Who’s been in charge in Japan? I don’t mean over the past week or so; I mean over the past, what, twenty, thirty years. I ask because they appear to have been asleep at the wheel. In August 1945, the Americans dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, resulting in casualties somewhere between 90,000 and 140,000. Over two-thirds of the city’s buildings were completely destroyed. A couple of days later the Americans dropped another atomic bomb, this time on the city of Nagasaki. Over 73,000 people were killed, almost 75,000 injured, and several hundred thousand more suffered illness, many of them later dying, as a result of radiation fallout. The suffering is literally unimaginable. And yet it now emerges that Japan has the third highest number of nuclear power plants in the world. So the explosions in recent days at two power plants in that country are the result of a bone-brained reliance on nuclear energy. If hundreds of thousands dead and two cities flattened doesn’t teach people, what will?
Maybe it’s not just the Japanese. Maybe it’s human nature. I’ve been glancing of a Sunday night at Feargal Keane’s ‘The Story of Ireland’ on BBC1. It’s a pretty superficial historical tour (maybe that’s why he called it ‘The Story of Ireland’ rather than ‘A History of Ireland’) but it does bring home one fact: England was ruthless in its occupation and control of Ireland down the centuries, and Ireland was relentless in its refusal to accept that occupation and control. Over time it took a spectrum of forms: Hugh O’Neill, the United Irishmen, the Young Irelanders, the Land League, Parnell - and next week the beautifully hirsuited Keane will take us through the violent Irish resistance of the twentieth century. Who in England, I found myself wondering, was in charge? Hasn’t the message of the centuries got through? Does England – does anyone – seriously believe that if in, say, thirty years from today, there is a divided Ireland with control of the north-east by London, there won’t be yet more violent resistance and loss of life?
Seamus Mallon famously described the Good Friday Agreement as ‘Sunningdale for slow learners’. It’s not just the GFA, Seamus. It’s the entire story of British-Irish relations. Like Japan, England keeps looking away from the lesson that history is trying to teach her.