For those of you that listened to the most recent live episode of The Cantina Cast (Episode #158), you heard hosts Mike and Joao comparing and discussing the similarities between the Death Star and nuclear weapons. Before doing the episode, Joao asked me for some thoughts on the topic, as I have been living in Japan for several years now. I wrote down some thoughts, most of which Joao read during the podcast. However, I would like to make those thoughts available to read, if you would like to peruse them in their entirety. I will admit, though, this is a very difficult subject to approach, and I must emphasize that I am not a historian nor an expert on Japanese culture. I merely offer what insights I have gained from my time here. As a final disclaimer, I’ll also state that the following is more a collection of thoughts than a piece tailored for publishing.
The topic Joao posed to me:
“The morality of the atomic bomb, living in Japan how do those events still resonate in the culture etc. going to compare that WMD to the Death Star and make some comparisons to real world”
“Well, for starters, I know that the scenes of destruction wrought by the Death Star would have resonated with much of the Japanese audience specifically because of the similarities to the destruction created by the A-bombs in WWII. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are huge elements of Japanese history and have become part of their culture. Now, I am no expert on WWII, the bombings, or *all* the intimate details of Japanese sentiments toward nuclear weapons, but one thing is clear: they want nothing to do with nukes.
Last year I went on a trip to Hiroshima and visited the Peace Park and Memorial Museum. The lines for the museum and for the shrine (for offerings and prayers) were incredibly long. The museum itself was packed and everyone moved through the exhibits at a snail’s pace; there was very little personal space. We were there on or near a holiday, so I think there were more people there than usual, but the sheer number of people of all ages (made up mostly of Japanese but also some foreign tourists) is a testament to how significant an event the bombings were. The exhibits were incredibly sobering and at the end is an area where you can add your name to a petition for the abolishment of nuclear weapons.
Now looking at the Death Star through this lens makes the destruction it created even more impactful. An important difference, however, is that nuclear weapons only destroyed part of a country, instead of the whole thing – as the Death Star did with Alderaan. Yet in Rogue One we get a much closer comparison as the first two uses of the Death Star (like Hiroshima and Nagasaki) destroyed only the area surrounding ground zero. Though in the case of Jedha and Scarif the casualties are not as great as that of the entire planet of Alderaan, there is something potentially more horrifying as the survivors deal with the fallout- literally, emotionally, and spiritually. Alderaan vanished, leaving behind only rubble. But on Jedha and Scarif (assuming the cataclysmic effect didn’t render the planets uninhabitable) living in the ruin left behind could very well have been more horrifying than witnessing the destruction of Alderaan. And to support that I offer this experience:
As a student I learned about the awfulness of WWII and of the facts regarding the Hiroshima and Nagasaki casualties. Certainly I took these lessons seriously. But standing at ground zero… I can hardly find the words to describe it. Seeing the malformed trees somehow still living, seeing the photos and videos of those suffering from radiation poisoning, seeing the melted and burned belongings of those killed in the blast, standing in front of a brick wall with the faintest imprint of a shadow that used to be a living, breathing human… not to mention the lines of people that to this day come to this site to make offerings and pray…
I don’t want to devalue in any way the realness of what happened to the Japanese people by comparing it to fiction, but when I think of the difference between partial and complete destruction, I must wonder if partial destruction is somehow worse – specifically because of the fallout.
Some may argue that having nukes/superweapons is a deterrent to war, and in some ways they are right. But the kind of ‘peace’ these weapons create is based on fear (“Fear will keep the local systems in line, fear of this battlestation.”)– which makes it unstable (just look at the Cold War between the U.S. and Russia) and thus, it is kind of self-destructive.
But getting back to Japan. Because of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – and because of the more recent incident with the Fukushima nuclear power plant – most Japanese are against the use of nuclear weapons and many are against even nuclear power. (I witnessed a protest in Kyoto against nuclear power; I don’t know the percentage of the population against it, but it’s clear to me that anti-nuclear sentiments run STRONG in Japan.)
In the end I am struck by this revelation: Just as the many Japanese wish to see the use of nuclear weapons ended completely, so too did the Rebellion seek to end the existence and use of the Death Stars. Just as Japan, though intent on strengthening its Self-Defense Force, does not want to obtain nuclear weapons, so too has the Rebellion never sought to create a superweapon of its own.
Now, I don’t want to make any political statements regarding foreign relations or nuclear weapons, but living in Japan and visiting Hiroshima has colored my perception of the Death Stars. That is to say, it’s hard for me personally to comprehend the use of such a powerful, indiscriminate superweapon as the Death Star. It is a thing that destroys completely. It doesn’t differentiate between military or civilian, adults or children, warmongers or pacifists, people, animals, plants, animate, or inanimate. Once the thing is built, all it takes is an order and they are wiped out – completely, utterly, and absolutely.”
The above is the extent of what I wrote to Mike and Joao on the subject. As a final thought I’d like to add a point to counter a supposition I’ve heard before and that came up during the live chat: Some like to equate the use of the Death Star to its destruction, meaning that the deaths of civilian contractors and family members aboard the Death Star is comparable to Empire’s murder of civilians (and destroying a planet). But I would like to point out that the Death Star is a military installation. Any civilian that enters a military installation or involves him/herself with military personnel or projects (including families) understands there is a risk – however slight – of being affected by conflict, war, etc. The deaths of these civilians, however unfortunate and regrettable, is a risk they assumed when they boarded the Death Star. The same can be said for any real-life family or contractor living/working on a military base. However, once the destruction spreads beyond the bounds of military bases/installations, the morality of it becomes far more grey.
But I suppose, I digress.
In conclusion, it’s clear that the morality of the Star Wars universe seems much more black and white than our own world, and though Star Wars is fictitious, we must remember that we should never trivialize the use or effects of WMDs. As my contemplations on this topic (and its real-world comparisons and implications) come to a close, I would simply like to quote Jyn Erso and say, “May the Force be with us.”
The Cantina Cast
The wretched hive your Jedi Master warned you about!
Thoughts? Questions? Comments? Comment below, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet me at @ErrantVenturer.