To Be an Internationalist – Reflections on Senkaku & Dokdo

You would expect nothing but tranquility from an uninhabited island such as Senkaku, yet the island proves to be an epicenter for national quarrels. Just last August, major demonstrations around China desecrated Japanese flags, cars, products, stores – anything remotely representing their source of conflict. Signs were put up; slogans were made; jingoism took center stage. A sign in front of a Korean style hair salon in Hunan wrote “Japanese and Dogs not allowed inside”. Some stores even gave out discounts for yelling such slogans. This is not to say that jingoism does not exist elsewhere. It seems harder to find places where nationalism does not exist than it is to find places where it does.

So here is the question: how do we justify nationalism? As far as I can tell, the easiest way to approach this problem is to avoid it all together. For some reason or another, questioning can be as emotionally painful as it is insightful. It is like the child who cannot question his/her own parents. Sometimes we are emotionally attached to our nationalistic ideals.

When it comes to land disputes, how do we resolve them? How do we justify that one country owns and the other does not? The right to private property is a well understood concept, but what do we say about who owns what? We understand that a individual has his rights to the “fruits of his labor”, but land is not a product of labor. A common argument, I hear so often, is that a country has precedence in a specific plot of land if they have historical authenticity. 1) There is no such thing as true “authenticity” because people did not “originate” from within their national border unless their country exists somewhere in the rift valleys of Africa. We are all immigrants. 2) If you believe that the first group of people to live/explore the land are entitled to it, then you believe in what we call “finder’s keepers”. Yet, such an argument is hard to justify when: 3) both national borders and its inhabitants are constantly changing. The truth is that “authenticity” is more of a superficial conception then it is reality.

The same applies to the concept of ownership or property. Since property is a human byproduct, some say it should be regulated by people/legal system. Japan’s occupation of Senkaku is justified by the documents that were birthed after WWII. Yet this is as practical as it is not an argument. Legality does not justify morality. Morality justifies legality.

Nationalism or patriotism is often understood as a necessary quality of a citizen. Why is this so? Well the concept of a “citizen” would not exist without a nation for that citizen to belong to; and, the nation would not exist if their were no patriotic/nationalistic citizens. Nationalism/patriotism exists as a means of self preservation of the status-quo. Yet how do we justify the status-quo?

My own initial reactions to nationalistic debate is pro-nationalist. Yet the reason why I feel this way is because I want to believe that some how Japanese nationalistic interests are more important. “What is wrong with being nationalistic” some argue. But to continue believing in such beliefs I must face the fact that 1) I am selfishly interested in this belief, because I emotionally identify myself as “Japanese” and 2) as David Foster Wallace would probably put it, “I haven’t succeeded in working out a personnel ethical system in which the belief is truly defensible instead of selfishly convenient”.

For me the easiest solution has been to simply change my beliefs/ideals. What do I lose from changing? Nothing. What can be accomplished from nationalism that cannot be accomplished from the lack of nationalism?Apparently nationalistic independence is a better form of governing because certain groups can rule themselves better than others can rule them. This would have been true prior to democracy; nowadays, I do not think it applies. The United States is a good example where there is a certain balance between state and federal government. People can govern themselves within a nation, it does not require for them to have their own nation to do so. If that logic were to apply then every town, every village, every neighborhood, every family should establish their own nations because they can “govern themselves more efficiently”.

Historians/philosophers have labeled the period that is supposed to follow nationalism as “post nationalism”. Yet, I find the term vague, as it points out a point of departure but does not a point of arrival. “Cosmopolitanism”, “globalism”, “internationalism” I believe describe the way of thought more accurately.
In 1609, the Japanese fleet invaded the Ryukyu Kingdom (what is today the island chain south of Honshu that consists of Okinawa). Instead of retaliating the King ordered a surrender “rather than to suffer the loss of precious lives”. Something about this, demonstrates the ideals I seek. Life is more important than nationalism, and thus it is not worth dieing for. Some may find this way of life too passive. Yet, I disagree; it is setting one’s priority. As Gandhi wrote, it is not a lack of fighting. You fight against injustice, not against people. Human beings should always fight against injustice where it exists. To me, Nationalism is not a form of valid injustice.

So when people ask me what I think about Senkaku or Dokdo, I reply to them as such: Idealistically I would like the governments to cooperate: share the fishing zones, share the resources, etc. Yet with the type of attitude that both the people and governments are expressing, it seems perhaps impossible. In which case I care less about who it belongs too as long as the inhabitants retain their rights (but these islands are inhabited anyways). And plus, there are always going to be other issues that are more of a reality/concern (unlike nationalism) like pollution, the use of resources, etc.

If a country were to be invaded. They should not fight for nationalistic ideals; they should not fight for independence. They should fight for representation and rights, against the consequential injustice that may pursue. Those are the ideals of an “Internationalist”.

“One Nation, One People”
-Kai Matsuda