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Kaoru Noguchi

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The Fault is the Very Lust for Control in Unleashing Nuclear Power

Kaoru Noguchi
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: German Language and Literature

The Atom: the smallest bearer of identity, which cannot be further subdivided. "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers." (Matthew: 25). To whom did we do such a thing? Can the teachings of the New Testament be applied to nuclear physics? As we unleash this smallest particle of matter from its covering and in turn unleash a threat to life, what exactly is it that causes this unleashing? Can stipulations be established on inflicting bodily injury on submicroscopic objects? Ancient theology knew of lacrimae rerum (the tears in things: tragedy of life). If these tears should be imperceptible and left unnoticed, would the smallest element of matter takes revenge? Atomic fury unleashed. Matter will detonate despair against science, which forgets that matter is at once a part of us, and we are charged with its protection.

This passage is from the beginning of a lecture given by Swiss author Adolf Muschg (1934 - ) on May 9, 2011 at the Japan-German Society (President: Shigekazu Kusune) in Kanazawa. Since Professor Muschg first taught at the International Christian University in Mitaka in the mid-1960s, he has regarded Japan as his second home, frequently visiting, occasionally giving lectures on Japan, writing about Japan in his works, contributing articles on Japan to newspapers and magazines-he is a well known Japanophile in Switzerland, and his wife is Japanese. Upon hearing the news reports of March 11, he and his wife were distraught, and after making efforts to collect funds for Japan in Switzerland, they decided that they would rather go directly to Japan. They arrived at the Kansai International Airport in early April, just days after the disaster struck-where the presence of Europeans was next to none-and continued on to give a series of talks and readings in Tokyo and Kyoto, followed by lectures in Kanazawa.

As Dr. Muschg himself initially told the audience in advance, the lecture was not newly written, but rather, he had written it after the Chernobyl accident (April 1986) upon the request of a cathedral in the Swiss capital of Berne. As some in the press have pointed out, the actuality in the content of this lecture remains after a quarter century. He was astonished to find this, in a sense, and was motivated to recast the lecture in "reflecting once again on the problem of the destructive power of nuclear energy-together with Japanese friends-in light of the tragedy that they face again, 66 years after the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki."

The etymological exposition and theological/biblical metaphor in the lecture stem from the original audience Professor Muschg was speaking to-the congregation of a Christian church in Europe-and as such, the lecture is certainly difficult for a Japanese audience to grasp. But now, even after nine months have past since the disaster struck, there are still more measurements of highly concentrated doses of radiation, which cause risks of all sorts of dangerous pollution in nature, the environment, and food. Even as these facts are discovered and brought before us nearly every day, movements to abandon nuclear energy are not gaining traction, and on the contrary, there are movements toward restarting nuclear power at each location, in turn, upon checking safety. Reflecting on the reality of the priority given to economic theory in Japan, this is the very reason that I wish to introduce such thorough ways of thinking, philosophical and metaphysical, which at a glance may seem useless.

"Scientifically it is a fact, and technology made it possible. In other words, we were able to split what is known as the atom-which was supposed to be impossible-and we were able to detonate the nucleus of matter." In this way, we drew "power similar to ourselves from matter"-which was an "uncontrollable power akin to our addiction." This power cannot be perceived by the senses, and, as shown in the cases of Chernobyl and Fukushima, it cannot be controlled even in what are regarded as the most advanced and safest containment vessels.

The lesson we learn from this energy, which "will not allow for any fault whatsoever," is that, as we use it, "this usage representing the very lust for control in unleashing this power is itself a fault. Through this fault, we have exceeded not only the limits of matter, but our own limits as well." "The negative energy that we have seized from matter is already beyond our control, and there is no way to bring that to an end. The damaged matter no longer has the way to stop radiating poison for thousands of years and hundreds of generations."

"In considering the worst crimes that we have inflicted on ourselves in our century thus far, the name Auschwitz came to mind. But I wonder if there is a name to give to the crimes that we are committing against so many generations to come, as we fill the earth with poisonous substances-exactly like a bomb that makes even breathing impossible-or increasing the tension on the ignition ever more as we build nuclear power plants for so called peaceful purposes. I wonder if there will still be a name to give to this lust that is like an addiction, which would obliterate the future. And I wonder if there will be anyone left to utter this name, or at least anyone left to curse it"-these are the questions that weigh heavily on my mind.

The question Muschg poses is: "Now that the tears in things have become tears of indignation," is not the singular means of stopping the "chain of effects resulting from human violence committed against our brother the atom and our sister and mother matter," to turn back the clock on this ignition switch-to remove the ignition switch, to put it in common sense terms, "the behavior that is like madness."

I wonder what all of you think.

Kaoru Noguchi
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: German Language and Literature
Born in Tianjin, China. Graduated from the Division of Humanities, International Christian University. Joined the Dres. Vogt und Sonderhoff law and patent office in 1965, and then worked in the Division of Humanities, International Christian University for two and a half years from 1968. After the campus strife in 1970, she reentered Chuo University, majoring in German Studies. She completed his Master's course, and while enrolled in the PhD course, she studied abroad as a DAAD scholarship student at the University of Bonn. She took up her current post as a professor in the German Literature Course in 1976.
Her primary works and translations include: Hansi, Ume and Me-Collected Short Stories of Adolf Muschg [Hanzi to Ume, Soshite Watashi-Adorufu Mushuku Tanpenshu] (Adolf Muschg, Kaoru Noguchi trans., 2010); Berlin Salon-Memoirs of Henriette Hertz [Berurin Saron-Henriette Herutsu Kaisoroku] (Henriette Herz; Kaoru Noguchi, Hiroko Hasegawa, and Yuri Sawabe trans., 2006); On the Advancement of German Women [Doitsu Josei no Ayumi] (Setsuko Kawai, Kimiko Yamashita, Kaoru Noguchi eds., 2001).