No one gasped. Maybe it was shock enough having the disgraced Scooter Libby give the introduction where he suggested that the former, failed prime minister of Japan Shinzo Abe shared enough of a conservative agenda with Americans that he should run for elected office in the U.S.
After all, Paul Wolfowitz and General Michael Hayden were in the audience. Doug Feith was seated next to the Boeing representative, Stanley Roth, who as a former Assistant Secretary of State for Asian and Pacific Affairs once knew something about Asia.
But, I should not have been surprised. All this was taking place at an invitation-only luncheon for Abe on October 15th held by the conservative Hudson Institute. The night before, Abe shared the stage at Hudson’s annual dinner with former Vice President Dan Quayle.
It was a room full of Washington's conservative elite, who simply understood that Abe-san (they like to use “san”) believed in a strong military, fiscal responsibility, and standing up to Communist China. Libby had noted that Abe championed “warmer but realistic relations with China.”
It was unlikely that Libby knew that just a month before Abe shared a podium with disgraced General Toshio Tamogami. The General, became an admired figure among Japan's right-wingers after a 2008 essay—in which he denied Japanese aggression in China during World War II and said that the U.S. tricked Japan into World War II—caused him to lose his job as head of Japan's Air Self Defense Force. Tamogami is also the organizer of the anti-Chinese rallies that have been held in Tokyo over the past month. Both Abe and Ms. Yuriko Koike, a former defense minister and top opposition lawmaker, are active Tamogami supporters.
But I digress. It was Abe’s luncheon speech that was shocking, not the introduction.
Abe opened by noting his “deep admiration for Dr. Herman Kahn, the founder of the Hudson Institute.” He said
The phrase that he coined, ‘thinking the unthinkable,’ has provided me much food for thought throughout my career as a member of the Diet. My own interpretation of the phrase 'thinking the unthinkable' is as follows: 'to provide hope for the future, based on a clear understanding of the past and an accurate perception of the present.'WHAT!?
Is the thought of surviving a thermalnuclear war providing Abe with “hope”? At this point I appreciated that Hudson had wisely hosted an open bar and served an excellent red at lunch.
Did Abe’s speechwriter know anything about Herman Kahn and his famous book On Thermonuclear War? Or did he just Google Herman Kahn quotes?
When Herman Kahn published On Thermonuclear War in 1960, he shocked readers by “thinking the unthinkable.” In the book, he speculated on how the various levels of American preparedness and civil defense would affect rates of survival in the event of a devastating thermonuclear attack on the United States. The Soviets, he believed, would be most likely to launch a first strike if they thought they could completely destroy the US and avoid retribution.
This led Kahn to suggest a robust Civil Defense response to ensure that as many Americans as possible would survive so that the U.S. could launch a nuclear Armageddon back upon the USSR. His thesis was a strange mix of mathematical calculation and gallows humor. Thus, the concept of “Mutually Assured Destruction” was borne.
Dr. Kahn was one of the models for Stanley Kubrick’s dark comedy Dr. Strangelove. And “thinking the unthinkable” will forever be associated with a doomsday scenario of worldwide nuclear war. For more see HERE.
From there it was tough to take the rest of what Abe said seriously. If he had such a distorted notion of thermonuclear war, what kind of thought was he capable of on other issues?
His speech did make some news when he called the Chinese fishing trawler’s ramming of two Japanese Coast Guard ships a “barbaric act [that] cannot be overlooked.” He said the release the captain, “was a very foolish move” which showed that “the Prime Minister’s office was frighteningly naive.”
Abe did not, however, suggest what he would have done differently. After all, the U.S., Japan’s ally, strongly recommended to Japan to quickly release the Chinese captain. So, we did not learn what “unthinkable” thing the former prime minister was thinking.
The Hudson Institute feels it has common cause with Mr. Abe. They choose to ignore his more extreme views. Further, it is tough to gage how much attraction the rightist, nationalist agenda of Tamogami and Abe has for average Japanese. As in the U.S. the social uncertainty brought on by a weak economy feeds all sorts of anger.
At a recent anti-Chinese demonstration in Tokyo, a protester told a passersby to "Please get in touch with the anger inside you again." No Tea Party member could have said it better.