Kiichi Miyazawa (1919-2007), a former prime minister who also held a number of key Cabinet posts during his long career, used to warn ministry officials repeatedly, "Whatever happens, a war is something you must never let our nation get into."

When I heard Miyazawa say this 20 or so years ago, it went over my head, probably because I was used back then to taking peace for granted.

But not anymore.

I can now see what Miyazawa must have meant: That a war can erupt, even if it seems totally unlikely.

Over the last year, I have begun to feel the weight of his words. With North Korea continuing to provoke the world with its nuclear and missile development programs, thoughts of war have been on my mind with growing frequency.

The current crisis is rooted in years of history. But our greatest misfortune today is that the president of the United States happens to be the sort of individual who responds to Pyongyang's provocations with insults, such as by calling its leader "Little Rocket Man."

In addition, America's diplomacy is in danger of falling into dysfunction, given President Donald Trump's failure to fill scores of senior position in the State Department.

William Perry, who served as defense secretary in the Clinton administration, lamented last month in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun: "I see what many people, to me amazingly, fail to see is the huge consequences of a war. As bad as the first Korean War was, a war in the Korean Peninsula that extends to Japan and that goes nuclear would be 10 times worse. And we’re talking about casualties that equal those of World War II! "

Perry continued, "And we have to get serious about diplomacy. And the Japanese government should be working to encourage that and promote it."

In the Lower House election in October, North Korea's threatening behavior was brought to the fore as the source of Japan's "national crisis."

Incredibly, though, the government has yet to come up with any estimate of damage an armed attack on Japan would cause, including fatalities among civilians.

Whatever sense of crisis the government may be feeling, there is something oddly detached in its attitude, as if it's all someone else's business. And this strange mentality seems to be spreading.

I pray fervently that there will be no nuclear war, no matter what, and that we will still be around one year from now.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 30

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.