Monday, August 06, 2007

Horrorism on a grander scale.


This is an argument for terrorism. It isn't only that, of course. I only point out that it is because terrorism is one of the few inexcusable crimes in bourgeois ideology. Suicide attacks in Israeli and American cities, recall, are said to communicate a genocidal intent, and are without extenuation unforgiveable assaults on civil society. Well, any argument that suggests that it is reasonable to use nuclear strikes and dispose of over 200,000 civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in order to intimidate a government into surrendering is an argument for terrorism at the very least. To that, I will add that it is despicable and outrageous and implicitly racist, since it applies a standard to an Asiatic society that I submit would not be applied to a largely Anglo-Saxon apartheid society. However, the main thing to note about the article is that it is niche writing. It panders to a small audience of establishment-oriented liberals who like their contrarians to be as conformist as possible. It is written in the house style - despatching "popular mythology", exposing Guardian readers to "surprise" if not outright scandal. Yet it affirms that "alternative history" is bunk. It picks off a couple of historians who essentially (or for Kamm's purposes) affirm Henry Stimson's account, which was written for "that rather difficult class of the community which will have charge of the education of the next generation, namely educators and historians." This is what the author is for, and it is why The Guardian decided to publish it. Truth, ethics, human life - these aren't values. It is demeaning to even consider the argument, so I won't: I rule it out. Whatever the historiographical arguments, the conclusion that it was necessary and right to use nuclear weapons against civilian population centres requires such a conspicuous contraction of historical possibility that it can only be apologetic. It cannot be the result of a rational engagement with the evidence. I would only add to that the author is an advocate of continued nuclear armament on the grounds that Western states are civilised (while Iran is not): chew on that for a while.

It is more sensible to consider the implications of the historical research. For example, if the historian Barton Bernstein is correct that "avoiding the use of the bomb was never a real concern for policymakers" because they were "inured to the mass killing of the enemy", what does this tell us about a) the dehumanising effects of war; and b) the dehumanising effects of racism? American state planners were, then as now, steeped in the crudest racism toward non-white populations. (Recall the State Department's insistence before the Iraq war that "the towelheads can't hack" democracy, and thus must be ruled by a "strongman".) But they were particularly steeped in anti-Asian racism. This is a country that had experienced the ethnic cleansing of Chinese Americans from California and the Pacific North-West. It is a country whose imperial ambitions had been stoked very early on by what China could provide in the way of markets. It is a country that produced a body of literature devoted to the 'Yellow Peril', and which sought to restrict migration from the Asian continent because of labour competition (and, as usual, racial purity played its part). It is above all a country in which the domestic Asian population was considered a menace, an enemy, an extension of the other side. They were thus interned, arbitrarily, for the duration of the war. Of course, all minority racial groups in the US are suspected of having sympathy with the enemy, perhaps because of a disavowed thought that they have every reason to: during Wilson's intervention in World War I, the state was obsessed with the idea that African Americans were suffused with pro-German sentiment (even though some prominent NAACP aligned black intellectuals argued in favour of the Allies in the war, not least - to my immense surprise - W.E.B. Du Bois). This conviction resulted in spying and legal harrassment, even if on a much smaller scale than was applied to Reds. So, with all that in mind, what are the probabilities about the weight of a Japanese life in a white American ruling class mind? How likely is it that Truman, a retrograde racist himself, conducted a serious pro-con analysis of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

One might update this question. How much does a "towelhead's" life weigh in the mind of Dick Cheney? How much does Hillary Clinton care about a dead Iranian, since she threatens possible nuclear attacks on Iran? We have already seen Muslims rounded up and imprisoned by Bush. We have seen secret Stasi-style prisons and industrial torture centres set up. Civil rights do not apply to Muslims, or apply less than they do to others. For, as long as there is empire, it will require ways of distinquishing one human being who can claim protection from arbitrary harm, and another who can't. Racism is the single most potent doctrine that has thus far been elaborated to legitimise this, and white supremacism persists to this day even though a strange mutant variant, Islamophobia, now feeds from it. If another state - for example, China - was able to achieve a portion of what Japan did, by building up its own vicious local empire, what are the possibilities for an American president faced with that? Isn't it obvious that we ought to limit their possibilities (ie precisely by forcing an end to the policy of thermonuclear blackmail)? What is most disturbing today is the attempt to rescue nuclear weapons from the pall of opprobrium and hostility that they inevitably attract - through the slow degrading of the strict barrier between nuclear and conventional weapons, and the generation of mini-nukes - which can be used to reintroduce the prospect of nuclear terrorism by degree. The smoking gun, as Bush said in a different context, may well be a mushroom cloud.

One of the arguments used by the slender group of defenders of the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Holocaust is that the actual war by the US wasn't all that civilian-friendly anyway. It is a strange cue: the obvious response, it seems to me, is to examine whether the brutality of America's campaign was warranted. Possibly, an iniquitously savage bombing campaign might well have contributed to the savagery of the nuclear attacks themselves. Arguably, even if the campaign was necessary (and I deliberately introduce that as a question and not a conclusion), the way in which it was waged was not. Indeed, the tactic of firebombing Japanese cities is certainly a deliberate form of terrorism against the civilian population. One of the failed tactics was the attempt to use bats to convey incendiary matter to the eavings of the houses in towns and villages, thus burning the population alive. The successful ones were the ones that went on to be used in Korea and Vietnam: dropping explosive and incendiary matter on populations, with the hope that they would be terrorised into supporting Western strategies and regimes.

Today is Hiroshima Day. But who knows what cities we will have to remember next? They have already destroyed Fallujah, and can go further, and almost certainly will. That's horrorism.