Saturday, April 25, 2015

On Killing 200,000 Without Compunction

When it comes to war, we still do not take morality seriously...

Annie Sparrow, an Assistant Professor at the Arnhold Global Health Institute at the Icahn School of ­Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, has a painful article about Syria in the May 8, 2015 issue of The New York Review of Books. In the spring of 2014, she reports, she was teaching Syrian doctors near the Turkish border when the Syrian government used chlorine gas as a chemical weapon against civilians. 
"If chlorine is not heavily diluted, inhaling it in its gaseous form causes choking and can be fatal. According to the UN Human Right Council's Commission of Inquiry for Syria and an Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical (OPCW) report of September 10, 2014, chlorine was repeatedly used in this way as a weapon in the Syrian villages of Tameness, Al Tamanah, and Kafr Zita in April 2014. ... In April alone, there were ten attacks in which chlorine was dropped on civilians in villages in northern Syria, killing eight and affecting almost nine hundred. All but one of the attacks occurred at night and involved the aerial dropping of barrels of compressed chlorine gas, which spread when they hit their target." 
The use of chlorine gas in this case is particularly grotesque because, for years leading up to the current civil war, the Syrian government denied chlorine needed for treating water contaminated with swage to areas of the country unsympathetic to the regime. This resulted in outbreaks of cholera and typhus. To date the Syrian Civil war has killed approximately 200,000 and displaced 10 million. Many of the displaced are living in unsanitary conditions lacking adequate medical care, with resultant disease and death.

Who makes decisions like withholding chlorine from drinking water systems, or dropping concentrated chlorine gas on civilians? If it's Bashar al-Assad, he's failed the test.

Meanwhile, Brad DeLong reminds us of President Harry Truman's crucible with the atomic bomb. Truman was first briefed about the Manhattan project seventy years ago on April 25, 1945, after the death of Franklin Roosevelt.  World war II was winding down. In the Pacific, the battle for Iwo Jima, a mere 760 miles SE of Tokyo, had concluded one month earlier; the battle for Okinawa was almost exhausted. In Europe Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allies unconditionally on May 8. 

Two months after VE Day, in the early morning of July 16, 1945 Robert Oppenheimer successfully detonated his atomic bomb at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Truman was in Potsdam, Germany, to address post-war issues with the allies. He was advised that the test had "exceeded expectations." 

By this time Truman had no doubts that the war with Japan would end soon. His diary entry on July 17, 1945 reads: "[Russia will] be in the Jap War (sic) on August 15th. Fini Japs when that comes about." 

The next day, July 18, 1945 Truman ate privately with Churchill. Churchill advised that Stalin had received a telegram from Emperor Hirohito requesting peace. Truman's diary states: 
"Stalin had told P.M. of telegram from Jap Emperor asking for peace. Stalin also read his answer to me. It was satisfactory. Believe Japs will fold up before Russia comes in. I am sure they will when Manhattan appears over their homeland. I shall inform Stalin about it at an opportune time."
 A week later, seemingly giddy, Truman wrote in his diary as follows: 
"We … have discovered the most terrible bomb in the history of the world. It may be the fire destruction prophesied in the Euphrates Valley Era, after Noah and his fabulous Ark.….The weapon is to be used against Japan between now and August 10th. I have told the Sec. of War, Mr. Stimson, to use it so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children. Even if the Japs are savages, ruthless, merciless and fanatic, we as the leader of the world for the common welfare cannot drop this terrible bomb on the old capital or the new [Kyoto or Tokyo]….. We will issue a warning statement asking the Japs to surrender and save lives. I'm sure they will not do that, but we will have given them the chance. It is certainly a good thing for the world that Hitler's crowd or Stalin's did not discover this atomic bomb. It seems to be the most terrible thing ever discovered, but it can be made the most useful."
The next day, on July 26, 1945 the U.S., Britain, and China sent a declaration to Japan, demanding unconditional surrender... or else. There was no mention of an atomic bomb.

Japan's navy was no more; Japan's air-force was no more. Japan had ceased to be a real threat to the world.  Hirohito was looking for peace. There was no emergency.

Truman expected Japan's surrender.  Unleashing this "most terrible bomb" could surely wait until after Russia entered the war, until Hirohito's peace overture to Stalin could be explored. Until it was necessary! Yet, President Truman authorized the deployment of atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki "anytime after August 3, 1945" almost immediately after the successful atomic test--as if it were an emergency. The city was chosen, in part, because it had been spared by the conventional bombing campaign and would thus be a suitable site to measure the impact of an atomic bomb.  How did the experiment work out?  The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945,  killed ~70,000 instantly. The final death toll is reported to be about 135,000.  

Three days later, a second bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki, with a final death toll of at least 50,000.

Truman's diary leading up to the bombings shows that he was eager to use this weapon before the war was out. His announcement after the fact discloses pride in the American achievement of creating this bomb. He shows no concern for morality, no remorse for the nearly 200,000 civilians killed by these two bombs. He did, later, after the consequences of the horrible deed sank in. After it was too late.

Below is Truman proudly announcing the dropping of the first of two and only atomic bombs in history. He's a bureaucrat reporting good sales numbers. But for the fact we won the war, there would be books written about Truman and the banality of evil, about how we killed 200,000 and destroyed two cities because we were blinded by a shiny new toy.

No comments:

Post a Comment