[sixties-l] Re: sixties-l-Howard Zinn on Hiroshima, Vietnam

From: Jeffrey Blankfort (jab@tucradio.org)
Date: Thu Aug 10 2000 - 10:25:00 CUT

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    ----- Original Message -----
    From: "Wade Hudson" <whudson@igc.org>
    To: <whudson@igc.org>
    Sent: Thursday, August 10, 2000 2:32 AM
    Subject: FROM WADE: Zinn on Hiroshima

    The Bombs Of August

    by Howard Zinn

    Near the end of the novel THE ENGLISH PATIENT there is a passage in
    Kip, the Sikh defuser of mines, begins to speak bitterly to the burned,
    near-death patient about British and American imperialism: "You and then
    Americans converted us. . . . You had wars like cricket. How did you
    fool us
    into this? Here, listen to what you people have done." He puts earphones
    the blackened head. The radio is telling about the bombs dropped on
    Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    Kip goes on: "All those speeches of civilization from kings and queens
    presidents . . . such voices of abstract order . . . American, French, I
    don't care. When you start bombing the brown races of the world, you're
    Englishman. You had King Leopold of Belgium, and now you have fucking
    Truman of the USA."

    You probably don't remember those lines in the movie made from THE
    PATIENT. That's because they were not there.

    Hardly a surprise. The bombing of Hiroshima remains sacred to the
    Establishment and to a very large part of the population in this
    country. I
    learned that when, in 1995, I was invited to speak at the Chautauqua
    Institute in New York state. I chose Hiroshima as my subject, it being
    fiftieth anniversary of the dropping of the bomb. There were 2,000
    people in
    that huge amphitheater and as I explained why Hiroshima and Nagasaki
    unforgivable atrocities, perpetrated on a Japan ready to surrender, the
    audience was silent. Well, not quite. A number of people shouted angrily
    me from their seats.

    Understandable. To question Hiroshima is to explode a precious myth
    which we
    all grow up with in this country--that America is different from the
    imperial powers of the world, that other nations may commit unspeakable
    acts, but not ours.

    Further, to see it as a wanton act of gargantuan cruelty rather than as
    unavoidable necessity ("to end the war, to save lives") would be to
    disturbing questions about the essential goodness of the "good war."

    I recall that in junior high school, a teacher asked our class: "What is
    difference between a totalitarian state and a democratic state?" The
    answer: "A totalitarian state, unlike ours, believes in using any means
    achieve its end."

    That was at the start of World War II, when the Fascist states were
    civilian populations in Ethiopia, in Spain, in Coventry, and in
    President Roosevelt called that "inhuman barbarism." That was before the
    United States and England began to bomb civilian populations in Hamburg,
    Frankfurt, Dresden, and then in Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki.

    Any means to an end--the totalitarian philosophy. And one shared by all
    nations that make war.

    What means could be more horrible than the burning, mutilation,
    irradiation of hundreds of thousands of Japanese men, women, children?
    yet it is absolutely essential for our political leaders to defend the
    bombing because if Americans can be induced to accept that, then they
    accept any war, any means, so long as the warmakers can supply a reason.
    there are always plausible reasons delivered from on high as from Moses
    the Mount.

    Thus, the three million dead in Korea can be justified by North Korean
    aggression, the millions dead in Southeast Asia by the threat of
    the invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965 to protect American
    the support of death squad governments in Central America to stop
    the invasion of Grenada to save American medical students, the invasion
    Panama to stop the drug trade, the Gulf War to liberate Kuwait, the
    bombing to stop ethnic cleansing.

    There is endless room for more wars, with endless supplies of reasons.

    That is why the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is important, because
    citizens can question that, if they can declare nuclear weapons an
    unacceptable means, even if it ends a war a month or two earlier, they
    be led to a larger question--the means (involving forty million dead)
    to defeat Fascism.

    And if they begin to question the moral purity of "the good war,"
    the very best of wars, then they may get into a questioning mood that
    not stop until war itself is unacceptable, whatever reasons are

    So we must now, fifty-five years later, with those bombings still so
    that a mildly critical Smithsonian exhibit could not be tolerated,
    insist on
    questioning those deadly missions of the sixth and ninth of August,

    The principal justification for obliterating Hiroshima and Nagasaki is
    it "saved lives" because otherwise a planned U.S. invasion of Japan
    have been necessary, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands,
    hundreds of thousands. Truman at one point used the figure "a half
    lives," and Churchill "a million lives," but these were figures pulled
    of the air to calm troubled consciences; even official projections for
    number of casualties in an invasion did not go beyond 46,000.

    In fact, the bombs that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not forestall
    invasion of Japan because no invasion was necessary. The Japanese were
    the verge of surrender, and American military leaders knew that. General
    Eisenhower, briefed by Secretary of War Henry Stimson on the imminent
    use of
    the bomb, told him that "Japan was already defeated and that dropping
    bomb was completely unnecessary."

    After the bombing, Admiral William D. Leary, Chairman of the Joint
    Chiefs of
    Staff, called the atomic bomb "a barbarous weapon," also noting that:
    Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender."

    The Japanese had begun to move to end the war after the U.S. victory on
    Okinawa, in May of 1945, in the bloodiest battle of the Pacific War.
    the middle of June, six members of the Japanese Supreme War Council
    authorized Foreign Minister Togo to approach the Soviet Union, which was
    at war with Japan, to mediate an end to the war "if possible by

    Togo sent Ambassador Sato to Moscow to feel out the possibility of a
    negotiated surrender. On July 13, four days before Truman, Churchill,
    Stalin met in Potsdam to prepare for the end of the war (Germany had
    surrendered two months earlier), Togo sent a telegram to Sato:
    "Unconditional surrender is the only obstacle to peace. It is his
    heart's desire to see the swift termination of the war."

    The United States knew about that telegram because it had broken the
    Japanese code early in the war. American officials knew also that the
    Japanese resistance to unconditional surrender was because they had one
    condition enormously important to them: the retention of the Emperor as
    symbolic leader. Former Ambassador to Japan Joseph Grew and others who
    something about Japanese society had suggested that allowing Japan to
    its Emperor would save countless lives by bringing an early end to the

    Yet Truman would not relent, and the Potsdam conference agreed to insist
    "unconditional surrender." This ensured that the bombs would fall on
    Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    It seems that the United States government was determined to drop those

    But why? Gar Alperovitz, whose research on that question is unmatched
    DECISION TO USE THE ATOMIC BOMB, Knopf, 1995), concluded, based on the
    papers of Truman, his chief adviser James Byrnes, and others, that the
    was seen as a diplomatic weapon against the Soviet Union. Byrnes advised
    Truman that the bomb "could let us dictate the terms of ending the war."
    British scientist P.M.S. Blackett, one of Churchill's advisers, wrote
    the war that dropping the atomic bomb was "the first major operation of
    cold diplomatic war with Russia."

    There is also evidence that domestic politics played an important role
    the decision. In his recent book, FREEDOM FROM FEAR: THE UNITED STATES,
    1929-1945 (Oxford, 1999), David Kennedy quotes Secretary of State
    Hull advising Byrnes, before the Potsdam conference, that "terrible
    political repercussions would follow in the U.S." if the unconditional
    surrender principle would be abandoned. The President would be
    if he did that, Byrnes said. Kennedy reports that "Byrnes accordingly
    repudiated the suggestions of Leahy, McCloy, Grew, and Stimson," all of
    were willing to relax the "unconditional surrender" demand just enough
    permit the Japanese their face-saving requirement for ending the war.

    Can we believe that our political leaders would consign hundreds of
    thousands of people to death or lifelong suffering because of "political
    repercussions" at home?

    The idea is horrifying, yet we can see in history a pattern of
    behavior that placed personal ambition high above human life. The tapes
    John F. Kennedy reveal him weighing withdrawal from Vietnam against the
    upcoming election. Transcripts of Lyndon Johnson's White House
    show him agonizing over Vietnam ("I don't think it's worth fighting for.
    . .
    .") but deciding that he could not withdraw because: "They'd impeach a
    President--wouldn't they?"

    Did millions die in Southeast Asia because American Presidents wanted to
    stay in office?

    Just before the Gulf War, President Bush's aide John Sununu was reported
    "telling people that a short successful war would be pure political gold
    the President and would guarantee his reelection." And is not the
    Clinton-Gore support for the "Star Wars" anti-missile program (against
    scientific evidence or common sense) prompted by their desire to be seen
    the voters as tough guys?

    Of course, political ambition was not the only reason for Hiroshima,
    Vietnam, and the other horrors of our time. There was tin, rubber, oil,
    corporate profit, imperial arrogance. There was a cluster of factors,
    of them, despite the claims of our leaders, having to do with human
    human life.

    The wars go on, even when they are over. Every day, British and U.S.
    warplanes bomb Iraq, and children die. Every day, children die in Iraq
    because of the U.S.-sponsored embargo. Every day, boys and girls in
    Afghanistan step on land mines and are killed or mutilated. The Russia
    "the free market" brutalizes Chechnya, as the Russia of "socialism" sent
    army into Afghanistan. In Africa, more wars.

    The mine defuser in THE ENGLISH PATIENT was properly bitter about
    imperialism. But the problem is larger than even that 500-year assault
    colored peoples of the world. It is a problem of the corruption of human
    intelligence, enabling our leaders to create plausible reasons for
    acts, and to exhort citizens to accept those reasons, and train soldiers
    follow orders. So long as that continues, we will need to refute those
    reasons, resist those exhortations.

    (Howard Zinn is a columnist for The Progressive. Published in the August
    2000 issue of The Progressive http://www.progressive.org/}

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