Almost Everything in “Dr. Strangelove” Was True November 13, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Nuclear weapons/power, War.
Tags: cold war, dr. strangeglove, eisenhower, Eric Schlosser, history, jfk, los alamos, NATO, nuclear, nuclear strike, nuclear war, nuclear weapons, roger hollander, stanley kubrick, the bomb, war
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Roger’s note: If you are just getting over your Halloween frights, here is something that should really scare you. Only in a world that is controlled by politicians who follow the dictates of generals and CEOs (as opposed to “the people.” which is what democracy is supposed to be about) could such a danger to the very existence of the biosphere and humankind be put in jeopardy. Of course, when I refer to generals and CEOs you know that I mean the capitalist economic system that will doom us if we don’t do something about it. I hope this does not cause you to lose too much sleep.
JANUARY 17, 2014
BY ERIC SCHLOSSER
This month marks the fiftieth anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s black comedy about nuclear weapons, “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Released on January 29, 1964, the film caused a good deal of controversy. Its plot suggested that a mentally deranged American general could order a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, without consulting the President. One reviewer described the film as “dangerous … an evil thing about an evil thing.” Another compared it to Soviet propaganda. Although “Strangelove” was clearly a farce, with the comedian Peter Sellers playing three roles, it was criticized for being implausible. An expert at the Institute for Strategic Studies called the events in the film “impossible on a dozen counts.” A former Deputy Secretary of Defense dismissed the idea that someone could authorize the use of a nuclear weapon without the President’s approval: “Nothing, in fact, could be further from the truth.” (See a compendium of clips from the film.) When “Fail-Safe”—a Hollywood thriller with a similar plot, directed by Sidney Lumet—opened, later that year, it was criticized in much the same way. “The incidents in ‘Fail-Safe’ are deliberate lies!” General Curtis LeMay, the Air Force chief of staff, said. “Nothing like that could happen.” The first casualty of every war is the truth—and the Cold War was no exception to that dictum. Half a century after Kubrick’s mad general, Jack D. Ripper, launched a nuclear strike on the Soviets to defend the purity of “our precious bodily fluids” from Communist subversion, we now know that American officers did indeed have the ability to start a Third World War on their own. And despite the introduction of rigorous safeguards in the years since then, the risk of an accidental or unauthorized nuclear detonation hasn’t been completely eliminated.
The command and control of nuclear weapons has long been plagued by an “always/never” dilemma. The administrative and technological systems that are necessary to insure that nuclear weapons are always available for use in wartime may be quite different from those necessary to guarantee that such weapons can never be used, without proper authorization, in peacetime. During the nineteen-fifties and sixties, the “always” in American war planning was given far greater precedence than the “never.” Through two terms in office, beginning in 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower struggled with this dilemma. He wanted to retain Presidential control of nuclear weapons while defending America and its allies from attack. But, in a crisis, those two goals might prove contradictory, raising all sorts of difficult questions. What if Soviet bombers were en route to the United States but the President somehow couldn’t be reached? What if Soviet tanks were rolling into West Germany but a communications breakdown prevented NATO officers from contacting the White House? What if the President were killed during a surprise attack on Washington, D.C., along with the rest of the nation’s civilian leadership? Who would order a nuclear retaliation then?
With great reluctance, Eisenhower agreed to let American officers use their nuclear weapons, in an emergency, if there were no time or no means to contact the President. Air Force pilots were allowed to fire their nuclear anti-aircraft rockets to shoot down Soviet bombers heading toward the United States. And about half a dozen high-level American commanders were allowed to use far more powerful nuclear weapons, without contacting the White House first, when their forces were under attack and “the urgency of time and circumstances clearly does not permit a specific decision by the President, or other person empowered to act in his stead.” Eisenhower worried that providing that sort of authorization in advance could make it possible for someone to do “something foolish down the chain of command” and start an all-out nuclear war. But the alternative—allowing an attack on the United States to go unanswered or NATO forces to be overrun—seemed a lot worse. Aware that his decision might create public unease about who really controlled America’s nuclear arsenal, Eisenhower insisted that his delegation of Presidential authority be kept secret. At a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he confessed to being “very fearful of having written papers on this matter.”
President John F. Kennedy was surprised to learn, just a few weeks after taking office, about this secret delegation of power. “A subordinate commander faced with a substantial military action,” Kennedy was told in a top-secret memo, “could start the thermonuclear holocaust on his own initiative if he could not reach you.” Kennedy and his national-security advisers were shocked not only by the wide latitude given to American officers but also by the loose custody of the roughly three thousand American nuclear weapons stored in Europe. Few of the weapons had locks on them. Anyone who got hold of them could detonate them. And there was little to prevent NATO officers from Turkey, Holland, Italy, Great Britain, and Germany from using them without the approval of the United States.
In December, 1960, fifteen members of Congress serving on the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy had toured NATO bases to investigate how American nuclear weapons were being deployed. They found that the weapons—some of them about a hundred times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima—were routinely guarded, transported, and handled by foreign military personnel. American control of the weapons was practically nonexistent. Harold Agnew, a Los Alamos physicist who accompanied the group, was especially concerned to see German pilots sitting in German planes that were decorated with Iron Crosses—and carrying American atomic bombs. Agnew, in his own words, “nearly wet his pants” when he realized that a lone American sentry with a rifle was all that prevented someone from taking off in one of those planes and bombing the Soviet Union.
* * *
The Kennedy Administration soon decided to put locking devices inside NATO’s nuclear weapons. The coded electromechanical switches, known as “permissive action links” (PALs), would be placed on the arming lines. The weapons would be inoperable without the proper code—and that code would be shared with NATO allies only when the White House was prepared to fight the Soviets. The American military didn’t like the idea of these coded switches, fearing that mechanical devices installed to improve weapon safety would diminish weapon reliability. A top-secret State Department memo summarized the view of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1961: “all is well with the atomic stockpile program and there is no need for any changes.”
After a crash program to develop the new control technology, during the mid-nineteen-sixties, permissive action links were finally placed inside most of the nuclear weapons deployed by NATO forces. But Kennedy’s directive applied only to the NATO arsenal. For years, the Air Force and the Navy blocked attempts to add coded switches to the weapons solely in their custody. During a national emergency, they argued, the consequences of not receiving the proper code from the White House might be disastrous. And locked weapons might play into the hands of Communist saboteurs. “The very existence of the lock capability,” a top Air Force general claimed, “would create a fail-disable potential for knowledgeable agents to ‘dud’ the entire Minuteman [missile] force.” The Joint Chiefs thought that strict military discipline was the best safeguard against an unauthorized nuclear strike. A two-man rule was instituted to make it more difficult for someone to use a nuclear weapon without permission. And a new screening program, the Human Reliability Program, was created to stop people with emotional, psychological, and substance-abuse problems from gaining access to nuclear weapons.
Despite public assurances that everything was fully under control, in the winter of 1964, while “Dr. Strangelove” was playing in theatres and being condemned as Soviet propaganda, there was nothing to prevent an American bomber crew or missile launch crew from using their weapons against the Soviets. Kubrick had researched the subject for years, consulted experts, and worked closely with a former R.A.F. pilot, Peter George, on the screenplay of the film. George’s novel about the risk of accidental nuclear war, “Red Alert,” was the source for most of “Strangelove” ’s plot. Unbeknownst to both Kubrick and George, a top official at the Department of Defense had already sent a copy of “Red Alert” to every member of the Pentagon’s Scientific Advisory Committee for Ballistic Missiles. At the Pentagon, the book was taken seriously as a cautionary tale about what might go wrong. Even Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara privately worried that an accident, a mistake, or a rogue American officer could start a nuclear war.
Coded switches to prevent the unauthorized use of nuclear weapons were finally added to the control systems of American missiles and bombers in the early nineteen-seventies. The Air Force was not pleased, and considered the new security measures to be an insult, a lack of confidence in its personnel. Although the Air Force now denies this claim, according to more than one source I contacted, the code necessary to launch a missile was set to be the same at every Minuteman site: 00000000.
* * *
The early permissive action links were rudimentary. Placed in NATO weapons during the nineteen-sixties and known as Category A PALs, the switches relied on a split four-digit code, with ten thousand possible combinations. If the United States went to war, two people would be necessary to unlock a nuclear weapon, each of them provided with half the code. Category A PALs were useful mainly to delay unauthorized use, to buy time after a weapon had been taken or to thwart an individual psychotic hoping to cause a large explosion. A skilled technician could open a stolen weapon and unlock it within a few hours. Today’s Category D PALs, installed in the Air Force’s hydrogen bombs, are more sophisticated. They require a six-digit code, with a million possible combinations, and have a limited-try feature that disables a weapon when the wrong code is repeatedly entered.
The Air Force’s land-based Minuteman III missiles and the Navy’s submarine-based Trident II missiles now require an eight-digit code—which is no longer 00000000—in order to be launched. The Minuteman crews receive the code via underground cables or an aboveground radio antenna. Sending the launch code to submarines deep underwater presents a greater challenge. Trident submarines contain two safes. One holds the keys necessary to launch a missile; the other holds the combination to the safe with the keys; and the combination to the safe holding the combination must be transmitted to the sub by very-low-frequency or extremely-low-frequency radio. In a pinch, if Washington, D.C., has been destroyed and the launch code doesn’t arrive, the sub’s crew can open the safes with a blowtorch.
The security measures now used to control America’s nuclear weapons are a vast improvement over those of 1964. But, like all human endeavors, they are inherently flawed. The Department of Defense’s Personnel Reliability Program is supposed to keep people with serious emotional or psychological issues away from nuclear weapons—and yet two of the nation’s top nuclear commanders were recently removed from their posts. Neither appears to be the sort of calm, stable person you want with a finger on the button. In fact, their misbehavior seems straight out of “Strangelove.”
Vice Admiral Tim Giardina, the second-highest-ranking officer at the U.S. Strategic Command—the organization responsible for all of America’s nuclear forces—-was investigated last summer for allegedly using counterfeit gambling chips at the Horseshoe Casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa. According to the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, “a significant monetary amount” of counterfeit chips was involved. Giardina was relieved of his command on October 3, 2013. A few days later, Major General Michael Carey, the Air Force commander in charge of America’s intercontinental ballistic missiles, was fired for conduct “unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.” According to a report by the Inspector General of the Air Force, Carey had consumed too much alcohol during an official trip to Russia, behaved rudely toward Russian officers, spent time with “suspect” young foreign women in Moscow, loudly discussed sensitive information in a public hotel lounge there, and drunkenly pleaded to get onstage and sing with a Beatles cover band at La Cantina, a Mexican restaurant near Red Square. Despite his requests, the band wouldn’t let Carey onstage to sing or to play the guitar.
While drinking beer in the executive lounge at Moscow’s Marriott Aurora during that visit, General Carey made an admission with serious public-policy implications. He off-handedly told a delegation of U.S. national-security officials that his missile-launch officers have the “worst morale in the Air Force.” Recent events suggest that may be true. In the spring of 2013, nineteen launch officers at Minot Air Force base in North Dakota were decertified for violating safety rules and poor discipline. In August, 2013, the entire missile wing at Malmstrom Air Force base in Montana failed its safety inspection. Last week, the Air Force revealed that thirty-four launch officers at Malmstrom had been decertified for cheating on proficiency exams—and that at least three launch officers are being investigated for illegal drug use. The findings of a report by the RAND Corporation, leaked to the A.P., were equally disturbing. The study found that the rates of spousal abuse and court martials among Air Force personnel with nuclear responsibilities are much higher than those among people with other jobs in the Air Force. “We don’t care if things go properly,” a launch officer told RAND. “We just don’t want to get in trouble.”
The most unlikely and absurd plot element in “Strangelove” is the existence of a Soviet “Doomsday Machine.” The device would trigger itself, automatically, if the Soviet Union were attacked with nuclear weapons. It was meant to be the ultimate deterrent, a threat to destroy the world in order to prevent an American nuclear strike. But the failure of the Soviets to tell the United States about the contraption defeats its purpose and, at the end of the film, inadvertently causes a nuclear Armageddon. “The whole point of the Doomsday Machine is lost,” Dr. Strangelove, the President’s science adviser, explains to the Soviet Ambassador, “if you keep it a secret!”
A decade after the release of “Strangelove,” the Soviet Union began work on the Perimeter system—-a network of sensors and computers that could allow junior military officials to launch missiles without oversight from the Soviet leadership. Perhaps nobody at the Kremlin had seen the film. Completed in 1985, the system was known as the Dead Hand. Once it was activated, Perimeter would order the launch of long-range missiles at the United States if it detected nuclear detonations on Soviet soil and Soviet leaders couldn’t be reached. Like the Doomsday Machine in “Strangelove,” Perimeter was kept secret from the United States; its existence was not revealed until years after the Cold War ended.
In retrospect, Kubrick’s black comedy provided a far more accurate description of the dangers inherent in nuclear command-and-control systems than the ones that the American people got from the White House, the Pentagon, and the mainstream media.
“This is absolute madness, Ambassador,” President Merkin Muffley says in the film, after being told about the Soviets’ automated retaliatory system. “Why should you build such a thing?” Fifty years later, that question remains unanswered, and “Strangelove” seems all the more brilliant, bleak, and terrifyingly on the mark.
You can read Eric Schlosser’s guide to the long-secret documents that help explain the risks America took with its nuclear arsenal, and watch and read his deconstruction of clips from “Dr. Strangelove” and from a little-seen film about permissive action links.
Eric Schlosser is the author of “Command and Control.”
UN Stamps Out Measure to Reign In Nuclear Israel September 21, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Nuclear weapons/power.
Tags: iran nuclear, israel, israel nuclear, israeli nuclear, Middle East, nuclear weapons, roger hollaner, sarah lazare
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Roger’s note: the hypocrisy is blatant, but you won’t read about it in the New York Times.
Published on Friday, September 20, 2013 by Common Dreams
Critic: ‘Israel has once again become the exception to international norms to reduce the potential of nuclear war and reduce nuclear weapons.’
The UN nuclear agency crushed an effort of Arab states to reign in nuclear Israel, rejecting a non-binding resolution on Friday that would have compelled Israel to join the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and place its arsenal under International Atomic Energy Agency supervision.
“Israel has once again become the exception to international norms to reduce the potential of nuclear war and reduce nuclear weapons,” Deborah Agre from the Middle East Children’s Alliance told Common Dreams.
The “Israeli Nuclear Capabilities” measure, backed by Iran, was brought by a coalition of Arab states frustrated over the postponement of an international conference on creating a nuclear-free Middle East. The measure, which was vigorously opposed by the U.S., was voted down at the IAEA meeting, with 51 countries voting against and 43 in favor.
The defeat of the resolution was broadly reported in the media as a triumph of the West over efforts to “single out” Israel. The backers of the resolution were publicly shamed by several Western powers, including the U.S. and Israel, for even bringing such a measure to the table.
Israel is broadly known to be the only country in the Middle East to possess nuclear weapons and has been widely criticized for obstructing efforts to demilitarize the region.
How the U.S. Narrowly Avoided a Nuclear Holocaust 33 Years Ago, and Still Risks Catastrophe Today September 19, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Nuclear weapons/power, War.
Tags: amy goodman, command and control, damascus accident, Democracy Now, Eric Schlosser, global zero, norad computers, nuclear accidents, nuclear disaster, nuclear holocaust, nuclear safety, nuclear stockpile, nuclear weapons, roger hollander
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Roger’s note: I read this last night, and was not able to get to sleep. I apologize for sharing this nightmare with you, but I think it is something we need to think about. I think it was the Russian playwright, Chekhov, who said that if a fire arm is introduced in the first act, then it is sure to go off in the third act. The nuclear pistol was both introduced and fired in the first act at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We have been waiting nervously since 1945 for the tragic third act. What scares me is the almost certainty that with all those tens of thousands of nuclear warheads laying around, the chance that one will either go of intentionally or accidentally is too scary to imagine. Just another one of those inconvenient truths that we ignore at our peril.
Now with respect to the insanity of it. If one of today’s nuclear has the destructive power of 600 Hiroshima bombs, why would any nation need over ten thousand, the way the U.S and Russia do? And how much safer are we if they are reduced down to 1500? The only sane world will be one where there is total nuclear disarmament.
I have not mentioned the obscene cost of maintaining a nuclear armory. See graph below.
http://www.democracynow.org, September 18. 2013
Thirty-three years ago to the day, the United States narrowly missed a nuclear holocaust on its soil. The so-called “Damascus Accident” involved a Titan II intercontinental ballistic missile mishap at a launch complex outside Damascus, Arkansas. During a routine maintenance procedure, a young worker accidentally dropped a nine-pound tool in the silo, piercing the missile’s skin and causing a major leak of flammable rocket fuel. Sitting on top of that Titan 2 was the most powerful thermonuclear warhead ever deployed on an American missile. The weapon was about 600 times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. For the next nine hours, a group of airmen put themselves at grave risk to save the missile and prevent a massive explosion that would’ve caused incalculable damage. The story is detailed in Eric Schlosser’s new book, “Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety,” which explores how often the United States has come within a hair’s breadth of a domestic nuclear detonation or an accidental war. Drawing on thousands of pages of recently declassified government documents and interviews with scores of military personnel and nuclear scientists, Schlosser shows that America’s nuclear weapons pose a grave risk to humankind.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Thirty-three years ago today, the United States narrowly missed a nuclear holocaust on his soil that would have dwarfed the horrors of the Hiroshima bomb blast that killed approximately 140,000 people. The so-called Damascus accident involved a Titan II intercontinental ballistic missile mishap at a launch conflict outside Damascus, Arkansas. During a routine maintenance procedure, a young worker accidentally dropped a nine pound tool in the silo, piercing the missile skin and causing a major leak of flammable rocket fuel. Sitting on top of that Titan II was the most powerful thermonuclear warhead ever deployed on an American missile. The weapon was about 600 times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. For the next nine hours, a group of airmen put themselves at grave risk to save the missile and prevent a massive explosion that would’ve caused incalculable damage.
AMY GOODMAN: To find out what happened next, we turn to a shocking new book called, “Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident and the Illusion of Safety.” In it, author Eric Schlosser reveals how often the United States has come within a hairs breath of a domestic nuclear detonation or an accidental war. Drawing on thousands of pages of recently declassified government documents and interviews with scores of military personnel and nuclear scientists, Schlosser shows that America’s nuclear weapons pose a grave risk to human kind. We are joined by Eric Schlosser, author of a number of books, including the best-selling “Fast Food Nation.” Welcome to Democracy Now! So, talk about that story 33 years ago today.
ERIC SCHLOSSER: Thirty-three years ago, during a routine maintenance procedure, a tool was dropped and it set in motion events that could have led to the destruction of the state of Arkansas and it just so happened that Bill Clinton was the governor at the time. Vice President Mondale was in the state at the time. And it is one of those events that literally could have changed the course of history. So, the book is a minute by minute account of this nuclear weapons accident. It’s unfolding, but I use that narrative as a way to look at the management of our nuclear weapons really from the dawn of the nuclear era to this day.
A great deal has been in the media lately about Pakistani nuclear program, India nuclear program, Iran’s, but not enough attention has been paid to our own and the problems that we have had in the management of our nuclear weapons. And it’s a subject that I think is really, really urgent. It’s interesting, as I was watching Bill McKibben, who I consider a true American hero, and I was just seeing the title of the show, Democracy Now, the whole system of managing nuclear weapons is an inherently authoritarian. And if you look at the kind of secrecy that we have now in this country, and the national security state, it all stems from the development of the atomic bomb, the secrecy around it, and the real point of this book is to provide information to Americans that the government has worked very hard to suppress, to deny an enormous amount of disinformation and misinformation about our weapons program.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: You also point out, Eric Schlosser, that there is a link between the amount of secrecy around nuclear weapons and the level of their and un-safety. Could you elaborate? Could you explain why that is the case?
ERIC SCHLOSSER: During the Cold War, and to a certain extent, today, there was such intense compartmentalized secrecy within the government, that for example, the engineers and physicists who were designing the weapons weren’t allowed to know how the weapons were being used in the field. And the Air Force and Navy and Army personnel who were handling nuclear weapons didn’t know about the safety problems or safety issues that the designers knew. One of the people I write about in the book is an engineer named Robert Peurifoy who rose to be a vice president at the Sandia National Laboratory, and is a remarkable man who realized that our weapons might be unsafe and pose a threat of accidental detonation.
Again, in the book, I go through a number of instances that we almost had American weapons detonate on American soil. So, I write about his effort to bring modern safety devices to our nuclear weapons. Through the Freedom of Information Act, I was able to get about a 250 page document that listed all these different accidents, mistakes, short-circuits, fires involving nuclear weapons, and I showed it to him, and he had never seen it. This is somebody who were decades was at the heart of our nuclear weapons establishment. So, the secrecy was so intense, that the Air Force wasn’t telling the weapons designers problems that they were having in the field.
AMY GOODMAN: Tell us some of those accidents, some of those near misses and how things are being handled today.
ERIC SCHLOSSER: Yeah, I mean, one of the most significant near misses occurred just three days after John F. Kennedy was inaugurated. A B-52 bomber broke apart in the sky over North Carolina, and as it was breaking apart, the centrifugal forces affecting the plane pulled a lanyard in the cockpit, which released one of the hydrogen bombs that it was carrying. And the weapon behaved as though it had been released over the Soviet Union, over an enemy target deliberately. It went through all of its arming stages, except one. There was one switch that prevented it from detonating in North Carolina. And that switch, later, was found to be defective and would never be put into a plane today. Straight electricity in the bomber as it was disintegrating could have detonated the bomb.
The government denied at the time there was ever any possibility that weapon could have detonated. Again and again there have been those sort of denials. But, I obtained documents through the Freedom of Information Act that say conclusively that that weapon could have detonated. I interviewed former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara who had just literally entered the administration, and was terrified when he was told the news of this accident when it occurred. The official list of nuclear weapons accidents that the Pentagon puts out lists 32. But the real number is many, many higher than that. And again —
AMY GOODMAN: What are some of the more recent ones?
ERIC SCHLOSSER: Well, just this summer, two of our three Minutemen missile wings were cited for safety violations. A few years ago, the Air Force’s largest storage facility for nuclear weapons, the group that ran it was de-certified for safety violations. And one of the more concerning things right now, this sounds like a Hollywood movie, is the potential vulnerability of our nuclear command and control system being hacked to cyber attack. The Defense Science Board put out a report this year that the vulnerability of our command and control system to hacking has never been fully assessed. There were Senate hearings on the spring that didn’t get very much attention, but in 2010, 50 of our missiles suddenly went off-line and the launch control centers were unable to communicate with them for an hour. It would later turn out to be one computer chip was improperly installed in a processor, but what we have seen with Snowden and a relatively low level private contractor able to obtain the top secrets of the most secret intelligence agency, the cryptography and some of the code management of our nuclear weapons, is being done by private contractors.
AMY GOODMAN: Who is doing it?
ERIC SCHLOSSER: I think Boeing is doing some of it. And again, they may be doing a wonderful job, but when you’re talking about nuclear weapons, there is no margin for error. If you managed nuclear weapons successfully for 40 years, that is terrific. But if you make one severe error and one of these things detonate, the consequences are going to be unimaginable.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: You’ve also said that the command-and-control structure system in place for nuclear weapons has actually weakened since the end of the Cold War. Is that right?
ERIC SCHLOSSER: One of the things that has happened and one of the problems the Air Force is having is once the Cold War ended — and during the Cold War, having control of nuclear weapons was a high prestige occupation in the Air Force and the Navy, but since the Cold War, it has been seen as a career dead-end. So, there have been all kinds of management issues, underinvestment — and I’m not saying we should be building hundreds and hundreds of new bombers or — but if you’re going to have nuclear weapons, no expense should be spared in the proper management.
AMY GOODMAN: How many do we have?
ERIC SCHLOSSER: And what I was going to say was, some of the systems we have right now are 30, 40 years old. We’re still relying on B-52 bombers as our main nuclear bomber. Those are 60 years old. They haven’t built one since the Kennedy administration. The Titan II missile that I write about it some length in my book, one of the problems and one of the causes of the accident was that it was an obsolete weapon system. Secretary of Defense McNamara had wanted to retire it in the mid-1960s and it was still on alert in the 1980s.
And again with nuclear weapons, the margin of error is very, very small.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to President Obama in June. He was speaking in Berlin, in Germany, and called for nuclear reductions.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Peace with justice means pursuing the security of a world without nuclear weapons, no matter how distant that dream may be. And so, as president, I strengthen our efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and reduce the number and role of America’s nuclear weapons. Because of the New Start Treaty, we are on track to cut American and Russian deployed nuclear warheads to their lowest levels since the 1950s.
AMY GOODMAN: That was president Obama speaking in Berlin in June. Shortly afterwards, Fox News contributor, Charles Krauthammer, criticized Obama for discussing nuclear arms reduction.
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: The idea that we’re going to be any safer if we have 1000 rather than 1500 warheads is absurd, so why is he doing this? Number one, he has been obsessed with nuclear weapons and reducing them ever since he was a student at Columbia and thought the freeze, which was the stupidest strategic idea of the 1980s, wasn’t enough of a reduction, and second, because I think that is all he has got.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Charles Krauthammer on Fox. Eric Schlosser?
ERIC SCHLOSSER: I think that given his record on the Iraq war, nothing he says should be taken seriously. The fact of the matter is, every nuclear weapon is an accident waiting to happen or a potential act of mass murder. The fewer nuclear weapons there are, the less likely there is to be a disaster. I think that President Obama on this issue has been quite courageous in calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. It’s something that presidents have sought in one way or another since the end of the Second World War. I think that it is urgent that there be real arms control and reduction, not just of our arsenal, but of worldwide arsenals of nuclear weapons.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to turn to a video released by anti-nuclear weapons group, Global Zero, that shows many members of Congress don’t even know how many nuclear weapons the United States has. Here members of Global Zero approach Republican Representative Morgan Griffith of Virginia, Republican Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer of Missouri, Republican Representative Rob Wittman of Virginia, and Democratic Representative Pedro Pierluisi of Puerto Rico, Republican Representative Duncan Hunter of California, Republican Representative Mark Amodei of Nevada and Republican Representative Bill Flores of Texas.
GLOBAL ZERO INTERVIEWER: Do you happen to know roughly know how many nuclear weapons we do have?
REP. MORGAN GRIFFITH: Uh…
REP. BLAINE LEUTKEMEYER: Well,…
REP. ROB WITTMAN: The current arsenal, I don’t have an exact number.
REP. DUNCAN HUNTER: My understanding is it’s about 300.
REP. PEDRO PIERLUISI: No, no, it is much more than that.
GLOBAL ZERO INTERVIEWER: It’s more than 15,000?
REP. PEDRO PIERLUISI: In terms of nuclear heads? Of course.
GLOBAL ZERO INTERVIEWER: More than 15,000? Really?
REP. PEDRO PIERLUISI: Well, I don’t know.
GLOBAL ZERO INTERVIEWER: Do you have any idea about how many nuclear weapons we have?
CONGRESSIONAL REP.: Uh, no.
REP. MARK AMODEI: Nope, not the exact number.
REP. BILL FLORES: It changes every day.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: According to the group, Global Zero, more than 70 members of Congress were polled and more than 99% of them did not know, even roughly speaking, how many nuclear weapons the United States has. Eric Schlosser, your remarks on that?
ERIC SCHLOSSER: It’s not an entirely fair question because the numbers are very different whether they are being counted for the SALT Treaty, how many are in reserve, etc. So it is a difficult thing to say specifically. We have about 1500 under the SALT Treaty deployed. We have a few thousand other—
AMY GOODMAN: And where are they?
ERIC SCHLOSSER: … in reserve. They’re mainly on our nuclear submarines that are at sea. We have 450 strategic land-based missiles that are in the northern Midwest. But it is important to keep in mind that there is grounds for optimism. At the height of the Cold War, the United States had 32,000 nuclear weapons and the Soviet Union had 35,000. So right now, the number of weapons that both the Soviet Union and the United States have on alert ready to be launched combined is maybe 2000, 2500. So, to go from 60,000 to 2,500, you know 8,000 to 10,000, is a huge achievement; but there need to be much greater reductions.
AMY GOODMAN: Is there a possibility of a domestic Stuxnet, you know like the U.S. released against Iran, a virus that would affect command and control?
ERIC SCHLOSSER: It is a great concern. These weapons are not connected to the internet, but there are command information systems that run software. During the Cold War, Zbigniew Brezinski was woken up in the middle of the night. He was National Security Adviser. He was told the United States was under attack. He got another call and was basically preparing to call President Carter and advise a retaliation. It turned out that there was a faulty computer chip in the NORAD computers that was saying that Soviet missiles were coming toward the United States and they weren’t. So, as long as you have a weapons stance in which we need to be able to retaliate immediately, it puts enormous pressure on acting quickly and there’s are all kinds of possibilities for error.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what has to be done?
ERIC SCHLOSSER: I think firstly, the reason that I wrote the book, is in a democracy these sort of decisions need to be debated by the American people. And really, since 1944 or 1945, fundamental decisions about nuclear weapons have been made by a small group of policy makers acting in secret. So firstly we need openness, secondly we need a debate, and thirdly we need fewer nuclear weapons much more carefully managed, not only in this country, but in every country.
AMY GOODMAN: Eric Schlosser, we want to thank you for being with us. “Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident and the Illusion of Safety” is the book. It has just come out.
Tags: anti-nuclear, anti-war, Criminal Justice, dissent, doj, eric holder, fran quigley, greg boertje-obed, megan rice, michael walli, non violence, nuclear, nuclear weapons, oak ridge, pacifism, peace, peace protestors, ramsey clark, roger hollander, swords into plowshares
Roger’s note: if this doesn’t send a chill up the spine of anyone with spine enough to peacefully challenge US war mongering, then I don’t know what will. This case is Lewis Carroll, Orwell and Kafka rolled up into one. Don’t fail to realize that this is happening under a president who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
In just ten months, the United States managed to transform an 82 year-old Catholic nun and two pacifists from non-violent anti-nuclear peace protestors accused of misdemeanor trespassing into federal felons convicted of violent crimes of terrorism. Now in jail awaiting sentencing for their acts at an Oak Ridge, TN nuclear weapons production facility, their story should chill every person concerned about dissent in the US.
Here is how it happened.
In the early morning hours of Saturday June 28, 2012, long-time peace activists Sr. Megan Rice, 82, Greg Boertje-Obed, 57, and Michael Walli, 63, cut through the chain link fence surrounding the Oak Ridge Y-12 nuclear weapons production facility and trespassed onto the property. Y-12, called the Fort Knox of the nuclear weapons industry, stores hundreds of metric tons of highly enriched uranium and works on every single one of the thousands of nuclear weapons maintained by the U.S.
“The truth will heal us and heal our planet, heal our diseases, which result from the disharmony of our planet caused by the worst weapons in the history of mankind, which should not exist. For this we give our lives — for the truth about the terrible existence of these weapons.”
– Sr. Megan Rice
Describing themselves as the Transform Now Plowshares, the three came as non-violent protestors to symbolically disarm the weapons. They carried bibles, written statements, peace banners, spray paint, flower, candles, small baby bottles of blood, bread, hammers with biblical verses on them and wire cutters. Their intent was to follow the words of Isaiah 2:4: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
Sr. Megan Rice has been a Catholic sister of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus for over sixty years. Greg Boertje-Obed, a married carpenter who has a college age daughter, is an Army veteran and lives at a Catholic Worker house in Duluth Minnesota. Michael Walli, a two-term Vietnam veteran turned peacemaker, lives at the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker house in Washington DC.
In the dark, the three activists cut through a boundary fence which had signs stating “No Trespassing.” The signs indicate that unauthorized entry, a misdemeanor, is punishable by up to 1 year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
No security arrived to confront them.
So the three climbed up a hill through heavy brush, crossed a road, and kept going until they saw the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF) surrounded by three fences, lit up by blazing lights.
Still no security.
So they cut through the three fences, hung up their peace banners, and spray-painted peace slogans on the HEUMF. Still no security arrived. They began praying and sang songs like “Down by the Riverside” and “Peace is Flowing Like a River.”
When security finally arrived at about 4:30 am, the three surrendered peacefully, were arrested, and jailed.
The next Monday July 30, Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli were arraigned and charged with federal trespassing, a misdemeanor charge which carries a penalty of up to one year in jail. Frank Munger, an award-winning journalist with the Knoxville News Sentinel, was the first to publicly wonder, “If unarmed protesters dressed in dark clothing could reach the plant’s core during the cover of dark, it raised questions about the plant’s security against more menacing intruders.”
On Wednesday August 1, all nuclear operations at Y-12 were ordered to be put on hold in order for the plant to focus on security. The “security stand-down” was ordered by security contractor in charge of Y-12, B&W Y-12 (a joint venture of the Babcock and Wilcox Company and Bechtel National Inc.) and supported by the National Nuclear Security Administration.
On Thursday August 2, Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli appeared in court for a pretrial bail hearing. The government asked that all three be detained. One prosecutor called them a potential “danger to the community” and asked that all three be kept in jail until their trial. The US Magistrate allowed them to be released.
Sr. Megan Rice walked out of the jail and promptly admitted to gathered media that the three had indeed gone onto the property and taken action in protest of nuclear weapons. “But we had to — we were doing it because we had to reveal the truth of the criminality which is there, that’s our obligation,” Rice said. She also challenged the entire nuclear weapons industry: “We have the power, and the love, and the strength and the courage to end it and transform the whole project, for which has been expended more than 7.2 trillion dollars,” she said. “The truth will heal us and heal our planet, heal our diseases, which result from the disharmony of our planet caused by the worst weapons in the history of mankind, which should not exist. For this we give our lives — for the truth about the terrible existence of these weapons.”
Then the government began increasing the charges against the anti-nuclear peace protestors.
The day after the Magistrate ordered the release of Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli, a Department of Energy (DOE) agent swore out a federal criminal complaint against the three for damage to federal property, a felony punishable by zero to five years in prison, under 18 US Code Section 1363.
The DOE agent admitted the three carried a letter which stated, “We come to the Y-12 facility because our very humanity rejects the designs of nuclearism, empire and war. Our faith in love and nonviolence encourages us to believe that our activity here is necessary; that we come to invite transformation, undo the past and present work of Y-12; disarm and end any further efforts to increase the Y-12 capacity for an economy and social structure based on war-making and empire-building.”
Now, Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli were facing one misdemeanor and one felony and up to six years in prison.
But the government did not stop there. The next week, the charges were enlarged yet again.
On Tuesday August 7, the U.S. expanded the charges against the peace activists to three counts. The first was the original charge of damage to Y-12 in violation of 18 US Code 1363, punishable by up to five years in prison. The second was an additional damage to federal property in excess of $1000 in violation of 18 US Code 1361, punishable by up to ten years in prison. The third was a trespassing charge, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison under 42 US Code 2278.
Now they faced up to sixteen years in prison. And the actions of the protestors started to receive national and international attention.
On August 10, 2012, the New York Times ran a picture of Sr. Megan Rice on page one under the headline “The Nun Who Broke into the Nuclear Sanctum.” Citing nuclear experts, the paper of record called their actions “the biggest security breach in the history of the nation’s atomic complex.”
At the end of August 2012, the Inspector General of the Department of Energy issued at comprehensive report on the security breakdown at Y-12. Calling the peace activists trespassers, the report indicated that the three were able to get as far as they did because of “multiple system failures on several levels.” The cited failures included cameras broken for six months, ineptitude in responding to alarms, communication problems, and many other failures of the contractors and the federal monitors. The report concluded that “Ironically, the Y-12 breach may have been an important “wake-up” call regarding the need to correct security issues at the site.”
On October 4, 2012, the defendants announced that they had been advised that, unless they pled guilty to at least one felony and the misdemeanor trespass charge, the U.S. would also charge them with sabotage against the U.S. government, a much more serious charge. Over 3000 people signed a petition to U.S. Attorney General Holder asking him not to charge them with sabotage.
But on December 4, 2012, the U.S. filed a new indictment of the protestors. Count one was the promised new charge of sabotage. Defendants were charged with intending to injure, interfere with, or obstruct the national defense of the United States and willful damage of national security premises in violation of 18 US Code 2155, punishable with up to 20 years in prison. Counts two and three were the previous felony property damage charges, with potential prison terms of up to fifteen more years in prison.
Gone entirely was the original misdemeanor charge of trespass. Now Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli faced up to thirty-five years in prison.
In a mere five months, government charges transformed them from misdemeanor trespassers to multiple felony saboteurs.
The government also successfully moved to strip the three from presenting any defenses or testimony about the harmful effects of nuclear weapons. The U.S. Attorney’s office filed a document they called “Motion to Preclude Defendants from Introducing Evidence in Support of Certain Justification Defenses.” In this motion, the U.S. asked the court to bar the peace protestors from being allowed to put on any evidence regarding the illegality of nuclear weapons, the immorality of nuclear weapons, international law, or religious, moral or political beliefs regarding nuclear weapons, the Nuremberg principles developed after WWII, First Amendment protections, necessity or US policy regarding nuclear weapons.
Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli argued against the motion. But, despite powerful testimony by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, a declaration from an internationally renowned physician and others, the Court ruled against defendants.
Meanwhile, Congress was looking into the security breach, and media attention to the trial grew with a remarkable story in the Washington Post, with CNN coverage and AP and Reuters joining in.
The trial was held in Knoxville in early May 2012. The three peace activists were convicted on all counts. Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli all took the stand, admitted what they had done, and explained why they did it. The federal manager of Y-12 said the protestors had damaged the credibility of the site in the U.S. and globally and even claimed that their acts had an impact on nuclear deterrence.
As soon as the jury was dismissed, the government moved to jail the protestors because they had been convicted of “crimes of violence.” The government argued that cutting the fences and spray-painting slogans was property damage such as to constitute crimes of violence so the law obligated their incarceration pending sentencing.
The defense pointed out that Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli had remained free since their arrest without incident. The government attorneys argued that two of the protestors had violated their bail by going to a congressional hearing about the Y-12 security problems, an act that had been approved by their parole officers.
The three were immediately jailed. In its decision affirming their incarceration pending their sentencing, the court ruled that both the sabotage and the damage to property convictions were defined by Congress as federal crimes of terrorism. Since the charges carry potential sentences of ten years or more, the Court ruled there was a strong presumption in favor of incarceration which was not outweighed by any unique circumstances that warranted their release pending sentencing.
These non-violent peace activists now sit in jail as federal prisoners, awaiting their sentencing on September 23, 2012.
In ten months, an 82 year old nun and two pacifists had been successfully transformed by the U.S. government from non-violent anti-nuclear peace protestors accused of misdemeanor trespassing into felons convicted of violent crimes of terrorism.
Tags: china nuclear, diplomacy, India nuclear, iran nuclear, israel nuclear, non-proliferation, nuclear, nuclear deterrance, nuclear power, nuclear proliferation, nuclear stockpile, nuclear war, nuclear weapons, Pakistan nuclear, roger hollander, start treaty, U.S. Economy, U.S. Politics, william d. hartrung
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Roger’s note: when I was a small child I was afraid of the dark, and the only way I could peacefully fall asleep was to pull my blanket over my head. Somehow, irrationally, it made me feel safe from whatever out there I was afraid of. As you will read in the article posted below, “out there” are 20,000 nuclear warheads in the hands of the governments of nine nations, some less stable than others. Enough nuclear power to blow our planet to bits a number of time. Why am I calling this to your attention? Actually, I am not sure. It just seems to me that a strategy more practical than pulling a blanket of our collective heads is called for. And good luck in getting to sleep tonight.
By William D. Hartung, TomDispatch
There was a time when nuclear weapons were a significant part of our national conversation. Addressing the issue of potential atomic annihilation was once described by nuclear theorist Herman Kahn as “thinking about the unthinkable,” but that didn’t keep us from thinking, talking, fantasizing, and worrying about it, or putting images of possible nuclear nightmares (often transmuted to invading aliens or outer space) endlessly on screen.
Now, on a planet still overstocked with city-busting, world-ending weaponry, in which almost 67 years have passed since a nuclear weapon was last used, the only nuke that Americans regularly hear about is one that doesn’t exist: Iran’s. The nearly 20,000 nuclear weapons on missiles, planes, and submarines possessed by Russia, the United States, France, the United Kingdom, China, Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea are barely mentioned in what passes for press coverage of the nuclear issue.
Today, nuclear destruction finds itself at the end of a long queue of anxieties about our planet and its fate. For some reason, we trust ourselves, our allies, and even our former enemies with nuclear arms — evidently so deeply that we don’t seem to think the staggering arsenals filled with weaponry that could put the devastation of Hiroshima to shame are worth covering or dealing with. Even the disaster at Fukushima last year didn’t revive an interest in the weaponry that goes with the “peaceful” atom in our world.
Attending to the Bomb in a MAD World
Our views of the nuclear issue haven’t always been so shortsighted. In the 1950s, editor and essayist Norman Cousins was typical in frequently tackling nuclear weapons issues for the widely read magazine Saturday Review. In the late 1950s and beyond, the Ban the Bomb movement forced the nuclear weapons issue onto the global agenda, gaining international attention when it was revealed that Strontium-90, a byproduct of nuclear testing, was making its way into mothers’ breast milk. In those years, the nuclear issue became personal as well as political.
In the early 1960s, President John F. Kennedy responded to public pressure by signing a treaty with Russia that banned atmospheric nuclear testing (and so further Strontium-90 fallout). He also gave a dramatic speech to the United Nations in which he spoke of the nuclear arms race as a “sword of Damocles” hanging over the human race, poised to destroy us at any moment.
Popular films like Fail-Safe and Dr. Strangelove captured both the dangers and the absurdity of the superpower arms race. And when, on the night of October 22, 1962, Kennedy took to the airwaves to warn the American people that a Cuban missile crisis was underway, that it was nuclear in nature, and that a Soviet nuclear attack and a “full retaliatory strike on the Soviet Union” were possibilities — arguably the closest we have come to a global nuclear war — it certainly got everyone’s attention.
All things nuclear receded from public consciousness as the Vietnam War escalated and became the focus of antiwar activism and debate, but the nuclear issue came back with a vengeance in the Reagan years of the early 1980s when superpower confrontations once again were in the headlines. A growing anti-nuclear movement first focused on a near-disaster at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania (the Fukushima of its moment) and then on the superpower nuclear stand-off that went by the name of “mutually assured destruction” or, appropriately enough, the acronym MAD.
The Nuclear Freeze Campaign generated scores of anti-nuclear resolutions in cities and towns around the country, and in June 1982, a record-breaking million people gathered in New York City’s Central Park to call for nuclear disarmament. If anyone managed to miss this historic outpouring of anti-nuclear sentiment, ABC news aired a prime-time, made-for-TV movie, The Day After, that offered a remarkably graphic depiction of the missiles leaving their silos and the devastating consequences of a nuclear war. It riveted a nation.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of that planetary superpower rivalry less than a decade later took nuclear weapons out of the news. After all, with the Cold War over and no other rivals to the United States, who needed such weaponry or a MAD world, either? The only problem was that the global nuclear landscape was left more or less intact, mission-less but largely untouched (with the proliferation of the weapons to other countries ongoing). Unacknowledged as it may be, in some sense MAD still exists, even if we prefer to pretend that it doesn’t.
A MAD World That No One Cares to Notice
More than 20 years later, the only nuclear issue considered worth the bother is stopping the spread of the bomb to a couple of admittedly scary and problematic regimes: Iran and North Korea. Their nuclear efforts regularly make the news and garner attention (to the point of obsession) in media and government circles. But remind me: When was the last time you read about what should be the ultimate (and obvious) goal — getting rid of nuclear weapons altogether?
This has been our reality, despite President Obama’s pledge in Prague back in 2009 to seek “the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” and the passage of a modest but important New START arms-reduction treaty between the United States and Russia in 2010. It remains our reality, despite a dawning realization in budget-anxious Washington that we may no longer be able to afford to throw money (as presently planned) at nuclear projects ranging from new ballistic-missile submarines to new facilities for building nuclear warhead components — all of which are slated to keep the secret global nuclear arms race alive and well decades into the future.
If Iran is worth talking about — and it is, given the implications of an Iranian bomb for further nuclear proliferation in the Middle East — what about the arsenals of the actual nuclear states? What about Pakistan, a destabilizing country which has at least 110 nuclear warheads and counting, and which continues to view India as its primary adversary despite U.S. efforts to get it to focus on al Qaida and the Taliban? What about India’s roughly 100 nuclear warheads, meant to send a message not just to Pakistan but to neighboring China as well? And will China hold pat at 240 or so nuclear weapons in the face of U.S. nuclear modernization efforts and plans to surround it with missile defense systems that could, in theory if not practice, blunt China’s nuclear deterrent force?
Will Israel continue to get a free pass on its officially unacknowledged possession of up to 200 nuclear warheads and its refusal to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty? Who are France and the United Kingdom targeting with their forces of 300 and 225 nuclear warheads, respectively? How long will it take North Korea to develop miniaturized nuclear bombs and deploy them on workable, long-range missiles? And is New START the beginning or the end of mutual U.S. and Russian arms reductions?
Many of these questions are far more important than whether Iran gets the bomb, but they get, at best, only a tiny fraction of the attention that Tehran’s nuclear program is receiving. Concern about Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and a fear of loose nukes in a destabilizing country is certainly part of the subtext of U.S. policy towards Islamabad. Little effort has been made of late, however, to encourage Pakistan and India to engage in talks aimed at reconciling their differences and opening the way for discussions on reducing their nuclear arsenals.
The last serious effort – centered on the contentious issue of Kashmir — reached its high point in 2007 under the regime of Pakistani autocrat Pervez Musharraf, and it went awry in the wake of political changes within his country and Pakistani-backed terrorist attacks on India. If anything, the tensions now being generated by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal borderlands and other affronts, intended or not, to Pakistan’s sovereignty have undermined any possibility of Washington brokering a rapprochement between Pakistan and India.
In addition, starting in the Bush years, the U.S. has been selling India nuclear fuel and equipment. This has been part of a controversial agreement that violates prior U.S. commitments to forgo nuclear trade with any nation that has refused to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (a pact India has not signed). Although U.S. assistance is nominally directed towards India’s civilian nuclear program, it helps free up resources that India can use to expand its nuclear weapons arsenal.
The “tilt” towards India that began during the Bush administration has continued under Obama. Only recently, for instance, a State Department official bragged about U.S. progress in selling advanced weaponry to New Delhi. Meanwhile, F-16s that Washington supplied to the Pakistani military back in the heyday of the U.S.-Pakistan alliance may have already been adapted to serve as nuclear delivery vehicles in the event of a nuclear confrontation with India.
China has long adhered to a de facto policy of minimum deterrence — keeping just enough nuclear weapons to dissuade another nation from attacking it with nuclear arms. But this posture has not prevented Beijing from seeking to improve the quality of its long-range ballistic missiles. And if China feels threatened by continued targeting by the United States or by sea-based American interceptors deployed to the region, it could easily increase its arsenal to ensure the “safety” of its deterrent. Beijing will also be keeping a watchful eye on India as its nuclear stockpile continues to grow.
Ever since Ronald Reagan — egged on by mad scientists like Edward Teller and right-wing zealots like Lt. Gen. Daniel O. Graham – pledged to build a perfect anti-nuclear shield that would render nuclear weapons “impotent and obsolete,” missile defense has had a powerful domestic constituency in the United States. This has been the case despite the huge cost and high-profile failures of various iterations of the missile defense concept.
The only concrete achievement of three decades of missile defense research and development so far has been to make Russia suspicious of U.S. intentions. Even now, rightly or not, Russia is extremely concerned about the planned installation of U.S. missile defenses in Europe that Washington insists will be focused on future Iranian nuclear weapons. Moscow feels that they could just as easily be turned on Russia. If President Obama wins a second term, he will undoubtedly hope to finesse this issue and open the door to further joint reductions in nuclear forces, or possibly even consider reducing this country’s nuclear arsenal significantly, whether or not Russia initially goes along.
Recent bellicose rhetoric from Moscow underscores its sensitivity to the missile defense issue, which may yet scuttle any plans for serious nuclear negotiations. Given that the U.S. and Russia together possess more than 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons, an impasse between the two nuclear superpowers (even if they are not “super” in other respects) will undercut any leverage they might have to encourage other nations to embark on a path leading to global nuclear reductions.
In his 1960s ode to nuclear proliferation, “Who’s Next?” Tom Lehrer included the line “Israel’s getting tense, wants one in self-defense.” In fact, Israel was the first — and for now the only — Middle Eastern nation to get the bomb, with reports that it can deliver a nuclear warhead not only from land-based missiles but also via cruise missiles launched from nuclear submarines. Whatever it may say about Israel’s technical capabilities in the military field, Israel’s nuclear arsenal may also be undermining its defense, particularly if it helps spur Iran to build its own nukes. And irresponsible talk by some Israeli officials about attacking Iran only increases the chance that Tehran will decide to go nuclear.
It is hard to handicap the grim, “unthinkable,” but hardly inconceivable prospect that August 9, 1945, will not prove to be the last time that nuclear weapons are used on this planet. Perhaps some of the loose nuclear materials or inadequately guarded nuclear weapons littering the globe — particularly, but not solely, in the states of the former Soviet Union — might fall into the hands of a terrorist group. Perhaps an Islamic fundamentalist government will seize power in Pakistan and go a step too far in nuclear brinkmanship with India over Kashmir. Maybe the Israeli leadership will strike out at Iran with nuclear weapons in an effort to keep Tehran from going nuclear. Maybe there will be a miscommunication or false alarm that will result in the United States or Russia launching one of their nuclear weapons that are still in Cold War-style, hair-trigger mode.
Although none of these scenarios, including a terrorist nuclear attack, may be as likely as nuclear alarmists sometimes suggest, as long as the world remains massively stocked with nuclear weapons, one of them — or some other scenario yet to be imagined — is always possible. The notion that Iran can’t be trusted with such a weapon obscures a larger point: Given their power to destroy life on a monumental scale, no individual and no government can ultimately be trusted with the bomb.
The only way to be safe from nuclear weapons is to get rid of them — not just the Iranian one that doesn’t yet exist, but all of them. It’s a daunting task. It’s also a subject that’s out of the news and off anyone’s agenda at the moment, but if it is ever to be achieved, we at least need to start talking about it. Soon.
William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, a TomDispatch regular, and the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex. (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Hartung discusses the upside-down world of global nuclear politics, click here or download it to your iPod here.)
Tags: aipac, atomic energy, iaea, Iran, iran nuclear, israel, journalism, judy miller, likud, new york times, nuclear capabilities, nuclear weapons, roger hollander, rogert naiman
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It’s deja vu all over again. AIPAC is trying to trick America into another catastrophic war with a Middle Eastern country on behalf of the Likud Party’s colonial ambitions, and the New York Times is lying about allegations that said country is developing “weapons of mass destruction.”
In an article attributed to Steven Erlanger on January 4 (“Europe Takes Bold Step Toward a Ban on Iranian Oil “), this paragraph appeared:
The threats from Iran, aimed both at the West and at Israel, combined with a recent assessment by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran’s nuclear program has a military objective, is becoming an important issue in the American presidential campaign. [my emphasis]
The claim that there is “a recent assessment by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran’s nuclear program has a military objective” is a lie.
As Washington Post Ombudsman Patrick Pexton noted on December 9,
But the IAEA report does not say Iran has a bomb, nor does it say it is building one, only that its multiyear effort pursuing nuclear technology is sophisticated and broad enough that it could be consistent with building a bomb.
Indeed, if you try now to find the offending paragraph on the New York Times website, you can’t. They took it down. But there is no note, like there is supposed to be, acknowledging that they changed the article, and that there was something wrong with it before. Sneaky, huh?
But you can still find the original here. Indeed, at this writing, if you go to the New York Times website, and search on the phrase, “military objective,” the article pops right up. But if you open the article, the text is gone. But again, there is no explanatory note saying that they changed the text.
This is not an isolated example in the Times‘ reporting. The very same day – January 4 – the New York Times published another article, attributed to Clifford Krauss (“Oil Price Would Skyrocket if Iran Closed the Strait of Hormuz “), that contained the following paragraph.
Various Iranian officials in recent weeks have said they would blockade the strait, which is only 21 miles wide at its narrowest point, if the United States and Europe imposed a tight oil embargo on their country in an effort to thwart its development of nuclear weapons [my emphasis].
At this writing, that text is still on the New York Times website.
Of course, referring to Iran’s “development of nuclear weapons” without qualification implies that it is a known fact that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. But it is not a known fact. It is an allegation. Indeed, when U.S. officials are speaking publicly for the record, they say the opposite. As Washington Post Ombudsman Patrick Pexton noted on December 9,
This is what the U.S. director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in March: “We continue to assess [that] Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.
To demand a correction, you can write to the New York Times here. To write a letter to the editor, you can write to the New York Times here. To complain to the New York Times‘ Public Editor, you write him here.
Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy. Naiman has worked as a policy analyst and researcher at the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. He has masters degrees in economics and mathematics from the University of Illinois and has studied and worked in the Middle East. You can contact him here.
Seymour Hersh: Propaganda Used Ahead of Iraq War Is Now Being Reused over Iran’s Nuke Program November 21, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iran, War.
Tags: amy goodman, Democracy Now, ehud barak, iaea, Iran, iran nuclear, iran sanctions, israel iran, jsoc, netanyahu, non-proliferation, nuclear weapons, roger hollander, Seymour Hersh
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www.democracy.org, Nov. 21, 2011
- Noam Chomsky on the 9/11 Decade and the Assassination of Osama bin Laden: Was There an Alternative?
- From One Ground Zero to Another: Sister of 9/11 Victim Meets Afghan Who Lost Family in U.S. Bombing
- A Debate on Human Rights Watch’s Call for Bush Administration Officials to be Tried for Torture
- Former CIA Agent Glenn Carle Reveals Bush Admin Effort to Smear War Critic Juan Cole
- Seymour Hersh: Despite Intelligence Rejecting Iran as Nuclear Threat, U.S. Could Be Headed for Iraq Redux
AMY GOODMAN: Today the United States, Britain and Canada plan to announce a coordinated set of sanctions against Iran. ABC News and the Wall Street Journal report the sanctions will target Iran’s oil and petrochemical industry. Last weekend, President Obama warned no options were being taken off the table.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The sanctions have enormous bite and enormous scope, and we’re building off the platform that has already been established. The question is, are there additional measures that we can take? And we’re going to explore every avenue to see if we can solve this issue diplomatically. I have said repeatedly, and I will say today, we are not taking any options off the table.
AMY GOODMAN: International pressure has been mounting on Iran since the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency revealed in a report the, quote, “possible military dimensions” to its nuclear activities. The IAEA said “credible” evidence, quote, “indicates [that] Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.” The IAEA passed a resolution Friday expressing, quote, “increasing concern” about Iran’s nuclear program following the report’s findings.
The speaker of Iran’s parliament said yesterday Iran would review its relations with the IAEA following the report. Ali Larijani indicated it may be difficult for Iran to continue to cooperate with the nuclear watchdog.
ALI LARIJANI: [translated] If the agency acts within the framework of the Charter, we accept that we are a member of it and will carry out our responsibilities. But if the agency wants to deviate from its responsibilities, then it should not expect the other’s cooperation.
AMY GOODMAN: Iranian parliamentary speaker. Meanwhile, some Iranians have expressed the desire for increased cooperation with the IAEA.
SAID BAHRAMI: [translated] Considering the fact that the government has made plenty of clarifications, it would be better for it to expand its cooperation with the IAEA and let them see for themselves, close up, so there would be no pretext for the superpowers.
AMY GOODMAN: Last week, the Pentagon confirmed it has received massive new bunker-busting bombs capable of destroying underground sites, including Iran’s nuclear facilities. The 30,000-pound bombs are six times the size of the Air Force’s current arsenal of bunker busters.
The new sanctions against Iran also follow last month’s allegations by the United States that Iranian officials were involved in a thwarted plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington. The U.S. is expected to announce today that Iran’s financial sector is of “primary money-laundering concern.” This phrase activates a section of the USA PATRIOT Act that warns European, Asian and Latin American companies they could be prevented from doing business with the United States if they continue to work with Iran.
Well, to talk more about the sanctions and the implications of the IAEA report, we go to Washington, D.C., to speak with Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh. He’s been reporting on Iran and the bomb for the past decade. His latest piece is titled “Iran and the IAEA.” It’s in The New Yorker.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Sy. Talk about what you feel should be understood about what’s happening in Iran right now in regards to its nuclear power sector.
SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, you mention, going in—by the way, the piece was in the blog. It wasn’t in the magazine; it was on the web page.
But you mentioned Iraq. It’s just this—almost the same sort of—I don’t know if you want to call it a “psychosis,” but it’s some sort of a fantasy land being built up here, as it was with Iraq, the same sort of—no lessons learned, obviously. Look, I have been reporting about Iran, and I could tell you that since ’04, under George Bush, and particularly the Vice President, Mr. Cheney, we were—Cheney was particularly concerned there were secret facilities for building a weapon, which are much different than the enrichment. We have enrichment in Iran. They’ve acknowledged it. They have inspectors there. There are cameras there, etc. This is all—Iran’s a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Nobody is accusing them of any cheating. In fact, the latest report that everybody’s so agog about also says that, once again, we find no evidence that Iran has diverted any uranium that it’s enriching. And it’s also enriching essentially at very low levels for peaceful purposes, so they say, 3.8 percent. And so, there is a small percentage being enriched to 20 percent for medical use, but that’s quite small, also under cameras, under inspection.
What you have is, in those days, in ’04, ’05, ’06, ’07, even until the end of their term in office, Cheney kept on having the Joint Special Operations Force Command, JSOC—they would send teams inside Iran. They would work with various dissident groups—the Azeris, the Kurds, even Jundallah, which is a very fanatic Sunni opposition group—and they would do everything they could to try and find evidence of an undeclared underground facility. We monitored everything. We have incredible surveillance. In those days, what we did then, we can even do better now. And some of the stuff is very technical, very classified, but I can tell you, there’s not much you can do in Iran right now without us finding out something about it. They found nothing. Nothing. No evidence of any weaponization. In other words, no evidence of a facility to build the bomb. They have facilities to enrich, but not separate facilities for building a bomb. This is simply a fact. We haven’t found it, if it does exist. It’s still a fantasy. We still want to think—many people do think—it does.
The big change was, in the last few weeks, the IAEA came out with a new report. And it’s not a scientific report, it’s a political document. It takes a lot of the old allegations that had been made over the years, that were looked at by the IAEA, under the regime or the directorship of Mohamed ElBaradei, who ran the IAEA for 12 years, the Egyptian—he won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work—somebody who was very skeptical of Iran in the beginning and became less so as Iran went—was more and more open. But the new director of the IAEA, a Japanese official named Amano, an old sort of—from the center-right party in Japan—I’m sure he’s an honorable guy, he believes what he believes. But we happen to have a series of WikiLeak documents from the American embassy in Vienna, one of the embassies in Vienna, reporting on how great it was to get Amano there. This is last year. These documents were released by Julian Assange’s group and are quite important, because what the documents say is that Amano has pledged his fealty to America. I understand he was elected as a—he was a marginal candidate. We supported him very much. Six ballots. He was considered weak by everybody, but we pushed to get him in. We did get him in. He responded by thanking us and saying he shares our views. He shares our views on Iran. He’s going to be—he’s basically—it was just an expression of love. He’s going to do what we wanted.
This new report has nothing new in it. This isn’t me talking. This is—in the piece I did for the New Yorker blog, it’s different for the blog because it has more reporting in it. I talked to former inspectors. They’re different voices than you read in the New York Times and the Washington Post. There are other people that don’t get reported who are much more skeptical of this report, and you just don’t see it in the coverage. So what we’re getting is a very small slice in the newspaper mainstream press here of analysis of this report. There’s a completely different analysis, which is, very little new.
And the way it works, Amy, is, over the years, a report will show up in a London newspaper, that will turn out to be spurious, turn out to be propaganda, whether started by us or a European intelligence agency—it’s not clear. This all happened, if you remember the Ahmed Chalabi stuff, during the buildup to the war in [Iraq], all about, you know, the great arsenals that existed inside [Iraq]. The same sort of propaganda is being used now—pardon me, I have a slight cold—that shows up over the years, over the last decade, in various newspapers. The IAEA would look at it, rule it not to be—be a fabrication, or certainly not to be supportable by anything they know. All of these old reports, with the exception of, I think, in a new study that was put out by the IAEA—there were maybe 30 or 40 old items, with only three things past 2008, all of which are—they—many people inside the IAEA believe to be spurious, not very reliable fabrications. So there you are.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Sy Hersh, you’re saying that it’s not new information. It’s a new head of the IAEA that’s making the difference here. Can you talk more about U.S. infiltration of Iran, JSOC in Iran, surveillance, as well, in Iran?
SEYMOUR HERSH: Sure. I mean, the kind of stuff they did. I could tell you stuff that was secret eight, nine years ago. We would—for example, we developed—if there was an underground facility we thought was—where we saw some digging, let’s say, in a mountain area, we would line the road, when there were trucks going up and down the road, we would line the road with what seemed to be pebbles. In fact, they were sensors that could measure the weight of trucks going in and out. If a truck would go in light and come out with heavy, we could assume it was coming out with dirt, they were doing digging. We did that kind of monitoring.
We also put all sorts of passive counters, measures, of radioactivity. Uranium, even plutonium—most of the stuff that’s being done there is enriched uranium. They’re not making plutonium. But you can track. At a certain point, you have to move it. Once you take it out and start moving it around, you can track it. You can find Geiger counters, if you will, to use that old-fashioned term. You can measure radioactivity and see increases. We would go into a building, our troops, sometimes even with Americans, go into a building in Tehran, where we thought there was something fishy going on, start a disturbance down the street, take out a few bricks, slam in another section of brick with a Geiger counter, if you will, or a measuring device to see if, in that building, they were doing some enrichment we didn’t know about.
And we also have incredible competence at looking for air holes from the air, from satellites. If you’re building an underground facility, you have to vent it. You have to get air into it. You have to find a way to remove bad air and put in fresh air. And so, we have guys that are experts, tremendous people in the community. Some of them retired and set up a private company to do this. They would monitor all of the aerial surveillance to look for air holes, so we could find a pattern, try to find a pattern, of an underground facility. Nada.We came up with nothing.
And the most important thing is, we also—and the IA—even this new report also says—let me emphasize this: if you’re not diverting uranium, if you’re not taking uranium out of the count and smuggling it someplace so that you can build a bomb—and that, the IAEA is absolutely categorical on—everything that they are enriching, whatever percentage they enrich to, is under camera inspection, and under inspection of inspections. It’s all open, under the treaty, the safeguard treaty. Nobody is accusing Iran of violating the treaty. They’re just accusing them of cheating on the side, or some evidence they are. And there’s been no evidence of a diversion. So if you’re going to make a bomb, you’re going to have to bring it in from someplace else. And given the kind of surveillance we have, that’s going to be hard to do, to import it from a third country, bring in uranium and enrich it, or enriched uranium. It’s just a long shot.
And what you have is—as I said, it’s some sort of a hysteria that we had over Iraq that’s coming up again in Iran. And this isn’t a plea for Iran. There’s a lot of things that the Iranians do that is objectionable, the way they treat dissent, etc., etc. So I’m just speaking within the context of the hullabaloo that’s up now. And as far as sanctions are concerned, you know, excuse me, we’ve been sanctioning Cuba for 60 years, and Castro is—you know, he may be ill, but he’s still there. Sanctions are not going to work. This is a country that produces oil and gas—less and less, but still plenty of it. And they have customers in the Far East, the Iranians. They have customers for their energy. We’re the losers in this.
AMY GOODMAN: How would you compare the Obama administration to the Bush administration when it comes to Iran?
SEYMOUR HERSH: I can’t find a comparison. Same—a little less bellicose, but the same thing. I do think—I have every reason to believe that, unlike Mr. Bush, President Obama really is worried about an attack. He doesn’t want to see the Israelis bomb Iran. That’s the kind of talk we’ve been getting in the press lately.
And there’s new—as you mentioned, the 30,000-pound bombs built by Boeing, I think. The problem is that most of Iran’s facilities, the ones that we know about, the declared facilities under camera inspection, a place called Natanz, is about 80, 75 to 80 feet underground. And you’d have to do a hell of a lot of bombing to do much damage to it. You could certainly do damage to it, but the cost internationally would be stupendous. The argument for going and bombing is so vague and so nil. There’s been studies done showing—technical studies, MIT and other places, and the Israeli government also has had its scientists participate in these studies, showing it would be really hard to do a significant amount of damage, given how deep the underground facilities are. But you hear this talk about it.
And there’s—you know, look, this president has said nothing about what’s going on in Tahrir Square again. We’re mute. He’s been mute on this kind of bellicosity. But my understanding is that, purely from inside information, is that he does understand the issues more. I think it’s right now a political game being played by him to look tough. You know, everybody’s chasing, you know, the independent vote. I don’t know why—what’s so important to go after people that can’t decide whether they’re Democrats or Republicans, but that seems to be the name of the game.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s turn to the response in Israel to the IAEA report. Yesterday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in an interview with CNN the time has come to deal with Iran. When asked specifically whether Israel would attack Iran, this is how he responded.
DEFENSE MINISTER EHUD BARAK: I don’t think that that’s a subject for public discussion. But I can tell you that the IAEA report has a sobering impact on many in the world, leaders as well the publics. And people understand that the time had come. Amano told straightly what he found, unlike Baradei. And it became a major issue, that I think, duly so, becomes a major issue for sanctions, for intensive diplomacy, with urgency. People understand now that Iran is determined to reach nuclear weapons. No other possible or conceivable explanation for what they had been actually doing. And that should be stopped.
AMY GOODMAN: That was the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak. Sy, your response?
SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, what makes me nervous is Barak and Bibi, Bibi Netanyahu, are together on this. They’re not always together on many things. They both agree, and that’s worrisome because, again, it’s a political issue there. Everybody—the country is moving quickly to the right, Israel is, obviously. And I can just tell you that I’ve also talked—unfortunately, the ground rules are so lousy in Israel, I can’t write it, but I’ve talked to very senior intelligence people in Iran—in Israel, rather. If you notice, you don’t hear that much about it, but the former head of Mossad, Meir Dagan, who left—who was the guy that orchestrated the attempted assassinations in Dubai, etc.—no dove—has been vehement about the foolishness of attempting to go after Iran, on the grounds that it’s not clear what they have. They’re certainly far away from a bomb. Israel has been saying for 20 years they’re, you know, six months away from making a bomb.
But I can tell you that I’ve talked to senior Israeli officers in Israel who have told me, A, they know that Iran, as the American intelligence community reported—I think it was in ’07—there was a National Intelligence Estimate that became public that said, essentially, Iran did look at a bomb. They had an eight-year war with Iraq, a terrible war, 1980 to 1988. And we, by the way, the United States, sided with Iraq, Saddam Hussein at that time. Iran then, in the years after that, they began to worry about Iraq’s talk about building a nuclear weapon, so they did look, in that period, let’s say ’87 to—’97 to 2003, no question. The American NIE said in ’07—it was augmented in 2011. I wrote about it a year ago in The New Yorker. It said, yes, they did look at a bomb, but not—they knew that they couldn’t—there was no way they could make a bomb to deter America or Israel. They’re not fools. This Persian society has been around for a couple thousand years. They can’t deter us. We have too many bombs. They thought maybe they could deter Iraq. After we went in and took down Iraq in ’03, they stopped. So they had done some studies. We’re talking about computer modeling, etc., no building. They—no question, they looked at the idea of getting a bomb or getting to the point where maybe they could make one. They did do that, but they stopped in ’03.
That’s still the American consensus. The Israelis will tell you privately, “Yes, we agree.” They stopped most of their planning, even their studies, in ’03. The Israeli position is they stopped not because they saw what we did to Iraq, but they thought that we could—we destroyed Iraq—I had a general tell me this—we destroyed Iraq in—it took them—we did in three weeks what they couldn’t do in eight years. They thought they would be next. But the consensus was, yes, they stopped. And also, if you asked serious, smart, wise Israelis in the intelligence business — and there are many — “Do you really think, if they got a bomb—and they don’t have one now—they would hit Tel Aviv?” and the answer was, “Do you think they’re crazy? We would incinerate them. Of course not. They’ve been around 2,000 years. That’s not going to happen.” Their fear was they would give a bomb to somebody else, etc.
But there’s an element rationality in the Israeli intelligence community that’s not being expressed by the political leadership. It’s the same madness we have here. There’s an element of rationality in our intelligence community which says, in ’07, and it has said it again last year, they don’t have the bomb. They’re not making it. It’s at NIE, 16 agencies agreed, 16 to nothing, in an internal vote, before that—they did an update in 2011 on the ’07 study and came to the same place. It’s just not there. That doesn’t mean they don’t have dreams. It doesn’t mean scientists don’t do computer studies. It doesn’t mean that physicists at the University of Tehran don’t do what physicists like to do, write papers and do studies. But there’s just no evidence of any systematic effort to go from enriching uranium to making a bomb. It’s a huge, difficult process. You have to take a very hot gas and convert it into a metal and then convert it into a core. And you have to do that by remote control, because you can’t get near that stuff. It’ll kill you. So radioactive.
I mean, so, look, I’m a lone voice. And you know how careful The New Yorker is, even on a blog item. This piece was checked and rechecked. And I quote people—Joe Cirincione, an American who’s been involved in disarmament many years. These are different voices than you’re seeing in the papers. I sometimes get offended by the same voices we see in the New York Times and Washington Post. We don’t see people with different points of view. There are, inside the—not only the American intelligence community, but also inside the IAEA in Vienna. There are many people who cannot stand what Amano is doing, and many people who basically—I get emails—and this piece came out, was put up, I think, over the weekend. And I get emails, like crazy, from people on the inside saying, “Way to go.” I’m talking about inside the IAEA. It’s an organization that doesn’t deal with the press, but internally, they’re very bothered by the direction Amano is taking them.
It’s not a scientific study, Amy. It’s a political document. And it’s a political document in which he’s playing our game. And it’s the same game the Israelis are picking up on, and those who don’t like Iran. And I wish we could separate our feelings about Iran and the mullahs and what happened with the students from 1979, into the reality, which is that I think there’s a very serious chance the Iranians would certainly give us the kind of inspections we want, in return for a little love—an end to sanctions and a respect that they insist that they want to get from us. And it’s not happening from this administration.
AMY GOODMAN: Seymour Hersh, I want to thank you very much for being with us. His latest piece is on the blog at The New Yorker. It’s called “Iran and the IAEA.” Seymour Hersh won the Pulitzer Prize. His piece, you can see at The New Yorker’s website.
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A Farewell to Nuclear Arms October 14, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in War, Foreign Policy, Nuclear weapons/power.
Tags: roger hollander, war, cold war, nuclear weapons, ronald reagan, test ban treaty, nuclear disarmament, nuclear war, nuclear deterrence, mikhairl gorbachev, arms control, nonproliferatiion, start agree, emt.reykjavik summit
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For all our differences, Reagan and I shared the strong conviction that civilized countries should not make such barbaric weapons the linchpin of their security.
Even though we failed to achieve our highest aspirations in Reykjavik, the summit was nonetheless, in the words of my former counterpart, “a major turning point in the quest for a safer and secure world.”
The next few years may well determine if our shared dream of ridding the world of nuclear weapons will ever be realized.
Critics present nuclear disarmament as unrealistic at best, and a risky utopian dream at worst. They point to the Cold War’s “long peace” as proof that nuclear deterrence is the only means of staving off a major war.
As someone who has commanded these weapons, I strongly disagree. Nuclear deterrence has always been a hard and brittle guarantor of peace. By failing to propose a compelling plan for nuclear disarmament, the US, Russia, and the remaining nuclear powers are promoting through inaction a future in which nuclear weapons will inevitably be used. That catastrophe must be forestalled.
As I, along with George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger, Sam Nunn, and others, pointed out five years ago, nuclear deterrence becomes less reliable and more risky as the number of nuclear-armed states increases. Barring preemptive war (which has proven counterproductive) or effective sanctions (which have thus far proven insufficient), only sincere steps toward nuclear disarmament can furnish the mutual security needed to forge tough compromises on arms control and nonproliferation matters.
The trust and understanding built at Reykjavik paved the way for two historic treaties. The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty destroyed the feared quick-strike missiles then threatening Europe’s peace. And, in 1991, the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) cut the bloated US and Soviet nuclear arsenals by 80% over a decade.
But prospects for progress on arms control and nonproliferation are darkening in the absence of a credible push for nuclear disarmament. I learned during those two long days in Reykjavik that disarmament talks could be as constructive as they are arduous. By linking an array of interrelated matters, Reagan and I built the trust and understanding needed to moderate a nuclear-arms race of which we had lost control.
In retrospect, the Cold War’s end heralded the coming of a messier arrangement of global power and persuasion. The nuclear powers should adhere to the requirements of the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty and resume “good faith” negotiations for disarmament. This would augment the diplomatic and moral capital available to diplomats as they strive to restrain nuclear proliferation in a world where more countries than ever have the wherewithal to construct a nuclear bomb.
Only a serious program of universal nuclear disarmament can provide the reassurance and the credibility needed to build a global consensus that nuclear deterrence is a dead doctrine. We can no longer afford, politically or financially, the discriminatory nature of the current system of nuclear “haves” and “have-nots.”
Reykjavik proved that boldness is rewarded. Conditions were far from favorable for a disarmament deal in 1986. Before I became Soviet leader in 1985, relations between the Cold War superpowers had hit rock bottom. Reagan and I were nonetheless able to create a reservoir of constructive spirit through constant outreach and face-to-face interaction.
What seem to be lacking today are leaders with the boldness and vision to build the trust needed to reintroduce nuclear disarmament as the centerpiece of a peaceful global order. Economic constraints and the Chernobyl disaster helped spur us to action. Why has the Great Recession and the disastrous meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi in Japan not elicited a similar response today?
A first step would be for the US finally to ratify the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). President Barack Obama has endorsed this treaty as a vital instrument to discourage proliferation and avert nuclear war. It’s time for Obama to make good on commitments he made in Prague in 2009, take up Reagan’s mantle as Great Communicator, and persuade the US Senate to formalize America’s adherence to the CTBT.
This would compel the remaining holdouts – China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan – to reconsider the CTBT as well. That would bring us closer to a global ban on nuclear tests in any environment – the atmosphere, undersea, in outer space, or underground.
A second necessary step is for the US and Russia to follow up on the New START agreement and begin deeper weapons cuts, especially tactical and reserve weapons, which serve no purpose, waste funds, and threaten security. This step must be related to limits on missile defense, one of the key issues that undermined the Reykjavik summit.
A fissile material cut-off treaty (FMCT), long stalled in multilateral talks in Geneva, and a successful second Nuclear Security Summit next year in Seoul, will help secure dangerous nuclear materials. This will also require that the 2002 Global Partnership, dedicated to securing and eliminating all weapons of mass destruction – nuclear, chemical, and biological – is renewed and expanded when it convenes next year in the US.
Our world remains too militarized. In today’s economic climate, nuclear weapons have become loathsome money pits. If, as seems likely, economic troubles continue, the US, Russia, and other nuclear powers should seize the moment to launch multilateral arms reductions through new or existing channels such as the UN Conference on Disarmament. These deliberations would yield greater security for less money.
But the buildup of conventional military forces – driven in large part by the enormous military might deployed globally by the US – must be addressed as well. As we engage in furthering our Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) agreement, we should seriously consider reducing the burden of military budgets and forces globally.
US President John F. Kennedy once warned that “every man, woman, and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment.” For more than 50 years, humanity has warily eyed that lethal pendulum while statesmen debated how to mend its fraying cords. The example of Reykjavik should remind us that palliative measures are not enough. Our efforts 25 years ago can be vindicated only when the Bomb ends up beside the slave trader’s manacles and the Great War’s mustard gas in the museum of bygone savagery.
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011.
The Obama Doctrine and the Dangers of the $185 Billion Increase in US Nuclear War Preparations August 5, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Nuclear weapons/power, War.
Tags: arms race, bric, first-strike, joseph gerson, military budget, nuclear, nuclear proliferation, nuclear war, nuclear weapons, obama doctrine, peace movement, roger hollander, test ban, test ban treaty, U.S. imperialism, war, war president
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Roger’s note: below this article I have posted Gar Alperovitz’s arugment against the official rational for droping the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
We continue to face the urgent imperative of eliminating the world’s nuclear arsenals before they eliminate us.
World Conference Against A- and H- Bombs, Hiroshima, August 3, 2011
Minosan Konichi-wa. I come with deep sympathy for all that the people of Japan have suffered as a result of the March 11 catastrophes and I am inspired by the resilience of the Japanese people and the Japanese peace movement.
I return to Hiroshima with humility and anger at what the government that speaks in my name has inflicted here and is preparing for the future. And, who cannot but feel rage at the ways Japanese lives have been sacrificed and your economy undermined. Like the decision to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki, human ambition and greed, not simply nature, were responsible for what you, your friends and communities have suffered from Fukushima.
Also see: “Nuclear War or Real Security?“
Let me begin with a few words about the US political landscape, the fluid state of the global (dis)order and the emerging Obama Doctrine.
The sad truth is that President Bush has been succeeded by another US war president. The US remains at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama escalated the Pakistan and Yemen wars and the aggressive military exercises in the Yellow and South China Seas. Washington has deepened its alliances across the Asia-Pacific with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, Australia and India and in Europe with NATO’s new “strategic concept.”
Recall that during last winter’s Korean crisis, the US sent the nuclear powered and nuclear capable USS George Washington into the Yellow Sea, which Beijing claims as its exclusive territorial waters. As former US Ambassador R. Stapleton Roy put it, “we poked China in the eye because we could.” Whether we agree with Beijing’s claim or not, competing international claims should be addressed through law and diplomacy, not by signaling possible future nuclear attacks.
The strategic debate in US elite circles focuses on the relative US decline and the rise of China and the other BRIC [Brazil, Russia, India and China] nations. The dominant question is whether war with rising powers – especially China – is inevitable or if there are alternatives. Of course, the Know Nothings of the Tea Party are focused on cutting essential human services, and some may not even know where to find Japan or China on a map.
It is in this context that a recent article in Foreign Affairs asserted that after an initial phase of “multilateral entrenchment, we now have an Obama Doctrine: aggressive “counterpunching.”
Obama arrived at the White House with the US having become an isolated pariah nation. His initial priorities were to “Wind down [the Iraq and Afghanistan] wars, reestablish American standing and leadership … and focus on a broader set of priorities, from Asia and the global economy to a nuclear-nonproliferation regime.”(1) This included embracing the G-20, re-engaging Asia-Pacific multilateral organizations and Obama’s Prague and Cairo speeches. The BRICs were unimpressed.
Now, having revitalized its alliances, especially in the Asia-Pacific and Europe, Obama and company have turned to “counterpunching,” reasserting US power and influence across the world “when challenged by other countries, reassuring allies and signaling resolve to potential rivals ….”(2) In addition to the poking of China in its Yellow Sea eye, this includes deepening economic and military ties with most of China’s neighbors, declaring freedom of navigation in the South China Sea a core US interest and the accelerated pace of “military exercises” in contested waters.
In the Middle East, the Obama administration has used military and other leverage to limit the Arab Spring. In North Africa, Libya is the first of NATO’s new “strategic concept” wars, with European allies having increased war-fighting responsibilities.
Where do nuclear weapons fit into this picture and why was the deal made with Congressional Republicans to spend an additional $185 billion to “modernize” the US nuclear arsenal and its delivery systems?
While some believe that, “the Obama administration’s nuclear weapons policy appears to be schizophrenic,” that is not the case. Obama’s Prague speech was part of a diplomatic offensive designed to achieve the nation’s pre-eminent strategic goal: preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and thus reducing the risk of nuclear attacks against the United States. Following the recommendations of Shultz, Kissinger, and others, Obama acknowledged the Untied States’ Article VI NPT abolition obligations and demonstrated commitments to at least limited disarmament. We had Prague, Obama’s special Security Council session, the Nuclear Security Summit, New START and preparations for CTBT ratification.
But there is a less visible operational side to US nuclear strategies: the first strike doctrine and the administration’s commitment that “as long as nuclear weapons exist, we the United States will maintain a[n] … effective nuclear arsenal.” The US is building the nuclear arsenal needed to enforce empire for decades to come. The deal that secured New START ratification committed Obama to “a major modernization effort to revitalize” the nation’s genocidal strategic nuclear warheads and its massive arsenal of stockpiled nuclear weapons. The extra $185 billion will pay to expand the nuclear weapons production infrastructure, train a new generation of nuclear weapons designers and technicians, extend the murderous “life” of aging nuclear warheads and replace so-called “old delivery systems.”(3)
While it seems counterintuitive, in addition to maintaining enough strategic warheads to completely destroy Russia or China and bring on nuclear winter, the Pentagon will be modernizing low-yield nuclear weapons and make them deliverable by the new nuclear-capable F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and cruise missiles. B-61 nuclear bombs will be converted to lower-yield warheads. Funding will be there to replace the fleet of Trident submarines and to increase the accuracy of the missiles they carry. There are also plans for a new generation of nuclear-capable drones and air launched cruise missiles.
We are warned that “as nuclear weapons proliferate, it becomes increasingly likely that the United States will find itself in conventional conflicts with nuclear-armed adversaries. So, senior analysts tell us that “deterring weak, desperate adversaries from using their nuclear trump card will be a major challenge” and that the US “must possess nuclear weapons that a president might actually use.”(4) The $185 billion program is there to reinforce US nuclear threats and to increase the probability that future US presidents will not fear pushing the nuclear button.
Of course, Washington is not the only power preparing for nuclear war. Despite last year’s NPT Review Conference, all the nuclear powers are modernizing and/or expanding their arsenals. We continue to face the urgent imperative of eliminating the world’s nuclear arsenals before they eliminate us.
In the US, both elite and community-based forces are campaigning for abolition. Our movement is committed to winning negotiation of a nuclear weapons abolition convention, and we have long made the links between nuclear weapons and nuclear power. Some are preparing for Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty ratification.
But with the massive US budget reductions and the resulting loss of essential government services, our greatest chance for near-term success lies in the growing movement to cut Pentagon spending so that human needs are met. President Obama and the Tea Party Republicans are rehashing the policies that led to the Great Depression. The military budget – already 60 percent of discretionary spending is being increased, while trillions needed for under funded schools, railways, health care, jobs and environmental safety are being cut.
Reinforced by the calls of the US Council of Mayors for abolition and to slash Pentagon spending, we now have a growing popular wave of organized labor, faith communities and the peace movement demanding “Move the Money” and “Fund Our Communities – Not War!” One of AFSC’s [American Friends Service Committee’s] unique contributions is highlighting the need to put spending for nuclear weapons on the chopping block.
Other organizing includes an extended national Nuclear Free Future month. We began early in Boston with a Nuclear Free Festival on Trinity Day. There, as an expression of solidarity with your responses to Fukushima and Gensuikyo’s abolition campaigning, activists signed this banner. In the fall, we will be exhibiting Hiroshima Hibakusha Kayashige Junko’s paintings at Harvard University. And to build the our movement’s capacity to challenge militarization in the Asia-Pacific, we have organized a Peace Forum with the Chinese People’s Association for Disarmament and Peace, in which Gensuikyo will play leading roles.
Friends, none of this is enough. The 3-11 catastrophes mark a third great turning point in modern Japanese history, after the Black Ships and the Meiji Revolution and the 15-Year War and its resulting calamities. How will Japan recreate itself? With the peace marchers from Tohoku and this World Conference we are assured that the people of 21st-century Japan will continue to serve as the vanguard for the abolition of nuclear weapons and nuclear power.
Together, with imagination and persistence, WE SHALL OVERCOME!
No More Fukushimas! No More Hiroshimas! No More Nagasakis! No More Hibakusha!!
1. Daniel W. Drezner, “Does Obama Have a Grand Strategy?” Foreign Affairs, July/August 2011.
3. Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press, “The Case for Modernizing America’s Nukes,” Foreign Affairs, July 6, 2011.
Dr. Joseph Gerson is disarmament coordinator of the American Friend Service Committee and director of its Peace and Economic Security Program. His most recent book is “Empire and the Bomb: How the US Uses Nuclear Weapons to Dominate the World.”
On the Sixty-Sixth Anniversary of the Bombing of Hiroshima
Today is the 66th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Though most Americans are unaware of the fact, increasing numbers of historians now recognize the United States did not need to use the atomic bomb to end the war against Japan in 1945. Moreover, this essential judgment was expressed by the vast majority of top American military leaders in all three services in the years after the war ended: Army, Navy and Army Air Force. Nor was this the judgment of “liberals,” as is sometimes thought today. In fact, leading conservatives were far more outspoken in challenging the decision as unjustified and immoral than American liberals in the years following World War II.
By the summer of 1945 Japan was essentially defeated, its navy at the bottom of the ocean; its air force limited by fuel, equipment, and other shortages; its army facing defeat on all fronts; and its cities subjected to bombing that was all but impossible to challenge. With Germany out of the war, the United States and Britain were about to bring their full power to bear on what was left of the Japanese military. Moreover, the Soviet Union—at this point in time still neutral—was getting ready to attack on the Asian mainland: the Red Army, fresh from victory over Hitler, was poised to strike across the Manchurian border.
Long before the bombings occurred in August 1945—indeed, as early as late April 1945, more than three months before Hiroshima—U.S. intelligence advised that the Japanese were likely to surrender when the Soviet Union entered the war if they were assured that it did not imply national annihilation. An April 29 Joint Intelligence Staff document put it this way: “If at any time the U.S.S.R. should enter the war, all Japanese will realize that absolute defeat is inevitable.”
For this reason—because it would drastically shorten the war—before the atomic bomb was successfully tested (on July 16, 1945) the U.S. had strongly and repeatedly urged the Soviet Union to join the battle as soon after the defeat of Hitler as possible. A target date of three months after Germany’s surrender was agreed upon—which put the planned Red Army attack date at roughly August 8, the war in Europe having ended on May 8. (In late July the date was temporarily extended by a week.)
Nor was there any doubt that the Soviet Union would join the war for its own reasons. At the Potsdam Conference in July (before the successful atomic test) President Truman entered the following in his diary after meeting with Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin on July 17: “He’ll be in the Jap War on August 15. Fini Japs when that comes about.”
The next day, July 18, in a private letter to his wife, the President wrote: “I’ve gotten what I came for—Stalin goes to war August 15 with no strings on it…I’ll say that we’ll end the war a year sooner now…”
The President had also been urged to offer assurances that the Japanese Emperor would be allowed to remain in some form of powerless figurehead role by many top advisers—including, importantly, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, the man who oversaw the development of the atomic bomb. Before the bomb was used he explicitly urged the President that in his judgment the war would end if such assurances were given—without the use of the atomic bomb.
Nor were there insuperable political obstacles to this approach: Leadings newspapers like the Washington Post, along with leaders of the opposition Republican Party were publically demanding such a course. (Moreover, the U.S. Army wanted to maintain the Emperor in some role so as to use his authority both to order surrender and to help manage Japan during the occupation period after war’s end—which, of course, is what, in fact, was done: Japan still has an Emperor.)
As the President’s diary entry and letter to his wife indicate, there is little doubt that he understood the advice given by the intelligence experts as to the likely impact of the upcoming Russian attack. Further evidence is also available on this central point: The American and British Joint Chiefs of Staff—the very top military leaders of the two nations—also met at Potsdam to consolidate planning for the final stages of the war in the Pacific. General Sir Hastings Ismay, Chief of Staff to the British Minister of Defence, summarized the latest (early July) combined US-UK intelligence evidence for Prime Minister Churchill this way: “[W]hen Russia came into the war against Japan, the Japanese would probably wish to get out on almost any terms short of the dethronement of the Emperor.”
The July joint intelligence finding, of course, for the most part simply restated what had been the essential view of American intelligence and many of the President’s top advisers throughout the spring and summer months leading up to the July meeting at Potsdam.
Among the many reasons the shock of Soviet entry was expected to be so powerful were: first, that it would directly challenge the Japanese army in what had been one of its most important strongholds, Manchuria; second, it would signal that there was literally no hope once the third of the three Great Powers was no longer neutral; and third, and perhaps even more important, with the Japanese economy in disarray Japanese leaders were extremely fearful that leftist groups might be powerfully encouraged, politically, if the Soviet Union were to play a major role in Japan’s defeat.
Furthermore, U.S. intelligence had broken Japanese codes and knew Japanese leaders were frantically hoping against hope as they attempted to arrange some form of settlement with Moscow as a mediator. Since their strategy was so heavily focused on what the Russians might or might not do, this further underscored the judgment that when the Red Army attacked, the end would not be far off: the illusory hope of a negotiation through Moscow would be thoroughly dashed as Soviet tanks rolled into Manchuria.
Instead, the United States rushed to use two atomic bombs at almost exactly the time that an August 8 Soviet attack had originally been scheduled: Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki on August 9. The timing itself has obviously raised questions among many historians. The available evidence, though not conclusive, strongly suggests that the atomic bombs may well have been used in part because American leaders “preferred”—as Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Martin Sherwin has put it—to end the war with the bombs rather than the Soviet attack. Impressing the Soviets during the early diplomatic sparring that ultimately became the Cold War also appears likely to have been a significant factor.
Some modern analysts have urged that Japanese military planning to thwart an invasion was much more advanced than had previously been understood, and hence more threatening to U.S. plans. Others have argued that Japanese military leaders were much more ardently committed to one or more of four proposed ‘conditions’ to attach to a surrender than a number of experts hold, and hence, again, would likely have fought hard to continue the war.
It is, of course, impossible to know whether the advice given by top U.S. and British intelligence that a Russian attack would likely to produce surrender was correct. We do know that the President ignored such judgments and the advice of people like Secretary of War Stimson that the war could be ended in other ways when he made his decision. This, of course, is an important fact in its own right in considering whether the decision was justified, since so many civilian lives were sacrificed in the two bombings.
Moreover, many leading historians who have studied both the U.S. and Japanese records carefully (including, among others, Barton Bernstein and Tsuyoshi Hasegawa) have concluded that Japan was indeed in such dire straits that–as U.S. and British intelligence had urged long before the bombings–the war would, in fact, have likely ended before the November invasion target date once the Russians entered.
It is also important to note that there was very little to lose by using the Russian attack to end the war. The atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and August 9. There were still three months to go before the first landing could take place in November. If the early August Russian attack did not work as expected, the bombs could obviously have been used anyway long before any lives were lost in the landing.
(Since use of the atomic bombs and Russia’s entry into the war came at almost exactly the same time, scholars have debated at great length which factor influenced the surrender decision more. This, of course, is a very different question from whether using the atomic bomb was justified as the only way to end the war. Still, it is instructive to note that speaking privately to top Army officials on August 14 the Japanese Emperor stated bluntly: “The military situation has changed suddenly. The Soviet Union entered the war against us. Suicide attacks can’t compete with the power of science. Therefore, there is no alternative…” And the Imperial Rescript the Emperor issued to officers and soldiers to make sure they would lay down their arms stated: “Now that the Soviet Union has entered the war, to continue under the present conditions at home and abroad would only result in further useless damage… Therefore…I am going to make peace.”)
The most illuminating perspective, however, comes from top World War II American military leaders. The conventional wisdom that the atomic bomb saved a million lives is so widespread that (quite apart from the inaccuracy of this figure, as noted by Samuel Walker) most Americans haven’t paused to ponder something rather striking to anyone seriously concerned with the issue: Not only did most top U.S. military leaders think the bombings were unnecessary and unjustified, many were morally offended by what they regarded as the unnecessary destruction of Japanese cities and what were essentially noncombat populations. Moreover, they spoke about it quite openly and publicly.
Here is how General Dwight D. Eisenhower reports he reacted when he was told by Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson that the atomic bomb would be used: “During his 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.”
In another public statement the man who later became President of the United States was blunt: “It wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”
General Curtis LeMay, the tough cigar-smoking Army Air Force “hawk,” was also dismayed. Shortly after the bombings he stated publically: “The war would have been over in two weeks. . . . The atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war at all.”
Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, went public with this statement: “The Japanese had, in fact, already sued for peace. . . . The atomic bomb played no decisive part, from a purely military standpoint, in the defeat of Japan.”
I noted above the report General Sir Hastings Ismay, Chief of Staff to the British Minister of Defence, made to Prime Minister Churchill that “when Russia came into the war against Japan, the Japanese would probably wish to get out on almost any terms short of the dethronement of the Emperor.” On hearing that the atomic test was successful, Ismay’s private reaction was one of “revulsion.”
Shortly before his death General George C. Marshall quietly defended the decision, but for the most part he is on record as repeatedly saying that it was not a military decision, but rather a political one. Even more important, well before the atomic bombs were used, contemporary documents record show that Marshall felt “these weapons might first be used against straight military objectives such as a large naval installation and then if no complete result was derived from the effect of that, he thought we ought to designate a number of large manufacturing areas from which the people would be warned to leave–telling the Japanese that we intend to destroy such centers….”
As the document concerning Marshall’s views suggests, the question of whether the use of the atomic bomb was justified turns not only on whether other options were available, and whether top leaders were advised of this. It also turns on whether the bombs had to be used against a largely civilian target rather than a strictly military target—which, in fact, was the explicit choice since although there were Japanese troops in the cities, neither Hiroshima nor Nagasaki was deemed militarily vital by U.S. planners. (This is one of the reasons neither had been heavily bombed up to this point in the war.) Moreover, targeting was aimed explicitly on non-military facilities surrounded by workers’ homes. Here we can gain further insight from two additional, equally conservative military leaders.
Many years later President Richard Nixon recalled that “[General Douglas] MacArthur once spoke to me very eloquently about it, pacing the floor of his apartment in the Waldorf. He thought it a tragedy that the Bomb was ever exploded. MacArthur believed that the same restrictions ought to apply to atomic weapons as to conventional weapons, that the military objective should always be limited damage to noncombatants. . . . MacArthur, you see, was a soldier. He believed in using force only against military targets, and that is why the nuclear thing turned him off.”
Although many others could be cited, here, finally, is the statement of another conservative, a man who was a close friend of President Truman’s, his Chief of Staff (as well as President Roosevelt’s Chief of Staff), and the five star Admiral who presided over meetings of the Combined U.S.-U.K. Chiefs of Staff during the war—William D. Leahy: “[T]he 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. . . . [I]n being the first to use it, we . . . 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.”
Gar Alperovitz is the Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland and co-founder of the Democracy Collaborative. Among his most recent books are America Beyond Capitalism and (with Lew Daly) Unjust Deserts: How the Rich Are Taking Our Common Inheritance and Why We Should Take It Back.
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