Was Hiroshima Necessary? August 11, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in History, Nuclear weapons/power, War.
Tags: alperovitz, atomic bomb, churchill, eisenhower, fdr, hiroshima, history, japanese surrender, macarthur, nagasaki, nuclear, potsdam, roger hollander, stalin, togo, truman, world war II, yalta
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Roger’s note: The “official” justification for the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is that it saved countless thousands of lives by avoiding a full-scale invasion of Japan to end the war. American soldiers heaved a sigh of relief when they saw the war was ended without further need for military action and the consequent loss of American lives. The following article debunks this view of history. From it one can only conclude that the bombing of these two civilian populated cities that had no strategic military value was an act of barbarism. From Hiroshima through to Vietnam through to today’s predator drone missiles, we see the logical extension of the American experiment, whose lofty an oft cited humanitarian and democratic goals are belied by its origins in the genocide of the First Nations’ peoples and the forced enslavement of Africans. And what do we see today? The astute leaders of both political parties of the first and only nation to use atomic weaponry, a nation with stockpiles of nuclear weapons that could blow up the entire planet several times over — we see this so-called leader ship leading us into the possible holocaust of nuclear war in the Middle East via the demonization of a country, Iran, which does not yet possess a single nuclear warhead. A deadly irony.
By Mark Weber
On August 6, 1945, the world dramatically entered the atomic age: without either warning or precedent, an American plane dropped a single nuclear bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The explosion utterly destroyed more than four square miles of the city center. About 90,000 people were killed immediately; another 40,000 were injured, many of whom died in protracted agony from radiation sickness. Three days later, a second atomic strike on the city of Nagasaki killed some 37,000 people and injured another 43,000. Together the two bombs eventually killed an estimated 200,000 Japanese civilians.
Between the two bombings, Soviet Russia joined the United States in war against Japan. Under strong US prodding, Stalin broke his regime’s 1941 non-aggression treaty with Tokyo. On the same day that Nagasaki was destroyed, Soviet troops began pouring into Manchuria, overwhelming Japanese forces there. Although Soviet participation did little or nothing to change the military outcome of the war, Moscow benefitted enormously from joining the conflict.
In a broadcast from Tokyo the next day, August 10, the Japanese government announced its readiness to accept the joint American-British “unconditional surrender” declaration of Potsdam, “with the understanding that the said declaration does not compromise any demand which prejudices the prerogatives of His Majesty as a Sovereign Ruler.”
A day later came the American reply, which included these words: “From the moment of surrender the authority of the Emperor and the Japanese Government to rule the State shall be subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers.” Finally, on August 14, the Japanese formally accepted the provisions of the Potsdam declaration, and a “cease fire” was announced. On September 2, Japanese envoys signed the instrument of surrender aboard the US battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
A Beaten Country
Apart from the moral questions involved, were the atomic bombings militarily necessary? By any rational yardstick, they were not. Japan already had been defeated militarily by June 1945. Almost nothing was left of the once mighty Imperial Navy, and Japan’s air force had been all but totally destroyed. Against only token opposition, American war planes ranged at will over the country, and US bombers rained down devastation on her cities, steadily reducing them to rubble.
What was left of Japan’s factories and workshops struggled fitfully to turn out weapons and other goods from inadequate raw materials. (Oil supplies had not been available since April.) By July about a quarter of all the houses in Japan had been destroyed, and her transportation system was near collapse. Food had become so scarce that most Japanese were subsisting on a sub-starvation diet.
On the night of March 9-10, 1945, a wave of 300 American bombers struck Tokyo, killing 100,000 people. Dropping nearly 1,700 tons of bombs, the war planes ravaged much of the capital city, completely burning out 16 square miles and destroying a quarter of a million structures. A million residents were left homeless.
On May 23, eleven weeks later, came the greatest air raid of the Pacific War, when 520 giant B-29 “Superfortress” bombers unleashed 4,500 tons of incendiary bombs on the heart of the already battered Japanese capital. Generating gale-force winds, the exploding incendiaries obliterated Tokyo’s commercial center and railway yards, and consumed the Ginza entertainment district. Two days later, on May 25, a second strike of 502 “Superfortress” planes roared low over Tokyo, raining down some 4,000 tons of explosives. Together these two B-29 raids destroyed 56 square miles of the Japanese capital.
Even before the Hiroshima attack, American air force General Curtis LeMay boasted that American bombers were “driving them [Japanese] back to the stone age.” Henry H. (“Hap”) Arnold, commanding General of the Army air forces, declared in his 1949 memoirs: “It always appeared to us, atomic bomb or no atomic bomb, the Japanese were already on the verge of collapse.” This was confirmed by former Japanese prime minister Fumimaro Konoye, who said: “Fundamentally, the thing that brought about the determination to make peace was the prolonged bombing by the B-29s.”
Japan Seeks Peace
Months before the end of the war, Japan’s leaders recognized that defeat was inevitable. In April 1945 a new government headed by Kantaro Suzuki took office with the mission of ending the war. When Germany capitulated in early May, the Japanese understood that the British and Americans would now direct the full fury of their awesome military power exclusively against them.
American officials, having long since broken Japan’s secret codes, knew from intercepted messages that the country’s leaders were seeking to end the war on terms as favorable as possible. Details of these efforts were known from decoded secret communications between the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo and Japanese diplomats abroad.
In his 1965 study, Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam (pp. 107, 108), historian Gar Alperovitz writes:
Although Japanese peace feelers had been sent out as early as September 1944 (and [China's] Chiang Kai-shek had been approached regarding surrender possibilities in December 1944), the real effort to end the war began in the spring of 1945. This effort stressed the role of the Soviet Union …
In mid-April  the [US] Joint Intelligence Committee reported that Japanese leaders were looking for a way to modify the surrender terms to end the war. The State Department was convinced the Emperor was actively seeking a way to stop the fighting.
A Secret Memorandum
It was only after the war that the American public learned about Japan’s efforts to bring the conflict to an end. Chicago Tribune reporter Walter Trohan, for example, was obliged by wartime censorship to withhold for seven months one of the most important stories of the war.
In an article that finally appeared August 19, 1945, on the front pages of the Chicago Tribune and the Washington Times-Herald, Trohan revealed that on January 20, 1945, two days prior to his departure for the Yalta meeting with Stalin and Churchill, President Roosevelt received a 40-page memorandum from General Douglas MacArthur outlining five separate surrender overtures from high-level Japanese officials. (The complete text of Trohan’s article is in the Winter 1985-86 Journal, pp. 508-512.)
This memo showed that the Japanese were offering surrender terms virtually identical to the ones ultimately accepted by the Americans at the formal surrender ceremony on September 2 — that is, complete surrender of everything but the person of the Emperor. Specifically, the terms of these peace overtures included:
- Complete surrender of all Japanese forces and arms, at home, on island possessions, and in occupied countries.
- Occupation of Japan and its possessions by Allied troops under American direction.
- Japanese relinquishment of all territory seized during the war, as well as Manchuria, Korea and Taiwan.
- Regulation of Japanese industry to halt production of any weapons and other tools of war.
- Release of all prisoners of war and internees.
- Surrender of designated war criminals.
Is this memorandum authentic? It was supposedly leaked to Trohan by Admiral William D. Leahy, presidential Chief of Staff. (See: M. Rothbard in A. Goddard, ed., Harry Elmer Barnes: Learned Crusader , pp. 327f.) Historian Harry Elmer Barnes has related (in “Hiroshima: Assault on a Beaten Foe,” National Review, May 10, 1958):
The authenticity of the Trohan article was never challenged by the White House or the State Department, and for very good reason. After General MacArthur returned from Korea in 1951, his neighbor in the Waldorf Towers, former President Herbert Hoover, took the Trohan article to General MacArthur and the latter confirmed its accuracy in every detail and without qualification.
In April and May 1945, Japan made three attempts through neutral Sweden and Portugal to bring the war to a peaceful end. On April 7, acting Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu met with Swedish ambassador Widon Bagge in Tokyo, asking him “to ascertain what peace terms the United States and Britain had in mind.” But he emphasized that unconditional surrender was unacceptable, and that “the Emperor must not be touched.” Bagge relayed the message to the United States, but Secretary of State Stettinius told the US Ambassador in Sweden to “show no interest or take any initiative in pursuit of the matter.” Similar Japanese peace signals through Portugal, on May 7, and again through Sweden, on the 10th, proved similarly fruitless.
By mid-June, six members of Japan’s Supreme War Council had secretly charged Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo with the task of approaching Soviet Russia’s leaders “with a view to terminating the war if possible by September.” On June 22 the Emperor called a meeting of the Supreme War Council, which included the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, and the leading military figures. “We have heard enough of this determination of yours to fight to the last soldiers,” said Emperor Hirohito. “We wish that you, leaders of Japan, will strive now to study the ways and the means to conclude the war. In doing so, try not to be bound by the decisions you have made in the past.”
By early July the US had intercepted messages from Togo to the Japanese ambassador in Moscow, Naotake Sato, showing that the Emperor himself was taking a personal hand in the peace effort, and had directed that the Soviet Union be asked to help end the war. US officials also knew that the key obstacle to ending the war was American insistence on “unconditional surrender,” a demand that precluded any negotiations. The Japanese were willing to accept nearly everything, except turning over their semi-divine Emperor. Heir of a 2,600-year-old dynasty, Hirohito was regarded by his people as a “living god” who personified the nation. (Until the August 15 radio broadcast of his surrender announcement, the Japanese people had never heard his voice.) Japanese particularly feared that the Americans would humiliate the Emperor, and even execute him as a war criminal.
On July 12, Hirohito summoned Fumimaro Konoye, who had served as prime minister in 1940-41. Explaining that “it will be necessary to terminate the war without delay,” the Emperor said that he wished Konoye to secure peace with the Americans and British through the Soviets. As Prince Konoye later recalled, the Emperor instructed him “to secure peace at any price, notwithstanding its severity.”
The next day, July 13, Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo wired ambassador Naotake Sato in Moscow: “See [Soviet foreign minister] Molotov before his departure for Potsdam … Convey His Majesty’s strong desire to secure a termination of the war … Unconditional surrender is the only obstacle to peace …”
On July 17, another intercepted Japanese message revealed that although Japan’s leaders felt that the unconditional surrender formula involved an unacceptable dishonor, they were convinced that “the demands of the times” made Soviet mediation to terminate the war absolutely essential. Further diplomatic messages indicated that the only condition asked by the Japanese was preservation of “our form of government.” The only “difficult point,” a July 25 message disclosed, “is the … formality of unconditional surrender.”
Summarizing the messages between Togo and Sato, US naval intelligence said that Japan’s leaders, “though still balking at the term unconditional surrender,” recognized that the war was lost, and had reached the point where they have “no objection to the restoration of peace on the basis of the  Atlantic Charter.” These messages, said Assistant Secretary of the Navy Lewis Strauss, “indeed stipulated only that the integrity of the Japanese Royal Family be preserved.”
Navy Secretary James Forrestal termed the intercepted messages “real evidence of a Japanese desire to get out of the war.” “With the interception of these messages,” notes historian Alperovitz (p. 177), “there could no longer be any real doubt as to the Japanese intentions; the maneuvers were overt and explicit and, most of all, official acts. Koichi Kido, Japan’s Lord Privy Seal and a close advisor to the Emperor, later affirmed: “Our decision to seek a way out of this war, was made in early June before any atomic bomb had been dropped and Russia had not entered the war. It was already our decision.”
In spite of this, on July 26 the leaders of the United States and Britain issued the Potsdam declaration, which included this grim ultimatum: “We call upon the government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces and to provide proper and adequate assurance of good faith in such action. The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction.”
Commenting on this draconian either-or proclamation, British historian J.F.C. Fuller wrote: “Not a word was said about the Emperor, because it would be unacceptable to the propaganda-fed American masses.” (A Military History of the Western World , p. 675.)
America’s leaders understood Japan’s desperate position: the Japanese were willing to end the war on any terms, as long as the Emperor was not molested. If the US leadership had not insisted on unconditional surrender — that is, if they had made clear a willingness to permit the Emperor to remain in place — the Japanese very likely would have surrendered immediately, thus saving many thousands of lives.
The sad irony is that, as it actually turned out, the American leaders decided anyway to retain the Emperor as a symbol of authority and continuity. They realized, correctly, that Hirohito was useful as a figurehead prop for their own occupation authority in postwar Japan.
President Truman steadfastly defended his use of the atomic bomb, claiming that it “saved millions of lives” by bringing the war to a quick end. Justifying his decision, he went so far as to declare: “The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians.”
This was a preposterous statement. In fact, almost all of the victims were civilians, and the United States Strategic Bombing Survey (issued in 1946) stated in its official report: “Hiroshima and Nagasaki were chosen as targets because of their concentration of activities and population.”
If the atomic bomb was dropped to impress the Japanese leaders with the immense destructive power of a new weapon, this could have been accomplished by deploying it on an isolated military base. It was not necessary to destroy a large city. And whatever the justification for the Hiroshima blast, it is much more difficult to defend the second bombing of Nagasaki.
All the same, most Americans accepted, and continue to accept, the official justifications for the bombings. Accustomed to crude propagandistic portrayals of the “Japs” as virtually subhuman beasts, most Americans in 1945 heartily welcomed any new weapon that would wipe out more of the detested Asians, and help avenge the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. For the young Americans who were fighting the Japanese in bitter combat, the attitude was “Thank God for the atom bomb.” Almost to a man, they were grateful for a weapon whose deployment seemed to end the war and thus allow them to return home.
After the July 1943 firestorm destruction of Hamburg, the mid-February 1945 holocaust of Dresden, and the fire-bombings of Tokyo and other Japanese cities, America’s leaders — as US Army General Leslie Groves later commented — “were generally inured to the mass killing of civilians.” For President Harry Truman, the killing of tens of thousands of Japanese civilians was simply not a consideration in his decision to use the atom bomb.
Amid the general clamor of enthusiasm, there were some who had grave misgivings. “We are the inheritors to the mantle of Genghis Khan,” wrote New York Times editorial writer Hanson Baldwin, “and of all those in history who have justified the use of utter ruthlessness in war.” Norman Thomas called Nagasaki “the greatest single atrocity of a very cruel war.” Joseph P. Kennedy, father of the President, was similarly appalled.
A leading voice of American Protestantism, Christian Century, strongly condemned the bombings. An editorial entitled “America’s Atomic Atrocity” in the issue of August 29, 1945, told readers:
The atomic bomb was used at a time when Japan’s navy was sunk, her air force virtually destroyed, her homeland surrounded, her supplies cut off, and our forces poised for the final stroke … Our leaders seem not to have weighed the moral considerations involved. No sooner was the bomb ready than it was rushed to the front and dropped on two helpless cities … The atomic bomb can fairly be said to have struck Christianity itself … The churches of America must dissociate themselves and their faith from this inhuman and reckless act of the American Government.
A leading American Catholic voice, Commonweal, took a similar view. Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the magazine editorialized, “are names for American guilt and shame.”
Pope Pius XII likewise condemned the bombings, expressing a view in keeping with the traditional Roman Catholic position that “every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man.” The Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano commented in its August 7, 1945, issue: “This war provides a catastrophic conclusion. Incredibly this destructive weapon remains as a temptation for posterity, which, we know by bitter experience, learns so little from history.”
Authoritative Voices of Dissent
American leaders who were in a position to know the facts did not believe, either at the time or later, that the atomic bombings were needed to end the war.
When he was informed in mid-July 1945 by Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson of the decision to use the atomic bomb, General Dwight Eisenhower was deeply troubled. He disclosed his strong reservations about using the new weapon in his 1963 memoir, The White House Years: Mandate for Change, 1953-1956 (pp. 312-313):
During his [Stimson's] recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of “face.”
“The Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing … I hated to see our country be the first to use such a weapon,” Eisenhower said in 1963.
Shortly after “V-J Day,” the end of the Pacific war, Brig. General Bonnie Fellers summed up in a memo for General MacArthur: “Neither the atomic bombing nor the entry of the Soviet Union into the war forced Japan’s unconditional surrender. She was defeated before either these events took place.”
Similarly, Admiral Leahy, Chief of Staff to presidents Roosevelt and Truman, later commented:
It is my opinion that the use of the barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan … The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons … My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.
If the United States had been willing to wait, said Admiral Ernest King, US Chief of Naval Operations, “the effective naval blockade would, in the course of time, have starved the Japanese into submission through lack of oil, rice, medicines, and other essential materials.”
Leo Szilard, a Hungarian-born scientist who played a major role in the development of the atomic bomb, argued against its use. “Japan was essentially defeated,” he said, and “it would be wrong to attack its cities with atomic bombs as if atomic bombs were simply another military weapon.” In a 1960 magazine article, Szilard wrote: “If the Germans had dropped atomic bombs on cities instead of us, we would have defined the dropping of atomic bombs on cities as a war crime, and we would have sentenced the Germans who were guilty of this crime to death at Nuremberg and hanged them.”
US Strategic Bombing Survey Verdict
After studying this matter in great detail, the United States Strategic Bombing Survey rejected the notion that Japan gave up because of the atomic bombings. In its authoritative 1946 report, the Survey concluded:
The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs did not defeat Japan, nor by the testimony of the enemy leaders who ended the war did they persuade Japan to accept unconditional surrender. The Emperor, the Lord Privy Seal, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, and the Navy Minister had decided as early as May of 1945 that the war should be ended even if it meant acceptance of defeat on allied terms …
The mission of the Suzuki government, appointed 7 April 1945, was to make peace. An appearance of negotiating for terms less onerous than unconditional surrender was maintained in order to contain the military and bureaucratic elements still determined on a final Bushido defense, and perhaps even more importantly to obtain freedom to create peace with a minimum of personal danger and internal obstruction. It seems clear, however, that in extremis the peacemakers would have peace, and peace on any terms. This was the gist of advice given to Hirohito by the Jushin in February, the declared conclusion of Kido in April, the underlying reason for Koiso’s fall in April, the specific injunction of the Emperor to Suzuki on becoming premier which was known to all members of his cabinet …
Negotiations for Russia to intercede began the forepart of May 1945 in both Tokyo and Moscow. Konoye, the intended emissary to the Soviets, stated to the Survey that while ostensibly he was to negotiate, he received direct and secret instructions from the Emperor to secure peace at any price, notwithstanding its severity …
It seems clear … that air supremacy and its later exploitation over Japan proper was the major factor which determined the timing of Japan’s surrender and obviated any need for invasion.
Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey’s opinion that certainly prior to 31 December 1945 and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945 [the date of the planned American invasion], Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.
In a 1986 study, historian and journalist Edwin P. Hoyt nailed the “great myth, perpetuated by well-meaning people throughout the world,” that “the atomic bomb caused the surrender of Japan.” In Japan’s War: The Great Pacific Conflict (p. 420), he explained:
The fact is that as far as the Japanese militarists were concerned, the atomic bomb was just another weapon. The two atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were icing on the cake, and did not do as much damage as the firebombings of Japanese cities. The B-29 firebombing campaign had brought the destruction of 3,100,000 homes, leaving 15 million people homeless, and killing about a million of them. It was the ruthless firebombing, and Hirohito’s realization that if necessary the Allies would completely destroy Japan and kill every Japanese to achieve “unconditional surrender” that persuaded him to the decision to end the war. The atomic bomb is indeed a fearsome weapon, but it was not the cause of Japan’s surrender, even though the myth persists even to this day.
In a trenchant new book, The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb (Praeger, 1996), historian Dennis D. Wainstock concludes that the bombings were not only unnecessary, but were based on a vengeful policy that actually harmed American interests. He writes (pp. 124, 132):
… By April 1945, Japan’s leaders realized that the war was lost. Their main stumbling block to surrender was the United States’ insistence on unconditional surrender. They specifically needed to know whether the United States would allow Hirohito to remain on the throne. They feared that the United States would depose him, try him as a war criminal, or even execute him …
Unconditional surrender was a policy of revenge, and it hurt America’s national self-interest. It prolonged the war in both Europe and East Asia, and it helped to expand Soviet power in those areas.
General Douglas MacArthur, Commander of US Army forces in the Pacific, stated on numerous occasions before his death that the atomic bomb was completely unnecessary from a military point of view: “My staff was unanimous in believing that Japan was on the point of collapse and surrender.”
General Curtis LeMay, who had pioneered precision bombing of Germany and Japan (and who later headed the Strategic Air Command and served as Air Force chief of staff), put it most succinctly: “The atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war.”
From The Journal of Historical Review, May-June 1997 (Vol. 16, No. 3), pages 4-11.]
Truman Lied, Hundreds of Thousands Died August 8, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in History, Nuclear weapons/power, Peace, War.
Tags: anti-war, atomic bomb, david swanson, eisenhower, harry truman, hiroshima, history, nagasaki, nuclear arms, nuclear war, nuclera nonproliferation, peace, roger hollander, world war II, world war two
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On August 6, 1945, President Harry S Truman announced: “Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese Army base. That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of TNT It had more than two thousand times the blast power of the British ‘Grand Slam’ which is the largest bomb ever yet used in the history of warfare.”
When Truman lied to America that Hiroshima was a military base rather than a city full of civilians, people no doubt wanted to believe him. Who would want the shame of belonging to the nation that commits a whole new kind of atrocity? (Will naming lower Manhattan “ground zero” erase the guilt?) And when we learned the truth, we wanted and still want desperately to believe that war is peace, that violence is salvation, that our government dropped nuclear bombs in order to save lives, or at least to save American lives.
We tell each other that the bombs shortened the war and saved more lives than the some 200,000 they took away. And yet, weeks before the first bomb was dropped, on July 13, 1945, Japan sent a telegram to the Soviet Union expressing its desire to surrender and end the war. The United States had broken Japan’s codes and read the telegram. Truman referred in his diary to “the telegram from Jap Emperor asking for peace.” Truman had been informed through Swiss and Portuguese channels of Japanese peace overtures as early as three months before Hiroshima. Japan objected only to surrendering unconditionally and giving up its emperor, but the United States insisted on those terms until after the bombs fell, at which point it allowed Japan to keep its emperor.
Presidential advisor James Byrnes had told Truman that dropping the bombs would allow the United States to “dictate the terms of ending the war.” Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal wrote in his diary that Byrnes was “most anxious to get the Japanese affair over with before the Russians got in.” Truman wrote in his diary that the Soviets were preparing to march against Japan and “Fini Japs when that comes about.” Truman ordered the bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6th and another type of bomb, a plutonium bomb, which the military also wanted to test and demonstrate, on Nagasaki on August 9th. Also on August 9th, the Soviets attacked the Japanese. During the next two weeks, the Soviets killed 84,000 Japanese while losing 12,000 of their own soldiers, and the United States continued bombing Japan with non-nuclear weapons. Then the Japanese surrendered.
The United States Strategic Bombing Survey concluded that,”… certainly prior to 31 December, 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November, 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.” One dissenter who had expressed this same view to the Secretary of War prior to the bombings was General Dwight Eisenhower. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral William D. Leahy agreed: “The use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender.”
Whatever dropping the bombs might possibly have contributed to ending the war, it is curious that the approach of threatening to drop them, the approach used during a half-century of Cold War to follow, was never tried. An explanation may perhaps be found in Truman’s comments suggesting the motive of revenge:
“Having found the bomb we have used it. We have used it against those who attacked us without warning at Pearl Harbor, against those who have starved and beaten and executed American prisoners of war, and against those who have abandoned all pretense of obeying international law of warfare.”
Truman could not, incidentally, have chosen Tokyo as a target — not because it was a city, but because we had already reduced it to rubble.
The nuclear catastrophes may have been, not the ending of a World War, but the theatrical opening of the Cold War, aimed at sending a message to the Soviets. Many low and high ranking officials in the US military, including commanders in chief, have been tempted to nuke more cities ever since, beginning with Truman threatening to nuke China in 1950. The myth developed, in fact, that Eisenhower’s enthusiasm for nuking China led to the rapid conclusion of the Korean War. Belief in that myth led President Richard Nixon, decades later, to imagine he could end the Vietnam War by pretending to be crazy enough to use nuclear bombs. Even more disturbingly, he actually was crazy enough. “The nuclear bomb, does that bother you? … I just want you to think big, Henry, for Christsakes,” Nixon said to Henry Kissinger in discussing options for Vietnam.
President George W. Bush oversaw the development of smaller nuclear weapons that might be used more readily, as well as much larger non-nuclear bombs, blurring the line between the two. President Barack Obama established in 2010 that the United States might strike first with nuclear weapons, but only against Iran or North Korea. The United States alleged, without evidence, that Iran was not complying with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), even though the clearest violation of that treaty is the United States’ own failure to work on disarmament and the United States’ Mutual Defense Agreement with the United Kingdom, by which the two countries share nuclear weapons in violation of Article 1 of the NPT, and even though the United States’ first strike nuclear weapons policy violates yet another treaty: the UN Charter.
Americans may never admit what was done in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but our country had been in some measure prepared for it. After Germany had invaded Poland, Britain and France had declared war on Germany. Britain in 1940 had broken an agreement with Germany not to bomb civilians, before Germany retaliated in the same manner against England — although Germany had itself bombed Guernica, Spain, in 1937, and Warsaw, Poland, in 1939, and Japan meanwhile was bombing civilians in China. Then, for years, Britain and Germany had bombed each other’s cities before the United States joined in, bombing German and Japanese cities in a spree of destruction unlike anything ever previously witnessed. When we were firebombing Japanese cities, Life magazine printed a photo of a Japanese person burning to death and commented “This is the only way.”
By the time of the Vietnam War, such images were highly controversial. By the time of the 2003 War on Iraq, such images were not shown, just as enemy bodies were no longer counted. That development, arguably a form of progress, still leaves us far from the day when atrocities will be displayed with the caption “There has to be another way.”
Combating evil is what peace activists do. It is not what wars do. And it is not, at least not obviously, what motivates the masters of war, those who plan the wars and bring them into being. But it is tempting to think so. It is very noble to make brave sacrifices, even the ultimate sacrifice of one’s life, in order to end evil. It is perhaps even noble to use other people’s children to vicariously put an end to evil, which is all that most war supporters do. It is righteous to become part of something bigger than oneself. It can be thrilling to revel in patriotism. It can be momentarily pleasurable I’m sure, if less righteous and noble, to indulge in hatred, racism, and other group prejudices. It’s nice to imagine that your group is superior to someone else’s. And the patriotism, racism, and other isms that divide you from the enemy can thrillingly unite you, for once, with all of your neighbors and compatriots across the now meaningless boundaries that usually hold sway.
If you are frustrated and angry, if you long to feel important, powerful, and dominating, if you crave the license to lash out in revenge either verbally or physically, you may cheer for a government that announces a vacation from morality and open permission to hate and to kill. You’ll notice that the most enthusiastic war supporters sometimes want nonviolent war opponents killed and tortured along with the vicious and dreaded enemy; the hatred is far more important than its object. If your religious beliefs tell you that war is good, then you’ve really gone big time. Now you’re part of God’s plan. You’ll live after death, and perhaps we’ll all be better off if you bring on the death of us all.
But simplistic beliefs in good and evil don’t match up well with the real world, no matter how many people share them unquestioningly. They do not make you a master of the universe. On the contrary, they place control of your fate in the hands of people cynically manipulating you with war lies.
And the hatred and bigotry don’t provide lasting satisfaction, but instead breed bitter resentment.
This is excerpted from “War Is A Lie”
How the US Hid Shocking Hiroshima Footage For Decades August 5, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in History, Nuclear weapons/power, War.
Tags: akira kurosawa, atomic bomb, daniel mcgovern, greg mitchell, harry truman, herbert sussan, hiroshima, history, japan, nagasaki, nuclear proliferation, nuclear warfare, nuclear weapons, roger hollander, world war II
coverup of nuclear footage from Hiroshima and Nagasaki affects us to this day.
In the weeks following the atomic attacks on Japan sixty-six years ago this
week, and then for decades afterward, the United States engaged in airtight
suppression of all film shot in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the bombings. This
included vivid color footage shot by U.S. military crews and black-and-white
Japanese newsreel film.
The public did not see any of the newsreel footage for twenty-five years, and
the shocking US military film remained hidden for nearly four decades. While the
suppression of nuclear truths stretched over decades, Hiroshima sank into “a
kind of hole in human history,” as the writer Mary McCarthy observed. The United
States engaged in a costly and dangerous nuclear arms race. Thousands of nuclear
warheads remain in the world, often under loose control; the United States
retains its “first-strike” nuclear policy; and much of the world is partly or
largely dependent on nuclear power plants, which pose their own hazards.
Our nuclear entrapment continues to this day—you might call it “From
Hiroshima to Fukushima.”
The color US military footage would remain hidden until the early 1980s, and
has never been fully aired. It rests today at the National Archives in College
Park, Maryland, in the form of 90,000 feet of raw footage labeled #342 USAF.
When that footage finally emerged, I spoke with and corresponded with the man
at the center of this drama: Lt. Col. (Ret.) Daniel A. McGovern, who directed
the US military film-makers in 1946, managed the Japanese footage, and then kept
watch on all of the top-secret material for decades. I also interviewed one of
his key assistants, Herbert Sussan, and some of the Japanese survivors they
Now I’ve written a book and e-book about this, titled Atomic Cover-up:
Two US Soldiers, Hiroshima & Nagasaki, and The Greatest Movie Never
Made. You can view some of the suppressed footage here or below.
“I always had the sense,” Dan McGovern told me, “that people in the Atomic
Energy Commission were sorry we had dropped the bomb. The Air Force—it was also
sorry. I was told by people in the Pentagon that they didn’t want those [film]
images out because they showed effects on man, woman and child…. They didn’t
want the general public to know what their weapons had done—at a time they were
planning on more bomb tests. We didn’t want the material out because…we were
sorry for our sins.”
Sussan, meanwhile, struggled for years to get some of the American footage
aired on national TV, taking his request as high as President Truman, Robert F.
Kennedy and Edward R. Murrow, to no avail.
The Japanese Newsreel Footage
On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb over the center
of Hiroshima, killing at least 70,000 civilians instantly and perhaps 50,000
more in the days and months to follow. Three days later, it exploded another
atomic bomb over Nagasaki, slightly off target, killing 40,000 immediately and
dooming tens of thousands of others. Within days, Japan had surrendered, and the
US readied plans for occupying the defeated country—and documenting the first
But the Japanese also wanted to study it. Within days of the second atomic
attack, officials at the Tokyo-based newsreel company Nippon Eigasha discussed
shooting film in the two stricken cities. When the first rushes came back to
Toyko, Akira Iwasaki, the chief producer, felt “every frame burned into my
brain,” he later said.
At this point, the American public knew little about conditions in the atomic
cities beyond Japanese assertions that a mysterious affliction was attacking
many of those who survived the initial blasts (claims that were largely taken to
be propaganda). Newspaper photographs of victims were non-existent, or
censored. Life magazine would later observe that for years “the
world…knew only the physical facts of atomic destruction.”
Tens of thousands of American GIs occupied the two cities. Because of the
alleged absence of residual radiation, no one was urged to take precautions.
Then, on October 24, 1945, a Japanese cameraman in Nagasaki was ordered to
stop shooting by an American military policeman. His film, and then the rest of
the 26,000 feet of Nippon Eisasha footage, was confiscated by the US General
Headquarters (GHQ). An order soon arrived banning all further filming. It was at
this point that Lt. Daniel McGovern took charge.
Shooting the US Military Footage
In early September, 1945, less than a month after the two bombs fell, Lt.
McGovern—who as a member of Hollywood’s famed First Motion Picture Unit shot
some of the footage for William Wyler’s “Memphis Belle”—had become one of the
first Americans to arrive in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He was a director with the
US Strategic Bombing Survey, organized by the Army the previous November to
study the effects of the air campaign against Germany, and now Japan.
As he made plans to shoot the official American record, McGovern learned
about the seizure of the Japanese footage. He felt it would be a waste to not
take advantage of the newsreel footage, noting in a letter to his superiors that
“the conditions under which it was taken will not be duplicated, until another
atomic bomb is released under combat conditions.” McGovern proposed hiring some
of the Japanese crew to edit and “caption” the material, so it would have
“scientific value.” He took charge of this effort in early January 1946.
At the same time, McGovern was ordered by General Douglas MacArthur on
January 1, 1946, to document the results of the US air campaign in more than
twenty Japanese cities. His crew would shoot exclusively on color film,
Kodachrome and Technicolor, rarely used at the time even in Hollywood. McGovern
assembled a crew of eleven, including two civilians. Third in command was a
young lieutenant from New York named Herbert Sussan.
The unit left Tokyo in a specially outfitted train, and made it to Nagasaki.
“Nothing and no one had prepared me for the devastation I met there,” Sussan
later told me. “We were the only people with adequate ability and equipment to
make a record of this holocaust…I felt that if we did not capture this horror on
film, no one would ever really understand the dimensions of what had happened.
At that time people back home had not seen anything but black and white pictures
of blasted buildings or a mushroom cloud.”
Along with the rest of McGovern’s crew, Sussan documented the physical
effects of the bomb, including the ghostly shadows of vaporized civilians burned
into walls; and, most chillingly, dozens of people in hospitals who had survived
(at least momentarily) and were asked to display their burns, scars, and other
lingering effects for the camera as a warning to the world. At the Red Cross
Hospital in Hiroshima, a Japanese physician traced the hideous, bright red scars
that covered several of the patients—and then took off his white doctor’s shirt
and displayed his own burns and cuts.
After sticking a camera on a rail car and building their own tracks through
the ruins, the Americans filmed hair-raising tracking
shots that could have been lifted right from a Hollywood movie. Their chief
cameramen was a Japanese man, Harry Mimura, who in 1943 had shot Sanshiro
Sugata—the first feature film by a then-unknown Japanese director named
The Suppression Begins
While all this was going on,
the Japanese newsreel team was completing its work of editing and labeling all
their black and white footage into a rough cut of just under three hours. At
this point, several members of Japanese team took the courageous step of
ordering from the lab a duplicate of the footage they had shot before the
Americans took over the project—and hiding it in a ceiling at the lab. Then they
handed over their footage.
The following month, McGovern was abruptly ordered to return to the United
States. He hauled the 90,000 feet of color footage, on dozens of reels in huge
footlockers, to the Pentagon and turned it over to General Orvil Anderson.
Locked up and declared top secret, it did not see the light of day for more than
thirty years. McGovern would be charged with watching over it. Sussan would
become obsessed with finding it and getting it aired.
Fearful that his film might get “buried,” McGovern stayed on at the Pentagon
as an aide to Gen. Anderson, who was fascinated by the footage and had no qualms
about showing it to the American people. “He was that kind of man, he didn’t
give a damn what people thought,” McGovern told me. “He just wanted the story
Once they eyeballed the footage, however, most of the top brass didn’t want
it widely shown and the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was also opposed,
according to McGovern. It nixed a Warner Brothers feature film project based on
the footage that Anderson had negotiated, while paying another studio about
$80,000 to help make four training films.
In a March 3, 1947, memo, Francis E. Rundell, a major in the Air Corps,
explained that the film would be classified “secret.” This was determined “after
study of subject material, especially concerning footage taken at Hiroshima and
The color footage was shipped to the Wright-Patterson base in Ohio. McGovern
went along after being told to put an I.D. number on the film “and not let
anyone touch it—and that’s the way it stayed,” as he put it. After cataloging
it, he placed it in a vault in the top secret area.
“Dan McGovern stayed with the film all the time,” Sussan later said. “He told
me they could not release the film [because] what it showed was too
Sussan wrote a letter to President Truman, suggesting that a film based on
the footage “would vividly and clearly reveal the implications and effects of
the weapons that confront us at this serious moment in our history.” A reply
from a Truman aide threw cold water on that idea, saying such a film would lack
“wide public appeal.” (He also censored the first Hollywood movie, an MGM epic,
about the bomb, a wild tale, as
I wrote here last week.)
McGovern, meanwhile, continued to “babysit” the film, now at Norton Air Force
base in California.
The Japanese Footage Emerges
At the same time, McGovern was looking after the Japanese footage. The
Japanese government repeatedly asked the US for the full footage of what was
known in that country as “the film of illusion,” to no avail.
Despite rising nuclear fears in the 1960s, before and after the Cuban missile
crisis, few in the United States challenged the consensus view that dropping the
bomb on two Japanese cities was necessary. The United States maintained its
“first-use” nuclear policy: under certain circumstances it would strike first
with the bomb and ask questions later. In other words, there was no real taboo
against using the bomb. This notion of acceptability had started with Hiroshima.
A firm line against using nuclear weapons had been drawn—in the sand. The United
States, in fact, had threatened to use nuclear weapons during the Cuban missile
crisis and on other occasions.
On September 12, 1967, the Air Force transferred the Japanese footage to the
National Archives Audio Visual Branch in Washington, with the film “not to be
released without approval of DOD (Department of Defense).”
Then, one morning in the summer of 1968, Erik Barnouw, author of landmark
histories of film and broadcasting, opened his mail to discover a clipping from
a Tokyo newspaper sent by a friend. It indicated that the US had finally shipped
to Japan a copy of black and white newsreel footage shot in Hiroshima and
Nagasaki. The Japanese had negotiated with the State Department for its return.
From the Pentagon, Barnouw learned in 1968 that the original nitrate film had
been quietly turned over to the National Archives, so he went to take a
Attempting to create a subtle, quiet, even poetic, black and white film, he
and his associates cut it from 160 to sixteen minutes, with a montage of human
effects clustered near the end for impact. “Hiroshima-Nagasaki 1945” proved to
be a sketchy but quite moving document of the aftermath of the bombing, captured
in grainy but often startling black and white images: shadows of objects or
people burned into walls, ruins of schools, miles of razed landscape viewed from
the roof of a building.
In the weeks ahead, however, none of the (then) three TV networks expressed
interest in airing it. “Only NBC thought it might use the film,” Barnouw later
wrote, “if it could find a ‘news hook.’ We dared not speculate what kind of
event this might call for.” But then an article appeared
in Parade magazine, and an editorial in the Boston
Globe blasted the networks, saying that everyone in the country should see
This at last pushed public television into the void. What was then called
National Educational Television (NET) agreed to show the documentary on August
3, 1970, to coincide with the twenty-fifth anniversary of the dropping of the
The American Footage Comes Out
About a decade later, by pure chance, Herb Sussan would spark the
emergence of the American footage, ending its decades in the dark.
In the mid-1970s, Japanese antinuclear activists, led by a Tokyo teacher
named Tsutomu Iwakura, discovered that few pictures of the aftermath of the
atomic bombings existed in their country. Many had been seized by the US
military after the war, they learned, and taken out of Japan. The Japanese had
as little visual exposure to the true effects of the bomb as most Americans.
Activists managed to track down hundreds of pictures in archives and private
collections and published them in a popular book. In 1979 they mounted an
exhibit at the United Nations in New York.
There, by chance, Iwakura met Sussan, who told him about the US military
Iwakura made a few calls and found that the color footage, recently
declassified, might be at the National Archives. A trip to Washington, DC,
verified this. He found eighty reels of film. About one-fifth of the footage
covered the atomic cities. According to a shot list, reel #11010 included, for
example: “School, deaf and dumb, blast effect, damaged Commercial school
demolished School, engineering, demolished.School, Shirayama elementary,
demolished, blast effect Tenements, demolished.”
The film had been quietly declassified a few years earlier, but no one in the
outside world knew it. An archivist there told me at the time, “If no one knows
about the film to ask for it, it’s as closed as when it was classified.”
Eventually 200,000 Japanese citizens contributed half a million dollars and
Iwakura was able to buy the film. He then traveled around Japan filming
survivors who had posed for Sussan and McGovern in 1946. Iwakura quickly
completed a documentary called Prophecy and in late spring 1982
arranged for a New York premiere.
Later a small part of the McGovern/Sussan footage turned up for the first
time in an American film, one of the sensations of the New York Film Festival,
called Dark Circle. Its co-director, Chris Beaver, told me, “No wonder
the government didn’t want us to see it. I think they didn’t want Americans to
see themselves in that picture. It’s one thing to know about that and another
thing to see it.”
Despite this exposure, not a single story had yet appeared in an American
newspaper about the shooting of the footage, its suppression or release. And
Sussan was now ill with a form of lymphoma doctors had found in soldiers exposed
to radiation in atomic tests during the 1950s—or in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Still, the question of precisely why the footage remained secret for so long
lingered. But McGovern told me, “The main reason it was classified was because
of the horror, the devastation. The medical effects were pretty gory. The
attitude was: do not show any medical effects. Don’t make people sick.”
But who was behind this? “I always had the sense,” McGovern answered, “that
people in the AEC were sorry they had dropped the bomb. The Air Force—it was
also sorry. I was told by people in the Pentagon that they didn’t want those
images out because they showed effects on man, woman and child. But the AEC,
they were the ones that stopped it from coming out. They had power of God over
everybody. If it had anything to do with nukes, they had to see it. They were
the ones who destroyed a lot of film and pictures of the first US nuclear tests
after the war.”
As Dark Circle director Chris Beaver had said, “With the government
trying to sell the public on a new civil defense program and Reagan arguing that
a nuclear war is survivable, this footage could be awfully bad
In the summer of 1984, I made my own pilgrimage to the atomic cities, to walk
in the footsteps of Dan McGovern and Herb Sussan, and meet some of the people
they filmed in 1946. (The month-long grant was arranged by the current mayor of
Hiroshima, Tadatoshi Akiba. My new book has a lengthy
chapter describing what it’s like to be in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and to
intervieww survivors.) By then, the McGovern/ Sussan footage had turned up in
several new documentaries. On September 2, 1985, however, Herb Sussan passed
away. His final request to his children: Would they scatter his ashes at ground
zero in Hiroshima?
In the mid-1990s, researching Hiroshima in America, a book I would
write with Robert Jay Lifton, I discovered the deeper context for suppression of
the US Army film: it was part of a broad effort to suppress a wide range of
material related to the atomic bombings, including photographs, newspaper
reports on radiation effects, information about the decision to drop the bomb,
even a Hollywood movie.
Then, in 2003, as chief adviser to a documentary film, Original Child
Bomb, I urged director Carey Schonegevel to draw on the atomic footage as
much as possible. Original Child Bomb went on to debut at the 2004
Tribeca Film Festival, win the top Silverdocs award, and debut on the Sundance
cable channel. After sixty years at least a small portion of that footage
reached part of the American public in the unflinching and powerful form its
Americans who saw were finally able to fully judge for themselves what
McGovern and Sussan were trying to accomplish in shooting the film, why the
authorities felt they had to suppress it, and what impact their footage, if
widely aired, might have had on the nuclear arms race—and the nuclear
proliferation that plagues, and endangers, us today. But only small parts of the
movie have been used (see the video below), only a small number of Americans
have seen any of it. A major documentary on the footage, and the suppression,
should still be made.
Publisher and author of nine books
A Memorial Poem: Not for the Feint of Heart September 17, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in 9/11, Art, Literature and Culture, Genocide, Racism, War.
Tags: 9/11, africans, apartheid, attica, cambodia, chiapas, Chile, Colombia, disappeared, El Salvador, EMMANUEL ORTIZ, fallen timbers, genocide, guatemala, hiroshima, indigenous, iraq embargo, laos, moment of slience, nagasaki, nicaragua, Palestinians, pine ridge, poem, Poetry, political poem, roger hollander, sand creek, slavery, somalia, steve biko, torture, trail of tears, Vietnam War, wounded knee
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BEFORE I START THIS POEM
by Emmanuel Ortiz
Before I start this poem,
I’d like to ask you to join me in
a moment of silence
in honour of those who died
in the World Trade Centre
and the Pentagon
last September 11th.
I would also like to ask you
a moment of silence
for all of those who have been
harassed, imprisoned, disappeared,
tortured, raped, or killed
in retaliation for those strikes,
for the victims in both
Afghanistan and the U.S.
And if I could just add one more thing…
A full day of silence
for the tens of thousands of Palestinians
who have died at the hands of
U.S.-backed Israeli forces
over decades of occupation.
Six months of silence
for the million and-a-half Iraqi people,
mostly children, who have died of
malnourishment or starvation
as a result of an 11-year U.S. embargo
against the country.
Before I begin this poem:
two months of silence
for the Blacks under Apartheid
in South Africa,
where homeland security
made them aliens
in their own country.
Nine months of silence
for the dead in Hiroshima
and Nagasaki, where death rained
down and peeled back
every layer of concrete, steel, earth and skin
and the survivors went on as if alive.
A year of silence
for the millions of dead
in Vietnam–a people, not a war-
for those who know a thing or two
about the scent of burning fuel,
their relatives’ bones buried in it,
their babies born of it.
A year of silence
for the dead in Cambodia and Laos,
victims of a secret war … ssssshhhhh ….
Say nothing .. we don’t want them to
learn that they are dead.
Two months of silence
for the decades of dead
in Colombia, whose names,
like the corpses they once represented,
have piled up and slipped off
Before I begin this poem,
An hour of silence
for El Salvador …
An afternoon of silence
for Nicaragua …
Two days of silence
for the Guatemaltecos …
None of whom ever knew
a moment of peace
45 seconds of silence
for the 45 dead
at Acteal, Chiapas
25 years of silence
for the hundred million Africans
who found their graves
far deeper in the ocean
than any building could
poke into the sky.
There will be no DNA testing
or dental records
to identify their remains.
And for those who were
strung and swung
from the heights of
in the south, the north,
the east, and the west…
100 years of silence…
For the hundreds of millions of
from this half of right here,
Whose land and lives were stolen,
In postcard-perfect plots
like Pine Ridge,
Sand Creek, Fallen Timbers,
or the Trail of Tears.
Names now reduced
to innocuous magnetic poetry
on the refrigerator
of our consciousness …
So you want a moment of silence?
And we are all left speechless
Our tongues snatched from our mouths
Our eyes stapled shut
A moment of silence
And the poets have all been laid to rest
The drums disintegrating into dust
Before I begin this poem,
You want a moment of silence
You mourn now as if the world will never be
And the rest of us hope to hell it won’t be.
Not like it always has been
Because this is not a 9-1-1 poem
This is a 9/10 poem,
It is a 9/9 poem,
A 9/8 poem,
A 9/7 poem
This is a 1492 poem.
This is a poem about
what causes poems like this
to be written
And if this is a 9/11 poem, then
This is a September 11th poem
for Chile, 1971
This is a September 12th poem
for Steven Biko in South Africa, 1977
This is a September 13th poem
for the brothers at Attica Prison,
New York, 1971.
This is a September 14th poem
for Somalia, 1992.
This is a poem
for every date that falls
to the ground in ashes
This is a poem for the 110 stories
that were never told
The 110 stories that history
chose not to write in textbooks
The 110 stories that CNN, BBC,
The New York Times,
and Newsweek ignored
This is a poem
for interrupting this program.
And still you want
a moment of silence
for your dead?
We could give you
lifetimes of empty:
The unmarked graves
The lost languages
The uprooted trees and histories
The dead stares on the faces
of nameless children
Before I start this poem
We could be silent forever
Or just long enough to hunger,
For the dust to bury us
And you would still ask us
For more of our silence.
If you want a moment of silence
Then stop the oil pumps
Turn off the engines and the televisions
Sink the cruise ships
Crash the stock markets
Unplug the marquee lights,
Delete the instant messages,
Derail the trains, the light rail transit
If you want a moment of silence,
put a brick through
the window of Taco Bell,
And pay the workers for wages lost
Tear down the liquor stores,
The townhouses, the White Houses,
the jailhouses, the Penthouses and
If you want a moment of silence,
Then take it
On Super Bowl Sunday,
The Fourth of July
During Dayton’s 13 hour sale
Or the next time your white guilt
fills the room where my beautiful
people have gathered
You want a moment of silence
Then take it
Before this poem begins.
Here, in the echo of my voice,
In the pause between goosesteps of the
In the space
between bodies in embrace,
Here is your silence.
But take it all
Don’t cut in line.
Let your silence begin
at the beginning of crime.
Tonight we will keep right on singing
For our dead.
EMMANUEL ORTIZ, 11 Sep 2002
Emmanuel Ortiz (born 1974) is a Chicano/Puerto Rican/Irish-American activist and spoken-word poet. He has worked with the Minnesota Alliance for the Indigenous Zapatistas (MAIZ) and Estación Libre and as a staff member of the Resource Centre of the Americas. Ortiz has performed his poetry at numerous readings, political rallies, activist conferences, and benefits. His works appeared in The Roots of Terror a reader published by Project South, as well as others. His readings of his poems have appeared on Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!.  His controversial poem, Moment of Silence, circulated the internet a year after September 11th, 2001.