Saturday, August 12, 2006

Paul, Mary and Peter of PP&M, who did one of the
popular versions of "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"
in the early 1960s. Posted by Picasa

Friday, August 11, 2006

When Will We Ever Learn?

No more poignant a question was asked in the 1960s, when we were children. It was a refrain of "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" that spoke specifically to concerns about the nuclear arms race and later Vietnam. But as we repeat the tragic blunders of Vietnam in stupifying detail, we experience again the resulting insanity at home, familiar from the 1960s. And for many older than us, from the 1950s as well.

First comes the imperial hubris.
Paul Krugman begins his analysis with Joe Lieberman: He has been wrong at every step of the march into the Iraq quagmire — all the while accusing anyone who disagreed with him of endangering national security. Again, on what planet would Mr. Lieberman be considered “sensible”? But I know the answer: on Planet Beltway. ...what’s really behind claims that Mr. Lieberman is sensible — and that those who voted against him aren’t? It’s the fact that many Washington insiders suffer from the same character flaw that caused Mr. Lieberman to lose Tuesday’s primary: an inability to admit mistakes.

They say: Pay no attention to the fact that I was wrong and the critics have been completely vindicated by events — I’m “sensible,” while those people are crazy extremists. And besides, criticizing any aspect of the war encourages the terrorists... I know that some commentators believe that anyone who thinks the Iraq war was a mistake is a flag-burning hippie who hates America. But if that’s true, about 60 percent of Americans hate America. The reality is that Ned Lamont and those who voted for him are, as The New York Times editorial page put it, “irate moderates,” whose views are in accord with those of most Americans and the vast majority of Democrats.

Lest we see this only as a generational failure, we should remember where Joe Lieberman came from. Fellow boomer Sid Blumenthal
reminds us:

When Lieberman ran his first primary campaign for the state senate in 1970, against an entrenched Democratic machine politician, he was an insurgent reformer, relying on an army of young idealistic volunteers. (One of them was Yale law student Bill Clinton.) Lieberman was a star liberal on the Yale campus, editor of the Yale Daily News, a civil rights worker in the south, an activist against the Vietnam war, and yet adept at getting out the vote.

Lieberman is a living cautionary tale as well in the demonization of those who question these imperial airs and actions. Shortly after his loss to Ned Lamont in the Connecuticut primary, and right after news broke about the terrorism plot foiled in England,
he said "I'm worried that too many people, both in politics and out, don't appreciate the seriousness of the threat to American security and the evil of the enemy that faces us -- more evil or as evil as Nazism and probably more dangerous than the Soviet communists we fought during the long Cold War," Lieberman said. "If we just pick up like Ned Lamont wants us to do, get out [of Iraq] by a date certain, it will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England. It will strengthen them and they will strike again."

But he was hardly the only one piling up this amazing rhetoric. In just forty-eight hours time there was all this:

Vice President
Cheney said that the "purge" of Lieberman told "the al Qaeda types" that Americans don't have the will to defeat terrorists.

Right wing TV talker
Bill O’Reilly suggested that Lieberman’s defeat signalled to Iran that Americans "have no will to restrain their jihad.”

Right wing columnist
Cal Thomas refers to the "Taliban Democrats"

A CNN anchor suggested the Lamont might be considered "The al Qaeda Candidate"

All of this, plus President Bush tarring the biggest religion and major ethnic group in the world with the term "Muslim fascists," is all familiar from the persistent charge in the 60s that opposition to the Vietnam war was unpatriotic, giving aid and comfort to the Communist enemy. We soon learned this was akin to the McCarthyism and Blacklists of the 1950s.

If anything, the Bushite rhetoric is even harsher, but that might be related to a difference between now and then. In the 60s, many if not most Americans supported the President's conduct of the Vietnam war. Now however, some 60% of those polled in the U.S. say the Iraq war was not and is not worth it, while a
Zogby poll of Democrats show that 79% surveyed are glad that Ned Lamont won, and only 6% say their candidates should support the Iraq war. An AP poll shows Bush at his lowest approval level--33%--with Democrats favored over Republicans for Congress by 55% to 37%. Almost a fifth of Bush voters are defecting to the Democrats.

To be fair, Bush opponents are not rhetorically shy either, any more than antiwar advocates were in the 60s. But there's a difference when national leaders of the party in power go after opposition with such excess. Then it becomes the suppression of dissent, which we know was being done more than rhetorically in the 60s. What don't we know about what is happening now?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Hiroshima, August 1945 Posted by Picasa
After Hiroshima, Terrorism Is What Bombing Is For

On August 6, 1945, Hiroshima was destroyed by the first atomic bomb used in warfare. Three days later, President Truman began a pattern of lies that characterized the nuclear age.
But another lie also emerged from World War II, when the kind of bombing we see today--from the air, on urban centers and civilian populations--was first done regularly, on a large scale. The lie is that bombing is an effective, reasonable and legitimate method of waging war, whereas there are other despicable and illegitimate acts committed by uncivilized and ruthless enemies, called terrorism.

The truth is that bombing is terrorism, no matter who does it, and it always has been.

As Norman Solomon recently reminds us, the immense explosion at Hiroshima was followed by an immense lie. On August 9th, President Truman told the Amercan people: "The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, in so far as possible, the killing of civilians."

Solomon continues:

Actually, the U.S. government went out of its way to select Japanese cities of sufficient size to showcase the extent of the A-bomb's deadly power -- in Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and in Nagasaki on Aug. 9. As a result of those two bombings, hundreds of thousands of civilians died, immediately or eventually. If Truman's conscience had been clear, it's doubtful he would have felt compelled to engage in such a basic distortion at the dawn of the nuclear era.

In fact, Hiroshima had no military significance, and had not been bombed before--one of the principal reasons it was chosen for the A-bomb, so its destructive power would be more obvious to the Japanese and clearer for Americans studying those effects. It was considered a "safe city" to the extent that some parents in California who were forced into internment camps, sent their children to the safety of Hiroshima. So the victims of the U.S. atomic bomb likely included American children.

Truman's was the first of many lies of the nuclear era, including the initial lies about the effects of radiation. Some 75,000 people died in Hiroshima from the blast and fire of the Bomb. Five years later, radiation effects more than doubled the dead, to some 200,000. The vast majority of those who died from the Nagasaki bomb were from radiation, months and years later.
But the biggest lie is not about the atomic bomb, but the very practice of bombing. The facts show (as described in Sven Lindqvist's A History of Bombing and Gerard DeGroot's The Bomb: A Life, among other works) that the effect of bombing cities is not a strategy of war but a strategy of terror, and that it doesn't work.

The idea of this kind of bombing is not to kill enemy combatants or destroy military bases, but to destroy the population's will by terrorizing them with the threat of random death and destruction. Although the idea of this kind of bombing is now apparently acceptable, it is relatively new in the history of warfare.

While many nations experimented with it, especially imperial powers who bombed restless colonies, it was first used as a policy by the British in World War II in Germany. It did not result in a revolt of the German people against its government. The U.S. followed in its bombing campaign against Japan, at first aimed at military and industrial support targets, but eventually using saturation bombing against cities. It was the failure of this campaign to terrorize the Japanese population into submission that led to the decision to use the atomic bomb.

As Gerard DeGroot points out, when We (whoever We are) drop bombs, it is to destroy the enemy's capability to fight--the logic that says if you are going to destroy the enemy's tanks, then destroy the factories that build the tanks, and kill the people who work in those factories. But when They bomb Us, using the same logic, it is brutal, indiscriminate killing. "The difference is contrived--a matter of perspective. Indiscriminate bombing means killing civilians for the sake of attrition--the killing is the object."

But it isn't only attrition, and in less than the kind of total war that World War II was, it is more obviously aimed at terrorizing the enemy population. Hezbollah fires bombs into Israel to terrorize the population, hoping to eventually win concessions or ultimately to destroy the state of Israel. Israel fires bombs into Lebanon to destroy rocket implacements but also to terrorize the population into not supporting Hezbollah, either by allowing them to operate out of their neighborhoods or by supporting them politically. The strategy in both cases is the attrition of terror.

Argument on the morality of targeting civilians in war go back hundreds of years. All too ironically, the first known code that forbade the killing of non-combatants was promulgated by Abu Hanifa, a legal scholar in Baghdad. Western powers adopted a double standard: war between "civilized" European nations would be conducted in this civilized manner. But war against lesser peoples was total war, against the population as well as combatants. Primitive people were not only lesser, but more easily frightened by western technology's advances in explosives and methods of delivering them. World War II ended even these distinctions.

Now bombing is normal, and far from being the last resort, it is often the first option. Nations use it now because it is cheaper, and since no troops are endangered, there is no grumbling at home about the loss of life. Bombs of all kinds constitute a thriving business. In use, they have a very brief productive life before it's time to buy more. And there's plenty to chose from. Small groups can plant various kinds of bombs along roads or in parked vehicles, or use suicide bombers. Larger organizations can use bombs attached to small rockets. Nations can use bombs with sophisticated targetting capabilities, launched on rockets or fired from ships or dropped from airplanes. Long range missiles with thermonuclear weapons are still pointed at the U.S. and Russia.

From the smallest to the largest-yield weapons, bombs are instruments of terror. They sever the limbs of children, burn babies alive, destroy homes that send families into a tailspin of poverty, wreck the urban infrastructure that makes daily life possible, and send millions of traumatized people wandering into nightmare through the piles of broken homes and schools and hospitals, shards of bone, crushed bodies, smoldering flesh, hot twisted metal and clouds of toxic smoke, because they are supposed to. This is what bombs are for.