August 2005 posts

Hiroshima, cover-ups, and the nuclear race

 AlterNet: Lessons Learned, Lessons Not Learned


Sixty years ago tomorrow, the United States dropped a nuclear bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later, the military dropped a second bomb on Nagasaki.

These are the only two nuclear bombs ever used in war, and with good reason. The devastation from the bombs was unfathomable, and as the extent of the destruction became public knowledge, the bombs themselves became a symbol of the atrocity of war.

Immediately after the bombs, once Japan had surrendered unconditionally, the U.S. military instituted a blanket ban on reporting about the effects of the bombs. It took seven years for the first photos to surface in Japan, and many more for the larger world to learn what happened on those two days.

Sadly, the threat of nuclear weapons seems to have faded from the public consciousness, even as the fear of terrorist attacks looms large. With all the talk of “dirty bombs” and “suitcase bombs,” the fact is that more than 30,000 nuclear weapons remain in the arsenals of the eight countries that admit to having any. As Walter Cronkite says in a new radio documentary, “Lessons from Hiroshima: 60 Years Later,” “some 4,000 of these are on hair-trigger alert.”

One of the most interesting and damning points you make in the documentary is that if the cover-up had not happened, then possibly there would not have been an arms race, that nuclear weapons would not be the threat that they still are today.

Yes, you certainly have a strong argument about that. Obviously, no one knows for sure, and one of the journalists in the program makes the case that the arms race wouldn’t have happened. But without a doubt the debate would have been different. In the United States there was no debate about the legitimacy of having nuclear arms, the only argument was “Oh my God, how did the Soviet Union get it? The Rosenbergs must have stolen it.” That was the only debate; it wasn’t about whether it was legitimate to have these weapons, or for the U.S. to test them. Certainly it would have changed the nature of the debate.

I was in Hiroshima just after the 55th anniversary, and the city is incredible; it’s a monument to peace, there are paper cranes everywhere, there’s a Peace Museum, and it’s full of memorials. So in 55 years they’d turned from being the aggressor to being a proponent of peace, and in some way you could make the argument that if the war hadn’t ended like that …

Sure, but do you have to put people through that kind of death and destruction in order to become a monument to peace? It’s a credit to the people of Hiroshima, and Nagasaki both, that they’ve drawn on those lessons and they’ve made their cities leaders in the movement for peace, but you don’t wish that on anyone.

When you mentioned that the Japanese argument in WWII for invading Asia was to liberate them, do you see any other parallels between that war and what’s going on now with American policy?

Of course. Ironically, the U.S. has been encouraging the Japanese military and government to increase the sizes of its army and navy, including sending troops to Iraq. And that’s why it’s so telling that this Japanese soldier [is] completely opposed to sending troops to Iraq, because how is it any different from what they did in Asia?

But on a broader level, what the U.S. is doing now in Iraq is using a lot of the same logic, which is “We’re going there to liberate Iraq from a horrible dictator.” Of course, that’s not what they told us at the time. At the time it was to stop the weapons of mass destruction and to stop nuclear expansion [laughs], and when those arguments turned out to be totally phony, they came up with this latest one. It’s the logic of every aggressor, the aggressor never says “We’re going there to benefit from your oil and expand our military bases and our geopolitical position.” They go there and say “we’re fighting for democracy and to liberate you.” 

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Hip clothing and sweat shops


If this summer’s fashion trends can tell us anything, it’s that the world is definitely getting smaller. Standing on Broadway in fashion-crazy lower Manhattan, the scene on the street is more Global Village than Greenwich Village: women running in and out of stores in saris and Native-American-inspired footwear, vendors selling African-style wooden beaded jewelry, and paisley-clad hipsters each trying to look more citizen-of-the-world than the next.

The only problem is that the ethnic patchwork is contrived. Young women who have never traveled out of their zip code are dressing like they just came back from a whirlwind tour of Nairobi, Prague and the Khyber Pass. While some girls really did get that embroidered blouse in the former Soviet bloc, most of them have patched together their summer wardrobes at the Gap, Urban Outfitters, or United Colors of Benneton. And most of them have done so in blissful — or willful — ignorance of where their clothing actually came from.

Most people are at least vaguely aware that much of our clothing is produced in conditions antithetical to the values of “one world” bohemianism. Aside from the “Made In ___” tag that identifies its country of origin, it’s impossible to tell just by looking at a piece of clothing whether it was manufactured by sweatshop workers. But odds are that it was. 

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

George Lakoff – War on Terror, RIP


War on Terror, Rest in Peace
By George Lakoff, AlterNet
Posted on August 1, 2005, Printed on August 2, 2005
The “War on Terror” is no more. It has been replaced by the “global struggle against violent extremism.”

The phrase “War on Terror” was chosen with care. “War” is a crucial term. It evokes a war frame, and with it, the idea that the nation is under military attack — an attack that can only be defended militarily, by use of armies, planes, bombs, and so on. The war frame includes special war powers for the president, who becomes commander in chief. It evokes unquestioned patriotism, and the idea that lack of support for the war effort is treasonous. It forces Congress to give unlimited powers to the President, lest detractors be called unpatriotic. And the war frame includes an end to the war — winning the war, mission accomplished!

The war frame is all-consuming. It takes focus away from other problems, from everyday troubles, from jobs, education, health care, a failing economy. It justifies the spending of huge sums, and sending raw recruits into battle with inadequate equipment. It justifies the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent civilians. It justifies torture, military tribunals, and no due process. It justifies scaring people, with yellow, orange, and red alerts. But, while it was politically useful, the war frame never fit the reality of terrorism. It was successful at consolidating power, but counterproductive in dealing with the real threat.

Colin Powell had suggested “crime” as the frame to use. It justifies an international hunt for the criminals, allows “police actions” when the military is absolutely required, and places the focus and the funding on where it should go: intelligence, diplomacy, politics, economics, religion, banking, and so on. And it would have kept us militarily strong and in a better position to deal with cases like North Korea and Darfur.

But the crime frame comes with no additional power for the president, and no way to hide domestic troubles. It comes with trials at the international court, giving that court’s sovereignty over purely American institutions. It couldn’t win in the administration as constituted.

….. click on link above for the rest of this excellent article

George Lakoff is the author of Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate’ (Chelsea Green). He is Professor of Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley and a Senior Fellow of the Rockridge Institute. 

Karl Rove and manipulating the masses

 Now it appears that Rove “outed” Valerie Plame to punish her husband for “outing” the administration’s lies in their march to war. This administration seems to think they are better than the rest of us. They are more interested in “getting their own way” through manipulation than they are in the truth or in democracy. A great country should not believe that the end justifies the means. The means should matter. This administration seems to only care about the end, and about getting the end that will personally benefit them.

When did we stop being a country that demands accountability, the separation of church and state, human rights, science, due process, honesty, and democracy? 

Friday, August 05, 2005

Propagandistic vs. investigative journalism


So now we know for sure. Those “highly placed Bush Administration sources” anonymously quoted over and over again in front-page and cover stories are, in fact, the likes of Karl Rove and Lewis Libby. The Valerie Plame affair has not only outed the chronic propaganda leakers in the Bush Administration; it has also exposed for the public to see the corrupt relationship between the White House and leading members of the national press corps.

It’s no wonder George W. Bush has such contempt for the media. His cronies must laugh regularly about how easily they manipulate reporters. Driven by ego and competitive pressure, they are willing carriers of the Administration’s propaganda, blinded by feelings of false power because they are close to the people actually pulling their strings.

As the New York Times said in a recent editorial (July 19) defending Judith Miller, if Rove and other officials are “concerned about getting out the truth, all they would need to do would be to stand up in public and tell it.” That is exactly right. What a different world it would be, right now, if most reporters for mainstream media refused the corrupt bargain and were willing to write stories spun by the Administration only if the sources were on the record and accountable. Shouldn’t that be the standard practice, with rare exceptions, instead of the opposite? As Americans consider what is happening in Iraq and at home, they keep asking why no one is held accountable, why no one seems to be responsible. A major reason is the habitual granting of anonymity to the executive branch by the Washington press corps.

We need a national shield law, but not to protect promises of confidentiality to some of the most powerful people In the world. We need it to protect reporters who place their jobs on the line–and frequently lose them–when they take the risk of exposing abuses of power by those inside government and without.

No, the first lesson of the Valerie Plame affair should not be about how better to protect reporters like Judith Miller, although reporters clearly need better protection. Instead, let’s first make it an occasion for soul-searching about how the mainstream media covers the President of the United States. 

More on Hiroshima

 AlterNet: MediaCulture: Hiroshima Cover-up Exposed


In the weeks following the atomic attacks on Japan almost 60 years ago, and then for decades afterward, the United States engaged in airtight suppression of all film shot in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the bombings. This included footage shot by U.S. military crews and Japanese newsreel teams. In addition, for many years all but a handful of newspaper photographs were seized or prohibited.

More recently, McGovern declared that Americans should have seen the damage wrought by the bomb. “The main reason it was classified was … because of the horror, the devastation,” he said. Because the footage shot in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was hidden for so long, the atomic bombings quickly sank, unconfronted and unresolved, into the deeper recesses of American awareness, as a costly nuclear arms race, and nuclear proliferation, accelerated.

The atomic cover-up also reveals what can happen in any country that carries out deadly attacks on civilians in any war and then keeps images of what occurred from its own people.

At this point, the American public knew little about conditions in the atomic cities beyond Japanese assertions that a mysterious affliction was attacking many of those who survived the initial blasts (claims that were largely taken to be propaganda). Newspaper photographs of victims were non-existent, or censored. Life magazine would later observe that for years “the world … knew only the physical facts of atomic destruction.”

Tens of thousands of American GIs occupied the two cities. Because of the alleged absence of residual radiation, no one was urged to take precautions.

“Nothing and no one had prepared me for the devastation I met there,” Sussan later told me. “We were the only people with adequate ability and equipment to make a record of this holocaust. … I felt that if we did not capture this horror on film, no one would ever really understand the dimensions of what had happened. At that time people back home had not seen anything but black and white pictures of blasted buildings or a mushroom cloud.”

Along with the rest of McGovern’s crew, Sussan documented the physical effects of the bomb, including the ghostly shadows of vaporized civilians burned into walls; and, most chillingly, dozens of people in hospitals who had survived (at least momentarily) and were asked to display their burns, scars, and other lingering effects for the camera as a warning to the world.

Despite rising nuclear fears in the 1960s, before and after the Cuban Missile Crisis, few in the U.S. challenged the consensus view that dropping the bomb on two Japanese cities was necessary. The United States maintained its “first-use” nuclear policy: Under certain circumstances it would strike first with the bomb and ask questions later. In other words, there was no real taboo against using the bomb. This notion of acceptability had started with Hiroshima. A firm line against using nuclear weapons had been drawn–in the sand. The U.S., in fact, had threatened to use nuclear weapons during the Cuban Missile Crisis and on other occasions.

“Original Child Bomb” went on to debut at the 2004 Tribeca Film Festival, win a major documentary award, and this week, on Aug. 6 and 7, it will debut on the Sundance cable channel. After 60 years at least a small portion of that footage will finally reach part of the American public in the unflinching and powerful form its creators intended. Only then will the Americans who see it be able to fully judge for themselves what McGovern and Sussan were trying to accomplish in shooting the film, why the authorities felt they had to suppress it, and what impact their footage, if widely aired, might have had on the nuclear arms race — and the nuclear proliferation that plagues, and endangers, us today. 



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