By David Swanson
Remarks in Poulsbo, Washington, August 4, 2019
This week, 74 years ago, the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were each hit with a single nuclear bomb that had the power of a third to a half of what NPR calls a low-yield or “usable” weapon. By NPR I mean both the Nuclear Posture Review and National Public Radio, both the U.S. government and what many people dangerously think of as a free press. These so-called usable nukes are for firing from the submarines based nearby here. They are two to three times the size of what destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the U.S. military’s plans involve using multiple nukes at once. But they really are tiny compared to other nuclear weapons that the United States and other nations have ready just in case some unfortunate scenario makes completely annihilating ours and other species the wisest course of action. Some U.S. nukes are 1,000 times what was used to vaporize Japanese populations. Each submarine can launch 5,000 times what was dropped on Hiroshima.
But the claim has been that the submarines are for so-called deterrence. Putting so-called small nukes on them and calling those “usable,” drops the pretense of deterrence in favor of openly embracing the madness of initiating an exchange of nukes likely to kill us all directly or through the creation of a nuclear winter.
It may sound like I’m joking or mocking when I say that the U.S. government might decide that the apocalypse is the wisest course of action, but in the part of the United States that I live in there are huge bunkers, designed by former Nazis, under hills for various agencies of the government to hide in so as to live marginally longer than the rest of us, and these bunkers would take hours to get to even avoiding rush hour traffic. A decision to kill us all would have to have been made and planned out but not yet acted upon prior to the long commute to the bunkers. This is all part of the policy of first-strike.
And, of course, the President of the United States has tweeted nuclear threats at other countries, something previous U.S. presidents never did. They all made their nuclear threats without the use of Twitter.
When the United States dropped those nuclear bombs on Japan, masses of people were in fact vaporized like water on a hot frying pan. They left so-called shadows on the ground that in some cases are still there today. But some didn’t die at once. Some walked or crawled. Some made it to hospitals where others could hear their exposed bones clacking on the floor like high heels. At the hospitals, maggots crawled into their wounds and their noses and ears. The maggots ate the patients alive from the inside out. The dead sounded metallic when thrown into trashcans and trucks, sometimes with their young children crying and moaning for them nearby. The black rain fell for days, raining death and horror. Those who drank water died instantly. Those who thirsted dared not drink. Those untouched by illness sometimes developed red spots and died so quickly that you could watch the death seep over them. The living lived in terror. The dead were added to mountains of bones now viewed as lovely grass hills from which the smell has finally departed.
Some of those who were able to walk were unable to cease moaning and holding their arms out in front of them with the skin and flesh hanging off. To our overly entertained and underly educated society this is an image derived from zombies. But the truth may be just the other way around. Some media critics believe that movies about zombies and other non-human humans are a means of avoiding the guilt or even the knowledge of real-life mass-murder.
When it comes to mass-murder already committed through war, nuclear weapons use is the least of it, and is probably out-paced by the deaths caused by nuclear weapons production and testing and waste and the use of depleted uranium weapons. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were chosen as locations to demonstrate the power of nuclear bombs because no high official in Washington had been there and found the place lovely, which is what saved Kyoto, and because the two cities had not yet been firebombed, as had Tokyo and many other places. The firebombing of Tokyo is not less horrible than the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The later bombings of Korea and Vietnam and Iraq, among other places, were far worse.
But when it comes to mass-murder in the future being risked by current actions, nuclear weapons are rivaled only by the climate and environmental collapse to which militarism is such a major contributor. At the pace at which people in the United States are beginning to come to terms with the genocide of the native nations and the horrors of slavery, we might expect an honest reckoning with the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki around about the year 2090. By honest reckoning, I don’t mean a non-apology from President Obama. I mean a focus in our schools and our civic life on accepting the responsibility for having created the keys to the apocalypse and the taking of appropriate steps to make amends. But 2090 will be too late.
People don’t seem to take climate collapse seriously enough to begin moving their corrupt governments on it until it is actually impacting them in the present moment, which is probably too late. If people don’t act on nuclear weapons until they experience their use it is definitely too late. A nuclear weapon is not like art or pornography where you can only know it when you see it. And by the time you see it you may cease knowing anything. But even seeing it may not be enough for some people. Sweden recently declined to ban nuclear weapons on the grounds that the treaty doesn’t define what they are. Seriously, Sweden, do you imagine that if a nuclear weapon were used on Stockholm there would be a debate as to whether it was a nuclear weapon or not?
Smart observers — perhaps a shade too smart for their own good — doubt the veracity of Sweden’s excuse. According to them, Sweden lacks nuclear weapons itself and thus is obliged to do the bidding of those who have them — even though dozens of other countries have refused to do that bidding and have signed onto a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. But this is to attribute logic to madness. And the error is readily exposed by ceasing to attribute representativeness to our governments. If you held a public referendum in Sweden I believe the ban on nukes would gain another nation. We are up against popular support of nuclear weapons, it is true, and more so in some countries than in others. But huge majorities in nuclear and non-nuclear countries, including the United States, have told pollsters they support a negotiated agreement to eliminate all nukes. However, we are also up against corrupt government. And these two problems overlap in the corruption of our communications systems.
I believe we are confronted by myths that must be debunked, by silence that must be broken, and by propaganda that must be resisted and replaced. Let’s start with the myths.
We are told that war is natural, normal, somehow inherent within us. We’re told this and we believe it, even while knowing full well that most of us never have anything directly to do with war. The U.S. military is struggling to recruit members and worrying that only a small percentage of kids have any family members who’ve been in the military. And if you are among that small percentage who have been in the military, you are statistically more likely to suffer from moral guilt or post-traumatic stress, to commit suicide, or to shoot up a public place. How can something that most people avoid, and that most of those who don’t avoid suffer from, get labeled natural and inevitable? Well, through endless repetition — by government, by media, and by entertainment. Have you ever tried scrolling through Netflix trying to find a movie without any violence? It can be done, but if the real world resembled our entertainment we’d have all been killed a thousand times over.
If we’re not told that war is inevitable, we’re told that it is necessary, that the United States needs war because of other more backward people. President Obama said nukes couldn’t be eliminated in his lifetime, due to the evils of foreigners. But no entity on earth does more to promote war than the U.S. government, which could launch a reverse arms race if it chose. Generating hostility and threats through endless aggressive wars and occupations can only justify more weapons building if we pretend it isn’t happening or can’t be stopped. If the U.S. government chose to do so, it could join and support (and stop violating and ending) international human rights treaties and courts, disarmament agreements, and inspection procedures. It could provide the world with food, medicine, and energy for a fraction of what it spends making itself hated. War is a choice.
Tad Daley has written: “Yes, international inspections here would intrude upon our sovereignty. But detonations of atom bombs here would also intrude upon our sovereignty. The only question is, which of those two intrusions do we find less excruciating.”
Even though we’re told that war is necessary, we’re also told that it is beneficial. But we have yet to see a humanitarian war benefit humanity. The myth of a future humanitarian war is dangled out in front of us. Each new war is going to be the first one to slaughter huge numbers of people in a beneficial way that they appreciate and are grateful for. Each time it fails. And each time we recognize the failure, as long as the president at the time belongs to the political party we oppose.
We’re also told that war is glorious and commendable, and that even those many wars that we wish had never been launched are great services for which we should thank the participants — or catastrophic crimes for which we should nonetheless thank the participants.
The biggest myth, however, is the fabulous and fictional tale that goes by the name World War II. Because of this myth, we are supposed to endure 75 years of disastrous criminal wars yet dump one and a quarter trillion dollars into the hope that in the next year there will be a second coming of the Good War that was World War II. Here are a few uncomfortable facts.
U.S. corporations traded with and profited from Nazi Germany right through World War II, and the U.S. government paid little heed. The Nazis, in their insanity, for years wanted to expel the Jews, not kill them — another insanity that came later. The U.S. government organized big conferences of the world’s nations that publicly agreed, for explicitly and shamelessly anti-Semitic reasons, not to accept the Jews. Peace activists pleaded with the U.S. and British governments right through the course of the war to negotiate the removal of Jews and other targets from Germany to save their lives and were told it just wasn’t a priority. Within hours of the end of the war in Europe, Winston Churchill and various U.S. generals were proposing a war on Russia using German troops, and the Cold War was begun using Nazi scientists.
The U.S. government was not hit with a surprise attack, a myth used to justify secrecy and surveillance to this day. Peace activists had been protesting the build up to a war with Japan since the 1930s. President Franklin Roosevelt had committed to Churchill to provoking Japan and worked hard to provoke Japan, and knew the attack was coming, and initially drafted a declaration of war against both Germany and Japan on the evening of the attacks on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines — before which time, FDR had built up bases in the U.S. and multiple oceans, traded weapons to the Brits for bases, started the draft, created a list of every Japanese American person in the country, provided planes, trainers, and pilots to China, imposed harsh sanctions on Japan, and advised the U.S. military that a war with Japan was beginning.
The myth of Pearl Harbor has such a death grip on U.S. culture that Thomas Friedman called a Russian company buying a tiny number of very strange Facebook ads a “Pearl Harbor-scale event,” while a Rob Reiner video starring Morgan Freeman declared “We are at war with Russia!” — presumably a war to defend the pristine, ungerrymandered, uncorrupted, internationally admired U.S. election system from the danger of the U.S. public learning how the DNC runs its primaries.
The nukes did not save lives. They took lives, possibly 200,000 of them. They were not intended to save lives or to end the war. And they didn’t end the war. The Russian invasion did that. The United States Strategic Bombing Survey concluded that, “… certainly prior to 31 December, 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November, 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.” One dissenter who had expressed this same view to the Secretary of War prior to the bombings was General Dwight Eisenhower. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral William D. Leahy agreed, saying “The use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender.” In agreement with him were Admirals Nimitz and Halsey, and Generals MacArthur, King, Arnold, and LeMay, as well as Brigadier General Carter Clarke, and Under Secretary of the Navy Ralph Bard who had urged that Japan be given a warning. Lewis Strauss, Advisor to the Secretary of the Navy, had recommended blowing up a forest rather than a city.
But blowing up cities was the whole point, in much the same way that making little children suffer near the Mexican border is the whole point. There are other motivations, but they don’t eliminate the sadism. Harry Truman spoke in the U.S. Senate on June 23, 1941: “If we see that Germany is winning,” he said, “we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible.” This is how the U.S. president who destroyed Hiroshima thought about the value of European life. A U.S. Army poll in 1943 found that roughly half of all GIs believed it would be necessary to kill every Japanese person on earth. William Halsey, who commanded the United States’ naval forces in the South Pacific during World War II, thought of his mission as “Kill Japs, kill Japs, kill more Japs,” and had vowed that when the war was over, the Japanese language would be spoken only in hell.
On August 6, 1945, President Truman lied on the radio that a nuclear bomb had been dropped on an army base, rather than on a city. And he justified it, not as speeding the end of the war, but as revenge against Japanese offenses. “Mr. Truman was jubilant,” wrote Dorothy Day. Weeks before the first bomb was dropped, on July 13, 1945, Japan had sent a telegram to the Soviet Union expressing its desire to surrender and end the war. The United States had broken Japan’s codes and read the telegram. Truman referred in his diary to “the telegram from Jap Emperor asking for peace.” President Truman had been informed through Swiss and Portuguese channels of Japanese peace overtures as early as three months before Hiroshima. Japan objected only to surrendering unconditionally and giving up its emperor, but the United States insisted on those terms until after the bombs fell, at which point it allowed Japan to keep its emperor.
Presidential advisor James Byrnes had told Truman that dropping the bombs would allow the United States to “dictate the terms of ending the war.” Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal wrote in his diary that Byrnes was “most anxious to get the Japanese affair over with before the Russians got in.” Truman wrote in his diary that the Soviets were preparing to march against Japan and “Fini Japs when that comes about.” And what a disaster that would have been. Why did the United States finally invade France? Because it feared the Russians would occupy Berlin on their own. Why did the United States nuke Japan? Because it feared the Russians would do just what they did and bring about a Japanese surrender.
Truman ordered the bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6th and another type of bomb, a plutonium bomb, which the military also wanted to test and demonstrate, on Nagasaki on August 9th. Also on August 9th, the Soviets attacked the Japanese. During the next two weeks, the Soviets killed 84,000 Japanese while losing 12,000 of their own soldiers, and the United States continued bombing Japan with non-nuclear weapons. Then the Japanese surrendered.
That there was cause to use nuclear weapons is a myth. That there could again be cause to use nuclear weapons is a myth. That we can survive the use of nuclear weapons is a myth. That there is cause to produce and arm nuclear weapons even though you’ll never use them is too stupid even to be a myth. And that we can forever survive possessing and proliferating nuclear weapons without someone intentionally or accidentally using them is pure insanity.
Another myth is that of nuclear-free war. I think we sometimes like to imagine that the United States and NATO can go on indefinitely with their wars and bases and threats of overthrow, but with nuclear weapons having been banned and eliminated from the earth. This isn’t true. You can’t destroy Iraq and Libya, leave nuclear-armed North Korea alone, and seek out war against non-nuclear-armed Iran, not to mention Syria, Yemen, Somalia, etc., without communicating a powerful message. If Iran is ever successfully driven to acquire nuclear weapons, and Saudi Arabia is given them as well, only in a peaceful world will they ever give them up. Even Russia and China will never give up nuclear weapons until the United States stops threatening war — nuclear or otherwise. Israel will never give up nuclear weapons unless it begins to be held to the same legal standards as other nations.
Now let’s examine the silence. Most of the promotion of myths happens in the background. It’s built into novels and films, history books and CNN. But the overwhelming presence is of silence. Schools are beginning to teach some basic information about ecosystems, climate collapse, and sustainability. But how many high school or college graduates can tell you what nuclear weapons would do, how many of them there are, who has them, or how many times they’ve nearly killed us all. Even if we do move the monuments to slavery and genocide into museums, will a single one of them anywhere be replaced by a statue of Vasily Arkhipov? I doubt it very much and hesitate even to try to imagine who Rachel Maddow would blame for such a nefarious development.
Of the twin dangers we all face, of nuclear and climate catastrophe, it’s rather odd that the one people are finally beginning to belatedly take seriously is the one that requires some serious changes in lifestyles. Nobody would have to live differently at all if we got rid of nuclear weapons. In fact, we could all live much better in every sense if we scaled back or eliminated the institution of war. It’s also odd that we separate the two dangers, when militarism is a major cause of environmental collapse as well as being a potential source of undreamed of levels of funding for a Green New Deal on steroids. The trouble is that the separation is mostly performed through silence. Nobody talks about the nuclear threat. When TheRealNews.com recently asked Governor Inslee whether he would reduce militarism in order to protect the climate, his long-winded answer amounted to a No, but its unprepared nature communicated the more important point: he’d never been asked that question before and probably never would be again.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists puts the Doomsday Clock as close to midnight as it’s ever been. Retired mainstream politicians says we must urgently act. The majority of the non-nuclear nations on earth propose that nukes be immediately banned. But still there’s mostly silence. It’s a silence maintained by distaste for the unpleasant, by macho militarist patriotism, by profit interests, and by the absence of leadership by either big political party or even a faction thereof. In June, the Joint Chiefs of Staff posted online and then quickly removed again a document that said “Using nuclear weapons could create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability. . . . Specifically, the use of a nuclear weapon will fundamentally change the scope of a battle and create conditions that affect how commanders will prevail in conflict.” In other words, the lunatics are in charge of the lobotomies, but still we had media silence.
Alongside the silence goes lack of prestige, the idea of nukes as the lowest career track in the military, a realm for those lacking ambition or even sobriety. This ought to terrify the world more than any other form of terrorism. The one time that Congress recently held hearings on the danger of a nuclear planetary demise was just after Trump had threatened North Korea with fire and fury. Members of Congress were in bipartisan harmonious agreement that they were powerless to prevent a president launching a nuclear war. I don’t recall whether the word impeachment was even uttered. Congress went back to its usual work, and so did cable news.
It’s possible that if a president had invented nuclear weapons out of the blue and proposed to use them, we would finally have discovered something that even Nancy Pelosi deemed impeachable. It’s certain that if Trump threatened a journalist on camera with a gun a lot of people would react in some way. But threatening millions of people and potentially all of humanity, well, ho hum. We’ve got silence to maintain, you know.
Fortunately, there are people breaking the silence. The Ground Zero Center is breaking the silence and protesting the glorification of weapons at the Seattle Seafair, and tomorrow morning at the Trident submarine base — get your nonviolence training this afternoon! Going to court in Georgia are seven plowshares activists who protested at the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base on April 4th. This past month peace activists from around the world delivered a cease and desist order to the Buchel Air Base in Germany ordering the nukes illegally kept there by the United States to be removed as required by law.
Also this past month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed numerous antiwar amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act, including a couple limiting nuclear weapons construction, one barring violations of the INF Treaty, and one that ought to put an end to weapons at the Seattle Seafair as a byproduct of banning any more weapons parades for Donald Trump on the Fourth of July. There were also amendments passed to end and prevent various wars. For anyone who thought they’d been shouting into a vacuum, here was the House of Representatives spelling out a long list of our demands. But those demands have to face the Senate, the President, and the campaign funders. There’s an easy way to email your Representative and Senators about this at RootsAction.org.
Not all noise is good noise. Let’s examine for a minute the third and final problem I listed, namely propaganda. Iran has been working for years on building a nuclear weapon. Russia seized Crimea and chose the U.S. president. North Korea is an irrational, unpredictable threat to the United States. Law abiding people must overthrow the Venezuelan dictatorship and install the rightful coup president. We have a responsibility to continue making Afghanistan a living hell because things might go badly if the U.S. troops left. They’re your troops. It’s your responsibility. It’s a defensive distant foreign occupation, as you can tell from the very name of the industry: the defense industry. The United States cannot engage in espionage or terrorism, only counter-espionage and counter-terrorism — which are against what they are, as you can tell by the names. But U.S. whistleblowers are engaged in espionage and must be imprisoned to protect the freedom of the press. Nobody here would be bothered by missile defense systems lining the Canadian and Mexican borders — after all they’d be defensive. So what is Russia’s problem? If Russia keeps failing to comply with treaties in unspecified and unverifiable ways, the United States will have to go on shredding those treaties for the treaties’ own good. If the United States were to dismantle its nuclear weapons, the North Koreans would each clone themselves five times, zip over here, occupy us and start taking away whatever was left of our freedoms.
Propaganda is the art of dressing up paranoia to play the role of diligent responsibility.
A third of the U.S. in a recent poll would support nuking North Korea and killing a million innocent people — and presumably untold numbers of non-innocent people. That suggests extreme ignorance of how such an action would impact the United States. It also suggests the social madness generated by skillful propaganda. Yet it is probably an improvement on the percentage of U.S. people who were willing to kill a million Japanese people during World War II. And the U.S. public, in polls, is slowly turning against the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which suggests the potential ability to someday oppose their repetition.
A New York Times op-ed on July 1st was headlined “Iran Is Rushing to Build a Nuclear Weapon — and Trump Can’t Stop It.” Never mind that Trump has done everything anyone would do who wanted Iran to build a nuclear weapon, the closest the article came to its own headline was the assertion that the author’s own speculative prediction “almost certainly means [Iran] will move to build its own nuclear arsenal.” If I were to write an op-ed speculating that in the future Seattle would almost certainly fill its streets with coffee and get around by gondola, I guarantee you the New York Times would not slap a headline on it reading “Seattle Is Rushing to Build Coffee Canals — and Trump Can’t Stop It.” I expect the headline would be “Guy Makes Totally Baseless Prediction.”
The lies that we’re told about wars are often general and often about past or long-running perma-wars. But there are also lies used to start each war. They are, of necessity, lies about urgency. If a war is not started quickly enough, there is a danger of peace breaking out. One important thing to remember about these lies is that they always answer the wrong question. Does Iraq have weapons? No answer to that question justifies a war, legally, morally, or otherwise. A dozen years after that charade, everyone in Washington D.C., except the spy agencies, erroneously agreed that Iran had a nuclear weapons program, and the debate shifted to whether to have a war or a treaty-like agreement. Did Iran shoot down a drone or attack a ship in the Persian Gulf? These are interesting questions but not relevant to justifying wars.
Here’s another: Has this war been authorized by Congress? Of course we want Congress to prevent presidential wars whenever it will. But please please please, I’m begging you, stop saying that you oppose unauthorized wars as if an authorized war would be better or more legal or more moral. Imagine Canada attacking Seattle with carpet bombing. Who would volunteer to dodge the bombs in an effort to locate someone who gave a damn whether the Prime Minister or the Parliament was responsible?
One problem with starting wars is that they could spiral into nuclear wars. Another is that any war, once begun, is much harder to stop than it would have been to prevent. This is due to the propaganda of troopism. We have a majority of veterans saying the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan never should have been started, just like the majority of everybody else. Yet we still have members of Congress intent on continuing the wars in order to do what’s called “supporting the troops.”
Preventing wars is the way to go. A war on Iran has been prevented several times, and a major escalation against Syria was prevented in 2013.
Preventing nuclear wars is definitely the way to go, or rather the way not to go — the way to remain alive.
But if we think of each proposed war as a potentially nuclear war, it may be easier for us to recognize that none of the supposed justifications offered for the war comes anywhere close to justifying it. While we might somehow be persuaded that some crime justifies a much larger crime, we cannot be persuaded that it justifies extinction.
In the year 2000, the CIA gave Iran (slightly and obviously flawed) blueprints for a key component of a nuclear weapon. In 2006 James Risen wrote about this “operation” in his book State of War. In 2015, the United States prosecuted a former CIA agent, Jeffrey Sterling, for supposedly having leaked the story to Risen. In the course of the prosecution, the CIA made public a partially redacted cable that showed that immediately after bestowing its gift on Iran, the CIA had begun efforts to do the same for Iraq.
We have no possible way of knowing a complete list of countries the U.S. government has handed nuclear weapons plans to. Trump is now giving nuclear secrets to Saudi Arabia in violation of the Nonproliferation Treaty, the Atomic Energy Act, the will of Congress, his oath of office, and common sense. This behavior is at least as certifiable as subsidies for fossil fuels or livestock, but where’s the outrage? Primarily it’s focused on the Saudi killing of one Washington Post reporter. If we can at least have a policy of not giving nuclear weapons to governments that kill Washington Post reporters that would be something.
Meanwhile 70 nations have signed and 23 ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. We need to keep building support for that around the world and within the nuclear nations. But it needs to be part of our efforts to end all war and to abolish the entire institution of war. Not because we’re greedy, but because it is the only way we will succeed. A world without nukes but with the rest of the existing war machinery is not possible. Mikhail Gorbachev wrote three years ago that the time had come to eliminate nukes, “but could it be considered realistic if, after ridding the world of weapons of mass destruction, one country would still be in possession of more conventional weapons than the combined arsenals of almost all the other countries in the world put together? If it were to have absolute global military superiority? . . . I will say frankly that such a prospect would be an insurmountable obstacle to ridding the world of nuclear weapons. If we do not address the issue of a general demilitarization of world politics, reduction of arms budgets, ceasing the development of new weapons, a ban on the militarization of space, all talk of a nuclear-free world will come to nothing.”
In other words, we need to end pointless mass killing of human beings regardless of the weapons used, be they nuclear, chemical, biological, conventional, or the so-called soft power of sanctions and blockades. The vision that we’ve developed at World BEYOND War is not of war with the proper weapons, any more than we have a vision of humanitarian rape or philanthropic child abuse. There are some things that cannot be reformed, that must be abolished. War is one of those things.