Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Happy Ground Zero Day, Ms. Nagasaki!

Today is the anniversary of the day Fat Man floated down from the sky to give Ms. Nagasaki such a warm embrace, a hug and a kiss she nearly ceased to exist.

It may seem a bit incongruous as well as early to be talking about Terrible Tuesday almost five years ago in New York, but something that puzzled me even then was the suddenness the hole in the ground in New York came to be known as “Ground Zero”.

Normally, “ground zero” refers to the point on the ground where a nuclear bomb explodes, or directly under it if it is an air burst. There are only two real ground zeros, one in Hiroshima and the other Nagasaki. (I exclude the test in New Mexico)

On that Terrible Tuesday in New York, two passenger planes full of jet fuel oil slam into buildings, balls of fire, smoke, dramatic videos shown again and again, almost three thousand real people die, in explosions, flames, smoke, crushed under falling debris, jumping to a hopefully quicker and less painful death…

It was terrible, but it wasn’t two planes, two flashes of light and two hundred thousand dead and dieing the agony of acute radiation poisoning, it wasn’t atomic bombs, it wasn’t weapons of mass destruction – so why do we react as if it were and call it “ground zero”?

The fact is we have a national shame to which we have never faced up. To paraphrase James Carroll, a shame and dread was defined in the deepest part of the American psyche. We did things towards the end of the Second World War that human beings should not do. We torched a dozen cities, created firestorms that raged for days and it was done mainly to prove it could be done. If there had been a few pounds more of enriched uranium or plutonium, there would have been two more planes in the sky, two flashes of light and Kokura and Niikata would also have become ashes in an instant.

Such is the momentum of war and the evil it evokes in the human heart. The problem is that America has never been able to face what was done in those August days. That is why we fear that also we will be bombed and our cities laid to ruins. It’s a simple and common mechanism, among individuals as well as nations. The Belgians cannot recognize what they did in the Congo, the Japanese what they did in Korea and Chins – the list is long and includes most nations with a history of any length.

But I am an American and it’s America’s sins which concern me, not those of others. America is afraid that one night she will be destroyed – that is why we have so many thousands of nuclear warheads and the means to deliver them anywhere in the world on the whim of a moments notice, that is why we spend more on military hardware than the rest of the world combined and yet we are still afraid.

In comparison to our power, 9-11 was barely a pin-prick, but it brought the nightmare to life and now we stumble, an angry giant smashing, destroying and killing hundreds of thousands of people innocent of the crime against us. Instead of the extended police action to bring the criminals to justice our leaders, in their incompetent arrogance continue to bumble and muddle, edging us closer to a world war.

It doesn’t have to be that way!


Shaun Mullen said...

Hey Chuck:

As a student of WW2, former resident of Japan and visitor to Hiroshima (but not Nagasaki), I will take exception to your implication that the A-bomb attacks were primarily a way of figuring out if the damned things worked. And had they not performed up to spec, Kokura and Niikata (I visited both) would have been vaporized.

A goodly number of revisionist historians and wannabe historians have swum against the tide on whether the A-bombs were dropped to shorten the war and save American lives or to mete out extraordinary punishment whether the war was shortened or not.

I have not lost a lot of sleep over the years regarding which is the more accurate account, although I nightmared a bit after spending a fair amount of time interviewing patients and staff at the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission hospital in Hiroshima. In the years since, friends and I have killed a few bottles of single-malt Scotch debating the various points of view, among them yours.

I made sure I put up at my own blog a photo of Shiniki’s tricycle on Sunday to commemorate Hiroshima and the grisliest photo of an irradiated corpse that I could find to commemorate Nagasaki on Tuesday. (The famous photo of the Hiroshima pocket watch, hands frozen forever at 8:16, is on my refrigerator along with postcards, pix of dogs and cats, nephews and such.)

So much for my bleeding-heart bona fides. I have concluded beyond a shadow of personal doubt that while there is some merit to your point of view, the by now immense historic record –- including thousands of pages of Japanese cables, cabinet meeting minutes and other records -- shows that a good many god fearing men (including many of the key Manhattan project scientists) were deeply conflicted about whether to use the bomb. Yes, this included Truman himself. And in the end came to believe they had no choice to do what they did. I support that decision.

Jeremiah Bullfrog said...

I would have preferred that we would have jez gone over and individually shot each of the 200,000 men women and children in th' head, but I reckon a bomb is OK too...

See, us conservatives have no problem killin because we beleive in th' scarcity of life...

so long as th' killin is fer freedom...

That is why the Hezbollahs and Iraqis is evil fer killin and Israel and America is good fer killin...cuz we is killin fer freedom, and they is killin cuz they hates our freedom...

silly librals jez dont unnerstand

why dont you jez ask GW inta yor life and git the peace a personal relationship with him brangs...

Chuck Cliff said...


You are far too kind, I didn’t imply, I said and what I said was the odd dozen firebomb attacks were mainly done to show it could be done. Is that a stretch? I don’t know. But I do know that the idea that wars can be won by mass terror bombing is an infectious idea which keeps resurfacing, latest with the execrable update known as “Shock and Awe”

As for the a-bombs, the cities chosen as targets for the new weapon were spared attacks so that it would give a better idea of the damage inflicted. That’s what I read in Reader’s Digest as a kid, anyway. If so, then yes, the bombings were done in part to show what these weapons could do.

I also said that if there had been more enriched uranium or plutonium, there would have been further a-bomb attacks, and that is quite likely as the orders from President Truman were open ended, that is they were to use the new weapon and continue with what they had.

War has its own momentum, the momentum of total war is exponentially greater and total war with nuclear weapons exceeds the human imagination. If there had been more death metal and clear weather over one of the other designated targets, there would have been further bombings. I stick by that.

The best take I know of on justifying the bombings was not to end the war or save a million American lives, but to end the war before Stalin’s Russia could get involved. As it was, the old dictator gobbled up some of Japan’s northern islands.

Justified or not, we bear a shame we can’t face up to and that is why we react to TT as if we had been attacked with a-bombs. Truman likely made the decision he had to with the information he had, the time at his disposal and the preparation he had from Roosevelt (none) for the hot seat he suddenly found himself in.

Actually, my concern is not so much with what “they” did “then”, but the decisions we are making now in regard to this class of weapon, up to an including using them again.

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