I have to admit that while I think the humble guestbook is a neat way of annotating the worth of a museum or gallery exhibition to its visitors, for whatever reason I very rarely leave a comment when I visit one. Perhaps part of the reason why is that when it comes to summarising my thoughts, I am simply unable to reduce what I think and feel to a single sentence or two. I am not sure if that is more a failing or more a virtue. It is a failing, of course, because a certain crucial aspect of the skill of using language is being succinct. The writing of folks like who make a virtue of their prolixity aside (e.g. take for example Marcel Proust), it is usually better to use ten good words rather than one-hundred sloppy words to get across what you are trying to say. On the other hand, it is a virtue, because I am sceptical of the notion that your average guestbook comment provides anything more than a virtually content-free expression of either “it was good” or “it was bad”.
It is with these thoughts in mind that as someone who writes and is a bit of an armchair student of language in public life, I thought that this comment left by Kevin Rudd in the guestbook of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park was beautifully phrased:
“Let the world resolve afresh, from the ashes of this city – to work together for a common mission of peace for this Asia-Pacific century and for a world where one day nuclear weapons are no more.”
Not only does this single sentence express a clear abhorrence for nuclear weapons, but it also gracefully alludes to a point often implied but rarely talked about explicitly in the mainstream media: the spheres of power in the global political economy are set to shift quite dramatically in the coming decades. Thanks to the growing might of China and India and also the importance of Indonesia, Asia is indeed looking set to be the most dynamic and influential arena for political and economic debate amongst the nations of the world in the 21st century. The era when Europe and the United States dominated the political and economic affairs of the globe is not precisely over, but it does look set to ebb.
The statement also ties in neatly with the Prime Minister’s bold announcement for a new International Commission of Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament. Although the government has been criticised in the media of late for going committee and commission crazy since assuming office, there is little doubting that new frameworks for international co-operation are required in order to progress debate beyond the status quo on nuclear disarmament that currently exists. One would also hope that the government works to ensure that its position on uranium trade does not serve to fatally undermine its good will in establishing this commission. We must remember that it is easy politics to establish commissions; whether or not the government has done the right thing will depend on whether the commission achieves anything of worth. The outcome is what, at the end of the day, we should judge, not just the intention.
UPDATE: From this report, it seems that the commission’s goal will be to deliver a report to a conference of experts in the field in 2009, before serving as input to the planned 2010 review of the NPT.