Saturday, August 06, 2005


Today, as you know, is the 60th anniversary of the nuking of Hiroshima.

I don't have much to add to the online chorus made up, it appears equally, of pro-nukers who either revel in Japan's collective punishment for the sheer sadistic sake of it or found the bombing a humanitarian act (it saved more lives in the long run), and of anti-nukers who see no point to the attack, other than to warn the Soviets that they could be and probably would be next, which has become a conventional view. Personally, I'm not crazy about unleashing nuclear weapons on civilians, no matter how corrupt and violent their ruling class. So I guess you can lump me in with the anti-nukers, for what that's worth.

Either way, it seems silly at this late date to argue about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Not that our use of nuclear weapons isn't an important topic. It is. But these discussions tend to devolve into military strategy contests, where war geeks try to out-General each other in battles and attacks long ago finished. It's a harmless game by and large, but it can stir some nasty emotions, and it sometimes shows how Americans love to exempt themselves from the evil currents of the world.

Steve Gilliard makes the pro-nuke case today, and I'm a bit taken aback by his casual acceptance of instant mass murder. Japanese civilians apparently had it coming, and we were firebombing them anyway, so why all the wimpish concern? As Steve put it in his comments thread, "Japan, to this day, refuses to be fully accountable for their barbarity across Asia." I'm guessing that he's referring to the Japanese state, because I've met and read of Japanese citizens and immigrants who were very critical of their country's imperial past, which was, as Steve says, quite barbarous. But if imperial barbarism and the lack of accountability is the pretext for nuclear retribution, then certainly we Americans deserve many Hiroshimas. But you won't see the pro-nukers taking their case that far.

Recall that the Pacific war was fought between a regional empire, Japan, and an emerging global one, the US. The war began years before Pearl Harbor. The US, alarmed by Japan's military expansion, sought to quarantine Japan in favor of Chinese nationalists (Henry Luce's pet Christian cause) and British access to Southeast Asia. Once Japan moved into Indochina, the US and Britain placed an oil embargo on the Japanese, which would cripple their military ambitions, and thus the stage was set for total war. It appears that the Japanese military thought it would be a brief conflict, given how deeply immersed they were in Asia. But little did they know what US rulers had in mind.

Given this build-up to actual war, and the brutality that followed, I suppose that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were inevitable and inescapable. That doesn't make the atomic bombings morally right, but reality usually operates independently of morality, and states, esp imperial ones, do not possess such qualities.

Steve defends the nukings because the Japanese military committed countless war crimes in Asia, and the bombs brought this swiftly, if cruelly, to an end. He's not alone in this view, but I have yet to encounter a pro-nuker who would advocate the same punishment for us after what we did to one of Japan's former conquests -- Vietnam. There we killed millions, maimed tens of thousands, devastated the countryside with carpet bombing, used chemical weapons on civilian targets, engaged in torture and extra-judicial executions, and then spread this terror to Laos and Cambodia. Now, there are differences between us and the imperial Japanese, but are they so great that we should have been spared a Hiroshima-style punishment? There are many patriots who would shout YES!, that our mass murder was more enlightened and necessary than Japan's. If you agree with that, then there's nothing more to say. If not . . .

While we recall Hiroshima, let's remember that the nuke option remains in play. There was that supposed leak from Cheney's office that the Bush admin might be considering using nuclear weapons on Iran. Part of me thinks this is disinfo, an attempt to make the Iranian state nervous and remind it who's boss in the region (imagine what the Iranian population thinks). But then, this is the Texas oil/geopolitical expansion crowd, for whom war and threats of war come naturally. So one never really knows until the hammer drops, and even then the fog of lies and slander obscures the full picture. But what if we do this? What would be the cost? Juan Cole recently offered his view, and if Juan's even partially correct, another Hiroshima would be the least of our worries.