Below, I transcribe a pamphlet by Zinn, although the title mentions Hiroshima you will see that it covers much more ground than just the atomic bombings during WWII.
No one will ever know the exact figures, but these come from the most exhaustive report available, Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The Physical, Medical, and Social Effects of the Atomic Bombings, put together by a team of thirty-four Japanese scientists and physicians, then translated and published in this country in 1981. Those statistics do not include countless other people who were left alive, but maimed, poisoned, disfigured, blinded.
We live in a time where our minds have been so battered by the statistics of death and suffering that figures in the millions leave us numb, and nothing but the personal testimony of individuals, even if it can only faintly represent the reality, is capable of shaking us out of that numbness.
A Japanese schoolgirl, sixteen at the time, recalled years later that it was a beautiful morning. She saw a B-29 fly by, then a flash. She put her hands up and "my hands went right through my face." She saw "a man without feet, walking on his ankles." She passed out. "By the time I wake up, black rain was falling. I thought I was blind, but I got my eyes open, and I saw a beautiful blue sky and the dead city. Nobody is standing up. Nobody is walking around. I wanted to go home to my mother.
This was Kimuko Laskey, speaking in broken English at a Washington, D.C. Senate hearing. We need to recall her testimony and that of others: "A woman with her jaw missing and her tongue hanging out of her mouth was wandering around, in the heavy black rain, crying for help."
In The Making of the Atomic Bomb, probably the most thorough and most vivid narrative of that long, costly, and secret enterprise on the New Mexico desert known as "The Manhattan Project," Richard Rhodes, scrupulously controlled up to this point, describes the results with unmistakable feeling: "People exposed within half a mile of the Little Boy fireball were seared to bundles of smoking black char in a fraction of a second as their internal organs boiled away. The small black bundles now stuck to the streets and bridges and sidewalks of Hiroshima numbered in the thousands. At the same instant birds ignited in midair. Mosquitoes and flies, squirrels, family pets crackled and were gone."
Robert Jay Lifton, a psychiatrist who refused to work within the orthodox limits of his profession, was one of the first, in his book, Death In Life, to interview survivors. A junior college girl in Hiroshima remembered: "The faces of my friends who just before were working energetically are now burned and blistered, their clothes torn to rags. Our teacher is holding her students close to her like a mother hen protecting her chicks, and like baby chicks paralyzed with terror, the students were thrusting their heads under her arms."
A woman, then a girl in the 5th grade, remembered: "Everybody in the shelter was crying out loud. I do not know how many times I called begging that they would cut off my burned arms and legs.
One of the first of American journalists on the scene after the bombing was John Hersey. His articles in The New Yorker were reproduced in the book, Hiroshima, and delivered the first shock to an American public still celebrating the end of the war. Hersey interviewed six survivors: a clerk, a tailor's widow, a priest, a doctor, a surgical assistant, a pastor. He found that of a hundred and fifty doctors in the city, sixty-five were already dead and most of the rest were wounded. Of 1780 nurses, 1654 were dead or so badly wounded that they could not work. Hersey reported on his interview of the pastor,
Mr. Tanimoto reached down and took a woman by the hands, but her skin slipped off in huge, glove-like pieces. He was so shocked by this that he had to sit down for a moment. He had to keep consciously repeating to himself, 'These are human beings.'
Only with those scenes in our minds can we judge the distressingly cold arguments that go on now, 50 years later, about whether it was right to send t hose planes out those two mornings in August of 1945. That this is arguable is a devastating commentary on our moral culture.
And yet, the arguments must be met, because they continue to be advanced, in one form or another, every time the organized power of the state is used to commit an atrocity-whether the setting is Auschwitz or My Lai or Chechnya, or Waco, Texas or the firebombing of the MOVE people in Philadelphia. When private bands of fanatics commit atrocities we call them "terrorists," which they are, and have no trouble dismissing their reasons. But when governments do the same, and on a much larger scale, the word "terrorism" is not used, and we consider it a sign of our democracy that the acts become subject to debate. If the word "terrorism" has a useful meaning (and I believe it does, because it marks off an act as intolerable, since it involves the indiscriminate use of violence against human beings for some political purpose), then it applies exactly to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The sociologist Kai Erikson, reviewing the report by the Japanese team of scientists, wrote:
Rather, let's examine the question properly raised by Kai Erikson, a question enormously important precisely because it does not permit us to dismiss horrors as acts inevitably committed by horrible people. It forces us to ask: what "kind of mood," what "moral arrangements" would cause us, in whatever society we live, with whatever "fundamental decency" we possess, to either perpetrate (as bombardiers, or atomic scientists, or political leaders), or to just accept (as obedient citizens), the burning of children in vast numbers.
That is a question not just about some past and irretrievable event involving someone else, but about all of us, living today in the midst of outrages different in detail but morally equivalent, to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The continued accumulation by nations (ours being first) of atomic weapons a thousand times more deadly, ten thousand times more numerous, than those first bombs. The expenditure each year of a trillion dollars for these and what are soberly called "conventional" weapons, while fourteen million children die each year for lack of food or medical care.
We would need then, to examine the psychological and political environment in which the atomic bombs could be dropped and defended as legitimate, as necessary. That is, the climate of World War II.
It was a climate of unquestioned moral righteousness. The enemy was Fascism. The brutalities of Fascism were undisguised by pretense: the concentration camps, the murder of opponents, the tortures by secret police, the burning of books, the total control of information, the roving gangs of thugs in the streets, the designation of "inferior" races deserving extermination, the infallible leader, the mass hysteria, the glorification of war, the invasion of other countries, the bombing of civilians. No literary work of imagination could create a more monstrous evil. There was, indeed, no reason to question that the enemy in World War II was monstrous and had to be stopped before it enveloped more victims.
But it is precisely that situation-where the enemy is undebatably evil-that produces a righteousness dangerous not only to the enemy, but to ourselves, to countless innocent bystanders, and to future generations.
We could judge the enemy with some clarity. But not ourselves. If we did, we might have noted some facts clouding the simple judgement that since they were unquestionably evil, we were unquestionably good.
The pronoun "we" is the first deception, because it merges the individual consciences of the citizenry with the motives of the state. If our (the citizens') moral intent in making war is clear-in this case the defeat of Fascism, the halt to international aggression-we assume the same intent on the part of "our" government. Indeed, it is the government which has proclaimed the moral issues in order to better mobilize the population for war, and encouraged us to assume that we, government and citizens, have the same objectives.
There is a long history to that deception, from the Peloponnesian wars of the fifth century before Christ through the Crusades and other "religious" wars, into modern times, when larger sections of population must be mobilized, and the technology of modern communication is used to advance more sophisticated slogans of moral purity.
As for our country, we recall expelling Spain from Cuba, ostensibly to liberate the Cubans, actually to open Cuba to our banks, railroads, fruit corporations, and army. We conscripted our young men and sent them into the slaughterhouse of Europe in 1917 to "make the world safe for democracy." (Note how difficult it is to avoid the "we," the "our," that assimilates government and people into an indistinguishable body; but it may be useful to remind us that we're responsible for what the government does.)
In World War II, the assumption of a common motive for government and citizen was easier to accept because of the obvious barbarity of Fascism. But can we accept the idea that England, France, the United States, with their long history of imperial domination in Asia, in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, were fighting against international aggression? Against German, Italian, Japanese aggression certainly. But against their own?
Indeed, although the desperate need for support in the war brought forth the idealistic language of the Atlantic Charter with its promise of self-determination, when the war ended the colonized people of Indochina had to fight against the French, the Indonesians against the Dutch, the Malaysians against the British, the Africans against the European powers, the Filipinos against the United States, to fulfill that promise.
The question of "motive" for the United States in making war against Japan is put this way by Bruce Russett in his book, No Clear and Present Danger:
There were pious statements about self-determination, noble words in the Atlantic Charter that the Allies "seek no aggrandizement, territorial or other." However, two weeks before the Charter, U.S. Acting Secretary of State Sumner Welles was assuring the French government: "This Government, mindful of its traditional friendship for France, has deeply sympathized with the desire of the French people to maintain their territories and to preserve them intact."
It is understandable that the pages of the Defense Department's official history of the Vietnam War (The Pentagon Papers) were marked "TOP SECRET-Sensitive," because they reveal that in late 1942 President Roosevelt's personal representative assured French General Henri Giraud: "It is thoroughly understood that French sovereignty will be re-established as soon as possible throughout all the territory, metropolitan or colonial, over which flew the French flag in 1939."
As for the motives of Stalin and the Soviet Union -- it is absurd even to ask if they were fighting against the police state, against dictatorship? Yes, against German dictatorship, the Nazi police state, but not their own. Before, during, and after the war against Fascism, the fascism of the gulag persisted, and expanded.
And if the world might be deluded into thinking that the war was fought to end military intervention by great powers in the affairs of weaker countries, the post-war years quickly countered that delusion, as the two important victors -- the United States and the Soviet Union -- sent their armies, or surrogate armed forces, into countries in Central America and Eastern Europe.
Did the Allied powers go to war to save the Jews from persecution, imprisonment, extermination? In the years before the war, when the Nazis had already begun their brutal attacks on the Jews, the United States, England, and France maintained silence. President Roosevelt and Secretary of State Hull were reluctant to put the United States on record against the anti-Semitic measures in Germany.
Shortly after we were at war, reports began to arrive that Hitler was planning the annihilation of the Jews. Roosevelt's administration failed to act again and again when there were opportunities to save Jews. There is no way of knowing how many Jews could have been saved in various ways that were not pursued. What is lear is that saving Jewish lives was not the highest priority.
Hitler's racism was brutally clear. The racism of the Allies, with their long history of the subjugation of colored people around the World, seemed forgotten, except by the people themselves. Many of them, like India's Gandhi, had difficulty being enthusiastic about a war fought by the white imperial powers they knew so well.
In the United States, despite powerful attempts to mobilize the African-American population for the war, there was distinct resistance. Racial segregation was not just a Southern fact, but a national policy. hat is, the Supreme Court of the United States, in 1896, had declared such segregation to be lawful, and that was still the law of the land during World War II. It was not a Confederate army but the armed forces of the United States which segregated black from white all through the war.
A student at a black college told his teacher: "The Army jim-crows us. The Navy lets us serve only as messmen. The Red Cross refuses our blood. Employers and labor unions shut us out. Lynchings continue. We are disenfranchised, jim-crowed, spat upon. What more could Hitler do than that?"
When NAACP leader Walter White repeated that statement to an audience of several thousand in the Midwest, expecting they would disapprove, instead: "To my surprise and dismay the audience burst into such applause that it took me some thirty or forty seconds to quiet it."
Large numbers of blacks did go along with Joe Louis' famous statement that "There's lots of things wrong here, but Hitler won't cure them." And many were anxious to show their courage in combat. But the long history of American racism cast a cloud over the idealism of the war against Fascism.
There was another test of the proposition that the war against the Axis powers was in good part a war against racism. That came in the treatment of Japanese-Americans on the West Coast. There was contempt for the Nazis, but with the Japanese there was a special factor, that of race. After Pearl Harbor, Congressman John Rankin of Mississippi said: "I'm for catching every Japanese in America, Alaska and Hawaii now and putting them in concentration camps. Damn them! Let's get rid of them now!"
Anti-Japanese hysteria grew. Racists, military and civilian, persuaded President Roosevelt that the Japanese on the West Coast constituted a threat to the security of the country, and in February of 1942 he igned Executive Order 9066. This empowered the army, without warrants or indictments or hearings, to arrest every Japanese-American on the West Coast, most of them born in the United States-120,000 men, women, and children -- to take them from their homes, and transport them to "detention camps," which were really concentration camps.
Michi Weglyn, who was a small girl removed from her home with her family, responded to Roosevelt's description of the bombing of Pearl Harbor as "a date that will live in infamy" by writing a book she titled Years of Infamy. In it, she tells of the misery, confusion, anger, and also of resistance, strikes, petitions, mass meetings, riots against camp authorities.
John Dower, in War Without Mercy, documents the racist atmosphere that developed quickly, both in Japan, and in the United States. Time magazine said: "The ordinary unreasoning Jap is ignorant. Perhaps he is human. Nothing indicates it."
Indeed, the Japanese army had committed terrible atrocities, in China, in the Philippines. So did all armies, everywhere, but Americans were not considered subhuman although, as Pacific war correspondent Edgar Jones reported, U.S. forces "shot prisoners, wiped out hospitals, strafed lifeboats."
We did do indiscriminate bombing-not atomic but with enormous civilian casualties-of German cities. Yet, we know that racism is insidious, intensifying all other factors. And the persistent notion that the Japanese were less than human probably played some role in the willingness to wipe out two cities populated by people of color.
In any case, the American people were prepared, psychologically, to accept and even applaud the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One eason was that although some mysterious new science was involved, it seemed like a continuation of the massive bombing of European cities that had already taken place.
No one seemed conscious of the irony-that one of the reasons for general indignation against the Fascist powers was their history of indiscriminate bombing of civilian populations. Italy had bombed civilians in Ethiopia in its conquest of that country in 1935. Japan had bombed Shanghai, Nanking, other Chinese cities. Germany and Italy had bombed Madrid, Guernica, other Spanish cities in that country's civil war. At the start of World War II, Nazi planes dropped bombs on the civilian populations of Rotterdam in Holland, Coventry in England.
Franklin D. Roosevelt described these bombings as "inhuman barbarism that has profoundly shocked the conscience of humanity." But very soon, the United States and Britain were doing the same thing and on a far larger scale. The Allied leaders met at Casablanca in January, 1943 and agreed on massive air attacks to achieve "the destruction and dislocation of the German military, industrial and economic system and the undermining of the morale of the German people to the point where their capacity for armed resistance is fatally weakened."
This euphemism-"undermining of the morale" was another way of saying that the mass killing of ordinary civilians by carpet bombing was now an important strategy of the war. Once used in World War II, it would become generally accepted after the war, even as nations were dutifully signing on to the U.N. Charter pledging to end "the scourge of war." It would become American policy in Korea, in Vietnam, and in Iraq.
In short, terrorism, condemned by governments when conducted by nationalist or religious extremists, was now being adopted as official policy. It was given legitimacy because it was used to defeat certain Fascist powers. But it kept alive the spirit of Fascism.
In November of 1942, the chief of the British Air Staff, Sir Charles Portal, suggested that in 1943 and 1944 one and a half million tons of bombs could be dropped on Germany, destroying 6 million homes, killing 900,000 people, and seriously injuring a million more. British historian John Terraine, writing about this in his book, The Right of the Line, calls this "a prescription for massacre, nothing more nor less."
Churchill and his advisers having decided, with American agreement, on the bombing of working-class districts in German cities, the saturation bombing began. There were raids of a thousand planes on Cologne, Essen, Frankfurt. In the summer of 1943, the bombing of Hamburg created what came to be known as a Feuersturm, a firestorm, in which intense heat created by the bombs sucked out the air, bringing hurricane-like winds that spread the flames throughout the city.
In February of 1945 British planes, flying at night, created firestorms in Dresden, and U.S. planes, flying in the daytime, compounded the burning of the city. It was a city crowded with refugees, and no one knows how many died. At least 35,000. Perhaps 100,000. Kurt Vonnegut gave us some sense of the horror of this in his novel, Slaughterhouse Five.
Churchill, in his wartime memoirs described the event tersely: "We made a heavy raid in the latter month on Dresden, then a center of communication of Germany's Eastern Front." The British pilot of a Lancaster bomber was more explicit: "There was a sea of fire covering in my estimation some 50 square miles."
One incident remembered by survivors is that on the afternoon of February 14, 1945, American fighter planes machine-gunned clusters of refugees on the banks of the Elbe. A German woman told of this years later. "We ran along the Elbe stepping over the bodies."
The actor Richard Burton, who was engaged to play the role of Winston Churchill in a television drama, wrote afterward:
There was huge self-deception, not among the political leaders, who consciously made the decisions, but on the part of the lower-level military who carried them out. We had been angered when the Germans bombed cities and killed several hundred or a thousand people. But now the British and Americans were killing tens of thousands in a single air strike. Michael Sherry, in his classic study, The Rise of American Air Power, notes that "so few in the air force asked questions." (I certainly did not, participating in a napalm bombing of the French town of Royan a few weeks before the end of the war in Europe.)
Journalists and writers, enlisted in the propaganda campaign, went along with government policy. John Steinbeck, in his book, Bombs Away, said: "We were all part of the war effort."
One month after the Dresden bombing, on the 10th of March, 1945, 300 B-29's flew over Tokyo at low altitude, with cylinders of napalm and 500-pound clusters of magnesium incendiaries. It was after midnight. Over a million people had evacuated Tokyo, but six million remained. Fire swept with incredible speed through the flimsy dwellings of the poor. The atmosphere became superheated to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. People jumped into the river for protection and were boiled alive. The estimates were of 85,000 to 100,000 dead. They died of oxygen deficiency, carbon monoxide, radiant heat, direct flames, flying debris, or were trampled to death (Masuo Kato, The Lost War: A Japanese Reporter's Story).
Katsumoto Saotome was 12 years old then: "It was like looking at a picture through a red filter, the fire was like a living thing. It ran, just like a creature, chasing us."
That spring there were more such raids on Kobe, Nagoya, Osaka, and in late May another huge bombing of what remained of Tokyo. This was accompanied in the press by continued dehumanization of the enemy. Life magazine showed a picture of a Japanese burning to death and commented: "This is the only way."
By the time the decision was made to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, our minds had been prepared. Their side was vicious beyond description. Therefore, whatever we did was morally right. Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo and their general staffs became indistinguishable from German civilians, or Japanese school children. The U.S. Air Force General Curtis LeMay (the same one who, during the Vietnam war, said: "We will bomb them back to the Stone Age") asserted: "There is no such thing as an innocent civilian."
The pamphlet is published by the
Open Magazine Pamphlet Series,
PO Box 2726, Westfield, NJ, 07091.
Copies are available for $4 plus $1 shipping for the first copy,
50 cents for each additional copy.
Luís Amaral / CPS / email@example.com