The story of the Japanese sack of China and Southeast Asia, its treatment of Western prisoners of war, its hegemonic ideology, cries out for retelling. Not to do so–to dwell extravagantly on the dropping of the atomic bombs and to all but ignore the character of the Japanese regime that brought war in the Pacific–would be the equivalent of discussing the end of the European war by dwelling on the bombing of Dresden while saying little about the Nazi regime.
Yet that is what happened. Public and commercial television all but ignored the end of the Pacific war. Neither the editorial nor the op-ed columns of The New York Times marked what was, for the hundreds of millions of people of East Asia, a far more momentous event than the dropping of the atomic bombs. True, aging American vets staged lackluster marches and ceremonials. And a few of their more verbal comrades–James McGregor Burns, Paul Fussell–introduced a note of realism by discussing what a military invasion of Japan might have entailed. But these were minor voices when set against the pervasive silence.
It was more than simple anniversary burnout; the roots of this non-observance may be located in the ideological divide over America’s Pacific war. From Pearl Harbor on, the war against Japan found particular support among former isolationists and Republican conservatives; the war against Nazi Germany among New Dealers, liberals and the Left. Revenge for Pearl Harbor (possibly, the Right came to believe, itself brought on by FDR’s machinations), a hatred of the Japanese fueled not only by their perfidy but by their skin color, an ideal right-wing military hero in the person of Douglas MacArthur: all of this made the war against the Japanese the top priority for anti-New Deal Republicans. The war against Nazism, waged in alliance with Stalin’s Soviet Union (transmuted by the alchemy of wartime propaganda into a land of agrarian-industrial reformers), offered comparable satisfactions to New Dealers and the American Left.
These predilections continued in the postwar years. Conservatives raised an eyebrow over the legality of the Nuremberg trials. Liberals had few such doubts–although they had many more when it came to the trials of Japanese war criminals. The cold war only reinforced these inclinations. It produced, on the right, Joseph McCarthy defending the SS perpetrators of the Malmedy massacre of American POWs and, on the left, a Communist-led peace offensive that focused on the primal evil of the atomic bomb.
So, when anniversary season rolled around last year, it wasn’t surprising that the Left stressed the war in Europe and the dropping of the bomb. But why didn’t the Right make more of its ideological patrimony? After all, the anniversary provided an important opportunity to remind Americans that today’s realities of a democratic and pacific Japan, peace between Japan and China, and fifty years of real (not ersatz) co-prosperity in East Asia are not the result of some ancient Confucian ethic, or of the inexorable laws of free trade, but of an American political and military presence now imperiled by post-cold war isolationism.
Of course some of that isolationism comes from the Right. And the silence may also result from an unwillingness, shared by the Right, to offend commercially powerful Japan.
But more important is the fact that over the past half-century the meaning of the victory over Nazism has, if anything, become clearer, more unalloyed. The West’s victory in the cold war reinforced the wartime theme of democracy v. totalitarianism (even if it eroded the illusions of the alliance with Stalin). So has Germany’s confrontation with and repentance for the crimes of Nazism.
Remembrance of the Pacific war has been more complicated. Liberal guilt over the bomb and more general regret at the internment of Japanese-Americans has marred, for some, America’s victory. And there is a continuing ambiguity, a lack of closure, in our relationship to East Asia that prevents a full-throated commemoration. Our cold war with the Soviet Union is over, while our relations with China grow frostier by the month. Nor have the Japanese yet confronted their wartime crimes in any way comparable to the Germans. If the German case is any indication, only when Japan does so will its erstwhile enemies, and present-day allies, join them in serious inquiry into that ugly past. Until then, amnesia will remain a malady in both countries.
Reports that former Labour leader Tony Blair is prepared to drop his opposition to electoral reform for the House of Commons and embrace the alternative vote (AV) system have been widely welcomed by the reform lobby. Even the Liberal Democrats, who advocate the single transferable vote (STV) system of proportional representation, are enthusiastic, saying that the apparent move towards AV indicates that Labour thinking is in a promising state of flux.
And, indeed, the reports do suggest that Blair might be in the process of changing his mind in the right direction. After Labour’s 1992 general election defeat, when pressure from within the party for electoral reform was at its height – with an increasingly vocal lobby arguing for the German-style additional member system of proportional representation (AMS) – Blair was one of the most prominent critics of the reformers, whom he believed had given up on Labour ever becoming a party supported by a majority of voters. And he stuck to this position once he became leader, making it clear that he was not in favour of changing the electoral system for the Commons, even though he backed his predecessor John Smith’s promise of a referendum on electoral systems.
For “sources close to the Labour leader” now to suggest that he is no longer so enamoured of “no change” is undoubtedly significant – not least because there’s a strong case for arguing that AV is a staging-post on the long journey from supporting the first-past-the-post (FPTP) status quo to backing some sort of proportional representation. Many of the Labour figures who are now advocates of PR, including the most senior of them, Robin Cook, stopped off at AV on the way. If Blair is taking the same journey, supporters of proportional representation – among them NSS – have good reason to be pleased.
On the other hand, he might not be doing any such thing. The alternative vote actually has nothing in itself to do with PR: it’s an option in its own right. Under an AV system, used for example for the Australian House of representatives, there are single-member constituencies, with FPTP; what is different is the way that voters mark their ballot papers. Instead of placing a single cross next to the name of a candidate, a voter can rank his or her preferences. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote on first preferences, the last-placed candidate drops out and his or her ballot papers are redistributed among other candidates according to second preferences – and so on until one candidate emerges with more than 50 per cent of votes cast.
The advantages of this system are that it retains the link between MPs and their constituencies, but improves on FPTP because each MP has to secure 50 per cent of the vote. But the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. The role AV gives to voters’ second choices puts even more of a premium on political inoffensiveness than currently exists. And AV does little or nothing to ensure that parliament really does represent the spread of opinion in the country – which is surely the most important reason for getting rid of first-past-the-post.
Most experts agree that, under AV, representation of the Liberal Democrats would be marginally increased, but that otherwise the change would have little effect on the composition of the Commons. AV would certainly not give the Lib Dems anything like the share of seats that would be commensurate with their share of the vote, let alone see the election of more minor-party MPs, whether Green, far-left or far-right.
Of course, as Blair argues, there is a real problem with PR, in that it can give minor parties disproportionate influence. But this problem is soluble, through a mixture of thresholds for representation and strict rules to prevent changes of government on the whim of minor parties holding the balance of power. It’s even easier to deal with the other main objection, that PR means an end to the link between MPs and their constituencies or else massive multi-member seats: the additional member system preserves single-member constituencies for most MPs, achieving proportionality by topping up their numbers from regional lists. Of course, AMS would mean radical changes in Britain’s political culture – but that’s precisely what Blair has said he wants. And if it’s good enough for new Labour in Scotland – the party backs AMS for its proposed Scottish parliament – it should be good enough for Westminster too.
People are busy. Private industry Understands that reality. It has responded with computerized customer service strategies that offer the consumer expanded service options. Service strategies are designed to function 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and they give the customer the power to proactively consume goods and services. Some examples are online banking and World Wide Web catalog sites which allow non-stop shopping in virtual malls.
If the past is any indicator, government customer service strategies will catch up to the private sector in five to ten years. We can quicken that pace by rethinking the election process and implementing online customer service delivery strategies that will make it easier for voters to consume election information and voter services.
Four high-volume services that election offices provide are voter registration, the vote-by-mail ballot request, campaign financial reporting and the dissemination of election results. Those services could be delivered online.
In most states, a person must be registered in order to vote. While registration has been made easier with the National Voter Registration Act (Motor Voter law), we should take the next step and allow people to register to vote online. There is no legitimate reason why registration forms couldn’t be printed on a home computer, signed and mailed to the Registrar’s Office. (In the near future they will be totally done online with digitized signatures). As the voter prints the voter registration form, a counting device would increment up one in the appropriate party field so the voter could immediately see the result of his/her registration.
Another important online service is the vote-by-mail ballot application. Currently citizens obtain a mail ballot after making a written request to the Registrar of Voters. This cyberstrategy would make a standard request form available online. Prospective voters would complete the form online and print it out. The printed form would be mailed to the Elections Office.
The availability of campaign financial reporting forms online along with instructions on how to complete the forms and answers to the most commonly asked campaign reporting questions would be a significant service for candidates, committees and officeholders who are required to file campaign financial disclosure reports. The required forms could be printed from a World Wide Web site and subsequently used for reporting purposes. If the jurisdiction required electronic filing then the appropriate software could be downloaded from the site and used by the preparer to electronically file the documents.
Complete election results would also be available online. Turnout data could be presented in a graphical way so it would be easily analyzed. Information could be broken down by neighborhoods, precincts and jurisdictions and it could be printed out as raw data and as graphs.
Many other voter services could be made available online. While the services listed above are only a starting point, they would have a significant impact because they are in high demand. The voter education component of the online voter site would enhance and complement those services.
Educating citizens is an important aspect of the online voter services site. Online voter education is a powerful tool and gives the voters control over their own education. It allows them to go online when it’s convenient and study the voter information they want.
A top priority of the online election educational strategy is to educate citizens about who their elected representatives are and what they do. To accomplish that goal, while online the citizen must be able to determine what political subdivisions they are a part of and who their elected officials are. Online job descriptions and the service offerings of a particular office could be provided.
One of the most publicized information sources in elections is the campaign finance report. This report lists the names and addresses of the people who give money to a candidate. It also shows how and where the candidate spent those funds. If all candidates submitted their receipt and expense information on a computer disk, the Registrar could easily make the information available online.
Getting voter information used to be passive. You opened up the sample ballot and read the information you were given. The Internet lets the voter interact with the content. Imagine the educational potential of an interactive electronic sample ballot loaded with video, sound clips, animation, graphics and text. Compare that approach to the sample ballots you have seen recently. Most sample ballots that I have come across are bureaucratic. They do not invite the reader to study the issues. In fact, they do the opposite.
Online sample ballots would include all the required information but they could also contain pictures of the candidates, speeches, press releases, issue papers and a wealth of related information. One important feature of the online sample ballot is that it would allow a voter to look up their exact voting location by inputting their residence address.
First-time voters would find helpful information online. Most first-time voters say they want to have an explanation of their voting options, specific instructions on each of the steps involved in getting to vote and they want to know what to expect at the polls.
Running for a public office, whether for Tax Collector, Congress or the local school board, can be a confusing and complicated process. Currently the only way to know what the rules are is to personally contact the Registrar of Voters and get a paper copy of the Candidates Guide. That resource contains the requirements, deadlines, and rules for becoming a qualified candidate for political office. This information, along with frequently asked questions, would be posted online so that all visitors could benefit from previously asked questions.
Online debates and forums are an integral part of the online voter services site and they play an important role in educating the voter. Imagine what the first online Presidential debate might be like? Online debates, between candidates from all levels of government, could take two basic approaches. One could happen in real time. The other approach would allow candidates to prepare position papers and answers to previously submitted questions.
In ancient Rome, the forum was a public square where people assembled and interacted. On the Internet online forums serve the same purpose. Online public forums would let the voters ask their direct and follow-up questions of the candidates. They would allow for a quality dialogue between voters and candidates so that voters could better understrand a candidate’s position on the issues.
Educating children about their responsibilities in a democracy is important for the future. With all the educational material available outlined above, teachers could use the online voter services site to take students on a cybertour of Democracy. Links to other sites like Thomas, state home pages, and related information could enhance the experience. Kids could play online democracy games, role play being a city council member for a day, learn about America’s history, and communicate with students in other parts of the world.
The educational function of the online voter site is a key strategy that seeks to encourage more citizens to participate and vote. Once engaged, however, citizens in a healthy democracy must be able to easily communicate with one another.
Reignite Citizen Activism
We must discover ways to reignite citizen activism. Good government depends on it! Putting the master voter file online might help us reach that goal because it would promote communications between citizens. While the privacy proponents will immediately oppose this idea, there is another important reason to complete this step.
Putting the voter file online will help level the playing field for modern campaigns. As it now stands, only the wealthy candidates and big-bucks political action groups get access to the voter file because of its high cost. This practice prohibits the grassroots activist from mobilizing citizens for a particular candidate or cause.
At the present, some states restrict access to the master voter file unless the intended use is for political, journalistic, scholastic or other authorized purposes. The online voter file could be set up to recognize these same restrictions and a balance could be struck between a citizen’s right to privacy and the need for public access.
To facilitate communications with voters, a space on the voter registration form should be provided for e-mail addresses. This strategy looks to the future when each of us has some type of electronic address. If this information were available and recorded now, the Registrar of Voters could communicate with voters electronically. If we wanted to make a bold futuristic change, boxes could be included on the voter registration form which would give the voter a choice between receiving election materials electronically or in primed format.
Finally, communications could be improved if all election officials had the capacity to send and receive e-mail. E-mail would allow a citizen to send a message to the Registrar’s Office at any time. And election officials could electronically communicate with their peers throughout the nation.
In short, the cyberstrategy implemented must ensure that communications can easily occur between voter and Registrar, Registrar and voter, voter and voter, and Registrar to Registrar. A successful online strategy will encourage grassroots citizen activism.
The number of citizens involved in governance is too low and many political contests go without a breadth of well-qualified candidates. We must change that situation.
Modern states–Britain, France, Russia, the United States, Japan–are now facing a new phenomenon, the terrorist. But who is this terrorist, who may be supported by weaker states or have no state support at all? To begin with, a terrorist is not a guerrilla. Guerrillas almost always are revolutionary fighters within the borders of their own state, and have a specific program for social change should they succeed in capturing the state apparatus. In contrast, terrorism may be viewed as the fallout from the forced modernization, thwarted leadership and failed revolutionary activity throughout the Third World. (Indigenous terrorists in Western countries are usually opposing their government’s policies toward the Third World.)
Terrorist acts are often desperate efforts to strike back at megapolitan oppressors who are regarded as historically responsible for the destruction of the terrorists’ traditional culture. But terrorism is not blind desperation; it is a new form of “revolutionary” behavior. The cunning of this desperation lies in exploring a contradiction in contemporary industrial societies: as the machinery of transportation, communication and destruction becomes more centralized, it becomes more vulnerable to being seized and turned against the state. A Moslem from Iran whose parents are peasants, a Lebanese from the Bekaa Valley, the daughter of a Syrian shopkeeper, can maneuver themselves into a confrontation with the leadership of the feared and despised dominant secular power. By capturing a plane, they can gain the attention of the entire world, magnified by the media and by the wounded self-image of the power under attack. They can engage, if momentarily, in a dialogue with government figures whose power and prestige far outweigh their own. And even if they are killed, they have nonetheless made a statement in the global dialogue of power.
But the industrialized nations refuse to understand that terrorism is the result of their aggression against all forms of society that deviate from their standards and values. It cannot be stopped by the eradication of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi or by repeated bombings of Libya or any other Arab state.
The forms of terrorism are likely to ramify in the future and cause far greater damage than has already been inflicted. The contradictions of highly technology societies can be exploited almost endlessly. A suitcase containing a nuclear weapon can destroy any city in the West. Central water supplies can be poisoned. Suicide attacks on industrial or government installations can be made. Against this there is no protection, not even wider destruction of the traditional societies that harbor the terrorists.
Interestingly, after the attack on Tripoli, Qaddafi predicted that the anticipated wave of terrorist attacks in Western Europe would be the work of the C.I.A. or the F.B.I. Because this sort of conspirational, and provocative, behavior is not unknown in the recent history of intelligence cadres in the Western states, Qaddafi had a point–but one that he may never have intended. He helped confuse the boundaries between the good guys and the bad guys and reinforced the suspicion most people have that Western governments do engage in “illegitimate” acts of violence. Perhaps he was inadvertently saying that although some Arabs may be terrorists they are overshadowed by the states of terror that control the planet. And in this, unfortunately, there is a nuclear truth.