Ground Zero

As further proof that the Obama administration is absolutely indistinguishable from the George II administration—what: you mean it’s not?—the United States Ambassador to Japan, John Roos, was dispatched to the official Japanese ceremony mourning the obliteration of the city of Hiroshima by an atomic bomb. This marked the first time that a US ambassador to that country had ever attended such a ceremony.

Until Friday, American officials had always skipped the annual ceremony, fearing their presence would renew the debate over whether the United States should apologize for the World War II bombings, which together killed more than 200,000 people in explosions so intense that many victims were vaporized, leaving only ghostly shadows on walls, while others died in agony from burns and radiation sickness.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also attended, also for the first time, and also called for the worldwide elimination of nuclear weapons. It is time, he said, to move from “ground zero to global zero.”

While Roos did not speak at the ceremony, the US embassy in Tokyo issued a statement reaffirming the Obama administration’s position that “for the sake of future generations, we must continue to work together to realize a world without nuclear weapons,” and that in Hiroshima “it is fitting that we renew our determination to ensure that such a conflict is never again repeated.”

Obama is set to visit Japan in November. In light of his April 2009 speech in Prague calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons, many Japanese, and other enlightened peoples, believe that a stop in Hiroshima would be appropriate and right.

A new sense of hope that the world’s nuclear powers, and particularly the United States, may finally share a desire to rid the world of nuclear weapons seems to have permeated this city. In front of City Hall, a large sign proclaimed Hiroshima to be part of an “Obamajority.”

However, because a majority of the people in this nation seem to be immured in ignorance, knuckledragging Know-Nothings, a visit by Obama to Hiroshima would be politically dicey. While an actual apology for the unnecessary slaughter occasioned by the atomic incineration of Hiroshima would probably be a form of political seppuku. Too many Americans are not ready for either. Too many believe that nuclear weapons are “necessary.” Though they are anything but. As too many are wedded to the persistent fiction that it was “necessary” to detonate nuclear weapons in Japan in order to stop WWII. Though it was not. And too many are determined that the United States shall never apologize for anything. Even when, as here, it was in the wrong.

John Kenneth Galbraith was one of three men picked to head the US government’s “strategic bombing survey” of the effect of Allied air power in WWII. It was their report on the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that coined the term “ground zero.”

In 1984 Galbraith repeated to Studs Terkel the group’s conclusion on the strategic “necessity” of the atomic obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki:

The bomb did not end the Japanese war. This was something that was carefully studied by our bombing survey. [Indefatigable Cold Warrior] Paul Nitze headed it in Japan, so there was hardly any bias in this matter. The conclusion 0f the monograph called Japan’s Struggle to End the War was that it was a difference, at most, of two or three weeks. The decision had already been taken to get out of the war, to seek a peace negotiation.

David Bergamini’s Japan’s Imperial Conspiracy, which is not at all favorable to Japan, and which was based on then-unprecedented access to official Japanese government documents, confirms the findings of Galbraith & Co. that Japan was set to surrender before the bombs were dropped. And that, as Galbraith put it to Terkel, “[t]he Japanese government, at that time, was heavily bureaucratic[;] the decision took some time to translate into action.”

Then there is Fleet Admiral William Halsey, who, as I posted last year on August 6, penned in his I Was There (which he certainly was):

It is my opinion that 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 because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons.

Halsey also said this:

“Bomb” is the wrong word to use for this new weapon. It is not a bomb. It is not an explosive. It is a poisonous thing that kills people by its deadly radioactive reaction, more than by the explosive force it develops.

The lethal possibilities of atomic warfare in the future are frightening. My own feeling was that, in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children. Employment of the atomic bomb in war will take us back in cruelty toward noncom-batants to the days of Genghis Khan.

We were the first to have this weapon in our possession, and the first to use it. There is a practical certainty that potential enemies will develop it in the future and that atomic bombs will some time be used against us.

One of the professors associated with the Manhattan Project told me that he had hoped the bomb wouldn’t work. I wish that he had been right.

But most American don’t want to hear about it. They never have. They prefer to live in a dream world, one in which the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved at least a million American lives, that would have been lost on the beaches and in the fields and towns and cities of Japan. And that America can today best protect itself by studding the soil and seas and skies with similar weapons, reserving always the right to someday use them, on people it is determined are Not Right and Really Out To Get Us.

Rightbent organgrinders ceaselessly toiling for the nation’s propaganda rags of course rushed right out to buttonhole US veterans, to see if any of them might denounce Ambassador Roos’ presence at the Hiroshima ceremony as further evidence that Obama is a hardcore Marxist and secret Muslim bent on destroying all of America. The Wall Street Journal dug up this fellow:

Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, said the nonprofit group didn’t have an official position on Mr. Roos’s visit.

“It all depends on how you want to view it,” he said. “I don’t see his appearance as an apology.”

He said the overwhelming majority of World War II veterans felt that dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki hastened the end of the war.

Well, and with respect, it doesn’t really matter what a majority of veterans thinks on this issue. On this—if Davis is right, and veterans truly believe that—they’re wrong.

As they were wrong when, prior to WWII, a majority of American servicemen believed that the Japanese were incapable of posing a threat to the US—their slanted eyes, small frames, and other racial “abnormalities,” you see, rendered them inferior to big brawny Anglo-Saxon bucks.

This was a belief that extended to, and emanated from, the highest levels of government: somewhere in that Library of Congress-sized stash of books I’ve squirreled away in storage is a tome containing a long transcript of a hearing before a congressional subcommittee in the early 1930s, during which a general pleaded with the pols to take the Japanese air force seriously. The pols blithely pronounced the Japanese a preposterous people, whose cat eyes and monkey brains would never allow them to properly pilot airplanes.

General Billy Mitchell, meanwhile, was pronounced an utter nutter when in 1924 he produced for the Army a 324-page report that predicted the future war with Japan, including the attack on Pearl Harbor. Ignored by the Army, Mitchell published his report the next year as a book, Winged Defense, where it was promptly ignored by the public, selling less than 5000 copies.

Fox News, like the Wall Street Journal a racist outlet overseen by the racist Rupert Murdoch, one-upped the Journal by obtaining an interview with Gene Tibbets, son of the man who flew the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.

Tibbets obligingly rended his garments:

“It’s an unsaid apology,” Tibbets, 66, told from his home in Georgiana, Ala. “Why wouldn’t it be?  Why would [Roos] go? It doesn’t make any sense.

“I know it’s the anniversary, but I don’t know what the hell they’re trying to do. It needs to be left alone. The war is over.

“This all sounds like, ‘Oh, we did you wrong.’ That’s what it sounds like.”

Well hell, it was wrong. But Tibbets’ comments reflect a really depressing facet of the American personality: an absolute inability to admit to error. Everybody makes mistakes at one time or another; so too do nations. Where’s the harm in acknowledging them? Harm comes in refusing to admit to error. But no. Too many Americans hew to the pathology enunciated by George I, upon learning that the US had mistakenly blown out of the sky an Iranian civilian airliner with 290 people aboard, including 66 children. “I will never apologize for the United States,” he said, “I don’t care what the facts are.”

These sorts of people, they’re really interested in only one sort of apology, and that from Barack Obama:

A remark from Tibbets’ daughter Kia seems to indicate that the family may be de-evolving. For in describing what she believed her grandfather’s reaction might be to Ambassador Roos’ attendance at the Hiroshima ceremony, she came across even worse than her father, emitting pure Foxspeak:

“Embarrassed might be the word, that the government wasn’t backing him up anymore,” said Tibbets, 35, of Columbus, Ohio. “But then again, that’s politics for you.”

The rightbent UK tabloid the Mirror took best of show, in securing an interview with the last surviving member of the Enola Gay crew—navigator Theodore Van Kirk, 89.

“Do I regret what we did that day? No, sir, I do not,” he says. “I have never apologised for what we did to Hiroshima and I never will. Our mission was to end the Second World War, simple as that.

“If we had not dropped that bomb, there is no way the Japanese would have surrendered. We would have had to invade the country and the death toll would have been truly unimaginable.

“They had been taught to fight to the last man and they would have fought us with sticks and stones. We did what we had to do. Not only to save American lives, but Japanese lives as well.”

Got that? They killed the Japanese so that the Japanese might live. They destroyed the village in order to save it. Truly Catch-22—once the sole source for such mind-boggling pronouncements—is the tome for our time. (Tibbets, for Fox, had offered his own variation on this Newspeak: “We didn’t slaughter the Japanese—we stopped the war.”)

Van Kirk’s “sticks and stones” business is a residual reflection of the racism of the era, when it was commonly supposed that the Japanese were savage brutes so slaveringly devoted to their land that they would fight like animals to protect it. While the British, of course, were admired as staunch, civilized, stiff-upper-lipped defenders of their homeland, when Winston Churchill mouthed his “we shall never surrender” vow:

We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender[.]

“Dutch” Van Kirk told the Mirror that the men of the Enola Gay knew they might be on a suicide mission (though of course white people never engage in such things; such missions are the province solely of folks like Japanese kamikazes and Middle Eastern “terrorists”). And, moreover, one that might result in the death of the planet:

“When the bomb went off, my first reaction was, ‘Thank God it worked’,” said Dutch. “But there were also concerns about what would happen when it did. Some scientists predicted the explosion would set off a chain reaction in the atmosphere that could destroy the entire world.”

But these men flew that mission anyway. In a plane named after pilot Tibbets’ mother. After staying up the night before playing poker.

I guess there’s really nothing left to say. Except, I guess, this:

Most in America see the Enola Gay crew as national heroes, but others view them as mass murderers and Dutch says he still gets the occasional death threat or abusive phone call. “It does make you think for a while—perhaps question yourself,” he says.

But he made a small fortune, he admits, by selling off his wartime memorabilia.

His navigator’s log from the Enola Gay fetched more than $350,000.

6 Responses to “Ground Zero”

  1. 1 possum August 8, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    Well done as usual.

    Harm comes in refusing to admit to error.

    But what politician ever admitted to an error of judgment about much of anything Maybe at times a personal matter but in terms of voting or supporting courses which are later seen to be terrible.

    We live in a nation today where admitting error is taken to be a sign of weakness. Too bad too many can’t see the strength of character required to take a public stand in admission of error. If we had more pols willing to do that we might have a better world one day.

    • 2 bluenred August 8, 2010 at 10:47 pm

      Thank you, possum.

      The righties have an aversion to the US apologizing for anything. I first noticed it when they grumbled about the Congressional apology for imprisoning the Japanese during WWII. Then there was grousing about an apology for slavery—some of them even went to “Beulahland,” trying to argue that slaves were pretty well off, and certainly better for having been brought here from Africa. And during the Obama administration there has been ceaseless screaming from these people about what they consider his “apology tour,” in which, in speeches like the one he gave in Cairo, he has admitted to US errors.

      Of course some on the left are no better. I was constantly amazed and eventually disgusted by people at dKos who were so horrified at the thought of admitting that they might not be always absolutely right on target on everything that it seemed they would rather unplug the computer and heave it into a bog than admit the slightest error about even the most trivial matter.

      • 3 possum August 9, 2010 at 3:31 am

        You are very correct about the diversity of inability to admit an error. There are people all across the political spectrum with the same innate belief.

        We as Americans are infused with the idea that we can do no wrong, that every action taken in the name of America is just and right, and that our nation is the best in the world as a result. Our education system is aimed at reinforcing those ideas.

        We are not taught the failures of our past as lessons for the future. Rather we are taught to ignore the failures and concentrate on the bright side of the same issues. That leads to repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

        At least a person who is able to look back, recognize errors, and admit same is able to learn from the mistake. If we as a nation continue to ignore our past failings we are doomed to an endless future of repetitive failure. That is one cycle I continue to hope will one day be broken. Hope does spring eternal in Possum Valley.

  2. 4 bluenred August 10, 2010 at 2:16 am

    In working with the law people, I face all the time situations where people are required first to admit error before they can reasonably expect judicial mercy. Some of them just mouth the words, but those who really mean it, from it, can grow. I think the various 12-step programs are also probably valuable in requiring that people engage in self-reflection and admission of error.

    Out in the wider world, though, it seems like admission of error is regarded as a form of weakness, in both people and nations. Kinda silly. And sad.

    That was a nice conversation you had going yesterday on the Great Pumpkin about New Orleans. Made me want to go there. Not for the first time. : /

    • 5 possum August 10, 2010 at 4:06 am

      Agreed, reflection and honest assessment of one’s self are necessary to growth. That may be painful and may mean accepting that one was in error at times. But perpetuating the same errors is the biggest wrong a person can manage.

      Thanks for the kind words about the Great Orange Satan. I do enjoy that small respite. It is my only real commenting foray over there these days. No time for the nonsense of most times around the place.

      I had the privilege of visiting New Orleans many years ago. Now we have a friend down there. Maybe now is the time to arrange a visit. A trek is sometimes good for the mind and the body as well.

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