Saturday, August 06, 2011

Crimes Against Humanity

When reminded of today's grim anniversary, I thought I had something to add on the topic. I re-read my entry last year, and realize the same exact thing needs to be said again. We as Americans have this strange idealized image of ourselves: ever quick with a qualification or an excuse for the actions of our nation and its politicians that conflicts with our imaginary view of ourselves, I think we'd be happier if we'd go with our first gut impulse. Killing hundreds of thousands of people in an instant is just wrong. Start from there and work backwards. There's no rationalization for atomic weapons that holds up, if you're honest with yourself and any reasonable sense of morality. When you start to make an excuse, work forward again to the incineration of thousands of innocent children and find your way back. From last year:

One nation has actually used the ultimate weapons of mass destruction, nuclear weapons. That nation is the United States of America.

Sixty-five years ago today, the United States bombed the city of Hiroshima in southern Japan. Nearly a hundred thousand lives--mostly civilians--were instantly snuffed out as the city itself was flattened. Tens and tens of thousands of others had their lives cut short, condemned to dealing with painful burns and other injuries and to the slow but equally fatal poisonous effects of lethal radiation exposure.

The big lie of Hiroshima (and Nagasaki, bombed three days later) is that the United States had no choice: it traded the lives of two cities worth of Japanese civilians for the shortening of the war. But for the four years of the war the American government and its loyal cultural institutions had churned out massive amounts of dehumanizing racist anti-Japanese propaganda like the poster at left. Loyal American citizens of Japanese ancestry had been sent to internment camps. It is not surprising that the American military and scientific establishment would use the last days of a war obviously almost over to experiment on a civilian population it had already deemed subhuman. The United States made its deadly mathematical calculation because it believed that dropping the bomb on Japanese civilians would be like crushing so many cockroaches. Many -- though certainly not all -- scholars believe that the Japanese government was ready to surrender, especially anticipating the obviously imminent entry of the Soviet Union into the war. The Japanese imperialists had a record of military cruelty to civilians dating back to the attack on Shanghai in 1937; that's undeniable. But with the nuclear attacks on Japan, the United States became fully committed to that same club.

From the story of survivor Setsuko Thurlow:

"I turned around and saw the outside world. Although it was morning, it looked like twilight because of the dust and smoke in the air. People at a distance saw the mushroom cloud and heard a thunderous roar. But I did not see the cloud because I was in it. I did not hear the roar, just the deadly silence broken only by the groans of the injured. Streams of stunned people were slowly shuffling from the city centre toward nearby hills. They were naked or tattered, burned, blackened and swollen. Eyes were swollen shut and some had eyeballs hanging out of their sockets. They were bleeding, ghostly figures like a slow-motion image from an old silent movie. Many held their hands above the level of their hearts to lessen the throbbing pain of their burns. Strips of skin and flesh hung like ribbons from their bones. Often these ghostly figures would collapse in heaps never to rise again. With a few surviving classmates I joined the procession carefully stepping over the dead and dying.

At the foot of the hill was an army training ground about the size of two football fields. Literally every bit of it was covered with injured and dying who were desperately begging, often in fain whispers, “Water, water, please give me water”. But we had no containers to carry water. We went to a nearby stream to wash the blood and dirt from our bodies. Then we tore off parts of our clothes, soaked them with water and hurried back to hold them to the mouths of the dying who desperately sucked the moisture. We kept busy at this task of giving some comfort to the dying all day. There were no medical supplies of any kind and we did not see any doctor or nurse. When darkness fell, we sat on the hillside, numbed by the massive scale of death and suffering we had witnessed, watching the entire city burn. In the background were the low rhythmic whispers from the swollen lips of the ghostly figures, still begging for water."

More survivor testimony can be read at Voices of Hibakusha.

Remember this: when the U.S. campaigns against weapons of mass destruction, when it marches into Iraq, threatens Iran and North Korea, raises the spectre of rogue nukes, this is not because it believes WMD are wrong, it's because it wants exclusive use of these monstrosities for itself and its allies.

WW2 poster snagged from Maximum Advantage in Pictures blog.

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