Tag Archives: Hiroshima

A Moral Revolution? Reflections on President Obama’s Visit to Hiroshima

5 Jun

There is no doubt that President Barack Obama’s visit to Hiroshima this May crossed some thresholds hitherto taboo. Above all the visit was properly heralded as the first time a sitting American president has dared such a pilgrimage, which has already been critically commented upon by patrioteers in America who still think that the Japanese deserved such a punishment for initiating the war or believed that only such ‘shock and awe’ could induce the Japenese to surrender without a costly invasion of the mainland. As well many in Asia believe that Obama by the visit is unwittingly letting Japan off the accountability hook for its seemingly unrepentant record of atrocities throughout Asia, especially given the perception that the current Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, is doing his conservative best to reinvigorate Japanese nationalism, and even revive imperial ambitions.

 

Obama is a gifted orator who excels in finding the right words for the occasion, and in Hiroshima his rhetoric soared once more. There he noted “[t]echnological progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us. The scientific revolution that led to the splitting of the atom requires a moral revolution as well.” Such stirring words would seem to be a call to action, especially when reinforced by a direct challenge: “..among nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them.” Obama at Prague in 2009, shortly after being sworn in as president, set forth an inspiring vision along the same lines, yet the small print there and now makes us wonder whether his heart and head are truly aligned. The words flow with grace and even passion, but where are the deeds?

 

As in Prague, Obama expressed the cautionary sentiment in Hiroshima that “[w]e may not realize this goal in my lifetime.” At which point Obama associates himself with the stabilizing agenda of arms control, reducing the size of the stockpile, making the weapons less obtainable by ‘fanatics,’ and implementing nonproliferation goals. Apparently, neither Obama nor the media take note of the tension between eliminating the weaponry and these proposals designed to stabilize the nuclear weapons environment by making it more reliably subject to prudent and rational policies of control. Yet at the same time making proposals to eliminate the weaponry seem less needed, and even at risk of threatening the stability so carefully constructed over the course of decades.

 

The real reason for skepticism about Obama’s approach is his unexplained reasons to defer the abolition of nuclear weaponry to the distant future. When Obama declares that a world without nuclear weapons is not likely to happen in his lifetime without telling us why he is changing his role from an advocate of the needed ‘moral revolution’ so as to achieve the desired political transformation to that of being a subtle endorser of the nuclear status quo. Of course, Obama may be right that negotiating nuclear disarmament will not be easy or quick, but what is the argument against trying, why defer indefinitely?

 

The global setting seems as favorable as it is likely to get. We live at a time when there are no fundamental cleavages among leading sovereign states, all of whom seek to benefit from a robust world economy and to live together without international wars. It would seem to be an overall situation in which dramatic innovations of benefit to the entire world would seem politically attractive. In such an atmosphere why could not Obama have said at Hiroshima, or seven years earlier at Prague, “that during the Cold War people dreamed of a world without nuclear weapons, but the tensions, distrust, and rivalry precluded a reliable disarming process, but now conditions are different. There are no good reasons not to convert dreams of a world without nuclear weapons into a carefully monitored and verified disarmament process, and there are many important reasons to try to do so.” What holds Obama back? Why does he not table a proposal or work with other nuclear governments to produce a realistic timetable to reach nuclear zero?

 

Worse than the seeming absence of what the great theologian, Paul Tillich, called ‘the courage to be’ is the worrisome evidence of double dealing—eloquent words spoken to warn us of the menace of nuclearism coupled with deeds that actually strengthen the hold of nuclearism on the human future. How else should we interpret by plans of the U.S. Government to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years for the modernization and further development of the existing nuclear weapons arsenal, including provocative plans to develop nuclear weapons with potential battlefield, as opposed to deterrent, missions? Such plans are provocative because they weaken inhibitions on use and tempt other governments to emulate the United States so as offset feared new vulnerabilities to threat and attack. What stands out is the concreteness of the deeds reinforcing the nuclear established order and the abstractness of the words challenging that same order.

 

Beyond this, while calling for a moral revolution, Obama seems at the same time to give his blessings to nuclear energy despite its profound moral shortcomings. Obama views nuclear energy as a contribution to reducing carbon emissions in relation to global warming concerns and as a way to sell nuclear technology abroad and at the same time satisfy the energy goals of countries, such as India, in the global South. What is not acknowledged by Obama is that this nuclear energy technology is extremely dangerous and on balance detrimental in many of the same ways as nuclear weapons, prone to accidents of the sort associated with the incidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima, subject to the hazards of accumulating and disposing of nuclear wastes, vulnerable to nuclear terrorism, and creating the technological capacity for the development of the weapons in a series of additional states.

 

Obama made a point of announcing before visiting Hiroshima that there would be no apology for the attacks by the United States. Clearly, Obama was unwilling to enter a domain that in America remains inflamed by antagonistic beliefs, interpretations, and priorities. There is a scholarly consensus that the war would have soon ended without an invasion or the atomic bomb, but this thesis continues to be challenged by veterans and others who think that the bomb saved American lives, or at minimum, ended the captivity of captured soldiers far sooner than would have been the case without the attacks.

 

In fairness, Obama did acknowledge the unspeakable tragedy for Japanese civilians that experienced the Hiroshima bomb, and he showed real empathy for survivors (hibakusha) who were there in the front rows when he spoke in Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park, but he held back from saying the use of the bomb was wrong, even the second bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Obama’s emphasis, instead, was on working together to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. In this sense, Obama was indirectly legitimating the impunity that was accorded to the victors after World War II, which contrasted with the punitive measures of accountability used to deal with the crimes committed by the surviving leaders of defeated Japan and Germany. The main value of an apology is to bring a degree of closure to those directly and indirectly victimized by those terrible, events that took place more than 70 years ago. By so doing the United States would have moved a bit closer to suspending its self-serving insistence on impunity and this would have withdrawn geopolitical legitimacy from the weaponry.

 

There is something disturbing about America’s unwillingness to live up to the full horror of its past actions even while making a never again pledge. In another recent development that is freighted with similar moral ambiguities, former Senator Bob Kerrey was named the first Chair of the Board of the new Fulbright Vietnam University, a laudable joint educational project of the two countries partly funded by the U.S. Congress, despite his apparent involvement in a shameful atrocity committed during the war. The incident occurred on February 25, 1969 in the village of Thang Phong where a unit of Navy SEALS was assigned the task of assassinating a Viet Cong leader believed to be in the vicinity. Instead of a military encounter, 20 civilians were killed, some brutally. 13 were children and one a pregnant woman.

 

Kerrey contends that the carnage was a result of mistakes, while both a fellow member of the SEALS squad and village residents say that the killing of the civilians was a result of deliberate actions, and not an accident in the darkness. Kerrey received a Bronze Star for the mission, which was reported falsely to his military superiors as resulted in killing 21 Viet Cong militants. What is almost worse, Kerrey kept silent about the incident for more than 30 years, and only spoke about it in public after learning there was about to be a published piece highly critical of his role. Kerrey now says “I have been haunted for 32 years” and explains, “It was not a military victory, it was a tragedy, and I had ordered it.” The weight of the evidence suggests that Kerrey participated as well as ordered the killings, and that although certainly a tragedy it is more properly acknowledged as a severe war crime amounting to an atrocity.

 

We can only imagine what would be the American or Chinese reaction if Japan sent to the United States or China a comparable person to provide an honorific link between the two countries. For instance, sending a Japanese officer to the U.S. who had cruelly administered a POW camp where Americans were held captive and tortured or sending to China a Japanese commander who had participated in some of the grisly happenings associated with ‘the rape of Nanking.’ It is good that Kerrey is finally contrite about his past role and appears to have been genuinely involved in promoting this goodwill encouragement of quality education in Vietnam, yet it seems unacceptably insensitive that he would be chosen to occupy such a position in an educational institution in Vietnam that is named after a prominent American senator who is particularly remembered for his efforts to bringing the Vietnam War to an end.

 

What connects these two seemingly distinct concerns is the steadfast refusal of the United States Government to take responsibility for its past crimes, which ensures that when future political pressures push toward immoral and unlawful behavior a similar disregard for minimal decency will be papered over. Obama’s refusal to consider accountability for the unabashed reliance on torture during the presidency of George W. Bush similarly whitewashes the past while unconvincingly promising to do better in the future. Such a pattern makes a mockery of claims made by Obama on behalf of the United States that unlike its adversaries this is a country that reveres the rule of law whenever it acts at home or abroad. From the pragmatic standpoint of governing America, in fairness, Obama never really had a choice. The political culture would have rebelled against holding the Bush administration accountable for its crime, which brings us closer to the truth of a double standard of suspending the applicability of international criminal law with respect to the policies and practices of the United States while championing individual legal responsibility for its adversaries as an expression of the evolution of moral standards in international life.

 

I believe that double standards has led Obama to put himself forward both as a visionary who seeks a transformed peaceful and just world and also as a geopolitical manager that accepts the job description of the presidency as upholding American global dominance by force as necessary. Now that Obama’s time in the White House is nearing its end we are better able to grasp the incompatibility of his embrace of these two roles, which sadly, and likely tragically, leads to the conclusion that the vision of a world without nuclear weapons was never meant to be more than empty words. What the peoples of the world need to discover over and over again is that the promising words flow easily from the lips of leaders have little significance unless supplemented by a robust movement from below that challenges those who are governing from above. As activists in the 1960s began to understand is that only when the body pushes against the machine will policies incline toward peace and justice, and we in the 21st century will have to rediscover this bit of political wisdom if hope for a nuclear free world is to become a genuine political project.

 

If more than rhetoric is attached to the call for a “moral revolution,” then the place to start would be to question, prior to abandoning, the mentality that is comfortable with double standards when it come to war making and criminal accountability. The whole idea of impunity for the victors and capital punishment for the losers is morally regressive. Both the Obama visit to Hiroshima, as significant as it was, and the Kerrey relationship to the Fulbright Vietnam University, show that American society, even at its best, is far from prepared to take part in the necessary moral revolution.

 

 

Making the Most of Obama’s Hiroshima Visit

11 May

Message to President Barack Obama with respect to forthcoming Hiroshima visit

 

 

[Prefatory Note: I sent the following message to the White House today, and encourage readers of this blog to do the same <www.whitehouse.gov>This symbolic visit by Obama creates a major opportunity to advance a denuclearization agenda, and we should take as much advantage as possible. I am against the mainstream advice that suggests that the best way to give meaning to the event would be to announce the adoption of arms control measures such as suspending development of a new nuclear cruise missile. These measures, while intrinsically valuable, have the downside of stabilizing the nuclear weapons status quo. What would be most helpful would be a step, as suggested below, that gives primacy to nuclear disarmament instead of continuing the deceptive practice of taking prudent steps to cut risks of accidental use and curtail provocative developments and deployments. These steps take the public eye off the supposed target of nuclear disarmament. The only was to honor the memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is by moving toward Nuclear Zero, and President Obama is one of the few persons on the planet that has this precious chance to aim at the true target. Of course, it would be appropriate, and long overdue, to apologize to the Japanese public for the ghastly suffering inflicted by the atomic attacks, but that is more than we can reasonably expect a cautious president to do.]

 

 

 

 

Message to President Barack Obama upon the announcement of his intended

                                                Visit to Hiroshima

 

Mr. President:

 

I applaud your decision to visit Hiroshima during your upcoming visit to Japan.

 

I would encourage you to supplement your acknowledgement of a MORAL responsibility of the U.S. in your 2009 Prague Speech with an acknowledgement of a LEGAL responsibility to seek in good faith nuclear disarmament, a point unanimously asserted by the International Court of Justice in its Advisory Opinion of 1996. Such a move would also recognize the legal obligation embedded in Article 6 of the NPT.

 

Making such an historic affirmation would give new life to the pledge to give real meaning to the vision of a world without nuclear weapons, and

act to heighten your legacy in this vital area of your presidency. It would put legal, as well as moral, pressure on all nine nuclear weapons states to comply with their obligations under international law, and in the American case, since the since the NPT is a duly ratified treaty, to act in accordance with the Constitution’s recognition of treaties as ‘the supreme law of the land.’

 

Respectfully,

 

 

Richard Falk

If Obama Visits Hiroshima

24 Apr

 

 

There are mounting hopes that Barack Obama will use the occasion of the Group of 7 meeting in Japan next month to visit Hiroshima, and become the first American president to do so. It is remarkable that it required a wait of over 60 years until John Kerry became the first high American official to make such a visit, which he termed ‘gut-wrenching,’ while at the same time purposely refraining from offering any kind of apology to the Japanese people for one of the worse acts of state terror against a defenseless population in all of human history. Let’s hope that Obama goes, and displays more remorse than Kerry who at least deserves some credit for paving the way. The contrast between the many pilgrimages of homage by Western leaders, including those of Germany, to Auschwitz and other notorious death camps, and the absence of comparable pilgrimages to Hiroshima and Nagasaki underscores the difference between winning and losing a major war. This contrast cannot be properly accounted for by insisting on a hierarchy of evils that the Holocaust dominates.

 

The United States, in particular, has a more generalized aversion to revisiting its darker hours, although recent events have illuminated some of the shadows cast by the racist legacies of slavery. The decimation of native Americans has yet to be properly addressed at official levels, and recent reports of soaring suicide rates suggests that the native American narrative continues to unfold tragically.

 

The New York Times in an unsigned editorial on April 12 urged President Obama to make this symbolic visit to Hiroshima, and in their words “to make it count” by doing more than making a ritual appearance. Recalling accurately that Obama “won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 largely because of his nuclear agenda” the editorial persuasively criticized Obama for failing to follow through on his Prague vision of working toward a world free of nuclear weapons. A visit to Hiroshima is, in effect, a second chance, perhaps a last chance, to satisfy the expectation created early in his presidency.

 

When it came to specifics as to what Obama might do the Times offered a typical arms control set of recommendations of what it called “small but doable advances”: canceling the new air-launched, nuclear-armed cruise missile and ensuring greater compliance with the prohibition on nuclear testing by its endorsement coupled with a recommendation that future compliance be monitored by the UN Security Council. The Times leaves readers with the widely shared false impression that such measures can be considered incremental steps that will lead the world over time to a nuclear-free world. Such a view is unconvincing, and diversionary. In opposition, I believe these moves serve to stabilize the nuclear status quo have a negative effect on disarmament prospects. By making existing realities somewhat less prone to accidents and irresponsibly provocative weapons innovations, the posture of living with nuclear weapons gains credibility and the arguments for nuclear disarmament are weakened even to the extent of being irrelevant. I believe that it is a dangerous fallacy to suppose that arms control measures, even if beneficial in themselves, can be thought of as moving the world closer to nuclear disarmament.

 

Instead, what such measures do, and have been doing for decades, is to reinforce nuclear complacency by making nuclear disarmament either seem unnecessary or utopian, and to some extent even undesirably destabilizing. In other words, contrary to conventional wisdom, moving down the arms control path is a sure way to make certain that disarmament will never occur!

 

As mentioned, many arms control moves are inherently worthwhile. It is only natural to favor initiatives that cancel the development of provocative weapons systems, disallow weapons testing, and cut costs. Without such measures there would occur a dangerous erosion of the de facto taboo that has prevented (so far) any use of nuclear weaponry since 1945. At the same time it is vital to understand that the taboo and the arms control regime of managing the nuclear weapons environment does not lead to the realization of disarmament and the vision of a world without nuclear weapons.

 

Let me put it this way, if arms control is affirmed for its own sake or as the best way to put the world on a path of incremental steps that will lead over time to disarmament, then such an approach is nurturing the false consciousness that has unfortunately prevailed in public discourse ever since the Nonproliferation Treaty came into force in 1970. The point can be express in more folksy language: we have been acting for decades as if the horse of disarmament is being pulled by the cart of arms control. In fact, it is the horse of disarmament that should be pulling the cart of arms control, which would make arms control measures welcome as place holders while the primary quest for nuclear disarmament was being toward implementation. There is no reason to delay putting the horse in front of the cart, and Obama’s failure to do so at Prague was the central flaw of his otherwise justly applauded speech.

 

Where Obama went off the tracks in my view was when he consigned nuclear disarmament to the remote future, and proposed in the interim reliance on the deterrent capability of the nuclear weapons arsenal and this alleged forward momentum of incremental arms control steps. What is worse, Obama uncritically endorsed the nonproliferation treaty regime, lamenting only that it is being weakened by breakout countries, especially North Korea, and this partly explains why he felt it necessary back in 2009 to consider nuclear disarmament as a practical alternative to a continued reliance on nonproliferation, although posited disarmament more as a goal beyond reach and not as a serious present political option. He expressed this futuristic outlook in these words: “I am not naïve. This goal will not be reached quickly—perhaps not in my lifetime.” He never clarifies why such a goal is not attainable within the term of his presidency, or at least its explicit pursuit.

 

In this regard, and with respect to Obama’s legacy, the visit to Hiroshima provides an overdue opportunity to disentangle nuclear disarmament from arms control. In Prague, Obama significantly noted that “..as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act.” [emphasis added] In the 1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons, the judges unanimously concluded that there was a legal responsibility to seek nuclear disarmament with due diligence. The language of the 14-0 ICJ finding is authoritative: “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all aspects under strict and effective international control.” In other words, there is a legal as well as a moral responsibility to eliminate nuclear weapons, and this could have made the Prague call for a world without nuclear weapons more relevant to present governmental behavior. The Prague speech while lauding the NPT never affirmed the existence of a legal responsibility to pursue nuclear disarmament. In this respect an official visit to Hiroshima offers Obama a golden opportunity to reinvigorate his vision of a world without nuclear weapons by bringing it down to earth.

 

Why is this? By acknowledging the legal obligation, as embedded in Article VI of the Nonproliferation Treaty, as reinforcing the moral responsibility, there arises a clear

imperative to move toward implementation. There is no excuse for delay or need for preconditions. The United States Government could at this time convene a multinational commission to plan a global conference on nuclear disarmament, somewhat resembling the Paris conference that recently produced the much heralded climate change agreement. The goal of the nuclear disarmament conference could be the vetting of proposals for a nuclear disarmament process with the view toward establishing a three year deadline for the development of an agreed treaty text whose preparation was entrusted to a high level working group operating under the auspices of the United Nations, with a mandate to report to the Secretary General. After that the states of the world could gather to negotiate an agreed treaty text that would set forth a disarming process and its monitoring and compliance procedures.

 

The United States, along with other nuclear weapons states, opposed in the 1990s recourse to the ICJ by the General Assembly to seek a legal interpretation on issues of legality, and then disregarded the results of its legal findings. It would a great contribution to a more sustainable and humane world order if President Obama were to take the occasion of his historic visit to Hiroshima to call respectful attention to this ICJ Advisory Opinion and go on to accept the attendant legal responsibility on behalf of the United States. This could be declared to be a partial fulfillment of the moral responsibility that was accepted at Prague. It could even presented as the completion of the vision of Prague, and would be consistent with Obama’s frequent appeals to the governments of the world to show respect for international law, and his insistence that during his presidency U.S. foreign policy was so configured.

 

Above all, there is every reason for all governments to seek nuclear disarmament without further delay. There now exists no geopolitical climate of intense rivalry, and the common endeavor of freeing the world from the dangers posed by nuclear weapons would work against the current hawkish drift in the U.S. and parts of Europe toward a second cold war and overcome the despair that now has for so long paralyzed efforts to protect the human interest. As the global approach to nuclear weapons, climate change, and neoliberal globalization should make clear, we are not likely to survive as a species very much longer if we continue to base world order on a blend of state-centric national interests and dominant actor geopolitics. Obama has this rare opportunity to choose the road not often traveled upon, and there is no better place to start such a voyage than at Hiroshima. We in civil society would then with conviction promote his nuclear legacy as ‘From Prague to Hiroshima,’ and feel comfortable that this president has finally earned the honor of the Nobel Peace Prize prematurely bestowed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Nuclear Challenge (5): 70 Years After Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The Weird ‘Good Fortune’ of Tsutomu Yamaguchi

26 Aug

 

Over the years I have often thought about the political and moral consciousness associated with the atomic targeting of Japanese cities, as well as the absence of any expression of official remorse for the suffering caused and the precedent set. I was struck by the decision to bomb Hiroshima instead of Kyoto out of respect for Kyoto’s cultural heritage, and by giving the flight crew orders not to drop the second bomb on Nagasaki if weather conditions obscured the city center. It was the then Secretary of War, Henry L Stimson, who is credited with making the successful plea to the president to spare Kyoto. Stimson, an American patrician public servant, had visited Kyoto twice in the 1920s, and was impressed by the city as a tourist, and also was reported to have been concerned that America’s postwar reputation would suffer if it were to destroy such a place of cultural heritage. With Nagasaki, the crew despite its orders and the presence of cloud cover decided to launch the atomic attack, reportedly worrying that retaining the bomb would be too dangerous as the weapon because of its weight might detonate in the course of landing at its American airbase and no prior authorization had been given to drop the bomb into the sea.

 

In retrospect, we come to realize that the urban specifics of this most apocalyptic of decisions by the leadership of the American government and its military personnel could have turned out differently so far as the identity of the Japanese victims is concerned. This means that the tragic fate experienced by the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was determined in its specificity by the arbitrariness, perhaps inevitably so, surrounding the logistics and politics of a target selection in a distant place of unknowing.

 

Of course, the criminality associated with the use of such a weapon of mass terror exists quite independently of whether this or that Japanese city had been subject to an atomic attack. It is this criminality that makes the absence of remorse a continuing blemish on the American way of conducting itself in World War II. In one sense, the American justification at the time based on considerations of ‘military necessity’ and the validity of all tactics associated with winning an ongoing war was consistent with the still prevailing militarized ethics of warfare. What might have set these atomic bombs apart

was their scale of destructivity and its accompanying radiation inflicting cruel

injury and sickness long after the guns of war fell silent, as well as setting a precedent favoring use under wartime pressures.

 

Viewed less as an operational matter of how and where, and more as a political question of why, we become sensitized to the apparent relevance of sinister geopolitical maneuvers that underlay the decision to use the bomb against Japanese cities rather than to rely on diplomacy to end the war or at least to make this radical innovation in destructiveness by way of an exhibition in an uninhabited part of the ocean. The U.S. Government at the time partly wanted to end the war with Japan as rapidly as possible so that it would not be necessary to include the Soviet Union in the negotiation of a Pacific peace in a manner similar to the Yalta and Potsdam diplomatic process among the victors in the war that produced a divided and quasi-occupied Europe in the aftermath of the German collapse. It also seemed to be the case that the American leaders, already looking ahead toward an impending rivalry with Moscow, were intent on exhibiting the full destructive capability of their super-weapon. It seemed irrelevant to mainstream political consciousness given the war atmosphere of limitless self-justification that such decisions behind closed doors translated into ten of thousands of crushed and radiated victims killed or left to die amid the ruins of these two Japanese cities, devastated beyond recognition by such geopolitical maneuvers that have still never been exposed to the sunlight of full disclosure. Instead, the spin masters of the day wove a diversionary tale of lives saved through the avoidance of a supposedly necessary invasion of Japan that was calculated to cause the death of at least a million Americans and Japanese. With unbounded cynicism, the decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, while being aware that Japanese diplomats were sending peacemaking signals is another facet of this most shocking of horror stories associated with World War II. Such stories have yet to be fairly told or rescued from a continuing struggle between competing narratives of motives and context.

 

Yet Japan, although mercilessly victimized during the war, was far from innocent. Its militarism led to aggressive warfare and conquest throughout Asia, and inscribed memories of occupation cruelty that linger vividly even now in countries such as China, Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia. And of course, it was Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor that created the basis for America’s formal entry into the war against both Japan and Germany. At least, in the aftermath of the war Japan has acknowledged, although ambiguously at times, its own responsibilities for aggression that created the chain of events that led to the dropping of the atomic bombs, whatever its principal explanation, whether geopolitical, vindictive, or military. In the historic Shimoda case brought by atomic survivors in a Japanese court, seeking symbolic repudiation of the atomic attacks and only nominal damage for personal injury and suffering to underscore their anti-nuclear animus. The court invited expert testimony from distinguished international law experts in Japan, who concluded that the use of atomic bombs against Hiroshima and Nagasaki indeed violated legal prohibitions against indiscriminate, poisonous, and inhumane weaponry, and thus the attacks violated existing customary international law even absent any treaty explicitly prohibiting atomic weapons. What the Shimoda court did so impressively, aside from providing the world with its first and last judicial assessment of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was to offer their conclusions without moralistic posturing. This outlook of contrition was confirmed by issuing this decision condemning the use of atomic weapons on December 7th, the 22nd anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

 

The experience of persons exposed to an atomic attack is easier to interpret than the public rationale due to the concreteness of individual experience, and the physicality of the harm. Nevertheless, there is a zone of ambiguity due to the uncertainty of the connections between exposure to the radiation generated by the bomb and the rise in underlying cancer rates. We can never explain with certitude many particular cases, especially if the symptoms are deferred to a time remote from the event. This may account for the term hibakusha used to set apart the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki from the rest of the Japanese population. To qualify as a hibakusha (in literal Japanese translation, ‘explosion affected people’) a person had to prove that she or he was physically present in one of the two cities at the time of the blasts so as to be eligible for government compensation and assistance. It was definitely not socially desirable to be perceived as a hibakusha, and many survivors did their best to hide this identity to avoid severe discrimination against themselves and even their children, which took several forms, especially employment and marriage. This discrimination was rationalized by the widespread acceptance of the fallacious belief that those exposed to radiation were contagious or genetically affected so that future generations would be similarly afflicted. As of 2015, there are 185,519 hibakusha known to be alive, 1% of whom suffer from radiation sickness. Additionally, separate memorials to deceased hibakusha list over 297,000 in Hiroshima and just under 169,00 in Nagasaki. Among the cruel ironies associated with having been in one of these cities on those fateful days was the mystifying combination of survivor guilt and social ostracism that further burdened the strange destiny of what survival must meant to each hibakusha.

 

There were also some uncanny ironies associated with such a survival. Perhaps the most extreme irony was the strange fact that an estimated 165 persons experienced both attacks and qualified as what came to be called double hibakusha (a documentary film Twice Bombed: The Double Atomic Bombed of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (2006) depicts this grotesque phenomenon). And of these, the strangest case of all, at least that is somewhat publicized, is that of Tsutomu Yamaguchi.

 

Mr. Yamaguchi was in Hiroshima on August 6th as part of a business trip on behalf of his employer, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, when the atom bomb exploded. He was at an office meeting 1.8 miles from ground zero, and suffered serious burn injuries on his left side, but not so serious that he could not return to his home in Nagasaki the next morning. What is somewhat startling is that Yamaguchi went to work in Nagasaki on the following day despite his condition, and on August 9th told his officemates about the amazing fact that a single bomb had destroyed the entire city of Hiroshima. His boss reacted by telling him he was crazy to believe such a ridiculous thing, and at that moment of vengeful irony the Nagasaki bomb was detonated, repeating the awful saga of Hiroshima, and validating Yamaguchi’s story greeted with such skepticism moments earlier.

 

Yamaguchi, a draftsman who designed tanker ships, survived both attacks despite sustaining injuries in each, and evidently “thought Japan should never start a war.” But he also is reported to have considered at some point killing his family with sleeping pills if Japan lost the war. Yamaguchi died of stomach cancer in 2010 at the age of 93, and his long life exemplifies the ironic nature of what strikes us decades later as a remarkable survival story posing an enduring question decades later to those of us detached from the immediacy of such calamities: was Yamaguchi supremely unlucky to have been in the only two cities ever attacked with atomic weapons or was he extraordinarily lucky to have survived both attacks and lived to the age of 93? Rarely have good and bad fortuitous experience been so intermixed, and perhaps the word ‘lucky’ is too casual given the epochal significance of this dreadful dawn of the nuclear age.

 

Not until 2009, a year before his death, did the Japanese government officially decide to recognize Tsutomu Yamaguchi as the first person certified to be a double hibakusha. Apparently even the authentication of atomic victimization became its own further ordeal thanks to the draconian workings of the Japanese state bureaucracy.

 

While hibakusha remain alive, we are movingly reminded that the tragedies endured in 1945 remain lived realities that should never be interred within a larger impersonal assessment of the military policies that ended the war. We are also reminded of the failure of the organized world community to take the necessary and possible steps to ensure that there are no future generations of hibakusha.

The Nuclear Challenge: 70 Years After Hiroshima and Nagasaki (2)

19 Aug

[Prefatory Note: What follows is a poem by David Krieger on what happened 70 years ago during those few fateful days in August that forever altered the human condition followed by the joint introduction that we contributed to Geoffrey Darnton’s Nuclear War and International Law, which was just published, and is available for purchase at the usual online outlets and via book store

Poetry is for David a seamless mode of expression that merges his life’s dedication to human wellbeing with his inner reflective consciousness, and bears a special relevance to his central mission of achieving a world without nuclear weapons. In my understanding, David’s poem that follows and others he has written dealing with other aspects of nuclearism enables him to enter what Thomas Merton and James Douglass identify as the domain of the unspeakable, and indeed virtually unimaginable. Most of us need poetry, film, and art to make authentic contact in those private and public situations where prose language and even an enlivened imagination cannot adequately express the extremities of experience. I think of the French film of Alain Resnais, ‘Hiroshima, Mon Amour’ (1959) and Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ as world class examples, but there are many.

Another form of authentic contact with the unspeakable is by way of pilgrimage to hallowed sites of desecration, and David has made such visits frequently, which often feature contact with hibakusha, survivors of the atomic attacks. As with the Holocaust, public atrocities of this enormity, constitute an inexhaustible occasion for mourning and reflections on the dark mysteries of evil, but unlike the memories associated with the Auschwitz experience, Hiroshima and Nagasaki have permanently and negatively affected the biopolitical contingency of the human species and its earthly habitat.

There is one further preliminary observation. Private atrocities, the death or terminal illness of one’s child or any deeply loved one, also gives rise to inexhaustible cascades of grief that can never be adequately expressed through reasoned narrative and never truly overcome. Such acute private losses because of their negative purity indirectly validate the reality of the absolute in human experience, and for closely related reasons helps us appreciate the extraordinary gravitational pull of the divine and sacred.

The special challenge of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is not merely to mourn and remember. It is rather a summons to devote our energies to rid the world of this curse that imperils human destiny for these past 70 years and as far ahead as we can discern. Denuclearization as a process of diminishing in all ways possible the threat posed by this weaponry and treating ‘getting to zero’ as the non-negotiable goal. This process and this goal can become attainable objectives if a sufficient political will is mobilized and becomes attached to a collective ambition to renounce nuclear weapons as an absolute prerequisite of human dignity.]

 

front%2002

 

 

th-2

A SHORT HISTORY LESSON: 1945

 

 

August 6th:

Dropped atomic bomb

On civilians

At Hiroshima.

 

August 8th:

Agreed to hold

War crimes trials

For Nazis.

 

August 9th:

Dropped atomic bomb

On civilians

At Nagasaki.

 

 

David Krieger

***********************************************************

 

 

Foreword to New Edition of Decision of London Nuclear Warfare

Tribunal

 

Richard Falk & David Krieger

 

When the London Nuclear Warfare Tribunal was convened in 1985, the Cold War set the tone of international relations. Beyond this, Ronald Reagan was the most anti-Communist and belligerent American leader since the end of World War II. There was every reason to be worried that the risks of nuclear war had become unacceptable from the outlook of political prudence additional to their dubious moral and legal status. In this atmosphere the London Tribunal sought an authoritative assessment of the status of nuclear weapons and warfare under international law with the hope that this might move the political debate toward the embrace of nuclear disarmament.

 

Now 30 years later, the Cold War is over and Barack Obama, the current American leader declared in 2009 his resolve to work toward achieving a world without nuclear weapons. This message of hope and commitment was reinforced at the time by four prominent American political figures with strong realist credentials (Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Sam Nunn, and William Perry) present the case for nuclear disarmament to avoid the further spread of nuclear weaponry. Yet as we reflect upon these issues in 2015 we note that there is not present among the nuclear weapons states the existence of a political will to place nuclear disarmament on the global policy agenda, much less evidence of a willingness by non-nuclear states to exert meaningful pressures.

 

Despite important shifts in conflict patterns, which make it more dangerous than ever that nuclear weapons will get into the hands of non-state political actors that would be inclined to disregard the horrifying consequences of use, there are no serious initiatives proposed by governments or through the United Nations to address this menacing challenge. What we find in 2015, instead of a sense of urgency, is a shared mood of complacency on the part of governments, international institutions, and international public opinion. Without the Cold War, and considering the absence of any use of such a weapon since 1945 at Nagasaki, there is a false sense of security, even as anxieties rise to fever pitch when contemplating the prospect of Iran armed with nuclear weapons. Indeed, the evident present priority of nuclear weapons states is to invest heavily in the modernization and further development of their existing arsenal of nuclear weapons, as well in the pseudo-stability of the nonproliferation regime.

 

And thus, even more so than in 1985, it would seem that it will be up to civil society activism to create the kind of climate of opinion that will force the hand of governmental actors. One step in this direction is to remind the people of the world that from the perspective of international law, nuclear weapons are unlawful, making their threat or use, crimes of utmost magnitude. In this regard, the material gathered in this volume is an invaluable resource for citizen activism on the basis of expecting governments in the 21st century to pursue security within the framework of the global rule of law. The clarity and authoritativeness of the conclusions of the London Tribunal are reinforced by the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice rendered in 1996, and especially by the historic dissent of Judge Christopher Weeramantry that is also included in this volume.

 

In 1986 there were some 70,000 nuclear weapons in the world. Since then, the number has fallen to approximately 16,000. It is a dramatic quantitative drop, but remains far from the only safe number, which is zero. Over 90 percent of the weapons are in the arsenals of the US and Russia, and their negotiations for further reductions have stalled while they engage in military posturing, including nuclear posturing over the conflict in Ukraine. The US and Russia still maintain some 1,800 nuclear weapons between them on hair-trigger alert, ready to be fired within moments of an order to do so. Neither country has a commitment to No First Use of its nuclear arsenal, leaving open the threat of a preemptive attack, or other initiating use of the sort sometimes suggested as the best means to destroy Iran’s underground nuclear facilities.

 

The United States unilaterally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 under Bush II, a treaty that was designed to limit the number of missile defense deployments in order to discourage defensive-offensive escalation cycles. This US withdrawal from the treaty coupled with the subsequent deployment of missile defense installations near the Russian borders has generated Russian anxiety about a possible US first strike, which increases tensions between the two countries and makes more nervous the fingers on the nuclear buttons.

 

In addition to the US and Russia, seven other countries possess nuclear weapons: the UK, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. All of them have joined the US and Russia in modernizing their nuclear arsenals. Each of these arsenals is a source of nuclear danger, as are those of the US and Russia. Atmospheric scientists found through modelling studies that a relatively small nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan using 50 Hiroshima-size nuclear weapons each on the other side’s cities would put enough soot into the upper stratosphere to block warming sunlight from reaching the Earth, reduce temperatures on the planet to the lowest levels in 1,000 years, shorten growing seasons, cause crop failures and result in nuclear famine that could take two billion lives of the most vulnerable people on the planet. A larger exchange of nuclear weapons between the US and Russia could send the world tumbling into a new ice age, destroy civilization and annihilate the human species and most complex forms of life on the planet.

 

Article VI of the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obligates the parties to the NPT to negotiate in good faith on effective measures for a cessation of the nuclear arms race and an early date and for nuclear disarmament. These negotiations have never taken place, despite the unanimous legal support of the Article VI obligations in the 1996 ICJ Advisory Opinion: “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.”

 

In 2014, one of the smallest countries on the planet, the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), took a bold action to enforce the Article VI obligations and the customary international law obligations that derive from them.   The RMI brought lawsuits against the nine nuclear-armed countries in the ICJ, seeking declaratory judgments that they are in breach of their nuclear disarmament obligations and injunctive relief ordering them to commence the required negotiations within one year.   Because only three of the nine nuclear-armed countries accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ, only the cases against the UK, Pakistan and India are currently going forward at the ICJ. The other six countries would have had to affirmatively accept the jurisdiction of the ICJ to have their cases go forward and none have chosen to do so.

 

The Marshall Islands also brought a separate lawsuit against the US in US federal court, due to the pivotal position of the US in terms of its leadership on nuclear issues. That case was dismissed by the lower court and is currently being appealed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The cases are drawing interest throughout the world and currently over ninety civil society organizations, including the World Council of Churches, Greenpeace International and the Nobel Women’s Initiative, have joined a consortium headed by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation in support of the RMI’s Nuclear Zero lawsuits (see www.nuclearzero.org).

 

The Marshall Islands acts with great moral authority, as their territory was used as a site of US nuclear testing in the early years of the Nuclear Age. The US conducted 67 nuclear tests in the RMI between 1946 and 1958, with the equivalent explosive power of having tested 1.6 nuclear Hiroshima bombs daily for 12 years. The Marshall Islanders suffered cancers, leukemia, stillbirths, birth defects and other radiation-induced illnesses. Some of their islands still remain uninhabitable, and they have never been adequately compensated for their pain, suffering, premature deaths and the loss of their lands.

 

In addition to the Nuclear Zero lawsuits by the Marshall Islands, one other positive initiative in relation to nuclear weapons is the series of inter-governmental conferences on the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons that have taken place in recent years in Oslo, Nayarit (Mexico), and Vienna. At the Vienna conference in December 2014, the Austrian government made an Austrian Pledge to work to close the legal gap to achieve the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons. Since then, over 100 other states have joined Austria in taking this pledge, now known as the Humanitarian Pledge. The hope is that one or more of these countries will convene a meeting of states to initiate a Nuclear Ban Treaty, similar to the Ottawa Conference that was convened to create a Landmine Ban Treaty. This can be done with or without the initial participation of the nuclear-armed countries.

 

This year (2015) marks the 70th anniversaries of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The survivors of those bombings, the hibakusha, have been outspoken in their calls to abolish nuclear weapons so that their past does not become someone else’s future. Every year, every day, that this advice is not heeded, increases the danger to the human future. This is a legal issue, as this book makes clear, but it is also a moral issue, a security issue and, ultimately, a spiritual issue. Humankind must step back from the nuclear abyss now, before it is too late.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Nuclear Challenge: 70 Years After Hiroshima and Nagasaki (1)

18 Aug

 

[Prefatory Note: I have been preoccupied for many years with the multiple challenges posed by nuclear weapons, initially from the perspective of international law and morality, later with regard to prudence diplomacy and political survival in international relations, and in all instances, with an eye favoring deep denuclearization associated in my mind with an abiding abhorrence over the use of atomic bombs against the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II and with the avoidance of any future use of nuclear weaponry or even threatened use. The annual observance of these terrible events encourages reflection and commentary on this darkest of legacies. Zero nuclear weapons is the unconditional goal that I affirm, achieved in a manner that creates as much public confidence as possible that the eliminations of weaponry and enriched uranium stockpiles are being faithfully carried out.

 

In this spirit, I want to call attention to a notable volume on the continuing menace posed by nuclear weapons that has just been published under the editorship of Geoffrey Darnton, bearing the title Nuclear Weapons and International Law, and available via Amazon or the bookseller Ingrams. The book contains the entire text of the judgment issued by the London Nuclear Warfare Tribunal (1985), a civil society initiative presided over by four judges, three of whom were Nobel Prize winners, the great dissenting opinion of C.G. Weeramantry in the Advisory Opinion on The Legality of Nuclear Weapons issued in 1996 by the International Court of Justice, and other documents and texts discussing the continuing imperative of nuclear disarmament. I recommend the book highly to all those who seek a broad understanding of why the citizen pilgrims of the world should unite in an urgent effort to create a climate of public awareness that pushes governments to make a genuine effort to fulfill by way of a practical disarming process the often articulated and affirmed vision of a world without nuclear weaponry. What is crucial is to shift the discourse from affirming the elimination of nuclear weaponry as an ultimate goal to the adoption of nuclear disarmament as a programmatic goal of practical politics, especially in the nine nuclear weapons states. Whether this entails a simultaneous partial disarmament of conventional weaponry by some states, especially the United States, is a further issue to consider.

 

At the invitation of Geoffrey Darnton, David Krieger, President of the Nuclear Age Foundation (NAPF), and I contributed a jointly authored foreword to the volume as well as a dialogue on nuclear weapons and international law. Krieger, a lifelong advocate of a zero nuclear world, as well as a poet whose poems are often responsive to his humane concerns, has devoted his professional life to the attainment of this goal, traveling throughout around the globe to reach diverse audiences and take part in a variety of NGO anti-nuclear efforts. The NAPF heads a coalition of civil society support for the historic Marshall Islands legal initiative currently under consideration in the International Court of Justice and in American federal courts that demands fulfillment of the nuclear disarmament provisions of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. More information about the NAPF and the Marshall Islands litigation can be found at the NAPF website. A second post will contain our foreword together with David’s poem, “A Short History Lesson: 1945” that raises in the most pointed form the moral tensions and civilizational hypocrisies that related the atomic bombing to the Nuremberg Judgment that held surviving Nazi leaders accountable for their complicity in state crime.]

 

There are many reasons why nuclear weapons have been retained and acquired by sovereign states, and it is an instructive insight into the workings of the war system at the core of state-centric world order that the first five nuclear weapons states happened to be the five states given preeminent status in the United Nations by being made permanent members of the Security Council with a right of veto. Because of the devastating potentialities of nuclear weaponry to destroy the human future there was from the start of ‘the nuclear age’ a public outcry against their retention and widespread revulsion about dropping atomic bombs on densely populated Japanese cities. This dialectic between hard power maximization and public canons of sensitivity to state-sanctioned atrocity has been evident ever since 1945. The outcome has been the retention and development of the weaponry with related efforts to limit access to the extent possible (the ethos of nonproliferation) and vague affirmations of a commitment to seek nuclear disarmament as a matter of policy and even law. This asymmetry of goals has given us the situation pertaining to the weaponry that haunts the future of humanity. It is epitomized by the geopolitical energies devoted to implementing the nonproliferation provisions of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) (1970; 190 states), as evidenced by making the feared apprehension of future acquisition a casus belli in Iraq (2003) and with respect to Iran, hopefully a second nonproliferation war being averted by the Iranian willingness to limit their nuclear program in such a way as to minimize any prospect of acquiring ‘the bomb.’ In contrast, the nuclear disarmament provision, Article VI, of the NPT is treated by the nuclear weapons states as pure window dressing, having the outward appearance of being a bargain reached between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons states, but in reality a commitment by the latter to forego the weaponry in exchange for an empty promise that has been discredited by the absence of credible efforts at implementation over a period of almost half a century. Part of this reality is the unwillingness of the non-nuclear states to raise their voices in concerted opposition to the one-sided implementation of the NPT, exhibiting their reality as states but without geopolitical leverage.

 

The liberal version of this deceptive Faustian Bargain is the claim that the NPT and nuclear disarmament are complementary to one another, and should be linked in thought and action. The statist reasoning that offers a rationale stresses the desirability of limiting the number of nuclear weapons states while efforts to achieve nuclear disarmament move forward. Among the world’s most astute commentators on nuclear weapons policy is Ramesh Thakur, who heads the Secretariat on the Asia Pacific Leadership Network for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament. In a recent article in The Japan Times [“Link Nuclear Disarmament and Nonproliferation Efforts,” Aug. 12, 2015] Thakur tells us that “there is an inalienable and symbiotic link between nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament.” He regards “[t]he key challenge..is to how to protect the political gains and security benefits of the NPT, while also working around it to impart momentum into the disarmament process leading to the total abolition of all nuclear weapons.” From this perspective, Thakur laments the failures of the nuclear weapons states to embrace this linkage in a credible manner, and worries that non-nuclear states are threatening to disrupt the benevolent NPT regime that he credits with greatly restricted the number of states possessing the bomb and has helped avoid any recourse to the weaponry over the 70 years that have elapsed since Nagasaki: “Globally, more and more countries are coming around to the conclusion that the NPT is being used cynically by the nuclear powers not to advance but to frustrate disarmament.”

 

What is surprising is that it has taken so long for the non-nuclear governments to reach this conclusion, or at least to acknowledge their disaffection in a public space. The mind game played so well by the nuclear weapons states, above all, the United States, rests on the proposition that the main threat posed by the existence and possession of the weaponry is its spread to additional states, not the weaponry itself, and certainly not the nuclear weapons states themselves. This inversion of the real priorities has shifted the policy focus away from disarmament for decades and put the spotlight on proliferation dangers where it doesn’t belong, Iran being the current preoccupation resulting from this way of thinking. The geopolitical discriminatory nature of this mind game is further revealed by the treatment of Israel, what Thakur calls “The global double standards” that are “reinforced by regional hypocrisy, in which all sides stayed studiously silent on Israel’s bombs. ”Sanctions and war threats directed at Iran, silence and denial conferred on Israel.

 

My disagreement with Thakur rests on his central assertion of linkage. In my view, the NPT regime has been posited for its own sake (operationalizing the sensible global consensus that the fewer nuclear weapons states, the better) but even more robustly, and here is the unacknowledged rub, as a long-term alternative to nuclear disarmament. In other words, while it is theoretically possible that the NPT regime could have been established as a holding operation to give time for a nuclear disarmament process to be negotiated and acted upon, it has been obvious from an early stage that the government bureaucracies of the leading nuclear powers had no intention of accepting an arrangement that would deprive themselves of the bomb. What the Faustian Bargain imposed was the false pretension that nuclear disarmament was integral to the policy agenda of the nuclear weapons states. From time to time political leaders, usually with sincerity, express their commitment to nuclear disarmament. At various times, several American presidents, including even Ronald Reagan, have affirmed their dedication to such a nuclear free future, most recently Barack Obama at his Prague speech in 2009, but after a flourish of attention, nothing happens.

 

Understanding why nothing happens is the real challenge facing the global disarmament movement. It is here that attention should be given to the ideologies of realist geopolitics that shapes the worldview of the policy elites that control the formation government policies and the supportive self-interested bureaucracies deeply entrenched in the media, think tanks, weapons labs, and private sector (the phenomenon Eisenhower flagged as ‘the military-industrial-complex’ in his Jan. 17, 1961 Farewell Address). It is these ideological and structural factors that explain why nothing happens, and is never allowed to happen. In what should have been treated as a startling confirmation of this disheartening assessment occurred when four former top government officials with impeccable hard power realist credentials decided a couple of years ago that the only way to uphold U.S. security dominance in the future was to abolish nuclear weapons, even their eminence did not prevent their hard power arguments for nuclear disarmament being shunted to one side by the nuclear weapons establishment. [See George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons,” Wall Street Journal, Jan. 4, 2007; see also Shultz et al., “Deterrence in the Age of Nuclear Proliferation,”Wall Street Journal, March 7, 2011.]

 

Winning the mind game is a process that needs periodic diversions from the actuality of the global apartheid approach to nuclear weaponry that has never been seriously challenged, but is deeply antithetical to Western professed repudiation of genocidal tactics and ethos. When fears mounted of a breakdown in the bipolar standoff during the Cold War there did take place a popular mobilization of opposition to nuclearism. The anti-nuclear movement reached peaks in Europe after the scares of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and in response to some of the weapons deployment decisions by NATO. (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, CND). The main ground of anti-nuclear opposition was fear, although the most articulate leader of CND, E.P. Thompson expressed antipathy to nuclear weapons and doctrine on essentially ethical grounds. Thompson argued on the basis of an illuminating analysis that the culture that embraced the then prevailing policies of mutual deterrence was already an active accomplice of Satan by its announced willingness to annihilate tens of millions of innocent people should its will to survive as a state be tested by an unacceptable enemy provocation. [See “Notes on Exterminism: The Last Stage of Civilization,” New Left Review I/121 , May-June 1980] It is indicative that the governments of the nuclear weapons states, and here most notably again the United States was most adamant, never were unequivocally willing to commit themselves to ‘no first use policies’ even in relation to non-nuclear adversaries. In other words, nuclear weapons were treated as instrumental to foreign policy contingencies, and not tainted with illegitimacy based on the supposed ‘nuclear taboo.’

 

Nonproliferation was the most brilliant of all diversions from the transparent acknowledgement that, whatever rhetoric was used to the contrary, the lead states never accepted nuclear disarmament as a genuine goal of their foreign policy. Quite the contrary. All moves to manage the arms race, including reductions in the size of nuclear arsenals and arrangements about communications during times of crisis, were also designed to reduce public fears of nuclear war and thereby weaken anti-nuclear movements—first, through the message that steps were being taken to minimize risks of an unintended or accidental nuclear war, and secondly, that these steps were steps on a path leading to eventual nuclear disarmament.

 

This double coded message providing the policy rationale for arms control. Militarist contributors to this process, raising their doubts about whether risks were in fact being reduced if military options were being constrained by arms control measures. But it was the second element in the arms control approach that enjoyed tacit and sometimes explicit bipartisan support in the United States where this kind of debate mainly took place. The entire spectrum of policymaking elites agreed that the enactment of nuclear disarmament was both unrealistic and dangerous, and if a visionary president allowed his moral enthusiasm to get the better of him the backlash was swift and decisive as even Reagan found out after informally agreeing with Mikhail Gorbachev at their Reykjavik summit in 1986 on a treaty framework that was premised on getting to zero. In reaction, even liberal democrats in the political establishment chided Reagan for being naïve and insufficiently informed when he was blamed for mindlessly stepping across the invisible but rigorously enforced red line that separates managerial arms control from transformational nuclear disarmament. The lesson was learned, as the next presidential administration headed by George H.W. Bush, adopted as a cautionary internal slogan ‘no more Reykjaviks.’ The ‘No’ of the American establishment to nuclear disarmament could not be clearer, nor could the belligerent ‘Yes’ to upholding by war if necessary the NPT regime.

 

With such an understanding, my disagreement with Ramesh Thakur becomes clear and fundamental, and to make it unmistakable, I would conclude by saying the time is now ripe for the total de-linkage of nonproliferation from disarmament with respect to nuclear weapons policy. Without such a de-linkage false consciousness and confusion are unavoidable. It is time to generate populist impatience with the refusal of decades by government establishment to act on the basis of reason, ethics, and prudence: this requires the adoption of policies truly committed to the total abolition of nuclear weaponry in a period of not more than seven years.

The Chomsky/Vltchek Worldview

19 Oct

imagesUnknown-1

            Recently I read On Western Terrorism: from Hiroshima to Drone Warfare, published in 2013 by Pluto Press here in London, and consisting of a series of conversations between Chomsky and the Czech filmmaker, journalist, and author, Andre Vltchek, who is now a naturalized American citizen. Vltchek in an illuminating Preface describes his long and close friendship with Chomsky, and explains that these fascinating conversations took place over the course of two days, and was filmed with the intention of producing a documentary. The book is engaging throughout, with my only big complaint being about the misdirection of the title—there is virtually nothing said about either Hiroshima or drone warfare, but almost everything else politically imaginable!

 

            Vltchek, previously unknown to me, consistently and calmly held his own during the conversations, speaking with comparable authority and knowledge about an extraordinary assortment of topics that embraced the entire global scene, something few of us would have the nerve to attempt, much less manage with such verve, insight, and empathy. After finishing the book my immediate reaction was that ‘Chomsky knows everything’ and ‘Vltchek has been everywhere and done everything.’ Omniscience and omnipresence are not often encountered, being primary attributes commonly attributed by theologians to a monotheistic god! Leaving aside this hyperbole, one is stunned throughout by the quality of the deep knowledge and compassion exhibited by these two public intellectuals, and even more by their deeply felt sympathy for all those being victimized as a result of the way in which the world is organized and Western hard power has been and is being deployed.

 

            The book left me with a sense of how much that even those of us who try to be progressive and informed leave untouched, huge happenings taking place in domains beyond the borders of our consciousness. It suggests that almost all of us are ignoring massive injustices because they receive such scant attention from mainstream media and our access to alternative sources is too restricted. And, maybe also, are capacity for the intake of severe injustice is limited for most of us. The book is well worth reading just to grasp this gap between what we care about and what is actually worth caring about.  Somehow, part of what is so amazing about this exposure to the range of concerns that preoccupy Chomsky and Vltchek is the degree to which their knowledge and ethical sensitivity seems so comprehensive without ever appearing to be superficial. How do they find the time, perseverance, and energy? Of course, it helps to be blessed with high intelligence, clarity of spirit, astonishing retentive gifts, and a seeming refusal to sleep, rest, and recreate (which was among the traits I found so intimidating long ago in Noam’s Vietnam writing, my first encounters with his political thought, having earlier been awed by his revolutionary linguistics approach).

 

 

            While appearing to be on an equal footing throughout this dialogic text, Vltchek does acknowledge his reverential admiration for Chomsky, this extraordinary iconic American intellectual who has remained situated on the front lines of global critical debate for the past half century. In Vltchek’s words: “”The way I saw it, we were fighting for the same cause, for the right of self-determination and real freedom for all people around the world. And we were fighting against colonialism and fascism, in whichever form it came.” “For Noam, fighting injustice seemed to be as natural as breathing. For me, it became both a great honor and great adventure to work with him.” (ix) Vltchek believes that the lines of inspiration beneath a photo of the great English scholar/seer/activitst, Betrand Russell, which hangs ion the wall in Chomsky’s MIT office are also descriptive of what drives Chomsky to such heights: “”Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.” (vi, xv).

 

 images-1

             Vltchek shares with Chomsky an outlook that interprets the world on the basis of a deep structure of moral and political indictment directed at Western imperialism. Vltchek expresses this shared understanding clearly: “After witnessing and analyzing numerous atrocious conflicts, invasions and wars on all continents, I became convinced that almost all of them were orchestrated or provoked by Western geopolitical and economic interests.” (ix). The extent and gravity of the accusations is expressed statistically by Vltchek: “Along with the 55 million or so people killed as the direct result of wars initiated by the West, pro-Western coups and other conflicts, hundreds of millions have died indirectly in absolute misery, and silently.” (1) Chomsky agrees, wondering about which is the worst crime that should be attributed to the West, positing the destruction of the 80-100 indigenous people living in the Western Hemisphere before the European settlers arrived, as one option. In reflecting upon this, he abruptly shifts direction by observing, “..we are moving toward what may in fact be the ultimate genocide—the destruction of the environment.”(2) Chomsky laments that despite the overwhelming evidence of this self-destructive momentum, the challenge continues to be largely ignored by the public and the government, even in the face of dire warnings from the scientific community.  The capitalist obsession with profits and capital accumulation, combined with psycho-political control over the dissemination of knowledge in even the most democratic of societies, makes it almost impossible to ‘see’ these threatening dimensions of social, economic, and political reality.

 

            In a sense these conversations are an extended intellectual journey through the cartography of victimization brought about by Western colonial and post-colonial undertakings. Vltchek says early on “Colonialism continues but it appears that it is much more difficult for local people to point the finger and say exactly what is happening and who their enemies are.” (6) Chomsky responds “Some of the worst atrocities in the world have been committed over the last few years in the Eastern Congo. Three to five million people have been killed.” Aside from the magnitude of such a catastrophe what is so startling is its relative invisibility. This process of horrifying violence and unawareness is deeply troubling to both Chomsky and Vltchek. Chomsky repeatedly, and tellingly, refers to such victims as ‘un-people,’ those in non-Western realms whose death and suffering barely register on Western consciousness unless there are self-interested geopolitical reasons in a particular context to take non-Western suffering seriously. Both of these authors also view such tragedies as outcomes of global corporate greed, the struggle for control of Africa’s abundant natural resources leading these private sector actors to fund factions and militias that are out front, doing the fighting and killing. The true culprits hide behind curtains of evasion to remain invisible to the public. The media is shockingly complicit by reporting only on what is in view, avoiding critical investigative journalism.  Chomsky and Vltchek help us to realize that an array of powerful forces are using their wealth and influence to prevent us from seeing. We are allowed to see only as much as the gatekeepers of the public mind want us to see, and yet we are not relieved from using our capacities for sight. Reading Chomsky and Vltchek removes the scales from our eyes, at least temporarily, as they have managed to elude these gatekeepers, but at considerable risk, with a display of moral courage, civic responsibility, and extraordinary intellectual energy. I learn a lesson in civics from their vigilance: as citizens of constitutional democracies we retain the freedom, and hence possess a heavy responsibility to see for ourselves what is being done in our name, and not being content by becoming informed about distant victimizations, but learning to heed above all those that are proximate, and once we see what is nearby, we have a responsibility to act.

 

            Without venturing onto the terrain of ‘Orientalism’ the conversations are sensitive to what Chomsky refers to as “intellectual and moral colonization” that reinforces patterns of “political and economic colonization.” In this regard, he goes on to observe that “The main achievement of hierarchy and oppression is to get the un-people to accept that it’s natural.”(17), that is, to induce passivity and resignation among the ranks of the victimized.  The moral consciousness of the perpetrators is also deliberately neutralized. When Chomsky inquires as to whether Europeans have “any consciousness of colonial history” Vltchek responds: “No, grotesquely there is very little consciousness.” He adds that such ignorance is “shameful and revealing”: “Europeans make sure that they remain ignorant of their horrid crimes, about the genocides they committed and are still involved in. What do they know about what their governments and companies were and are doing in DR Congo?” (20)

 

            But just as the devil resides in the details, so too do angels of perceptions many of whom inhabit the pages of this book, and a few can be briefly mentioned here. The conversations weave a fabric of awareness that shifts back and forth between lamenting inattention and denial to the exposure of occurrences and realities that are unfamiliar yet crucially revealing. Without extending this commentary too much further, let me note some of the areas of agreement between Chomsky and Vltchek that corrected or collided with my own understanding. First, the comparison between China and India in which China is praised almost without reservation and India is condemned almost without qualification, surprisingly close to the approach taken by that arch consevative V.S. Naipaul [See Naipaul’s India, A Wounded Civilization(1977)] Their essential argument is that India is exceptionally cruel in its cultural practices, and has done relatively little to alleviate poverty, while China has made extraordinary progress that is spread widely throughout the country. Both confirm, contrary to Western propaganda and consistent with what I also experienced during a visit a year ago, that young university students in China seem fearless, raising sensitive controversial issues in public venues. In effect, India gets too much credit in the West because it possesses the trappings of liberal democracy, while China’s achievements are downplayed because socialist values are mixed with predatory capitalist practices. My own love of India has blinded, or at least numbed me, to the worst of India, and has consistently thrilled me with its cultural vibrancy and rich heritage, which included Gandhi and his incredible mobilization of a militant nonviolent challenge to the then still mighty British Empire.

 

            The two conversationalists agree that the most encouraging political moves in the world from a progressive perspective have been made in Latin America. There are political experiments, as in Bolivia and Venezuela, that express the energies of a socialist populism with original regional and national features, and there is an encouraging set of hemispheric moves to repudiate the main signs of a crippling past dependency on the United States. Chomsky and Vltchek point out that in Latin America, and Asia, the United States has supported vicious and repressive political forces so as to secure the wealth generating interests of corporate America, personified by what might be called ‘the United Fruit Syndrome,’ or more popularly, the perpetuation of ‘banana republics.’ A telling argument made in the book is that the military dictatorships in Latin America that the U.S. helped install and sustain in the 1970s and 1980s were far more oppressive and exploitative of their populations than were the Stalinist governments in control of East Europe during the Cold War decades.

 

            There is agreement among the authors that the heroes of the liberal establishment should be recast as villains. Two such exemplary individuals are Winston Churchill, reviled here for his criminal outlook toward African colonial peoples, and George Kennan, who is portrayed as a leading architect of the American global domination project put into operational form during the period of American ascendancy soon after World War II. Part of this exercise of demonization by Chomsky and Vltchek is to illustrate the mind games of liberal hegemonic ideology that treat such political luminaries as paragons of moral virtue. It continues the tradition of critical perception of the ruling elites that Chomsky so brilliantly set forth in American Power and The New Mandarins back in 1969.

 

            Chomsky and Vltchek both persuasively accord great significance to the almost forgotten Indonesian massacre of 1965 in which more than a million people were sacrificed in a massive bloodbath designed to clear the way for a neoliberal takeover of the wealth producing capacity of the country. The governments of the United States and Australia have much blood on their hands in encouraging this atrocity, and its aftermath that included genocidal incidents in East Timor.  The authors are negative about Asia other than China, supposing that it has swallowed a huge dose of poisonous cool aid called ‘neoliberalism.’

 

            Such illustrative discussion just scratches the surface of these exceptionally perceptive conversations. It would be misleading to suggest that these two progressive interpreters of the whole world were in complete agreement. Chomsky is somewhat more tentative about developments in Turkey or in writing the obituary of the Arab Spring than is Vltchek who seems less nuanced in some of his commentary. Chomsky welcomes improvements and positive trends, while Vltchek believes that only structural change can make a sufficient difference to bring real hope to oppressed peoples.  

 

            In a similar vein, Chomsky seems more convinced than in the past that keeping hope alive is almost a duty expressive of solidarity with those currently victimized. More than before Chomsky is articulate about his belief that without the belief that positive change is possible, there will be no challenge mounted against an intolerable status quo.

Unknown 

            The book ends with Chomsky depicting two trajectories for the human future: either a continuation of ecological sleep leading to species suicide or an awakening to the ecological challenge, with accompanying improvements. (173) As Chomsky has aged, although far more gradually than is normal, he has somewhat mellowed, and seems less pessimistic and assured overall than when I first came to know him in the late 1960s. I would say that Chomsky’s maturity has endowed him wisdom that acts as a complement to his astonishing command over the specifics of the whole spectrum of political concerns. This substantive authoritativeness set him apart long ago as our foremost intellectual and most beloved commentator on the passing scene of world events, but now he has also become a ‘wise elder,’ and whose views of the world deserves the greatest respect from all of us.