adequate care, let alone justice.
9) The total number of nuclear genocide victims is estimated at 120 million, including those exposed to radiation while mining and processing uranium (as in the Congo), those involved in producing and testing nuclear weapons or operating nuclear power plants, and everyone unfortunate enough to have been in the vicinity of nuclear disasters such as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima.
10) Nuclear waste, produced by nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons factories, and accumulating in ever larger volumes, is known to be the most dangerous, toxic pollutant in the world. But there is no safe way to dispose of nuclear waste, and it remains radioactive for thousands of years.
11) Considering these facts, we can only take the position that in order to truly grasp the enormity of genocide caused by nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants, we must stand in the shoes of the victims and see things from their perspective.
II. Living Beings Resist the Nuclear Hegemon
1) Throughout history, it has been assumed that governance by nation states can restrict individual and collective violence. Kingdoms and empires in the past, and nation states in modern times, have been trusted to control violence, to prevent and limit wars, and to maintain security and a peaceful world order.
2) The underlying assumption was that ruling powers can be good, and that the virtue of rulers can prevail over tyranny and violence.
3) The League of Nations in 1918 made its declaration for peace and the self-determination of peoples. But history has proved that this declaration and its doctrines were illusory.
4) Now the nuclear hegemon is threatening life as a whole, even risking omnicide on a cosmic scale. It uses international governance structures, originally set up for security and peace, in an attempt to control other nuclear powers. However it tries to justify its actions, the nuclear hegemon can never bring about global security or peace.
5) What we must recognize is that the people—together with all other living beings—affirm and act for their own lives and “oikonomia”; and that this life-affirmation is their motive power of resistance against nuclear hegemony and all other violence.
6) In this sense, the victims of the nuclear hegemon constitute the primary agency to resist the hegemonic struggles of the nuclear powers including the nuclear hegemon.
7) The people and other living beings, especially those victimized in the competition for nuclear hegemony, must struggle to end the omnicidal violence.
III. A Fiesta of Life
1) Despite the suffering caused by nuclear genocide; despite the nuclear hegemon’s threats of even greater suffering; and regardless of the unabated struggle for nuclear hegemony among the big powers, the peoples of East Asia can create and sustain a “Fiesta of Life for All Living Beings in the Garden of Life.”
2) This Fiesta of Life must be based on the cosmic conviviality of all life.
3) It must be grounded in the spirituality of all living beings as the subject of life. East Asia’s diverse spiritual traditions, creatively revitalized, can generate new energy for life and undergird the fiesta of convivial life.
4) The victims of nuclear weapons and nuclear power are the primary protagonists in the endeavor to overcome the genocidal violence of nuclear hegemony. Their efforts can revitalize their foundations of life and foster the hoped-for, cosmic Fiesta of Life.
5) The East Asian peoples in solidarity can be a garden growing new, creative visions of peace that nullify nuclear violence.
6) Now the US nuclear hegemon, with Japan as potential partner, is confronting Russia and China for hegemonic struggle in East Asia. The peoples of East Asia are called to recreate the Garden of Life for a convivial Fiesta of Life. This can be the vision of the East Asia Forum for solidarity in East Asia. Meanwhile, when we look at the West Asian situation—the other pivot of the global geopolitical ellipse—we remember that it is the region where the original vision of peace for life emerged, also against the background of empires.