Posts tagged Dulce Et Decorum Est

Over My Shoulder #48: from Nicholson Baker, “Human Smoke”

You know the rules. Here’s the quote. This is from Human Smoke, Nicholson Baker’s sparely-written, chapterless skein of documentary vignettes retelling the events that led up to World War II.

Cyril Joad, a philosopher who was writing a book called Journey Through the War Mind, had a talk with his pacifist friend D. Joad asked D. whether D. thought Chamberlain should have negotiated with Hitler after Hitler’s peace offer. Yes, of course, said D.: Wars should never be begun, and as soon as they were begun, they should be stopped. D. then listed off many war evils: the physical and moral mutilation, the intolerance, the public lying, the enthronement of the mob. He quoted from the text of Chamberlain’s refusal–that by discussing peace with Hitler, Britain would forfeit her honor and abandon her claim that international disputes should be settled by discussion and not by force. Our claim is, you see, D. told Joad, that international disputes are not to be settled by force, and this claim we propose to make good by settling an international dispute by force. We are fighting to show that you cannot, or at least must not, impose your will upon other people by violence. Which made no sense.

Once a war has started, D. said, the only thing to do is to get it stopped as soon as possible. Consequently I should negotiate with Hitler.

Joad said: Ah, but you couldn’t negotiate with Hitler because you couldn’t trust him–Hitler would break any agreement as soon as it benefited him to do so.

Suppose you were right, D. said–suppose that Hitler violated the peace agreement and England had to go back to war. What had they lost? If the worst comes to the worst, we can always begin the killing again. Even a day of peace was a day of peace. Joad found he had no ready answer to that.


Cyril Joad talked about the war with another acquaintance, Mrs. C., a vigorous Tory. War was natural and unavoidable, said Mrs. C. The Germans weren’t human–they were brute blond perverted morons.

Joad asked C. what she would do with Germany, and a light came into her eyes.

I would make a real Carthaginian peace, she told Joad. Raze their cities to the ground, plough up the land and sow it afterwards with salt; and I would kill off one out of every five German women, so that they stopped breeding so many little Huns.

Mrs. C.’s ideas were shared by others, Joad had noticed; he’d recently read a letter to the editor about Germany in London’s News Chronicle: Quite frankly, said the letter, I would annihilate every living thing, man, woman, and child, beast, bird and insect; in fact, I would not leave a blade of grass growing even; Germany should be laid more desolate than the Sahara desert, if I could have my way.

The longer the war lasted, Joad believed, the more this kind of viciousness would multiply: Already Joad wrote, Mr. Churchill was reviving the appellation Huns.

— Nicholson Baker (2008), Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization. ISBN 1-4165-7246-5. 154–155

8:15am

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

Sixty three years ago today, on August 6, 1945, at 8:15 in the morning, the American B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb over the center of the city of Hiroshima, Japan. Hiroshima was the first target ever attacked with nuclear weapons in the history of the world.

The bomb exploded about 200 yards over the city, 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 people living in Hiroshima.

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–about one third of the population of the city–immediately died. The heat of the explosion vaporized or burned alive many of those closest to ground zero. Others were killed by the force of the shock-wave or crushed under collapsing buildings. Many more died from acute radiation poisoning–that is, from the effects of having their internal organs being burned away in the intense radiation from the blast.

By December 1945, thousands more had died from their injuries, from radiation poisoning, or from cancers related to the radioactive burst or the fallout. It is estimated that the atomic bombing killed about 140,000 people, and left thousands more with permanent disabilities.

Almost all of the people maimed and killed 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. Hiroshima was also 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 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.

The late, great Utah Phillips called this one of the first songs he ever wrote that ever made any sense. It’s certainly one of his best.

Enola Gay

Look out, look out
from your school room window
Look up young children from your play
Wave your hand
at the shining airplane
Such a beautiful sight is Enola Gay

It’s many a mile
from the Utah desert
To Tinian Island far away
A standing guard
by the barbed wire fences
That hide the secret of Enola Gay

High above the clouds
in the sunlit silence
So peaceful here I’d like to stay
There’s many a pilot
who’d swap his pension
For a chance to fly Enola Gay

What is that sound
high above my city
I rush outside and search the sky
Now we are running
to find our shelter
The air raid sirens start to cry

What will I say
when my children ask me
Where was I flying upon that day?
With trembling voice
I gave the order
To the bombardier of Enola Gay

Look out, look out
from your school room window
Look up young children from your play
Your bright young eyes
will turn to ashes
In the blinding light of Enola Gay I turn to see
the fireball rising
My god, my god all I can say
I hear a voice
within me crying
My mother’s name was Enola Gay

Look out, look out
from your school room window
Look up young children from your play
Oh when you see
the war planes flying
Each one is named Enola Gay.

–U. Utah Phillips (1994), on I’ve Got To Know

As far as I am aware, the atomic bombing of the Hiroshima city center, in which forces acting on behalf of the United States government deliberately targeted a civilian center and killed over half of all the people living in the city at the time, remains the deadliest act of terrorism in the history of the world.

— GT 2008-08-06: 8:15am

The man who ordered the massacre, the war criminal Harry S. Truman, is now revered and ritually invoked by the official leadership in all U.S. government political parties as one of the U.S. government’s greatest presidents. High school and college textbooks commonly reprint Truman’s post-war claims about the hundreds of thousands of military casualties supposedly avoided by deliberately targeting civilian city centers and burning about a quarter of a million civilians alive — apparently on the presumption that massacreing civilians is an acceptable means to prevent military combat deaths, and even though Truman’s post-war claims about the lives supposedly saved have, in any case, been publicly revealed as complete fabrications after-the-fact. Earlier this year, when professional satirist Jon Stewart argued on national television that Truman should be considered a war criminal (as part of his response to a One Man’s Reductio from an apologist for the Bush administration’s own war crimes), he faced a furious pressure campaign from both statist liberals and partisan Republicans, each sanctimoniously outraged on behalf of the memory of The Good War. Stewart quickly caved under the pressure and issued a public apology. The name-calling and outraged complains that were directed at Stewart would often be called, metaphorically, a firestorm of criticism. But, under the circumstances, the metaphor seems inappropriate.

See also:

The grammar of war

From a recent Al Jazeera report on remarks by Said Jawad — the ambassador from the government ruling Afghanistan to the government ruling the United States — about the death of five Afghan civilians, killed by the United States government’s military:

Said Jawad said that the deaths were a tragedy, but could be necessary if fighters were to be defeated in Afghanistan, Pakistan and beyond.

This is a price that we have to pay if we want security and stability in Afghanistan, the region and the world, he said in Washington on Friday.

Jawad’s remarks come after the US military apologised for killing four civilians, including a child, in a raid earlier this week.

. . . A 13-year-old boy who survived the US raid on his home overnight on Wednesday told Al Jazeera that his mother, brother, uncle and another female family member were killed.

A woman who was nine months pregnant was wounded and lost her baby.

— Al-Jazeera English (2009-04-13): Afghan envoy defends US raids

He wants the political stability in Afghanistan, the region, and the world. They pay the price for what he wants.

If there is a proper apology, and there is a good explanation, and that’s exactly what we have been asking from our American friends in the past … then I think the people understand, he said.

He has American friends. He gets the apologies. He gets the explanations. They get the tragedy that he understands.

He ought to speak for his own damn self.

Here as elsewhere, half of human decency in political thinking is just learning to keep your personal pronouns straight.

See also:

How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake? (#5)

Guided by these principles once more we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort, even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we’ll work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet.

We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense. And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken — you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

— President Barack Hussein Obama (29 January 2009): Inaugural Address

The problem with that is that every day that United States government soldiers spend on beginning to leave, instead of actually leaving — every day that is spent on that responsibly instead of that leaving — every day that is spent in the forging of peace in Afghanistan, rather than in the practicing of it, by withdrawing all United States government soldiers immediately and completely — is another day when Iraqis and Afghans and Pakistanis and Americans will all be killed by this Peace President’s war and his policies of gradualism. Another day when yet more people will be killed in the name of prolonging the final end of a Bush Administration war policy now universally acknowledged as a catastrophic failure and a stupid mistake.

On Friday, April 10, two months and 12 days after President Barack Obama promised American soldiers would begin to responsibly leave Iraq, a suicide bomber drove a truck bomb into an Iraqi government police compound in Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. Besides the bomber himself, the bombing also killed two Iraqi government police, one soldier in the Iraqi government’s army, and five soldiers in the United States government’s army. About 65 others — including dozens of civilians living in the nearby neighborhood — were wounded by flying shrapnel.

Every death and every wound is blood on Barack Obama’s hands. Every one of these people who were maimed or killed, were maimed or killed because of Barack Obama’s standing orders and for the sake of his war policy. Because Obama wants to wash his hands of the United States government’s war on Iraq, every day that he delays getting out, completely — delays getting out in the name of exit strategies and central fronts and responsibility — which is to say, delays ending this war because he is still convinced that, with the right sort of gradualist policy, he can somehow try to win a war that should never have been fought — is another person who is maimed or killed so that Barack Obama, after being elected as a peace candidate, can adopt and prolong the colossal, catastrophic mistakes of a disastrous failure of a predecessor, so that he won’t come off as being soft on national defense.

Mr. Obama, how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Iraq?

How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

See also: