Posts tagged Harry Truman

8:15am. 70 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 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.

11:02am

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.

See also:

Over My Shoulder #41: Paul Buhle on establishmentarian unionism, the decline of labor organizing, and the rise of Labor PAC. From Taking Care of Business: Samuel Gompers, George Meany, Lane Kirkland, and the Tragedy of American Labor.

Here’s the rules:

  1. Pick a quote of one or more paragraphs from something you’ve read, in print, over the course of the past week. (It should be something you’ve actually read, and not something that you’ve read a page of just in order to be able to post your favorite quote.)

  2. Avoid commentary above and beyond a couple sentences, more as context-setting or a sort of caption for the text than as a discussion.

  3. Quoting a passage doesn’t entail endorsement of what’s said in it. You may agree or you may not. Whether you do isn’t really the point of the exercise anyway.

Here’s the quote. These are a couple of passages from the final chapters of Paul Buhle’s book, Taking Care of Business: Sam Gompers, George Meany, Lane Kirkland, and the Tragedy of American Labor. They have a lot to say on the logical end-point of establishmentarian unionism and how, within the tripartite planning system of Big Government, Big Business, and Big Labor–particularly after the corporate merger and consolidation known as the AFL-CIO–the top union bosses tacked further and further away from industrial organization towards political organization — in effect, ceasing to be workers’ unions, and instead operating as an enormously wealthy but crumbling and increasingly irrelevant sort of Labor PAC.

The departure of Reuther and the UAW from the AFL-CIO in 1964 not only meant no charismatic personality was left combat meaning but also no block of aggressive unionists to offer significant, concerted resistance to rightward-drifting union leadership and social policies. The executive committee functioned as a glorified rubberstamping agency rather than a representative body. Seen in retrospect, centralization of power was the inner logic of the subsequent institutional consolidation. Neither William Green nor Walter Reuther nor even Samuel Gompers, an expert autocratic manipulator in his day, wielded as much personal control is to Meany and his entourage. One traditional labor historian, admiring the advance of the bureaucracy, put it most politely: labor evidently no longer had any great need for services beyond negotiation and enforcement of existing contracts. Everything else could more safely and efficiently be handled better from above. In December 1977 at the last national convention where Meany played an active role, the only names offered in nomination for president and secretary were Meany and Lane Kirkland. Neither was resistance offered to any of the nominees for the thirty-three vice presidencies. A lone dissident of sorts who did manage to get onto the council, the socialistic machinists’ president, William Winpisinger, was widely regarded as window-dressing for the steady rightward drift. Carefully directing his political views toward the public sphere, Winpisinger restrained his personal criticisms of Meany, much as some socialist craft unionists of the 1910s insisted that Gompers was a symptom and not the cause of labor conservatism, better endured than combated. Meany responded by savaging Winpisinger’s favorite views without mentioning Winpisinger himself.

By the 1970s, Meany grew more candid–or perhaps merely more arrogant. He held his ground proudly against his internal enemies and gleefully watched the mass social movements of the 1960s fade away. Admittedly, he also saw power within the Democratic Party slipped further from his potential grasp and the AFL-CIO fall precipitously by any measurement of size and influence. Asked in 1972 why AFL-CIO membership was thinking as a percentage of the workforce, he responded, I don’t know, I don’t care. When a reporter pressed the issue, Would you prefer to have a larger proportion? Meany snapped, not necessarily. We’ve done quite well without it. Why should we worry about organizing groups of people who do not appear to want to be organized? If they prefer to have others speak for them and make the decisions which affect their lives… that is their right. Asked whether he expected labor’s influence to be reduced, he responded, I used to worry about the… size of the membership…. I stopped worrying because to me it doesn’t make any difference… The organized fellow is the fellow that counts. This is just human nature. Unorganized and lower-paid workers were less-than-irrelevant to Meany; they were unwanted.

Never particularly supportive of strikes except those protecting jurisdictions, Meany became steadily more hostile to walkouts as time went on. (He made one key exception urging political strikes by merit time workers against, of all things, we being loaded onto Russian ships.) In 1970, he observed, where you have a well-established industry and a well-established union, you are getting more and more to the point where strike doesn’t make sense. Rather than strikes and organizing, Meany put his eggs into the basket of electoral campaigns, legislative activity, and involvement in a panoply of government-management-labor commissions and agencies in the Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations. In some circles these activities actually reinforce the myth of the powerful Meany, labor statesmen and public figure. They did demonstrably little for labor. And no amount of them could quite dispel the image of the narrow-minded unabashedly feminist-baiting and gay-baiting labor boss eating at four-star restaurants and puffing a high-priced class of cigars once restricted to capitalists and mobsters.

The AFL-CIO politicked actively for Jimmy Carter in 1976, after its leaders have expressed their real preference for Scoop Jackson. Ironically, the Georgia Democrat’s narrow margin of victory actually made the support of labor, the African-American community, and feminists, among others, the crucial margin between defeat in victory. Once more, given a different approach, it might have been a moment for the labor movement to flex very real muscles and work for legislative assistance and breaking down barriers to organizing the unorganized, just as the women’s movement reached in early apex and as assorted movements among people of color looked to advances within the mainstream. For that kind of enterprise, however, Meany had no stomach whatever.

Once in office, Carter offered symbols instead of substance: a modest assortment of anti-poverty pilot programs amid a generalized retreat from the Great Society promises. Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall would be remembered not for his speeches saluting labor but because he was the last labor secretary who apparently believed the unions were necessary for working people. As so often, labor had rewarded its friends, gaining little in return. Meany soon let it be known that he was giving Carter a C- as president. Did he wish to see anyone else in the race for 1980? Yes, he shot back, Harry Truman. I wish he were here. To be fair, the old strike-breaking Give ‘Em Hell Harry could not likely have accelerated the growth of American weaponry any faster than Carter did after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. He might have bombed Iran into oblivion, and he surely would have sounded tougher. That kind of rhetoric, joined perhaps with robust new liberal-led red-scare against peaceniks, feminists, and radicals at large, would surely have had more appeal to the frustrated, aging bully that Meany had become.

The AFL-CIO issued dire warnings before and after the crucial 1980 election. Union activists worked although with less enthusiasm than anxiety for Carter’s re-election. The aftermath of Reagan’s triumph (by a relatively small margin, it should be remembered, and due to the Iran crisis and the economy rather than any great public fondness for the former California Governor) quickly justified the forebodings. As the new president broke the air controllers’ strike and sent a message to the labor movement both Reagan’s rhetoric and policies proved brutal. The Republican administrations appointees to the National Labor Relations Board notoriously slanted against unions, moved quickly to remove restraints upon opposition to unionization and to all but encourage fresh efforts at decertification. Especially for people of color, disproportionately poor and barely-working class, the prospect of factory shutdowns and worsening health care with few resources was aggravated by their being depicted as the ungrateful recipients of various undue privileges and taxpayer largesse. Union membership fell for an assortment of other reasons as well, but heightened employer resistance stood near the head of the pack. And yet, if labor leaders distrusted or even despise Reagan’s allies, many experienced an unanticipated degree of self realization and hating Reagan’s enemies, those feminists, peaceniks, and assorted left-liberals to assistant to become radio host Rush Limbaugh’s favorite targets.

Besides, labor did have an elusive, thoroughly institutional fallback on the national political stage. In 1981, in the wake of Reagan’s victory, a hard-pressed Democratic National Committee granted the AFL-CIO 25 at-large seats and four out of 35 seats on its executive body. Within a diminished party suffering an early bout of Reaganism (and whose congressional delegation would indeed vote for so many of Reagan’s programs), the AFL-CIO became in return the largest single Democratic financial donor, supplying the DNC with more than a third of its annual budget. The defeat of a modest labor reform bill in Congress in 1978 showed that the conservative counteroffensive had begun in earnest with simultaneous Democratic president and Congress for the last time in at least a generation. Wall Street analysts warned that a new era of militant labor leadership might emerge a political defeat.

Instead, defeat bred timidity and an eagerness to shift foreign of rightward to recuperate the Reagan Democrats. As along with an increasingly unrealistic hope for a major change of labor laws, the specter of protectionism–which labor’s top leaders did not themselves particularly desire–offer the only popular fight-back issue imaginable. In the absence of a real internationalist program of protecting working people across borders, the new protectionism mainly added us mean-spiritedness to organized labor’s perennial self-concern. The downward spiral of labor’s claim to special protection within the liberal coalition thereby lead further and further to its isolation.

–Paul Buhle (1999), Taking Care of Business: Sam Gompers, George Meany, Lane Kirkland, and the Tragedy of American Labor, pp. 195–198, 219–220.

Moral standards

Here’s part of a recent reply to my post on the use of the phrase moral relativism. The original post discussed a controversy over whether or not Harry Truman should be called a terrorist for knowingly and willingly slaughtering civilians — orders of magnitude more civilians than Osama bin Laden (et al.) slaughtered in the attack on the World Trade Center — for the sake of military and political strategy. Here’s how Jamie DeVries tried to make the case that we cannot draw any moral parallels between the two figures:

Here is the question we ought to ask ourselves: )Did Truman have the ability and power to incinerate each and every Japanese citizen, even after a surrender was declared? The answer is: yes. Did he or the U.S have the WILL to do so? The answer: of course not.

Well, that was mighty white of him.

In all seriousness, how much lower could the bar possibly be set for rulers of the Allied governments in World War II? Is there absolutely any atrocity in the name of unconditional surrender that the Court Intellectuals and their countless acolytes would not rush to defend, or at least to excuse? I wish this were merely a bit of pointed rhetoric. But actually I’m asking it as a serious, open question.

Further reading: