Every month, a talk with Steve on various topics will be posted. Steve comes from Adelaide, Australia. He’s been in Japan for more than 10 years, and is married to a Japanese. There was an addition to his family, Sakura, his daughter who was born in April, 2014.
A topic of discussion on September 12, 2018: This time, we would like to talk about Russia. Why and how did Russia expand its territory to such an extent, extending as far east as to Alaska once?
Steve endeavored to explain the Russian territorial expansion through its history across more than 10 centuries of different dynasties. From Prince Ruric, a Viking descendant in the 9th Century, followed by Kievan Rus, the Grand Duchy of Moscow, Tsardom of Russia, the Russian Empire (the 18th to the early days of the 20th Century) in that order. During the period of the Russian Empire, its territory at its zenith extended from Poland in the west to Alaska in the east rendering it the third biggest empire in history.
Russia’s expansion was traditionally focused on its strong desire for acquiring sea ports. Peter the Great established St. Petersburg facing the Baltic Sea in the early 18th Century and it became the capital of the Russian Empire. Catherine the Great sought access to the south and established Sevastopol in the Crimean Peninsula facing the Black Sea in the late 18th Century. Towards the east, the Cossacks initiated explorations of the wide expanse of Siberia in the late 17th Century seeking the lucrative fur trade. Unlike other areas of expansion, the Cossacks met little resistance and subsequently reached the Bering Sea. A later commissioned expedition even reached Alaska in the mid-18th Century.
It’s a well known story that Russia sold Alaska to the U.S. for only 7.3 million US dollars in 1867. What would have happened if Russia had kept Alaska? It certainly would be an interesting what if scenario. Do you know that the Trans-Siberian railway connecting Moscow and the Russian Far East covers more than 9,200 km servicing travelers who have taken a particular interest in this railway and can afford the seven days needed?
Here is some data on Russia today. Area is more than 17 million square km making it the largest country in the world, about 1.7 times as large as the USA.
Population is 143 million, the 9th most populous country. Russia abounds itself with minerals, crude oil and natural gas. It also possesses the largest nuclear warhead arsenal in the
A topic for discussion on August 22, 2018: This time, we would like to talk about Australian history. In your opinion what was the most remarkable event that had a profound influence on the lives of Australians?
To start with, Steve said that it was very difficult to decide on any one particular event that had such a profound influence among so many such events in Australia. Having said so, he did mention the impact of the Great War, which had affected the lives of Australians to a great extent. This year is the centenary of the end of WW1 in 1918. There are numerous books written on WW1 and we seem to know quite well how it was started, fought and what was the outcome of the war. One thing certainly stands out that it had brought about astronomical devastation in terms of both human lives and materials.
Steve mentioned that more than 400,000 Australian men were mobilized during the Great War from a country of merely 5 million people. This fact alone meant the magnitude of influence on the lives of Australians would be great. A new tax mechanism was incorporated to finance the army; social and welfare programs were implemented to absorb returning soldiers from Europe.
From the economic perspective, Australian industries boomed during and immediately after the war. For example, agricultural outputs expanded to meet growing demands from both in and out of the country. Coal and mining industries flourished.
On the down side, social problems and domestic problems increased as a result of returning soldiers who had suffered physical injuries or PTSD. Social tension intensified also. Those who favored a closer relationship with Britain opposed those who sought more independent or more Australian ways of life. This social division also reflected that between religious factions: Protestants and Catholics. To add one more thing, Steve pointed out that the rise of racial and ethnic disharmony against the Germans was witnessed as a result of the war.
From a historical perspective, one could say that the Great War rendered Australia a regional power in the Oceania region.
Topic for July 11, 2018: How should we go ahead to achieving the complete disarmament of nuclear weapons?
I have selected this topic as we approach the anniversaries for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bomb explosions that took place 73 years ago. As expected, Steve’s first reaction was “the disarmament of nuclear weapons is not possible in our present climate.” Then, he emphasized that a nuclear weapon is a deterrent. Many people do not disagree with this whether openly or otherwise. It must be said that this peaceful period spanning more than seven decades among powerful countries since World War II is unique in world history. The fact stands that the deterrent of nuclear weapons has worked remarkably well especially during the cold war period between America and the then Soviet Union.
Since the end of the cold war, the world has become a much safer place to live in. On top of that, there are a number of international disarmament agreements in force, notably among America and Russia, which have effectively reduced the number of nuclear warheads. Does this mean that we do not have to worry about the risk of nuclear war anymore? Not in the least. America and Russia alone still possess a large arsenal of nuclear weapons that can wipe out most human beings on the earth. Also, the number of countries that have nukes is increasing; North Korea is the latest example. And, the use by terrorists is widely talked about.
So, what can be done? In the long run, international tensions that can culminate in war must be put to an end by creating a so-called global community (or one global nation). Perhaps we are heading for this goal, intentionally or not. Lastly, let me conclude this talk by referring to Ms. Beatrice Filn, a Swedish peace activist and secretary general of ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons): “Nuclear weapons are not “required evil” but “absolute evil”. What do you think?
A topic for discussion on June 14, 2018: How would you evaluate
the historical summit meeting between the USA and North Korea on June 12, 2018?
We talked about this hot issue just two days after the meeting. Steve kicked off our talk by saying “it was more a chat and bore very little fruit”. As a result of the meeting, a one-page joint statement was shown off to the world accompanied by fanfare. The joint statement basically calls for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula by North Korea. However, it does not specify anything related to a time frame or the means of achieving the denuclearization: nothing “concrete”, and in that sense “meaningless”. Can we expect the future negotiations between the two countries will iron out these concerns? I hope they will, but I‘m more inclined to think otherwise as evidenced by what was agreed once before but was not carried out (the Agreed Framework signed by the U.S. and the DPRK in 1994)
Steve also mentioned that the manner and behavior of President Trump during the meeting, such as approving and praising the North Korean leader, have much “demeaned” the U.S. president. It was nothing more than a one-man show.
Interestingly enough, Steve also pointed out that Trump somewhat resembles Kaiser Wilhelm II as being an ego-maniac. As is well known, Wilhelm was a German leader, to a great extent, responsible for World War I. Where will Trump lead the world to?
A topic for discussion on May 16, 2018: What is your take on the prospect of atomic power generation? Do you think that clean renewable energy will phase out atomic power generation?
Steve pointed out that it has become a “consensus” worldwide to move to renewable energy altogether in time. But the question is “how long will it take?” There are countries that have officially announced to terminate atomic power generation at the earliest possible dates, such as Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and Taiwan, all by 2025. The Chernobyl disaster shocked the world and the Fukushima accident in 2011 acted as the last straw for these countries to take a firm stance on denuclearization. Their arguments also covered concerns of treating nuclear waste and the gigantic costs of building nuclear power stations, besides radiation accidents.
On the contrary, there are many, many other countries that will maintain their reliance on atomic power generation and even expand it vigorously to meet their expanding demand for more power, being championed by China and India, the two emerging super powers. Their argument strongly adheres to the belief that nuclear power generation is both cost effective and clean. Whether atomic power generation is truly cost effective and clean can be argued but we will stop here.
Steve raised interesting points that any technological advancements of great nature are always hampered by two entities: the military and religion. A lot of resources can be invested in the development and implementation of renewable energy once huge spending on the military is curtailed. The military always demands more and more new war machines. Religion, according to Steve, repudiates by instinct any idea or movement that will oppose their religious dogma. What is your opinion?
How should Japan move into renewable energy? I believe that Japan should terminate nuclear power generation at the earliest date possible, simply because I do not want to see another Fukushima accident. I’m in favor of thermal power generation among other renewable energy: magma movement in the Japanese archipelago is particularly active as shown by many hot springs and volcanoes.
Lastly, I would like to show you power generation in Japan in 2010 (before the Fukushima accident) and 2016, six years later. In 2010, atomic power accounted for 26% of all power generation, oil 9%, coal 27%, natural gas 28%, hydro 8%, and renewable energy 2%. In 2016, atomic power was 2% (0% in 2014, but a few atomic power stations have reopened since then), oil 9%, coal 33%(an increase), natural gas 40%(a big increase), hydro 8%, and renewable 8%( a remarkable feat?)
A topic for discussion on April 14, 2018: What are the effective methods of learning English, if any?
We have talked about learning English several times before; what Steve emphasized was a good strategy for learning any foreign language and focusing on areas of personal interest.
This time, Steve raised the importance of setting out practical “strategies”. The first strategy is to “plan your learning, set realistic goals, and create a schedule”. Here, you can use current technologies of your preference, such as an electronic calendar.
The second strategy is to “record new vocabularies” in such a way (by using a memo book, internet apps and more) that makes it easy to review said vocabularies.
The third strategy is to “review your lessons”, by writing out what you have learnt, memorizing important and useful expressions and so on.
The fourth strategy is to “be active and take control of your class” (if you are attending one), instead of taking a passive or non-active role in a class. In this way, you can benefit the most from attending a class.
Steve reiterated that the best way to learn a foreign language is “to find interesting things to watch, read and listen to.” So in this way, you can even expand your areas of interest.
A topic for discussion on March 14, 2018: What books or articles have you found the most interesting recently?
Steve mentioned four books, the first of which was “Mythos” by Stephen Fry, a British writer, comedian, movie maker and more. This book is about Greek mythology. There are many mythologies rewritten for various purposes and Fry’s book focuses on Greek myth; how the very first chaos was transformed into night and day; gods and their progenitors; the story behind the four seasons among other stories. The book is “very entertaining”, according to Steve.
The second book mentioned was “The Boer War”, by Martin Bossenbrook, a Dutch author. This book depicts the so-called second Boer War (1889-1902), in which the British Empire fought with the Boer republics, namely the Transvaal Republic and the Orange Free State. In the end, the British won and the whole of South Africa became one colony under British rule. The book is interesting in that it highlights the war from the perspective of three individuals: firstly, a Dutch lawyer who held a high position in the Transvaal Republic; secondly, Winston Churchill, then a British war correspondent; and thirdly, a young Transvaal soldier.
The third book was “To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World”, by Arthur Herman. This book depicts the history of the British navy from the time of Henry VIII to now.
The fourth book was “The Complete Sherlock Holmes collection”, by Arthur Conan Doyle. A great entertainment by all means.
So, which of the four books mentioned here, would you like to read first?
A topic for discussion on February 14, 2018: What is your take on the geopolitical position of Japan and how it should maintain its national security in the
presence of an emerging superpower, China?
A topic for discussion on February 14, 2018: What is your take on the geopolitical position of Japan and how it should maintain its national security in the presence of an emerging superpower, China?
During the so called cold war era, Japan had adopted a national security policy, which relied exclusively on the US military strength under the Japan-US security agreement. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the cold war scenario ceased. Lately, Japan is seeking how to cope with China, an emerging superpower in Asia.
According to Steve, Japan has somewhat become more nationalistic and has taken “hawkish” steps. For instance, the ruling party, the Liberal Democratic Party, has exacerbated its activities aimed at revising the Japanese constitution, which stands on the principles of pacifism. On top of that, the Japanese forces have been readily deployed overseas for various peace keeping activities. Where does this lead to? A possibility of a military confrontation if and when things are not properly managed by either side?
Nobody wants a military confrontation because neither country will benefit, perhaps it would be more detrimental to Japan simply because of its smaller size, economically and militarily. Here, Steve explained appropriately a concept based on “game theory”, in which there will be neither winners nor losers: what is important is to keep in the game. So, Steve has applied game theory to the relationship between Japan and China. Instead of a confrontation, Japan should seek ways and means of providing something beneficial to China: for example a joint development of oil production in contested areas, more economic relations focused on services, after sales support, especially things related to old age care that Japan is having trouble with. The idea is to make the relationship both beneficial and indispensable to each other: namely to create a win-win situation.
This is not kowtow diplomacy but appropriately derived from the understanding that China is becoming a superpower. Perhaps, here, we can learn a lot from the experiences of Thailand, a country of charm and history, managing its way through difficult times against great powers. So, let’s try our best to stay in the game!
A topic for discussion on January 10, 2018: Did you make a new year’s resolution? If not, what would you like to see happen in 2018?
First of all, Steve mentioned that he has never made a new year’s resolution as such. Well, that’s that. Then, Steve went on to talk about what he would like to see happen this year. It seems that he is longing for a different life, perhaps setting a new goal and preparing for it whatever it may be. According to him, he sees his life at the age of 46 being “a little stagnant”, “having had the same job for a long time”.
I remember our talk in December, 2015 on the topic of “How do you envision yourself in 5 years from now? Then in 10 years?” Steve had mentioned the same thing, but said it has intensified. I asked him what would be his preference. The difficulties come here, as Steve seems to be still pondering on what to do next. Well, let’s hope that going through the year he will be able to come up with a clearer goal. It could turn out to be related to mastering Japanese, or gaming which is his life time hobby. Perhaps making a new year’s resolution for Steve might be a good idea, before it’s too late.
This is what I got from the Wikipedia as to a new year’s resolution. Religious origins date back to ancient times: for example, “Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts”.