Friday, May 27, 2016
Why Hiroshima Narrative Still Matters: Americans Still Liable to Back Use Again
Naturally, the lead NY Times story does a poor job in putting this in context. It falsely suggests that most of the survivors demand that apology when what most want are stronger assurances--and actions--that will prevent other nuclear attacks. (Obama, for all his talk today, is going ahead with "modernizing" our nuclear stockpiles.) And it also suggests--by ignoring the opposing view--that most historians believe the bombings were justified and actually "saved" lives. Actually most who have studied the subject deeply do not believe this. Here's a new interview with Gar Alperovitz (I once appeared with him on the Larry King Show, sitting next to the pilot who dropped the bomb over Nagasaki).
I, too, did not expect and demands an "apology" from Obama today. But what I would have found proper was a hint that continuing to strongly defend the two bombings only makes it more likely that the U.S., or another nation, will indeed use the weapon again in the future--which he says he strongly opposes.
I've been writing about atomic/nuclear weapons and the first (and only) use of The Bomb in 1945 against civilians in war for almost 35 years now: literally hundreds of articles (from TV Guide to The New York Times) and two books, Hiroshima in America--with Robert Jay Lifton--and Atomic Cover-up. See the posts just below for my latest just last week after the announcement of President Obama's upcoming visit to Hiroshima. That's my photo at left in Hiroshima on August 6, 1984.
I've covered a lot of ground, but part of the writing has focused on the case against dropping the two bombs, which killed over 200,000, the vast majority women and children. Occasionally some has asked, "Okay, fine, but what does it matter today?" I will reply: Polls show that most Americans, and media commentators, still support the use of the bomb in 1945 (with historians more divided, as I've noted), and most American officials and all presidents have agreed. So the lesson is: the weapon can be used--even though most say "never again"--despite the promise of killing hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of civilians, and therefore it's more likely it will be used again. A line against using the bomb has been drawn...in the sand.
Yes, there were special circumstances in August 1945--Japan's brutality and a four-year world war--but one can easily imagine circumstances in the future that could be used to justify future use, including "saving lives" by forestalling an invasion. As Obama observed today: "How easily we learn to justify violence in the name of some higher cost." And after mentioning the human toll in Hiroshima: "Mere words cannot give voice to such suffering, but we have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again." Finally, "That memory allows us to fight complacency. It fuels our moral imagination."
And don't get me started on Nagasaki. Obama should have gone there, too.
So, here's a new piece, and poll, at the Wall Street Journal. Offered a scenario today similar in some ways to the one in 1945--the U.S. is at war with Iran and faces a possible invasion of that country which might be forestalled if we drop a bomb on an Iranian city--six out of ten support the use of The Bomb. That figure rises to 8 in 10 among Republicans--so, BernieorBust people who seem have little fear of Donald Trump's finger on the nuclear button, take notice.
Now, I have to wonder about the sample for this survey. Oddly, only about 1 in 3 say our use against Japan in 1945 was justified. That is easily the lowest number I have ever seen in such poll. But maybe that is even scarier--for these same people then turned around and supported use against Iran. Think about it. The article also cites a 2013 survey that found 19% back using nukes against al-Qaeda even if conventional bombing, they were told, would be just as effective.
And again: see some of my pieces below on this blog. "Moral imagination" may one day enable Americans to throw off the shackles of the decades-long Hiroshima narrative that justifies the two atomic attacks.
is author of a dozen books (click on covers at right), including the new "THE TUNNELS: Escapes Under the Berlin Wall and the Historic Films the JFK White House Tried to Kill." He was the longtime editor of Editor & Publisher. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: @GregMitch