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Posts tagged Dulce Et Decorum Est

8:15am. 72 years, 140,000 souls.

Here is a pocket watch, stopped at 8:15am.

Donated by Kazuo Nikawa
1,600m from the hypocenter
Kan-on Bridge

Kengo Nikawa (then, 59) was exposed to the bomb crossing the Kan-on Bridge by bike going from his home to his assigned building demolition site in the center of the city. He suffered major burns on his right shoulder, back, and head and took refuge in Kochi-mura Saiki-gun. He died on August 22. Kengo was never without this precious watch given him by his son, Kazuo.

— Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

Seventy-two years ago today, on August 6, 1945, between 8:15 and 8:16 in the morning, the American B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Japan. The government of the United States chose Hiroshima as their target because it was still standing. For half a year, the U.S. government had waged a war of unrelenting, devastating low-altitude firebombing of cities throughout the Japanese home island. Within six months, the firebombing had killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians. The firebombing had destroyed over 60 Japanese cities. Hiroshima was still mostly undamaged. They believed that would make it a good place to test the effects of the new atom bomb. So Hiroshima became the first city ever attacked with nuclear weapons in the history of the world. It would not be the last.

On a bright August morning, without warning, the bomber dropped its atom bomb over the densely-populated center of the city. It exploded about 2,000 feet above ground, creating a 13 kiloton explosion, a fireball, a shock-wave, and a burst of radiation. On the day that the bomb was dropped, there were about 255,000-300,000 people living in Hiroshima.

There was a sudden flash, brighter than the sun, and then sky went dark, buildings were thrown to the ground, and everything began to burn. People were burned alive and nothing left but a shadow on the wall. People staggered through the ruins, their eyes blinded, their clothing burned off their bodies, skin burned off in the heat. Everyone was desperate for water, everything was unbearably hot. They begged soldiers for water from their canteens; they drowned themselves in cisterns. Later, black rain began to fall from the darkened sky. People escaping from the city center thought it was a miracle. They tried to catch the rain on their tongues, or they caught it and drank it out of cups. They didn’t know that the rain was fallout. They didn’t know that it was full of radiation and as they drank it it was burning them away from the inside. There was no refuge, no sanctuary; there was nobody to help.

The city was burning; the doctors and nurses were almost all downtown. The bomb exploded directly over one of the major clinics, and over 90% of the doctors, and over 90% of the nurses, were killed or injured in the bombing. Because the U.S. bomber targeted the city center, about 85% of the people killed in Hiroshima were civilians.

The explosion completely incinerated everything within a one mile radius of the city center. The shock-wave and the fires ignited by the explosion damaged or completely destroyed about nine-tenths of the buildings in the city. Somewhere between 70,000 and 80,000 people–that is, about one quarter to one third of the entire population of the city–died immediately. The heat of the explosion vaporized or carbonized the children and adults who were nearest to Ground Zero when the bomb went off.

Thousands more, who were further away from the center, died when they were crushed to death by the force of the shock-wave, burned by the blast or by the fires raging throughout the ruined city, trapped underneath collapsing buildings or drowned in the river as they tried to escape. They died from dehydration; they were killed quickly or slowly by radiation poisoning and infections and cancers that ate their bodies away from the inside out. Some died suddenly, and some died slow, lingering, painful and unavoidable deaths over days or weeks. It is estimated that in all, the atomic bombing killed about 130,000-140,000 people. It left thousands more with permanent disabilities from their injuries and from the radiation that spread in a burst and spread through the fallout.

Almost all of the people who were maimed and killed in the obliteration of the city were civilians. Although there were some minor military bases near Hiroshima, the bomb was dropped on the city center, several miles away from the military bases on the edge of town. Hiroshima was chosen as a target, even though it had little military importance, because It is a good radar target and it is such a size that a large part of the city could be extensively damaged. There are adjacent hills which are likely to produce a focussing effect which would considerably increase the blast damage. 1. It was one of the largest Japanese cities not yet damaged by the American firebombing campaign. Military planners believed it strategically important to demonstrate as much destruction as possible from the blast.

Thomas Ferebee, a bombadier for the United States Army, was the man who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. His commanding officer was the pilot of the Enola Gay, Paul Tibbets. Tibbets and Ferebee were part of the XXI Bomber Command, directed by Curtis LeMay. LeMay planned and executed the atomic bombings at the behest of Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson and President Harry Truman.

Kengo Nikawa died on August 22nd, 1945 because of the bombing. This is his pocket watch.

We will never know the names of many of the 140,000 other residents of Hiroshima who were killed by the bombing. We have only estimates because the Japanese government was already in a shambles by this point in the war, and countless records, of those that were successfully kept, were consumed by the flames, along with the people whose lives they recorded.

Three days later, on August 9, 1945, CBS broadcast a recorded address by President Harry S. Truman about the atomic bombing. It was broadcast on the very same day that the government of the United States sent bombers to incinerate a second city, Nagasaki, with a second atomic bomb. Here is what Truman said:

Here's Harry S. Truman, looking awfully proud of his damn self.

Harry S. Truman, August 9, 1945.

We won the race of discovery against the Germans….

In his radio address on August 9, Truman disingenuously described Hiroshima, a densely populated, industrialized port city of a quarter million souls, as a military base, and then he said, That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians. That was a lie. The bomb was dropped on the city center, over a hospital, far away from military installations.

It is worth remembering that the atomic bombing of the Hiroshima city center — the first use of atomic weapons against human targets in the history of the world — a bombing in which the United States government’s forces deliberately targeted a civilian center — a bombing that the United States government carried out with the explicit intention of obliterating an entire city in seconds, in order to break enemy morale — an attack in which that government’s forces deliberately turned weapons on civilians that destroyed 90% of an industrial metropolis, and killed between a third and a half of all the people living in it — was, and remains, the deadliest act of terrorism in the history of the world.

Here are some facts you do not need to remind me of today: that the government of the Empire of Japan launched a war of aggression against American territory and killed both American military and civilians; that they conducted brutal wars of conquest against China, Korea, and throughout southeast Asia, in which hundreds of thousands of civilians were mercilessly tortured and killed; that even to the end, some fanatical elements of the military regime wanted to fight the United States down to the last man.

That’s all true, but it’s quite beyond the point. None of these vicious acts by a vicious government justifies doing this to Japanese people, to civilian men, women and children who had no meaningful role in either the decision-making or in the fighting. No crime or atrocity of the Japanese government excuses a half-year campaign of terror against Japanese cities; no political objective could possibly allow the U.S. government to seek victory by burning 140,000 civilians alive in a single day. No strategic necessity justifies turning such weapons on a city of 300,000 human beings; no need or desire or exigency of war justifies treating 140,000 souls like this.

Nothing ever could.

Here are some photos in which...
Paper lanterns float down the Motoyasu River in Hiroshima,
in the annual August 6 memorial event, in memory of the lives lost.

Also.

The audio clip above is from a recording of President Harry S. Truman’s radio report on the Potsdam conference, recorded by CBS on August 9, 1945 in the White House. The song linked to above is a recording of Oppenheimer (1997), by the British composer Jocelyn Pook. The voice that you hear at the beginning is Robert Oppenheimer, in an interview many years after the war, talking about his thoughts at the Trinity test, the first explosion of an atomic bomb in the history of the world, on July 16th, 1945.

Two Sonnets for Memorial Day

(To Jessie Pope,[1] etc.)

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge
Till on the haunting fires we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.
GAS! Gas! Quick, boys! An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or in lime.—
Dim, through misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest,
To children ardent for some distant glory
The old lie: DULCE ET DECORUM EST
PRO PATRIA MORI
.[2]

–Wilfred Owen (Oct. 1917).

The poet, Wilfred Owen began work on this poem in October 1917 while on leave in England. This is his best known poem. He never completed it for publication, because a year later he was dead. On November 4, 1918 he was killed on the front in a meaningless battle for the Sambre–Oise Canal seven days before the warring governments finalized the Armistice.

  1. [1]Jesse Pope was an Leicester poet who wrote light verse before the Great War and then during the War published a series of patriotic poems in the Daily Mail urging young men to enlist and celebrating patriotic sacrifice, using verse like the following: Who’s for the Game, the biggest that’s played / The red crashing game of a fight? Who’ll grip and tackle the job unafraid / And who thinks he’d rather sit tight? . . . / Who knows it won’t be a picnic–not much– / Yet eagerly shoulders a gun? / Who would much rather come back with a crutch / Than lie low and be out of the fun?
  2. [2]A line from the imperial poet Horace’s Odes. In English, Sweet it is and becoming to die patriotically [= for the patria]. In 1913, shortly before the outbreak of the War, the line was carved into a wall at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

11:02am. 67 years. 74,000 souls.

Sixty-seven years ago today:

Here's Harry S. Truman, looking awfully proud of his damn self.

Harry S. Truman, August 9, 1945.

We won the race of discovery against the Germans….

In his radio address on August 9, Truman described Hiroshima, a port city of some 255,000 people, a military base, and then said, That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians. The bomb was dropped on the city center, far away from military installations. About 85% of the people killed in Hiroshima were civilians — about 120,000 of the 140,000 men, women and children killed. The atomic bombing incinerated nine-tenths of the city, and it killed more than half of the entire population.

Meanwhile, on the very same day that President Harry Truman recorded this message, without warning, before the Japanese government’s war council had even had a chance to meet to discuss the possibility of surrender, at 11:02am, on August 9, 1945, bombadier Captain Kermit Beahan, as part of the United States Army Air Forces, acting on Truman’s orders, dropped a plutonium bomb on Nagasaki, an industrial center and seaside resort town. At the time it was one of the largest ports in Japan, with about 240,000 people. The bomb and its immediate after-effects destroyed the city, and killed about a third of the people living in Nagasaki, some 74,000 men, women and children, dead.

In Nagasaki, like in Hiroshima, on a bright morning in August, with a sudden flash, brighter than the sun, a city was converted into a scene of hell. The sky went dark, buildings were thrown into the ground, and everything began to burn. People staggered through the ruins, with their eyes blinded, with their clothing burned off their bodies, with their own skin and faces burned off in the heat. Everyone was desperate for water, because they were burning, because everything was unbearably hot. They begged soldiers for water from their canteens; they drowned themselves in cisterns. Later, black rain began to fall from the darkened sky. They thought it was a deliverance. They tried to catch the black rain on their tongues, or they caught it and drank it out of cups. But they didn’t know that the rain was fallout. They didn’t know that it was full of radiation and as they drank it it was burning them away from the inside. All told, between these two deliberate atomic bombings of civilian centers, about 210,000 people were killed — vaporized or carbonized by the heat, crushed to death in the shockwave, burned to death, killed quickly or slowly by radiation poisoning and infections and cancers eating their bodies alive.

What else is there to say on a day like today?

See also:

The audio clip above is from a recording of President Harry S. Truman’s radio report on the Potsdam conference, recorded by CBS on August 9, 1945 in the White House. The song linked to above is a recording of Oppenheimer (1997), by the British composer Jocelyn Pook. The voice that you hear at the beginning is Robert Oppenheimer, in an interview many years after the war, talking about his thoughts at the Trinity test, the first explosion of an atomic bomb in the history of the world, on July 16th, 1945.

Military targets

The news has been full of headlines about the United States killing Osama bin Laden. I don’t have anything in particular to add to what’s already been said on that. But what you may have missed in the rush is that last weekend they actually went for a twofer and tried to kill Muammar Gadhafi too. They didn’t manage to do that, but they did kill his 29 year old son, Saif al-Arab Gadhafi. They did this by having NATO war-planes fire two missiles into a family home. This is what all the news stories talk about.[1] They also killed three of his grandchildren. This is almost never put in the headlines and almost always tacked on as a single sentence with an Also, by the way…. It took about half an hour of searching, but the one story I found with anything to say about the grandchildren — the majority of the victims of this strike — is this article by Richard Boudreaux from the Wall Street Journal. Two of the grandchildren they killed were toddlers, a two-year-old girl, and a two-year-old boy. The other was a baby girl only 5 months old.

Libyan officials called the airstrikes an assassination attempt on Col. Gadhafi, who they said was in the compound but escaped harm, and an attack on a residential neighborhood of Tripoli. The leader’s 29-year-old son, Saif al-Arab Gadhafi, was reported killed while hosting a family gathering. Two of his nieces, aged 5 months and 2 years; a 2-year-old nephew, and an adult friend also died in the blasts, the officials said.

— Richard Boudreaux, Gadhafi Strikes Port After Kin Killed, in the Wall Street Journal, May 2, 2011

Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, Commander of NATO’s Military Operations, Said In A Statement that All NATO’s are military in nature. He said that NATO is fulfilling its U.N. mandate to stop and prevent attacks against civilians with precision and care. He said that We regret all loss of life, especially the innocent civilians being harmed as a result of this ongoing conflict.

Here is the military target that Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard had blown up with a missile.

Neighbors said the bombed compound, across town from the Libyan leader’s main residential complex at Bab al-Aziziya, has belonged to the Gadhafi family for decades. Saif al-Arab, the sixth of the colonel’s seven sons, lived there, but it was also used by his parents and other relatives, neighbors said. Its walled grounds encompass two residences; two other buildings, one used as a den and the other as a kitchen; and an empty stable.

Two missiles struck the compound, one stopping the kitchen clock 45 seconds after 8:08 p.m. Several pots of food—pasta, rice, fish, stuffed peppers—had been cooking on an electric stove.

— Richard Boudreaux, Gadhafi Strikes Port After Kin Killed, in the Wall Street Journal, May 2, 2011

The target was a family home in a residential neighborhood. One member of the family happens to be a thug and a mass murderer, and if he died, it’d be as righteous a kill as any in this world. But 2 year olds and babies being set down to dinner have nothing to do with that. But they, not he were the ones who died, in the infinite precision of blowing up houses with air-to-surface missiles, so that NATO could fulfil its U.N. mandate to stop and prevent systematic attacks on the Libyan population and populated areas.

They said that was a precision strike against a known command and control building. They said that they intend to step up strikes against broadcasting facilities and command centers in the capital. They are so sorry, they regret so much, and they are going to do it again, and again, and again.

Somewhere out there, at the bottom of the chain of command, there is a soldier from America or Europe who pulled the trigger and fired a missile into a house full of people on the off chance that it might kill a politically-significant target. He killed a baby and two toddlers instead. He must be so proud.

When he comes back home, people will clap him on the back and tell him Thank you for your service and those of us who suggest that there is nothing noble or courageous about shooting missiles into residential neighborhoods and murdering babies will be told what a bunch of naifs, or ingrates, or wretches we are if we blame those who were just following orders, instead of supporting the troops.

Meanwhile, at the top of the chain of command, there is an immensely powerful gang of generals and heads of state, calling the shots and signing off on the plans to launch missiles on mission after mission like this one, knowing perfectly well that these kinds of aerial assaults, the policy and the tactics that they have chosen to prosecute their chosen wars, constantly and predictably mean killing many times more civilians, families, and children than people allegedly targeted by the mission. They call for this over and over again, in the off chance that one day the massacre will also manage to kill off somebody who matters. All so that that Progressive President Barack Obama can give a press conference and pound a podium and say My fellow Americans to announce another landmark triumph for Justice and American Forces. Those of us who mention all the friends and kinfolks and babies and bystanders they killed in this cynical policy of massacres are accused of being sensationalists, perhaps not even engaged in adult conversation. Those of us who say that governments shouldn’t be launching this kind of aerial assault, given how many innocents it inevitably kills, will be told that we just don’t care enough to try and stop a repressive regime from slaughtering Libyan civilians.

It took me a while to write about this because everything about it it makes me so angry, and so miserable.

See also:

  1. [1]Cf. CNN: One of Gadhafi’s sons killed in NATO airstrike, BBC: Nato strike “kills Saif al-Arab Gaddafi,” Libya says, AP: Libyan spokesman says Moammar Gadhafi survives NATO missile strike that kills his youngest son, etc.
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