image: Wikimedia commons (link).
August 6th is the anniversary of the first use in recorded history of the use of nuclear weapons to kill millions of men, women and children.
Between the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, hundreds of thousands of lives were ended, either immediately or due to the effects of injuries or radiation in the aftermath.
Previous posts have linked to the abundant quotations from US generals and admirals at the time -- all hardened veterans of years of combat in that brutal and destructive war -- who were appalled, sickened, and angered at the decision, and whose informed opinion was that the bombings were not militarily necessary.
That makes their use a criminal act, and one for which the government of the united states has never apologized. Last year, in fact, was the first time a sitting president from the united states ever visited Hiroshima.
This article by Peter Van Buren makes the insightful observation that the national belief which has been propagated since 1945 that "no moral wrong was committed with the atomic bombs, and thus there was no need for reflection and introspection" has been part of a deliberate manipulation of history in the united states -- a "post-war creation of a mass memory" -- with tragic and ongoing consequences.
The author of that article argues that, in the wake of the first accounts of the actual effects of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan, the citizens of the united states were shocked. The government felt something needed to be done immediately, and hence an article drafted by McGeorge Bundy and James Conant and published under the byline of Henry Stimson was published in the February 1947 issue of Harper's magazine. The purpose of this article was to declare that the bomb had been dropped out of military necessity. Van Buren writes: "Americans' general sense of themselves as a decent people needed to be reconciled with what was done in their name. The Stimson article was quite literally the moment of the creation of the Hiroshima myth [of military necessity and moral justification for the use of the atomic bombs two wipe out two cities]."
Van Buren also notes that one of the article's authors, who later went on to become the president of Harvard University (James Conant) later remarked, speaking of this article, "You have to get the past straight before you do much to prepare people for the future" (Universities and their Leadership, page 208). In context, the "preparing for the future" had to do with overcoming any tendencies towards isolationist or non-interventionist foreign policy in the years following the overt end of the war, and the "getting the past straight" meant casting the use of nuclear weapons by the united states as just and necessary.
As George Orwell (and Dr. Zaius of the original Planet of the Apes) understood very well: "Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past." Thus, considering the history of the use of atom bombs against civilians by the leaders of the united states seventy-two years ago -- and especially considering the way the "history" of those events has been stripped of any "need for reflection and introspection" -- is vitally important for the present, and the future.
This need is especially urgent at this particular juncture in history, during which the military of the united states is being used (non-stop for more than a decade and a half) to wage offensive war against country after country, with little sign of reflection or introspection -- to say nothing of vigorous protest -- on the part of the people who pay the taxes and supply their sons and daughters to the military machine that is waging that offensive war.
Additionally, the provocative placement of anti-ballistic missile batteries in eastern Europe and south Korea indicates the possibility that there are people in high places of government who would actually contemplate the use of nuclear weapons in an offensive or "first-strike" capacity. Such contemplation in and of itself would demonstrate that the propagation of false narratives of past history, and the lack of reflection and introspection on the part of the people, has reached such a dangerous level that psychopaths and criminals believe they will meet no resistance from the broad general public or from the organs of law which are supposed to be preventing the illegal waging of offensive war.
It would also demonstrate an apparent belief in immunity from the consequences of divine displeasure from the realm of the gods. The world's ancient wisdom, in all its various manifestations in myth, scripture and sacred tradition, unanimously demonstrates that individual men and women each contain an inner connection to the Infinite, and that they are possessed of value and dignity, such that doing violence against men, women or children is a grave crime and one which the gods will invariably and unfailingly punish.
A previous post on this same anniversary explored this aspect of the crime of using nuclear weapons in light of the Bhagavad Gita, lines from which are often quoted (misleadingly, in my opinion) at the anniversary of the dropping of the atomic weapons on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
In Martin Luther King's famous speech Beyond Vietnam, which is at least as relevant today as it was when he delivered it on April 4th, 1967 (exactly one year before he was treacherously murdered), Dr. King declared:
The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing "clergy and laymen concerned" committees for the next generation. [ . . . ]
A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death-wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood. [ . . . ]
War is not the answer. Communism will never be defeated by the use of atomic bombs or nuclear weapons. Let us not join those who shout war and, through their misguided passions, urge the United States to relinquish its participation in the United Nations.
[ . . . ] Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores, and thereby speed the day when "every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain shall be made low; the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain."
In that speech, Martin Luther King demonstrates keen awareness that the citizens of the country that was waging the war in Vietnam were the ones with the ability -- and the responsibility -- to work towards the end of that war. He also demonstrates the necessity of the very kind of reflection -- and admission of moral error -- that has largely been absent (deliberately absent) since the dropping of the atomic bombs, when he says:
The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to the life of the Vietnamese people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways. In order to atone for our sins and errors in Vietnam, we should take the initiative in bringing a halt to this tragic war.
Then he declares:
We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane conditions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.
Those who do not feel that offensive war, or even the use of nuclear weapons, are deeply and terribly wrong are not likely to protest. The deliberate manipulation of history has led to the situation we face today, and can indeed influence the future that we (and our children, and their children) will inherit.
Martin Luther King's speech ended on a soaring note, employing the rhetoric of the ancient scriptures which describe the righteousness of heaven rolling down as a mighty stream (from Amos 5:24). That verse and those which follow also describe judgment which runs down as waters, in consequence for forsaking the divine, for turning justice into wormwood and leaving off righteousness in the earth, for treading upon the poor, and taking from the laborer his wheat, for afflicting the just, accepting bribes, and turning aside the poor from the gates (Amos 5, entire chapter).
He clearly understood that there is a moral component to this subject -- and even a component which involves the displeasure of the divine realm for the injustices done in this material realm. And he clearly understood that the remedy for the problem involves actual admission of wrongdoing and concrete action taken to atone for past unjust behavior.
Martin Luther King also perceived that, although it is not too late to act, there will be a time when it will be too late. Towards the end of his speech, he declares:
We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is the thief of time. [. . . ]
We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. We must move past indecision to action.