Tags: daichi, fuel rods, fukushima, harvey wasserman, iaec, nuclear, nuclear disaster, nuclear energy, radioactive water, roger hollander, tepco
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Roger’s note: I posted a few days ago a similar article by the same author. Frankly, what is happening at Fukushima scares the hell out of me, and it seems that nobody is listening. This should cause you to lose sleep: “As former Ambassador Mitsuhei Murata has put it: full-scale releases from Fukushima “would destroy the world environment and our civilization. This is not rocket science, nor does it connect to the pugilistic debate over nuclear power plants. This is an issue of human survival.”
More than 48,000 global citizens have now signed a petition at www.nukefree.org asking the United Nations and the world community to take charge of the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant. Another 35,000 have signed at www.rootsaction.org. An independent advisory group of scientists and engineers is also in formation. The signatures are pouring in from all over the world. By November, they will be delivered to the United Nations.
The corporate media has blacked out meaningful coverage of the most critical threat to global health and safety in decades.
The much-hyped “nuclear renaissance” has turned into a global rout. In the face of massive grassroots opposition and the falling price of renewable energy and natural gas, operating reactors are shutting and proposed new ones are being cancelled.
This lessens the radioactive burden on the planet. But it makes the aging reactor fleet ever more dangerous. A crumbling industry with diminished resources and a disappearing workforce cannot safely caretake the decrepit, deteriorating 400-odd commercial reactors still licensed to operate worldwide.
All of which pales before the crisis at Fukushima. Since the 3/11/2011 earthquake and tsunami, the six-reactor Daichi site has plunged into lethal chaos.
For decades the atomic industry claimed vehemently that a commercial reactor could not explode. When Chernobyl blew, it blamed “inferior” Soviet technology.
But Fukushima’s designs are from General Electric (some two dozen similar reactors are licensed in the US). At least four explosions have rocked the site. One might have involved nuclear fission. Three cores have melted into the ground. Massive quantities of water have been poured where the owner, Tokyo Electric (Tepco), and the Japanese government think they might be, but nobody knows for sure.
As the Free Press has reported, steam emissions indicate one or more may still be hot. Contaminated water is leaking from hastily-constructed tanks. Room for more is running out. The inevitable next earthquake could rupture them all and send untold quantities of poisons pouring into the ocean.
The worst immediate threat at Fukushima lies in the spent fuel pool at Unit Four. That reactor had been shut for routine maintenance when the earthquake and tsunami hit. The 400-ton core, with more than 1300 fuel rods, sat in its pool 100 feet in the air.
Spent fuel rods are the most lethal items our species has ever created. A human standing within a few feet of one would die in a matter of minutes. With more than 11,000 scattered around the Daichi site, radiation levels could rise high enough to force the evacuation of all workers and immobilize much vital electronic equipment.
Spent fuel rods must be kept cool at all times. If exposed to air, their zirconium alloy cladding will ignite, the rods will burn and huge quantities of radiation will be emitted. Should the rods touch each other, or should they crumble into a big enough pile, an explosion is possible. By some estimates there’s enough radioactivity embodied in the rods to create a fallout cloud 15,000 times greater than the one from the Hiroshima bombing.
The rods perched in the Unit 4 pool are in an extremely dangerous position. The building is tipping and sinking into the sodden ground. The fuel pool itself may have deteriorated. The rods are embrittled and prone to crumbling. Just 50 meters from the base is a common spent fuel pool containing some 6,000 fuel rods that could be seriously compromised should it lose coolant. Overall there are some 11,000 spent rods scattered around the Fukushima Daichi site.
Dangerous as the process might be, the rods in the Unit Four fuel pool must come down in an orderly fashion. Another earthquake could easily cause the building to crumble and collapse. Should those rods crash to the ground and be left uncooled, the consequences would be catastrophic.
Tepco has said it will begin trying to remove the rods from that pool in November. The petitions circulating through www.nukefree.org and www.moveon.org , as well as at rootsaction.org and avaaz.org, ask that the United Nations take over. They ask the world scientific and engineering communities to step in. The Rootsaction petition also asks that $8.3 billion slated in loan guarantees for a new US nuke be shifted instead to dealing with the Fukushima site.
It’s a call with mixed blessings. The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency is notoriously pro-nuclear, charged with promoting atomic power as well as regulating it. Critics have found the IAEA to be secretive and unresponsive.
But Tepco is a private utility with limited resources. The Japanese government has an obvious stake in downplaying Fukushima’s dangers. These were the two entities that approved and built these reactors.
While the IAEA is imperfect, its resources are more substantial and its stake at Fukushima somewhat less direct. An ad hoc global network of scientists and engineers would be intellectually ideal, but would lack the resources for direct intervention.
Ultimately the petitions call for a combination of the two.
It’s also hoped the petitions will arouse the global media. The moving of the fuel rods from Unit Four must be televised. We need to see what’s happening as it happens. Only this kind of coverage can allow global experts to analyze and advise as needed.
Let’s all hope that this operation proves successful, that the site be neutralized and the massive leaks of radioactive water and gasses be somehow stopped.
As former Ambassador Mitsuhei Murata has put it: full-scale releases from Fukushima “would destroy the world environment and our civilization. This is not rocket science, nor does it connect to the pugilistic debate over nuclear power plants. This is an issue of human survival.”
Crisis at Fukushima Continues to Spiral With Hole in Radiation Barrier September 26, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Energy, Environment, Japan, Nuclear weapons/power.
Tags: andrea dgermanos, fukushima, fukushima crisis, fukushima radiation, harvey wasserman, nuclear, nuclear contamination, nuclear disaster, nuclear power, nuclear radiation, roger hollander
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Roger’s note: I sit here at my desk and wonder when someone is going to do something about an impending disaster of possibly unprecedented magnitude. Maybe a couple of hundred people will read this post, which makes me feel quite impotent. Please pass this on to someone who has access to someone with power in government. Anywhere!!!
Fence made of silt that sits in harbor has been breached, TEPCO admits, sparking further concern of ocean contamination
In the latest in a series of mishaps to hit the crisis-stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant, a radiation-stopping “fence” around the reactors has developed a hole, plant operator TEPCO admitted on Thursday.
Fences made of earth and sand sit in the harbor next to the plant and were erected to help contain radioactive material from flowing into the ocean. They “are suspended from floats and anchored with weights on the seafloor,” the Japan Times explains.
One of the fences that sits next to still-intact reactors five and six was found to be breached, sparking further worry about the amount of radioactive contamination heading into the ocean.
TEPCO has struggled to contain the “emergency without end” at Fukushima since the disaster began to unfold in March of 2011. An unsustainable contaminated water-storage system plagued by a series of leaks, soaring radiation levels in groundwater that head into the ocean, and high levels of radiation found in fish have catalyzed widespread resistance to nuclear power and raised international alarm.
As out of control as the situation seems, one expert has warned that it may actually be “much worse” than claimed. Also, long-time anti-nuclear activist Harvey Wasserman warned last week that a plan to “remove more than 1300 spent fuel rods from a badly damaged pool perched 100 feet in the air” risked putting the “hand of global nuclear disaster… painfully close to midnight.”
Humankind’s Most Dangerous Moment: Fukushima Fuel Pool at Unit 4. “This is an Issue of Human Survival.” September 21, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Environment, Japan, Nuclear weapons/power.
Tags: fukushima, harvey wasserman, nuclear, nuclear disaster, nuclear fuel rods, nuclear meltdown, radioactivity, reactor cores, roger hollander, tepco, tokyo electric
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ROGER’S NOTE: I AM NO SCIENTIST, BUT IF THE ANALYSIS CONTAINED IN THIS ARTICLE IS CREDIBLE, THEN IT SHOULD BE FRONT PAGE NEWS ON EVERY NEWSPAPER IN THE WORLD. FRIGHTENING, TRULY FRIGHTENING.
OpEdNews Op Eds 9/21/2013 at 15:08:52
We are now within two months of what may be humankind’s most dangerous moment since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
There is no excuse for not acting. All the resources our species can muster must be focussed on the fuel pool at Fukushima Unit 4.
Fukushima’s owner, Tokyo Electric (Tepco), says that within as few as 60 days it may begin trying to remove more than 1,300 spent fuel rods from a badly damaged pool perched 100 feet in the air. The pool rests on a badly damaged building that is tilting, sinking and could easily come down in the next earthquake, if not on its own.
Some 400 tons of fuel in that pool could spew out more than 15,000 times as much radiation as was released at Hiroshima.
The one thing certain about this crisis is that Tepco does not have the scientific, engineering or financial resources to handle it. Nor does the Japanese government. The situation demands a coordinated worldwide effort of the best scientists and engineers our species can muster.
Why is this so serious?
We already know that thousands of tons of heavily contaminated water are pouring through the Fukushima site, carrying a devil’s brew of long-lived poisonous isotopes into the Pacific. Tuna irradiated with fallout traceable to Fukushima have already been caught off the coast of California. We can expect far worse.
Tepco continues to pour more water onto the proximate site of three melted reactor cores it must somehow keep cool. Steam plumes indicate fission may still be going on somewhere underground. But nobody knows exactly where those cores actually are.
Much of that irradiated water now sits in roughly a thousand huge but fragile tanks that have been quickly assembled and strewn around the site. Many are already leaking. All could shatter in the next earthquake, releasing thousands of tons of permanent poisons into the Pacific.
The water flowing through the site is also undermining the remnant structures at Fukushima, including the one supporting the fuel pool at Unit Four.
More than 6,000 fuel assemblies now sit in a common pool just 50 meters from Unit Four. Some contain plutonium. The pool has no containment over it. It’s vulnerable to loss of coolant, the collapse of a nearby building, another earthquake, another tsunami and more.
Overall, more than 11,000 fuel assemblies are scattered around the Fukushima site. According to long-time expert and former Department of Energy official Robert Alvarez, there is more than 85 times as much lethal cesium on site as was released at Chernobyl.
Radioactive hot spots continue to be found around Japan. There are indications of heightened rates of thyroid damage among local children.
The immediate bottom line is that those fuel rods must somehow come safely out of the Unit Four fuel pool as soon as possible.
Just prior to the 3/11/11 earthquake and tsunami that shattered the Fukushima site, the core of Unit Four was removed for routine maintenance and refueling. Like some two dozen reactors in the US and too many more around the world, the General Electric-designed pool into which that core now sits is 100 feet in the air.
Spent fuel must somehow be kept under water. It’s clad in zirconium alloy which will spontaneously ignite when exposed to air. Long used in flash bulbs for cameras, zirconium burns with an extremely bright hot flame.
Each uncovered rod emits enough radiation to kill someone standing nearby in a matter of minutes. A conflagration could force all personnel to flee the site and render electronic machinery unworkable.
According to Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear engineer with forty years in an industry for which he once manufactured fuel rods, the ones in the Unit 4 core are bent, damaged and embrittled to the point of crumbling. Cameras have shown troubling quantities of debris in the fuel pool, which itself is damaged.
The engineering and scientific barriers to emptying the Unit Four fuel pool are unique and daunting, says Gundersen. But it must be done to 100% perfection.
Should the attempt fail, the rods could be exposed to air and catch fire, releasing horrific quantities of radiation into the atmosphere. The pool could come crashing to the ground, dumping the rods together into a pile that could fission and possibly explode. The resulting radioactive cloud would threaten the health and safety of all of us.
Chernobyl’s first 1986 fallout reached California within 10 days. Fukushima’s in 2011 arrived in less than a week. A new fuel fire at Unit 4 would pour out a continuous stream of lethal radioactive poisons for centuries.
Former Ambassador Mitsuhei Murata says full-scale releases from Fukushima “would destroy the world environment and our civilization. This is not rocket science, nor does it connect to the pugilistic debate over nuclear power plants. This is an issue of human survival.”
Neither Tokyo Electric nor the government of Japan can go this alone. There is no excuse for deploying anything less than a coordinated team of the planet’s best scientists and engineers.
For now, we are petitioning the United Nations and President Obama to mobilize the global scientific and engineering community to take charge at Fukushima and the job of moving these fuel rods to safety.
You can sign the petition at: http://www.nukefree.org/crisis-fukushima-4-petition-un-us-global-response
If you have a better idea, please follow it. But do something and do it now.
The clock is ticking. The hand of global nuclear disaster is painfully close to midnight.
Nuclear’s Demise, From Fukushima to Vermont August 31, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Energy, Environment, Japan, Nuclear weapons/power, Vermont.
Tags: amy goodman, chernobyl, denis moynihan, energy corp, fukushima, japan nuclear, nuclear, nuclear catastrophe, nuclear disaster, nuclear energy, nuclear plants, nuclear power, peter shumlin, radiation leaks, radioactive water, roger hollander, tokyo electric, vermont, vermont government, vermont senate, vermont yankee
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Fukushima showed us the intolerable costs of nuclear power. The citizens of Vermont show us the benefits of shutting it down
Welcome to the nuclear renaissance.
Entergy Corp, one of the largest nuclear-power producers in the US, issued a surprise press release Tuesday, saying it plans “to close and decommission its Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station in Vernon, Vermont. The station is expected to cease power production after its current fuel cycle and move to safe shutdown in the fourth quarter of 2014.” Although the press release came from the corporation, it was years of people’s protests and state legislative action that forced its closure. At the same time that activists celebrate this key defeat of nuclear power, officials in Japan admitted that radioactive leaks from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe are far worse than previously acknowledged.
“It took three years, but it was citizen pressure that got the state Senate to such a position”, nuclear-energy consultant Arnie Gundersen told me of Entergy’s announcement. He has coordinated projects at 70 nuclear plants around the country and now provides independent testimony on nuclear and radiation issues. He explained how the state of Vermont, in the first such action in the country, had banned the plant from operating beyond its original 40-year permit. Entergy was seeking a 20-year extension.
The legislature, in that 26-to-4 vote, said: ‘No, we’re not going to allow you to reapply. It’s over. You know, a deal’s a deal. We had a 40-year deal.’ Well, Entergy went to first the federal court here in Vermont and won, and then went to an appeals court in New York City and won again on the issue, as they framed it, that states have no authority to regulate safety.
Despite prevailing in the courts, Entergy bowed to public pressure.
Back in 2011, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, who called Entergy “a company that we found we can’t trust”, said on “Democracy Now!“:
We’re the only state in the country that’s taken power into our own hands and said that, without an affirmative vote from the state legislature, the public service board cannot issue a certificate of public good to legally operate a plant for another 20 years. Now, the Senate has spoken … saying no, it’s not in Vermont’s best interest to run an aging, leaking nuclear-power plant. And we expect that our decision will be respected.
The nuclear-power industry is at a critical crossroads. The much-touted nuclear renaissance is collapsing, most notably in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, compounded by the global financial crisis. In a recent paper titled “Renaissance in Reverse”, Mark Cooper, senior fellow for economic analysis at the Vermont Law School, writes, “The problem for old nuclear reactors has become acute.” The costs to operate, and to repair, these plants have prompted operators to shutter five of the 104 operating power generating reactors in the US this year alone, leaving 99. Cooper has identified 30 more that he estimates will be shut down, because “the economics of old reactors are very dicey”.
The profound consequences of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear-power accident are still unfolding, as this week the Japanese Nuclear Regulatory Agency increased its assessment of the situation there to “level three”, or serious, on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale. The original accident in March 2011 was rated a “seven” on that scale, the highest, most severe, threat. The nuclear fuel rods there require constant cooling by water. The spent cooling water is highly radioactive. The Tokyo Electric Power Co, which ran Fukushima and which has been responsible for all the cleanup, has been storing the radioactive water in hastily-constructed water tanks, which are now leaking. Gundersen said:
The surveys of the area determined that the radiation coming from the ground was five times more in an hour than a normal person would get in a year. Radioactive water is leaking out of this plant as fast as it’s leaking in. So, you’ve got something on the order of 400 tons to maybe even as much as a thousand tons of water a day leaking off of the mountains around Fukushima into the basement of this plant. Well, the basement is highly radioactive because the containment has failed and radioactive material is leaking out from the nuclear core into the other buildings. That’s being exposed to this clean groundwater and making it extraordinarily radioactive. … And the problem is going to get worse.
The Fukushima disaster has been compared to the catastrophe in Chernobyl, where a nuclear plant exploded in 1986, making the surrounding region uninhabitable. The radiation is spilling out of Fukushima into an ever-growing radioactive plume in the Pacific Ocean.
Fukushima shows us the intolerable costs of nuclear power. The citizens of Vermont show us the benefits of just saying no.
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Tags: andrea germanos, environment, fukushima, japan nuclear, nuclear, nuclear waste, radioactive contamination, radioactive waste, radioactive water, roger hollander, tepco
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Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority taskforce says TEPCO’s “sense of crisis is weak”
“Right now, we have an emergency.”
This was the warning given on Monday by Japan’s nuclear regulatory body, the Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA), describing the radioactive water seeping into the ocean from the crisis-stricken Fukushima nuclear plant.
The emergency shows “why you can’t just leave it up to [plant operator] TEPCO alone,” Shinji Kinjo, head of an NRA task force, told Reuters.
Kinjo slammed TEPCO, which created a “temporary solution” of an underground barrier to stop water contamination, for having a “sense of crisis [that] is weak.” That underground barrier has been breached, allowing the radioactive water to be released, and could accelerate the flow of radioactive discharge from the plant into the ocean.
In July, TEPCO admitted for the first time that contaminated groundwater was leaking from the Fukushima plant into the ocean, and on Sunday gave its first estimate to the public on the amount of radioactive tritium that has leaked into the ocean since the disaster began in March of 2011.
NRA chief Shunichi Tanaka told reporters earlier last month, however, that his agency ‘strongly suspected’ that Fukushima was leaking radioactivity into the ocean and has been for two years.
Last month, former head of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission Dale Klein was among other foreign nuclear experts at a panel in Tokyo blasting TEPCO’s handling of the crisis including cover-ups of the extent of the damage. “These actions indicate that you (TEPCO) don’t know what you are doing,” he said. “You do not have a plan and that you are not doing all you can to protect the environment and the people.”
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.
Was Hiroshima Necessary? August 11, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in History, Nuclear weapons/power, War.
Tags: alperovitz, atomic bomb, churchill, eisenhower, fdr, hiroshima, history, japanese surrender, macarthur, nagasaki, nuclear, potsdam, roger hollander, stalin, togo, truman, world war II, yalta
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Roger’s note: The “official” justification for the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is that it saved countless thousands of lives by avoiding a full-scale invasion of Japan to end the war. American soldiers heaved a sigh of relief when they saw the war was ended without further need for military action and the consequent loss of American lives. The following article debunks this view of history. From it one can only conclude that the bombing of these two civilian populated cities that had no strategic military value was an act of barbarism. From Hiroshima through to Vietnam through to today’s predator drone missiles, we see the logical extension of the American experiment, whose lofty an oft cited humanitarian and democratic goals are belied by its origins in the genocide of the First Nations’ peoples and the forced enslavement of Africans. And what do we see today? The astute leaders of both political parties of the first and only nation to use atomic weaponry, a nation with stockpiles of nuclear weapons that could blow up the entire planet several times over — we see this so-called leader ship leading us into the possible holocaust of nuclear war in the Middle East via the demonization of a country, Iran, which does not yet possess a single nuclear warhead. A deadly irony.
By Mark Weber
On August 6, 1945, the world dramatically entered the atomic age: without either warning or precedent, an American plane dropped a single nuclear bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The explosion utterly destroyed more than four square miles of the city center. About 90,000 people were killed immediately; another 40,000 were injured, many of whom died in protracted agony from radiation sickness. Three days later, a second atomic strike on the city of Nagasaki killed some 37,000 people and injured another 43,000. Together the two bombs eventually killed an estimated 200,000 Japanese civilians.
Between the two bombings, Soviet Russia joined the United States in war against Japan. Under strong US prodding, Stalin broke his regime’s 1941 non-aggression treaty with Tokyo. On the same day that Nagasaki was destroyed, Soviet troops began pouring into Manchuria, overwhelming Japanese forces there. Although Soviet participation did little or nothing to change the military outcome of the war, Moscow benefitted enormously from joining the conflict.
In a broadcast from Tokyo the next day, August 10, the Japanese government announced its readiness to accept the joint American-British “unconditional surrender” declaration of Potsdam, “with the understanding that the said declaration does not compromise any demand which prejudices the prerogatives of His Majesty as a Sovereign Ruler.”
A day later came the American reply, which included these words: “From the moment of surrender the authority of the Emperor and the Japanese Government to rule the State shall be subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers.” Finally, on August 14, the Japanese formally accepted the provisions of the Potsdam declaration, and a “cease fire” was announced. On September 2, Japanese envoys signed the instrument of surrender aboard the US battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
A Beaten Country
Apart from the moral questions involved, were the atomic bombings militarily necessary? By any rational yardstick, they were not. Japan already had been defeated militarily by June 1945. Almost nothing was left of the once mighty Imperial Navy, and Japan’s air force had been all but totally destroyed. Against only token opposition, American war planes ranged at will over the country, and US bombers rained down devastation on her cities, steadily reducing them to rubble.
What was left of Japan’s factories and workshops struggled fitfully to turn out weapons and other goods from inadequate raw materials. (Oil supplies had not been available since April.) By July about a quarter of all the houses in Japan had been destroyed, and her transportation system was near collapse. Food had become so scarce that most Japanese were subsisting on a sub-starvation diet.
On the night of March 9-10, 1945, a wave of 300 American bombers struck Tokyo, killing 100,000 people. Dropping nearly 1,700 tons of bombs, the war planes ravaged much of the capital city, completely burning out 16 square miles and destroying a quarter of a million structures. A million residents were left homeless.
On May 23, eleven weeks later, came the greatest air raid of the Pacific War, when 520 giant B-29 “Superfortress” bombers unleashed 4,500 tons of incendiary bombs on the heart of the already battered Japanese capital. Generating gale-force winds, the exploding incendiaries obliterated Tokyo’s commercial center and railway yards, and consumed the Ginza entertainment district. Two days later, on May 25, a second strike of 502 “Superfortress” planes roared low over Tokyo, raining down some 4,000 tons of explosives. Together these two B-29 raids destroyed 56 square miles of the Japanese capital.
Even before the Hiroshima attack, American air force General Curtis LeMay boasted that American bombers were “driving them [Japanese] back to the stone age.” Henry H. (“Hap”) Arnold, commanding General of the Army air forces, declared in his 1949 memoirs: “It always appeared to us, atomic bomb or no atomic bomb, the Japanese were already on the verge of collapse.” This was confirmed by former Japanese prime minister Fumimaro Konoye, who said: “Fundamentally, the thing that brought about the determination to make peace was the prolonged bombing by the B-29s.”
Japan Seeks Peace
Months before the end of the war, Japan’s leaders recognized that defeat was inevitable. In April 1945 a new government headed by Kantaro Suzuki took office with the mission of ending the war. When Germany capitulated in early May, the Japanese understood that the British and Americans would now direct the full fury of their awesome military power exclusively against them.
American officials, having long since broken Japan’s secret codes, knew from intercepted messages that the country’s leaders were seeking to end the war on terms as favorable as possible. Details of these efforts were known from decoded secret communications between the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo and Japanese diplomats abroad.
In his 1965 study, Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam (pp. 107, 108), historian Gar Alperovitz writes:
Although Japanese peace feelers had been sent out as early as September 1944 (and [China's] Chiang Kai-shek had been approached regarding surrender possibilities in December 1944), the real effort to end the war began in the spring of 1945. This effort stressed the role of the Soviet Union …
In mid-April  the [US] Joint Intelligence Committee reported that Japanese leaders were looking for a way to modify the surrender terms to end the war. The State Department was convinced the Emperor was actively seeking a way to stop the fighting.
A Secret Memorandum
It was only after the war that the American public learned about Japan’s efforts to bring the conflict to an end. Chicago Tribune reporter Walter Trohan, for example, was obliged by wartime censorship to withhold for seven months one of the most important stories of the war.
In an article that finally appeared August 19, 1945, on the front pages of the Chicago Tribune and the Washington Times-Herald, Trohan revealed that on January 20, 1945, two days prior to his departure for the Yalta meeting with Stalin and Churchill, President Roosevelt received a 40-page memorandum from General Douglas MacArthur outlining five separate surrender overtures from high-level Japanese officials. (The complete text of Trohan’s article is in the Winter 1985-86 Journal, pp. 508-512.)
This memo showed that the Japanese were offering surrender terms virtually identical to the ones ultimately accepted by the Americans at the formal surrender ceremony on September 2 — that is, complete surrender of everything but the person of the Emperor. Specifically, the terms of these peace overtures included:
- Complete surrender of all Japanese forces and arms, at home, on island possessions, and in occupied countries.
- Occupation of Japan and its possessions by Allied troops under American direction.
- Japanese relinquishment of all territory seized during the war, as well as Manchuria, Korea and Taiwan.
- Regulation of Japanese industry to halt production of any weapons and other tools of war.
- Release of all prisoners of war and internees.
- Surrender of designated war criminals.
Is this memorandum authentic? It was supposedly leaked to Trohan by Admiral William D. Leahy, presidential Chief of Staff. (See: M. Rothbard in A. Goddard, ed., Harry Elmer Barnes: Learned Crusader , pp. 327f.) Historian Harry Elmer Barnes has related (in “Hiroshima: Assault on a Beaten Foe,” National Review, May 10, 1958):
The authenticity of the Trohan article was never challenged by the White House or the State Department, and for very good reason. After General MacArthur returned from Korea in 1951, his neighbor in the Waldorf Towers, former President Herbert Hoover, took the Trohan article to General MacArthur and the latter confirmed its accuracy in every detail and without qualification.
In April and May 1945, Japan made three attempts through neutral Sweden and Portugal to bring the war to a peaceful end. On April 7, acting Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu met with Swedish ambassador Widon Bagge in Tokyo, asking him “to ascertain what peace terms the United States and Britain had in mind.” But he emphasized that unconditional surrender was unacceptable, and that “the Emperor must not be touched.” Bagge relayed the message to the United States, but Secretary of State Stettinius told the US Ambassador in Sweden to “show no interest or take any initiative in pursuit of the matter.” Similar Japanese peace signals through Portugal, on May 7, and again through Sweden, on the 10th, proved similarly fruitless.
By mid-June, six members of Japan’s Supreme War Council had secretly charged Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo with the task of approaching Soviet Russia’s leaders “with a view to terminating the war if possible by September.” On June 22 the Emperor called a meeting of the Supreme War Council, which included the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, and the leading military figures. “We have heard enough of this determination of yours to fight to the last soldiers,” said Emperor Hirohito. “We wish that you, leaders of Japan, will strive now to study the ways and the means to conclude the war. In doing so, try not to be bound by the decisions you have made in the past.”
By early July the US had intercepted messages from Togo to the Japanese ambassador in Moscow, Naotake Sato, showing that the Emperor himself was taking a personal hand in the peace effort, and had directed that the Soviet Union be asked to help end the war. US officials also knew that the key obstacle to ending the war was American insistence on “unconditional surrender,” a demand that precluded any negotiations. The Japanese were willing to accept nearly everything, except turning over their semi-divine Emperor. Heir of a 2,600-year-old dynasty, Hirohito was regarded by his people as a “living god” who personified the nation. (Until the August 15 radio broadcast of his surrender announcement, the Japanese people had never heard his voice.) Japanese particularly feared that the Americans would humiliate the Emperor, and even execute him as a war criminal.
On July 12, Hirohito summoned Fumimaro Konoye, who had served as prime minister in 1940-41. Explaining that “it will be necessary to terminate the war without delay,” the Emperor said that he wished Konoye to secure peace with the Americans and British through the Soviets. As Prince Konoye later recalled, the Emperor instructed him “to secure peace at any price, notwithstanding its severity.”
The next day, July 13, Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo wired ambassador Naotake Sato in Moscow: “See [Soviet foreign minister] Molotov before his departure for Potsdam … Convey His Majesty’s strong desire to secure a termination of the war … Unconditional surrender is the only obstacle to peace …”
On July 17, another intercepted Japanese message revealed that although Japan’s leaders felt that the unconditional surrender formula involved an unacceptable dishonor, they were convinced that “the demands of the times” made Soviet mediation to terminate the war absolutely essential. Further diplomatic messages indicated that the only condition asked by the Japanese was preservation of “our form of government.” The only “difficult point,” a July 25 message disclosed, “is the … formality of unconditional surrender.”
Summarizing the messages between Togo and Sato, US naval intelligence said that Japan’s leaders, “though still balking at the term unconditional surrender,” recognized that the war was lost, and had reached the point where they have “no objection to the restoration of peace on the basis of the  Atlantic Charter.” These messages, said Assistant Secretary of the Navy Lewis Strauss, “indeed stipulated only that the integrity of the Japanese Royal Family be preserved.”
Navy Secretary James Forrestal termed the intercepted messages “real evidence of a Japanese desire to get out of the war.” “With the interception of these messages,” notes historian Alperovitz (p. 177), “there could no longer be any real doubt as to the Japanese intentions; the maneuvers were overt and explicit and, most of all, official acts. Koichi Kido, Japan’s Lord Privy Seal and a close advisor to the Emperor, later affirmed: “Our decision to seek a way out of this war, was made in early June before any atomic bomb had been dropped and Russia had not entered the war. It was already our decision.”
In spite of this, on July 26 the leaders of the United States and Britain issued the Potsdam declaration, which included this grim ultimatum: “We call upon the government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces and to provide proper and adequate assurance of good faith in such action. The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction.”
Commenting on this draconian either-or proclamation, British historian J.F.C. Fuller wrote: “Not a word was said about the Emperor, because it would be unacceptable to the propaganda-fed American masses.” (A Military History of the Western World , p. 675.)
America’s leaders understood Japan’s desperate position: the Japanese were willing to end the war on any terms, as long as the Emperor was not molested. If the US leadership had not insisted on unconditional surrender — that is, if they had made clear a willingness to permit the Emperor to remain in place — the Japanese very likely would have surrendered immediately, thus saving many thousands of lives.
The sad irony is that, as it actually turned out, the American leaders decided anyway to retain the Emperor as a symbol of authority and continuity. They realized, correctly, that Hirohito was useful as a figurehead prop for their own occupation authority in postwar Japan.
President Truman steadfastly defended his use of the atomic bomb, claiming that it “saved millions of lives” by bringing the war to a quick end. Justifying his decision, he went so far as to declare: “The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians.”
This was a preposterous statement. In fact, almost all of the victims were civilians, and the United States Strategic Bombing Survey (issued in 1946) stated in its official report: “Hiroshima and Nagasaki were chosen as targets because of their concentration of activities and population.”
If the atomic bomb was dropped to impress the Japanese leaders with the immense destructive power of a new weapon, this could have been accomplished by deploying it on an isolated military base. It was not necessary to destroy a large city. And whatever the justification for the Hiroshima blast, it is much more difficult to defend the second bombing of Nagasaki.
All the same, most Americans accepted, and continue to accept, the official justifications for the bombings. Accustomed to crude propagandistic portrayals of the “Japs” as virtually subhuman beasts, most Americans in 1945 heartily welcomed any new weapon that would wipe out more of the detested Asians, and help avenge the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. For the young Americans who were fighting the Japanese in bitter combat, the attitude was “Thank God for the atom bomb.” Almost to a man, they were grateful for a weapon whose deployment seemed to end the war and thus allow them to return home.
After the July 1943 firestorm destruction of Hamburg, the mid-February 1945 holocaust of Dresden, and the fire-bombings of Tokyo and other Japanese cities, America’s leaders — as US Army General Leslie Groves later commented — “were generally inured to the mass killing of civilians.” For President Harry Truman, the killing of tens of thousands of Japanese civilians was simply not a consideration in his decision to use the atom bomb.
Amid the general clamor of enthusiasm, there were some who had grave misgivings. “We are the inheritors to the mantle of Genghis Khan,” wrote New York Times editorial writer Hanson Baldwin, “and of all those in history who have justified the use of utter ruthlessness in war.” Norman Thomas called Nagasaki “the greatest single atrocity of a very cruel war.” Joseph P. Kennedy, father of the President, was similarly appalled.
A leading voice of American Protestantism, Christian Century, strongly condemned the bombings. An editorial entitled “America’s Atomic Atrocity” in the issue of August 29, 1945, told readers:
The atomic bomb was used at a time when Japan’s navy was sunk, her air force virtually destroyed, her homeland surrounded, her supplies cut off, and our forces poised for the final stroke … Our leaders seem not to have weighed the moral considerations involved. No sooner was the bomb ready than it was rushed to the front and dropped on two helpless cities … The atomic bomb can fairly be said to have struck Christianity itself … The churches of America must dissociate themselves and their faith from this inhuman and reckless act of the American Government.
A leading American Catholic voice, Commonweal, took a similar view. Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the magazine editorialized, “are names for American guilt and shame.”
Pope Pius XII likewise condemned the bombings, expressing a view in keeping with the traditional Roman Catholic position that “every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man.” The Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano commented in its August 7, 1945, issue: “This war provides a catastrophic conclusion. Incredibly this destructive weapon remains as a temptation for posterity, which, we know by bitter experience, learns so little from history.”
Authoritative Voices of Dissent
American leaders who were in a position to know the facts did not believe, either at the time or later, that the atomic bombings were needed to end the war.
When he was informed in mid-July 1945 by Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson of the decision to use the atomic bomb, General Dwight Eisenhower was deeply troubled. He disclosed his strong reservations about using the new weapon in his 1963 memoir, The White House Years: Mandate for Change, 1953-1956 (pp. 312-313):
During his [Stimson's] recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of “face.”
“The Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing … I hated to see our country be the first to use such a weapon,” Eisenhower said in 1963.
Shortly after “V-J Day,” the end of the Pacific war, Brig. General Bonnie Fellers summed up in a memo for General MacArthur: “Neither the atomic bombing nor the entry of the Soviet Union into the war forced Japan’s unconditional surrender. She was defeated before either these events took place.”
Similarly, Admiral Leahy, Chief of Staff to presidents Roosevelt and Truman, later commented:
It is my opinion that the use of the barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan … The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons … My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.
If the United States had been willing to wait, said Admiral Ernest King, US Chief of Naval Operations, “the effective naval blockade would, in the course of time, have starved the Japanese into submission through lack of oil, rice, medicines, and other essential materials.”
Leo Szilard, a Hungarian-born scientist who played a major role in the development of the atomic bomb, argued against its use. “Japan was essentially defeated,” he said, and “it would be wrong to attack its cities with atomic bombs as if atomic bombs were simply another military weapon.” In a 1960 magazine article, Szilard wrote: “If the Germans had dropped atomic bombs on cities instead of us, we would have defined the dropping of atomic bombs on cities as a war crime, and we would have sentenced the Germans who were guilty of this crime to death at Nuremberg and hanged them.”
US Strategic Bombing Survey Verdict
After studying this matter in great detail, the United States Strategic Bombing Survey rejected the notion that Japan gave up because of the atomic bombings. In its authoritative 1946 report, the Survey concluded:
The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs did not defeat Japan, nor by the testimony of the enemy leaders who ended the war did they persuade Japan to accept unconditional surrender. The Emperor, the Lord Privy Seal, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, and the Navy Minister had decided as early as May of 1945 that the war should be ended even if it meant acceptance of defeat on allied terms …
The mission of the Suzuki government, appointed 7 April 1945, was to make peace. An appearance of negotiating for terms less onerous than unconditional surrender was maintained in order to contain the military and bureaucratic elements still determined on a final Bushido defense, and perhaps even more importantly to obtain freedom to create peace with a minimum of personal danger and internal obstruction. It seems clear, however, that in extremis the peacemakers would have peace, and peace on any terms. This was the gist of advice given to Hirohito by the Jushin in February, the declared conclusion of Kido in April, the underlying reason for Koiso’s fall in April, the specific injunction of the Emperor to Suzuki on becoming premier which was known to all members of his cabinet …
Negotiations for Russia to intercede began the forepart of May 1945 in both Tokyo and Moscow. Konoye, the intended emissary to the Soviets, stated to the Survey that while ostensibly he was to negotiate, he received direct and secret instructions from the Emperor to secure peace at any price, notwithstanding its severity …
It seems clear … that air supremacy and its later exploitation over Japan proper was the major factor which determined the timing of Japan’s surrender and obviated any need for invasion.
Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey’s opinion that certainly prior to 31 December 1945 and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945 [the date of the planned American invasion], Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.
In a 1986 study, historian and journalist Edwin P. Hoyt nailed the “great myth, perpetuated by well-meaning people throughout the world,” that “the atomic bomb caused the surrender of Japan.” In Japan’s War: The Great Pacific Conflict (p. 420), he explained:
The fact is that as far as the Japanese militarists were concerned, the atomic bomb was just another weapon. The two atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were icing on the cake, and did not do as much damage as the firebombings of Japanese cities. The B-29 firebombing campaign had brought the destruction of 3,100,000 homes, leaving 15 million people homeless, and killing about a million of them. It was the ruthless firebombing, and Hirohito’s realization that if necessary the Allies would completely destroy Japan and kill every Japanese to achieve “unconditional surrender” that persuaded him to the decision to end the war. The atomic bomb is indeed a fearsome weapon, but it was not the cause of Japan’s surrender, even though the myth persists even to this day.
In a trenchant new book, The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb (Praeger, 1996), historian Dennis D. Wainstock concludes that the bombings were not only unnecessary, but were based on a vengeful policy that actually harmed American interests. He writes (pp. 124, 132):
… By April 1945, Japan’s leaders realized that the war was lost. Their main stumbling block to surrender was the United States’ insistence on unconditional surrender. They specifically needed to know whether the United States would allow Hirohito to remain on the throne. They feared that the United States would depose him, try him as a war criminal, or even execute him …
Unconditional surrender was a policy of revenge, and it hurt America’s national self-interest. It prolonged the war in both Europe and East Asia, and it helped to expand Soviet power in those areas.
General Douglas MacArthur, Commander of US Army forces in the Pacific, stated on numerous occasions before his death that the atomic bomb was completely unnecessary from a military point of view: “My staff was unanimous in believing that Japan was on the point of collapse and surrender.”
General Curtis LeMay, who had pioneered precision bombing of Germany and Japan (and who later headed the Strategic Air Command and served as Air Force chief of staff), put it most succinctly: “The atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war.”
From The Journal of Historical Review, May-June 1997 (Vol. 16, No. 3), pages 4-11.]
In Hiroshima’s Shadow August 2, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Cuba, History, Latin America, Nuclear weapons/power, War.
Tags: Cuba, cuban missile, cyberwar, hiroshima, history, iran nuclear, israel nuclear, john kennedy, Middle East, missile crisis, Nikita Khrushchev, Noam Chomsky, nuclear, nuclear war, roger hollander
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August 6, the anniversary of Hiroshima, should be a day of somber reflection, not only on the terrible events of that day in 1945, but also on what they revealed: that humans, in their dedicated quest to extend their capacities for destruction, had finally found a way to approach the ultimate limit.
This year‚ Aug. 6 memorials have special significance. They take place shortly before the 50th anniversary of, “the most dangerous moment in human history,” in the words of the historian and John F. Kennedy adviser Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., referring to the Cuban missile crisis.
Graham Allison writes in the current issue of Foreign Affairs that Kennedy, “ordered actions that he knew would increase the risk not only of conventional war but also nuclear war,” with a likelihood of perhaps 50 percent, he believed, an estimate that Allison regards as realistic.
Kennedy declared a high-level nuclear alert that authorized, “NATO aircraft with Turkish pilots … (or others) … to take off, fly to Moscow, and drop a bomb.”
None were more shocked by the discovery of missiles in Cuba than the men in charge of the similar missiles that the U.S. had secretly deployed in Okinawa six months earlier, surely aimed at China, at a moment of elevated regional tensions.
Kennedy took Chairman Nikita Khrushchev, “right to the brink of nuclear war and he looked over the edge and had no stomach for it,” according to Gen. David Burchinal, then a high-ranking official in the Pentagon planning staff. One can hardly count on such sanity forever.
Khrushchev accepted a formula that Kennedy devised, ending the crisis just short of war. The formula‚ boldest element, Allison writes, was, “a secret sweetener that promised the withdrawal of U.S. missiles from Turkey within six months after the crisis was resolved.” These were obsolete missiles that were being replaced by far more lethal, and invulnerable, Polaris submarines.
In brief, even at high risk of war of unimaginable destruction, it was felt necessary to reinforce the principle that U.S. has the unilateral right to deploy nuclear missiles anywhere, some aimed at China or at the borders of Russia, which had previously placed no missiles outside the USSR. Justifications of course have been offered, but I do not think they withstand analysis.
An accompanying principle is that Cuba had no right to have missiles for defense against what appeared to be an imminent U.S. invasion. The plans for Kennedy‚ terrorist programs, Operation Mongoose, called for, “open revolt and overthrow of the Communist regime,” in October 1962, the month of the missile crisis, recognizing that, “final success will require decisive U.S. military intervention.”
The terrorist operations against Cuba are commonly dismissed by U.S. commentators as insignificant CIA shenanigans. The victims, not surprisingly, see matters rather differently. We can at last hear their voices in Keith Bolender‚, “Voices from the Other Side: An Oral History of Terrorism Against Cuba.”
The events of October 1962 are widely hailed as Kennedy‚ finest hour. Allison offers them as, “a guide for how to defuse conflicts, manage great-power relationships, and make sound decisions about foreign policy in general.” In particular, today‚ conflicts with Iran and China.
Disaster was perilously close in 1962, and there has been no shortage of dangerous moments since. In 1973, in the last days of the Arab-Israeli war, Henry Kissinger called a high-level nuclear alert. India and Pakistan have come close to nuclear war. There have been innumerable cases when human intervention aborted nuclear attack only moments before launch after false reports by automated systems. There is much to think about on Aug. 6.
Allison joins many others in regarding Iran‚ nuclear programs as the most severe current crisis, “an even more complex challenge for American policymakers than the Cuban missile crisis,” because of the threat of Israeli bombing.
The war against Iran is already well underway, including assassination of scientists and economic pressures that have reached the level of, “undeclared war,” in the judgment of the Iran specialist Gary Sick.
Great pride is taken in the sophisticated cyberwar directed against Iran. The Pentagon regards cyberwar as, “an act of war,” that authorizes the target, “to respond using traditional military force,” The Wall Street Journal reports. With the usual exception: not when the U.S. or an ally is the perpetrator.
The Iran threat has recently been outlined by Gen. Giora Eiland, one of Israel‚ top military planners, described as, “one of the most ingenious and prolific thinkers the (Israeli military) has ever produced.”
Of the threats he outlines, the most credible is that, “any confrontation on our borders will take place under an Iranian nuclear umbrella.” Israel might therefore be constrained in resorting to force. Eiland agrees with the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence, which also regard deterrence as the major threat that Iran poses.
The current escalation of the, “undeclared war,” against Iran increases the threat of accidental large-scale war. Some of the dangers were illustrated last month when a U.S. naval vessel, part of the huge deployment in the Gulf, fired on a small fishing boat, killing one Indian crew member and wounding at least three others. It would not take much to set off a major war.
One sensible way to avoid such dread consequences is to pursue, “the goal of establishing in the Middle East a zone free from weapons of mass destruction and all missiles for their delivery and the objective of a global ban on chemical weapons,” the wording of Security Council resolution 687 of April 1991, which the U.S. and U.K. invoked in their effort to provide a thin legal cover for their invasion of Iraq 12 years later.
The goal has been an Arab-Iranian objective since 1974, regularly re-endorsed, and by now it has near-unanimous global support, at least formally. An international conference to consider ways to implement such a treaty may take place in December.
Progress is unlikely unless there is mass public support in the West. Failure to grasp the opportunity will, once again, lengthen the grim shadow that has darkened the world since that fateful Aug. 6.
© 2011 Noam Chomsky
Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.
This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.
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.)
Obama Channels Cheney’s Geopolitical Energy Policy June 21, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Dick Cheney, Energy, Environment, Nuclear weapons/power.
Tags: china policy, coal, Dick Cheney, energy, energy policy, energy politics, environment, fracking, gas, geopolitics, haliburton, hudro-fracking, michael t. klare, nuclear, Obama policy, offshore drilling, oil, oil exploration, oil industry, roger hollander
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Roger’s note: Back in the fall of 2008, after the election and before the inauguration, I wrote an essay entitled “Plus ça change you can believe in.” Obama has not disappointed this cynical prediction. I would not have thought that he would have out Bushed Bush on warmongering, but there is no surprise that he is loyal to the big money (despite the phony claim of small contributors) that put him in office.
Published on Thursday, June 21, 2012 by TomDispatch.com
Four Ways the President Is Pursuing Cheney’s Geopolitics of Global Energy
As details of his administration’s global war against terrorists, insurgents, and hostile warlords have become more widely known — a war that involves a mélange of drone attacks, covert operations, and presidentially selected assassinations — President Obama has been compared to President George W. Bush in his appetite for military action. “As shown through his stepped-up drone campaign,” Aaron David Miller, an advisor to six secretaries of state, wrote at Foreign Policy, “Barack Obama has become George W. Bush on steroids.”
When it comes to international energy politics, however, it is not Bush but his vice president, Dick Cheney, who has been providing the role model for the president. As recent events have demonstrated, Obama’s energy policies globally bear an eerie likeness to Cheney’s, especially in the way he has engaged in the geopolitics of oil as part of an American global struggle for future dominance among the major powers.
More than any of the other top officials of the Bush administration — many with oil-company backgrounds — Cheney focused on the role of energy in global power politics. From 1995 to 2000, he served as chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Halliburton, a major supplier of services to the oil industry. Soon after taking office as vice president he was asked by Bush to devise a new national energy strategy that has largely governed U.S. policy ever since.
Early on, Cheney concluded that the global supply of energy was not growing fast enough to satisfy rising world demand, and that securing control over the world’s remaining oil and natural gas supplies would therefore be an essential task for any state seeking to acquire or retain a paramount position globally. He similarly grasped that a nation’s rise to prominence could be thwarted by being denied access to essential energy supplies. As coal was to the architects of the British empire, oil was for Cheney — a critical resource over which it would sometimes be necessary to go to war.
More than any of his peers, Cheney articulated such views on the importance of energy to national wealth and power. “Oil is unique in that it is so strategic in nature,” he told an audience at an industry conference in London in 1999. “We are not talking about soapflakes or leisurewear here. Energy is truly fundamental to the world’s economy. The Gulf War was a reflection of that reality.”
Cheney’s reference to the 1990-1991 Gulf War is particularly revealing. During that conflict, he was the secretary of defense and so supervised the American war effort. But while his boss, President George H.W. Bush, played down the role of oil in the fight against Iraq, Cheney made no secret of his belief that energy geopolitics lay at the heart of the matter. “Once [Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein] acquired Kuwait and deployed an army as large as the one he possesses,” Cheney told the Senate Armed Services Committee when asked to justify the administration’s decision to intervene, “he was clearly in a position to be able to dictate the future of worldwide energy policy, and that gave him a stranglehold on our economy.”
This would be exactly the message he delivered in 2002, as the second President Bush girded himself for the invasion of Iraq. Were Saddam Hussein successful in acquiring weapons of mass destruction, Cheney told a group of veterans that August 25th, “[he] could then be expected to seek domination of the entire Middle East [and] take control of a great portion of the world’s energy supplies.”
For Cheney, the geopolitics of oil lay at the core of international relations, largely determining the rise and fall of nations. From this, it followed that any steps, including war and environmental devastation, were justified so long as they enhanced America’s power at the expense of its rivals.
Through his speeches, Congressional testimony, and actions in office, it is possible to reconstruct the geopolitical blueprint that Cheney followed in his career as a top White House strategist — a blueprint that President Obama, eerily enough, now appears to be implementing, despite the many risks involved.
That blueprint consists of four key features:
1. Promote domestic oil and gas production at any cost to reduce America’s dependence on unfriendly foreign suppliers, thereby increasing Washington’s freedom of action.
2. Keep control over the oil flow from the Persian Gulf (even if the U.S. gets an ever-diminishing share of its own oil supplies from the region) in order to retain an “economic stranglehold” over other major oil importers.
3. Dominate the sea lanes of Asia, so as to control the flow of oil and other raw materials to America’s potential economic rivals, China and Japan.
4. Promote energy “diversification” in Europe, especially through increased reliance on oil and natural gas supplies from the former Soviet republics of the Caspian Sea basin, in order to reduce Europe’s heavy dependence on Russian oil and gas, along with the political influence this brings Moscow.
The first objective, increased reliance on domestic oil and gas, was highlighted in National Energy Policy, the energy strategy Cheney devised for the president in May 2001 in close consultation with representatives of the oil giants. Although mostly known for its advocacy of increased drilling on federal lands, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Cheney Report (as it came to be known) largely focused on the threat of growing U.S. dependence on foreign oil suppliers and the need to achieve greater “energy security” through a damn-the-torpedoes-full-speed-ahead program of accelerated exploitation of domestic energy supplies.
“A primary goal of the National Energy Policy is to add supply from diverse sources,” the report declared. “This means domestic oil, gas, and coal. It also means hydropower and nuclear power.” The plan also called for a concerted drive to increase U.S. reliance on friendly sources of energy in the Western hemisphere, especially Brazil, Canada, and Mexico.
The second objective, control over the flow of oil through the Persian Gulf, was, for Cheney, the principal reason for both the First Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Although before that invasion, the president and other top officials focused on Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction, his human rights record, and the need to bring democracy to Iraq, Cheney never wavered in his belief that the basic goal was to ensure that Washington would control the Middle Eastern oil jugular.
After Saddam’s ouster and the occupation of Iraq began, Cheney was especially outspoken in his insistence that neighboring Iran be prevented, by force of arms if need be, from challenging American preeminence in the Gulf. “We’ll keep the sea lanes open,” he declared from the deck of an aircraft carrier during maneuvers off the coast of Iran in May 2007. “We’ll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.”
Cheney also focused in a major way on ensuring control over the sea lanes from the Strait of Hormuz, at the mouth of the Persian Gulf (out of which 35% of the world’s tradable oil flows each day) across the Indian Ocean, through the Straits of Malacca, and into the South and East China Seas. To this day, these maritime corridors remain essential for the economic survival of China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, bringing oil and other raw materials to their industries and carrying manufactured goods to their markets abroad. By maintaining U.S. control over these vital conduits, Cheney sought to guarantee the loyalty of America’s key Asian allies and constrain the rise of China. In pursuit of these classic geopolitical objectives, he pushed for an enhanced U.S. naval presence in the Asia-Pacific region and the establishment of a network of military alliances linking Japan, Australia, and India, all aimed at containing China.
Finally, Cheney sought to rein in America’s other major great-power rival, Russia. While his boss, George W. Bush, spoke of the potential for cooperation with Moscow, Cheney, still an energy cold warrior, viewed Russia as a geopolitical competitor and sought every opportunity to diminish its power and influence. He particularly feared that Europe’s growing dependence on Russian natural gas could undermine its resolve to resist aggressive Russian moves in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus.
To counter this trend, Cheney tried to persuade the Europeans to get more of their energy from the Caspian Sea basin by building new pipelines to that region via Georgia and Turkey. The idea was to bypass Russia by persuading Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan to export their gas through these conduits, not those owned by Gazprom, the Russian state-controlled monopoly. When Georgia came under attack from Russian forces in August 2008, after Georgian troops shelled the pro-Moscow enclave of South Ossetia, Cheney was the first senior U.S. official to visit Tbilisi, bringing a promise of $1 billion in reconstruction assistance, as well as an offer of fast-track entry into NATO. France and Germany blocked the move, fearing Moscow might respond with actions that could destabilize Europe.
Obama as Cheney
This four-part geopolitical blueprint, relentlessly pursued by Cheney while vice president, is now being implemented in every respect by President Obama.
When it comes to the pursuit of enhanced energy independence, Obama has embraced the ultra-nationalistic orientation of the 2001 Cheney report, with its call for increased reliance on domestic and Western Hemisphere oil and natural gas — no matter the dangers of drilling in environmentally fragile offshore areas or the use of hazardous techniques like hydro-fracking. In recent speeches, he has boasted of his administration’s efforts to facilitate increased oil and gas drilling at home and promised to speed drilling in new locations, including offshore Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.
“Over the last three years,” he boasted in his January State of the Union address, “we’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration, and tonight, I’m directing my administration to open more than 75% of our potential offshore oil and gas resources. Right now — right now — American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years… Not only that — last year, we relied less on foreign oil than in any of the past 16 years.” He spoke with particular enthusiasm about the extraction of natural gas via fracking from shale deposits: “We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years. And my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy.”
Obama has also voiced his desire to increase U.S. reliance on Western Hemisphere energy, thereby diminishing its dependence on unreliable and unfriendly suppliers in the Middle East and Africa. In March 2011, with the Arab Spring gaining momentum, he traveled to Brazil for five days of trade talks, a geopolitical energy pivot noted at the time. In the eyes of many observers, Obama’s focus on Brazil was inextricably linked to that country’s emergence as a major oil producer, thanks to new discoveries in the “pre-salt” fields off its coast in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, discoveries that could help the U.S. wean itself off Middle Eastern oil but could also turn out to be pollution nightmares. Although environmentalists have warned of the risks of drilling in the pre-salt fields, where a Deepwater Horizon-like blowout is an ever-present danger, Obama has made no secret of his geopolitical priorities. “By some estimates, the oil you recently discovered off the shores of Brazil could amount to twice the reserves we have in the United States,” he told Brazilian business leaders in that country’s capital. “When you’re ready to start selling, we want to be one of your best customers. At a time when we’ve been reminded how easily instability in other parts of the world can affect the price of oil, the United States could not be happier with the potential for a new, stable source of energy.”
At the same time, Obama has made it clear that the U.S. will retain its role as the ultimate guardian of the Persian Gulf sea lanes. Even while trumpeting the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq, he has insisted that the United States will bolster its air, naval, and special operations forces in the Gulf region, so as to remain the preeminent military power there. “Back to the future,” is how Major General Karl R. Horst, chief of staff of the U.S. Central Command, described the new posture, referring to a time before the Iraq War when the U.S. exercised dominance in the region mainly through its air and naval superiority.
While less conspicuous than “boots on the ground,” the expanded air and naval presence will be kept strong enough to overpower any conceivable adversary. “We will have a robust continuing presence throughout the region,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared last October. Such a build-up has in fact been accentuated, in preparation either for a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, should Obama conclude that negotiations to curb Iranian enrichment activities have reached a dead end, or to clear the Strait of Hormuz, if the Iranians carry out threats to block oil shipping there in retaliation for the even harsher economic sanctions due to be imposed after July 1st.
Like Cheney, Obama also seeks to ensure U.S. control over the vital sea lanes extending from the Strait of Hormuz to the South China Sea. This is, in fact, the heart of Obama’s much publicized policy “pivot” to Asia and his new military doctrine, first revealed in a speech to the Australian Parliament on November 17th. “As we plan and budget for the future,” he declared, “we will allocate the resources necessary to maintain our strong military presence in this region.” A major priority of this effort, he indicated, would be enhanced “maritime security,” especially in the South China Sea.
Central to the Obama plan — like that advanced by Dick Cheney in 2007 — is the construction of a network of bases and alliances encircling China, the globe’s rising power, in an arc stretching from Japan and South Korea in the north to Australia, Vietnam, and the Philippines in the southeast and thence to India in the southwest. When describing this effort in Canberra, Obama revealed that he had just concluded an agreement with the Australian government to establish a new U.S. military basing facility at Darwin on the country’s northern coast, near the South China Sea. He also spoke of the ultimate goal of U.S. geopolitics: a region-embracing coalition of anti-Chinese states that would include India. “We see America’s enhanced presence across Southeast Asia,” both in growing ties with local powers like Australia and “in our welcome of India as it ‘looks east’ and plays a larger role as an Asian power.”
As anyone who follows Asian affairs is aware, a strategy aimed at encircling China — especially one intended to incorporate India into America’s existing Asian alliance system — is certain to produce alarm and pushback from Beijing. “I don’t think they’re going to be very happy,” said Mark Valencia, a senior researcher at the National Bureau of Asian Research, speaking of China’s reaction. “I’m not optimistic in the long run as to how this is going to wind up.”
Finally, Obama has followed in Cheney’s footsteps in his efforts to reduce Russia’s influence in Europe and Central Asia by promoting the construction of new oil and gas pipelines from the Caspian via Georgia and Turkey to Europe. On June 5th, at the Caspian Oil and Gas Conference in Baku, President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan read a message from Obama promising Washington’s support for a proposed Trans-Anatolia gas pipeline, a conduit designed to carry natural gas from Azerbaijan across Georgia and Turkey to Europe — bypassing Russia, naturally. At the same time, Secretary of State Clinton traveled to Georgia, just as Cheney had, to reaffirm U.S. support and offer increased U.S. military aid. As during the Bush-Cheney era, these moves are bound to be seen in Moscow as part of a calculated drive to lessen Russia’s influence in the region — and so are certain to elicit a hostile response.
In virtually every respect, then, when it comes to energy geopolitics the Obama administration continues to carry out the strategic blueprint pioneered by Dick Cheney during the two Bush administrations. What explains this surprising behavior? Assuming that it doesn’t represent a literal effort to replicate Cheney’s thinking — and there’s no evidence of that — it clearly represents the triumph of imperial geopolitics (and hidebound thinking) over ideology, principle, or even simple openness to new ideas.
When you get two figures as different as Obama and Cheney pursuing the same pathways in the world — and the first time around was anything but a success — it’s a sign of just how closed and airless the world of Washington really has become. At a time when most Americans are weary of grand ideological crusades, the pursuit of what looks like simple national self-interest — in the form of assured energy supplies — may appear far more attractive as a rationale for military and political involvement abroad.
In addition, Obama and his advisers are no doubt influenced by talk of a new “golden age” of North American oil and gas, made possible by the exploitation of shale deposits and other unconventional — and often dirty — energy resources. According to projections given by the Department of Energy, U.S. reliance on imported energy is likely to decline in the years ahead (though there is a domestic price to be paid for such “independence”), while China’s will only rise — a seeming geopolitical advantage for the United States that Obama appears to relish.
It is easy enough to grasp the appeal of such energy geopolitics for White House strategists, especially given the woeful state of the U.S. economy and the declining utility of other instruments of state power. And if you are prepared to overlook the growing environmental risks of reliance on offshore oil, shale gas, and other unconventional forms of energy, rising U.S. energy output conveys certain geopolitical advantages. But as history suggests, engaging in aggressive global geopolitical confrontations with other determined, well-armed players usually leads to friction, crisis, war, and disaster.
In this regard, Cheney’s geopolitical maneuvering led us into two costly Middle Eastern wars while heightening tensions with both China and Russia. President Obama claims he seeks to build a more peaceful world, but copying the Cheney energy blueprint is bound to produce the exact opposite.
Michael T. Klare is the Five College Professor of Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. His newest book, The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources, has just recently been published. His other books include: Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy and Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America’s Growing Dependence on Imported Petroleum. A documentary version of that book is available from the Media Education Foundation.