Roger’s note: governments and media parrot the lie that such barbarism was “necessary” in order to save lives (sic). I am sure Dante could find a special place in Hell for them. I just want to point out the murderous cycle of capitalist war profiteering. The same shareholders (of Dow Chemical, for example, the manufacturer of napalm gas) who finance and profit from the bloodbath fall in line to profit from the reconstruction. We see this today in Iraq, where during the initial stages of reconstruction of areas annihilated by US bombing, only US firms were allowed to bid for reconstruction contracts. As General Smedley Butler famously said, “War is a Racket.”
ELAINE KURTENBACH and MARI YAMAGUCHIMar 9th 2015 4:12AM
This photo shows initial destruction and reconstruction after the March 10, 1945 firebombing. (AP Photo/The Center of the Tokyo Raids and War Damage, Eugene Hoshiko)
TOKYO (AP) – It was not Hiroshima or Nagasaki, but in many ways, including lives lost, it was just as horrific.
On March 10, 1945, U.S. B-29 bombers flew over Tokyo in the dead of night, dumping massive payloads of cluster bombs equipped with a then-recent invention: napalm. A fifth of Tokyo was left a smoldering expanse of charred bodies and rubble.
Today, a modest floral monument in a downtown park honors the spirits of the 105,400 confirmed dead, many interred in common graves.
It was the deadliest conventional air raid ever, worse than Nagasaki and on par with Hiroshima. But the attack, and similar ones that followed in more than 60 other Japanese cities, have received little attention, eclipsed by the atomic bombings and Japan’s postwar rush to rebuild.
Haruyo Nihei, just 8 when the bombs fell, was among many survivors who kept silent. A half-century passed before she even shared her experiences with her own son.
“Our parents would just say, ‘That’s a different era,'” Nihei said. “They wouldn’t talk about it. And I figured my own family wouldn’t understand.”
Now, as their numbers dwindle, survivors are determined to tell their stories while they still can.
Where earlier raids targeted aircraft factories and military facilities, the Tokyo firebombing was aimed largely at civilians, in places including Tokyo’s downtown area known as “shitamachi,” where people lived in traditional wood and paper homes at densities sometimes exceeding 100,000 people per square mile.
“There were plenty of small factories, but this area was chosen specifically because it was easy to burn,” says historian Masahiko Yamabe, who was born just months after the war’s end.
Another departure from earlier raids: the bombers flew low.
“It was as if we could reach out and touch the planes, they looked so big,” said Yoshitaka Kimura, whose family’s toy store in downtown Tokyo’s Asakusa was destroyed. “The bombs were raining down on us. Red, and black, that’s what I remember most.”
Nihei, now 78, was mesmerized as she watched from a railway embankment.
“It was a blazing firestorm. I saw a baby catch fire on its mother’s back, and she couldn’t put out the fire. I saw a horse being led by its owner. The horse balked and the cargo on its back caught fire, then its tail, and it burned alive, as the owner just stood there and burned with it,” she said.
Firefighter Isamu Kase was on duty at a train parts factory. He jumped onto a pump truck when the attack began, knowing the job was impossible.
“It was a hellish frenzy, absolutely horrible. People were just jumping into the canals to escape the inferno,” said Kase, 89. He said he survived because he didn’t jump in the water, but his burns were so severe he was in and out of hospital for 15 years.
Split-second choices like that determined who lived and who died.
Kimura, a 7-year-old, escaped the flames as he was blown into the entrance of a big department store while running toward the Sumida River, where tens of thousands of people died: burned, crushed, drowned or suffocated in the firestorm.
Masaharu Ohtake, then 13, fled his family’s noodle shop with a friend. Turned back by firefighters, they headed toward Tokyo Bay and again were ordered back. The boys crouched in a factory yard, waiting as flames consumed their neighborhood.
“We saw a fire truck heaped with a mountain of bones. It was hard to understand how so many bodies could be piled up like that,” said Ohtake.
After about two hours and 40 minutes, the B-29s left.
Survivors speak of the hush as dawn broke over a wasteland of corpses and debris, studded by chimneys of bathhouses and small factories. Police photographer Koyo Ishikawa captured the carnage of charred bodies piled like blackened mannequins, tiny ones lying beside them.
“It was as if the world had ended,” said Nihei, whose father sheltered her under his body, as others piled on top and were burned and suffocated. All her family survived.
Michiko Kiyo-oka, a 21-year-old government worker living in the Asakusa district, survived by hiding under a bridge.
“When I crawled out I was so cold, so I was warming myself near one of the piles that was still smoldering. I could see an arm. I could see nostrils. But I was numb to that by then,” she said. “The smell is one that will never leave me.”
FIGHTING TO BE REMEMBERED
From January 1944-August 1945, the U.S. dropped 157,000 tons of bombs on Japanese cities, according to the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey. It estimated that 333,000 people were killed, including the 80,000 killed in the Aug. 6 Hiroshima atomic-bomb attack and 40,000 at Nagasaki three days later. Other estimates are significantly higher. Fifteen million of the 72 million Japanese were left homeless.
The bombing campaign set a military precedent for targeting civilian areas that persisted into the Korean and Vietnam wars and beyond. But the non-atomic attacks have been largely overlooked.
“Both governments, the press, media, radio, even novelists … decided the crucial story was the atomic bomb,” said Mark Selden, a Cornell University history professor. “This allowed them to avoid addressing some very important questions.”
Survivors of the Tokyo firebombing feel their pain has been forgotten, by history and by the government. After the war, only veterans and victims of the atomic bombings received special support.
“We civilians had no weapons and no strength to fight,” Kiyo-oka said. “We were attacked and got no compensation. I am very dissatisfied with how the government handled this.”
No specific government agency handles civilian survivors of firebombings or keeps their records, because there is no legal basis for that, said Manabu Oki at the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry.
Yamabe, the historian, said authorities “are reluctant to acknowledge civilian suffering from the wartime leaders’ refusal to end the war earlier.”
“If they don’t disclose such data, it can’t be discussed. If the victims remain anonymous then there’s less pressure for compensation,” said Yamabe, a researcher at the privately funded Tokyo Air Raid and War Damages Resource Center, Japan’s main source of information about the firebombings.
Some survivors now refuse to be anonymous. Nihei often travels from the distant suburbs to the Tokyo Air Raid center to share her story with students and other visitors.
Years ago, Ohtake began walking the city to draw up guide maps of areas destroyed by the bombings – maps the resource center now uses.
“The United States went too far with the firebombing, but I don’t quite understand why the Japanese government and the rest of the Japanese don’t talk about this very much,” he said.
“We are not just statistics. I don’t think we’ll still be around for the 80th anniversary,” Ohtake said. “So the 70th anniversary is pretty much the last chance for us to speak up.”
Sixty-nine years ago last week, a slender woman named Tomiko Shoji was struck and sent aloft by a bright white light. She’d just arrived at her secretarial job, at a tobacco factory, and was standing by the door when the flash occurred; the light’s source had a nickname, Little Boy, but it meant nothing to her at the time. She flew backward under the crushing force of the office door, passed out, and awoke with shards of glass in her head and an expanse of bodies around her—some dead, some alive but dazed, and many more, she soon found, floating “like charcoal” in nearby rivers. The nineteen-year-old climbed up and out of the shell of her younger self; she had survived the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Nearly seven decades later, Keni Sabath, Shoji’s youngest granddaughter, started to wonder: Had the bombing’s aftermath reshaped not just the psyche of her bachan (grandmother) but also, in ways both culturally and historically particular, her own?
In recent years, a public-health hypothesis has emerged that one of the world’s most poorly understood pandemics isn’t a conventional virus—like H1N1, say, or some hemorrhagic fever. This hypothesis suggests that untended wartime trauma can move vertically and horizontally through individuals and families, morphing across years, decades, or even centuries. Sabath began considering the prospect as early as high school, after certain overpowering symptoms emerged on a family visit to Hiroshima when she was six. It was Sabath who had arranged for me to visit her bachan at her aunt’s home in Hilliard, Ohio, where Shoji agreed to share her first full account of the bombing and the family mysteries that followed.
* * *
On my way to Hilliard, I carried my copy of John Hersey’s “Hiroshima.” (My 1989 edition bears the cover endorsement “Everyone able to read should read it,” and I agree.) Its text first appeared as an entire issue of this magazine, on the one-year anniversary of the bombing, and followed the fates of six civilians in the aftermath. Even now, on a more distant anniversary, Hersey’s granular rendering gives an urgency to these stories: of a young clerk, Shoji’s age, who found herself crushed beneath a pile of books; of a Methodist pastor who charged his way back into the city to help, passing victims whose eyebrows had been singed off and women with the flower patterns of kimonos burned into their skin.
As I entered Shoji’s home, on a quiet cul-de-sac, she swept my hand into hers and pressed her cool forehead against mine by way of welcome. Her eldest daughter, Minori, gave me a pair of slippers to wear inside; as the three of us shuffled into the kitchen, where fresh berries and tea cakes awaited, we paused to examine photographs of the Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto, the same pastor who weaves his way through Hersey’s narrative, and who also, apparently, stood at the center of Shoji’s. She first came across him preaching in an open-air bazaar in Hiroshima not long after the bombing; he gave her a piece of paper with information about his church, and she soon converted to Christianity. (He later baptized her grandson, Isao, who served as my translator well into the early evening.) Some of the first words Shoji spoke to me in Japanese were about the Reverend: “He would say, ‘Tomiko, why don’t we go all over the world together and tell them of our experiences with the bomb?’ ”
Tanimoto made a second career out of his own suggestion; on the fortieth anniversary of the bombing, Hersey wrote a follow-up story for the magazine, “Hiroshima: The Aftermath,” in which he described the pastor’s extensive U.S. speaking tour to promote peace. But Shoji wasn’t ready to speak freely at the time. This past July, the last surviving crew member of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped Little Boy, died in Stone Mountain, Georgia, having given many interviews. By then, Shoji had made up her mind that, in her eighty-eighth year, she would share her own account of what happened on the other side of the bomb. So we began right there, with the flash.
* * *
“Radiation! Heat! The wind from the bomb!” When Shoji began to describe her recollections from August 6, 1945, she took on a staccato pattern of speech, gesticulating rapidly. A tiny woman with pixie-gray hair and a sweet, flushed face, she slapped her small hands together and pummelled her head with pinched fingers, as if to imitate flying debris from the blast. At one point, she pretended to fling burned skin across the room like zucchini peels. Then she closed her eyes and went into a deep repose, resurfacing with a sudden phrase: “I’m scared to meet people,” she said, speaking in the present tense of her teen-age self, who might also be herself at eighty-eight. “Something could just blow up. I’ve seen it before.”
On the morning of the bombing—it was 8:15, the start of the workday—Shoji recalls briefly losing consciousness at the Bureau of Tobacco. “When I got up, I ran down to the first floor, down to the bomb shelter,” she said. “All over was smoke; the entire city was covered with smoke. I saw people coming across the bridge just completely black—covered by blood, coming towards us. … The whole city was a sea of fire. And then, at night, it rained black rain.”
Collecting herself, she began walking with colleagues across the city’s many bridges, toward the sea. She caught a train in Hiroshima’s west hoping to find her sister, to no avail; en route were whole trolley cars that had been blown off their tracks, filled with singed corpses. After spending the night, she returned home to find a note from the same sister, which read, “You can find me at the school.” The two stayed in the school turned shelter for some time thereafter, living in a true dystopia. “There were tens of thousands of flies from the dead bodies,” she recalled. “Our greetings to each other became: are you having diarrhea?”
For all those who perished in the bombing, many more survived, day by day. Only later would some, like Shoji, come to discover that the most devastating aftereffects were like ghosts: coming and going on a whim, wreaking forms of havoc often incomprehensible to outsiders and, sometimes, even to those who suffered it.
* * *
I’d always assumed, in ignorance, that to survive the atomic bomb—to be ahibakusha, or “explosion-affected person”—was to have conferred upon you a certain esteem or deference, not unlike that afforded to the bearer of a Purple Heart. Shoji’s family wasted no time correcting me. To be a hibakusha, they explained, was not an honorific but a source of shame, a secret to be closely held. Even grandchildren have often feared telling romantic partners of their grandparents’ experience, worried that their genetic material would be perceived as spoiled goods.
Eventually, Shoji’s family planned for her to enter an arranged marriage with a prominent policeman in Taiwan, where she relocated in her early twenties. They kept her hibakusha status hushed, and refused to allow the two to talk before the ceremony, so as to better seal the secret. “My hands were shaking, holding my bouquet,” Shoji recalled. When her husband learned the news afterward, he spiralled into a rage that never lifted. For the rest of the marriage, Shoji’s daughter Minori said, “He felt he’d been cheated.”
The next several decades brought a parade of physical ailments that were easily traceable to the bomb: Shoji’s eyes and ears gave up early; her insides felt perpetually cold; her teeth fell out, requiring dentures in her forties. But perhaps most debilitating were the psychological symptoms that she didn’t think she could attribute to the radiation. “For thirty or forty years, I was so afraid of thunder and lightening,” she told me, as one of many examples. “It would just crush me. I just lost control.” Raising four daughters was a challenge of another scale. “Nobody understood me; I was like a beggar,” she said, recalling that when her children were young she faced almost daily bouts of overwhelming panic. At night, in dreams, she shouted, “The Earth—the Earth is going to fall!” “At the time, I didn’t know what was affecting me so badly,” Shoji said. “I couldn’t talk about it. Even before I opened my mouth, I would collapse with fear.”
Minori chimed in, gently stroking her mother’s shoulder: “When we would go into her bedroom in the morning, we would see her get so angry—she would throw things. When we were young, I never saw her laugh—she was quiet, and weak.” Back then, neither Shoji nor her children spoke openly about this behavior as tied to the bomb. Remarkably, Shoji says that the idea didn’t come easily to her. She was unfamiliar with the concept of post-traumatic stress disorder, or shell shock, or its classic presentation (nightmares, flashbacks, hypervigilance); these traits seemed unrelated to her experience. “Every year I have these crazy episodes—my family is so good to me, but I have these outbursts, these moments when I lose control,” she said. Years ago, she insists, it all seemed completely inexplicable.
Still, somewhere within her, she began to trace a clear line between her inner state and the events of her nineteenth year. “After I go married, the family would yell at me, and even when I’m beaten, I can’t respond, and I don’t know why. But deep inside, I remember, oh, that’s what it is: the bomb, the aftereffects of the bomb. It’s worse than the day of the bomb.”
* * *
Shoji’s granddaughter Keni Sabath grew up in Hawaii and Texas, the child of a New Jersey-born Navy JAG officer and a fashionable Taiwan-born language tutor. Like her older sister Zena, Keni often spent her days with her bachan, who lived in their home for years before joining Keni’s aunt Minori in Ohio. In the summers, the family would travel back to Japan. “I first became aware of my grandmother’s experience in a very disturbing way, when I was six years old,” Keni Sabath told me after my Ohio visit. “I went to the Peace Park in Hiroshima with my grandmother and my mom. We walked by the river and my mom would translate, ‘This river here was turned into a blood river, and people would jump into it and their skin would burn off.’ ” The family proceeded to the local memorial museum, where life-size wax statues depicted local children fleeing the bombing site, their skin melting and their clothing singed. “The children were my height!” Sabath said. “It was so hard for me to reconcile that hell with the current city. I couldn’t understand: How were people over it?”
Sabath’s crying became incessant thereafter. She couldn’t sleep; each time she saw a plane in the air, she panicked, just as her grandmother continued to do. “My mother ended up taking me to a witch doctor,” she told me. “They thought I was haunted by the ghosts of Hiroshima” (called yurie, or faint spirits). For years, the yurie resurfaced in Sabath each summer, making her anxious, watchful, her eyes skyward.
In recent years, a growing body of scholarship has sought to better understand accounts like Shoji’s and Sabath’s through the framework of “trans-generational trauma,” which traces experiences of catastrophic loss across the span of a family or a community. A wide range of studies have examined evidence of “secondary trauma” in the children of Holocaust survivors, the wives of Vietnam veterans, and, more informally, in the families of U.S. veterans who’ve faced P.T.S.D. after deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2007, a study on the wives of fifty-six traumatized war veterans in Croatia found that more than a third of the veterans’ wives met the criteria for secondary traumatic stress; often, this meant symptoms “similar to those present in directly traumatized persons: nightmares about the person who was directly traumatized, insomnia, loss of interest, irritability, chronic fatigue, and changes in self-perception, perception of one’s own life, and of other people.” More recently, speaking to Mac McClelland for an article on trauma in the families of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, the clinical psychologist Robert Motta said, “Trauma is really not something that happens to an individual.” Instead, he proposed, “Trauma is a contagious disease; it affects everyone that has close contact with a traumatized person.”
But even metaphors of trauma as contagion feel inadequate, or even potentially counterproductive; for one thing, they can get mixed up with questions of shame and stigma, seeming to assign blame or stir up anxieties about contamination where the antidote to both is needed. And stigma, too, gets internalized. As a small child, Sabath said, when she began to fear a plane above, “I would think, how could I let the plane know that I was American?” She would beg her father to come along to Japan during the summers, thinking, “My white military dad—a Navy JAG officer—he signalled my identity, my patriotic Americanness.” Only in his presence could she feel, as the mixed-race grandchild of a hibakusha, that “there is no way you would ever harm us.”
When she reached high school, Sabath became a debating champion and made nuclear proliferation her focus. She went on to college at Yale and visited the White House as a student leader for Global Zero, the international nuclear-disarmament group, for which she recently authored a personal essay on herbachan’s “scenes of living hell.” “I hope you will remember my grandmother’s message and act upon it,” she wrote.
* * *
In the late nineteen-fifties, the Japanese government began issuing certificates to hibakusha, entitling them to certain health benefits, and Shoji became the first survivor living abroad to travel back to Japan to reap the benefits. Over the course of those treatments, Shoji gathered for the first time with other survivors, at healing hot springs. It was in that community that she got her first glimpse of psychological relief, and perhaps began to decipher some of her experiences and speak of them to others. Last fall, she traveled to Yale to say to her granddaughter’s classmates, “I want with every breath, with all my strength, to tell people” about the bomb.
In the final pages of Hersey’s “Hiroshima,” he observed that many people he met there were often reticent to speak or even think about the ethics of the bomb; instead, they would offer approximations of “Shikata ga nai,” a Japanese expression that he translated as “It can’t be helped. Oh well. Too bad.”
At eighty-eight, Shoji seems to have thrown off that cosmic shrug. When we finished in the dining room, her daughter gave me a bundle of pastries and fruit, and we all shuffled to the foyer. The whole family stood in the doorway and waved goodbye. Shoji’s cheeks looked pink, and, as I drove off, it was easy to imagine how she might have appeared on her way to work at nineteen, looking up at the August sky.
Sarah Stillman is a staff writer at The New Yorker and a visiting scholar at the N.Y.U. Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.
Roger’s note: Defenders of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings allege that they saved the lives of untold thousands of American and Japanese soldiers who would have died in an invasion of Japan. This, as a justification for the unleashing of atomic warfare and the massive civilian death and destruction, is highly questionable speculation. Credible historians have concluded that Japan was already defeated and that the bombings were unnecessary to achieve surrender. Some point to evidence that the bombings were a warning signal to the Soviet Union.
August 6, 1945 and not December 7, 1941 is truly the day that will go down in infamy.
Hiroshima, Japan in the wake of the atomic bomb dropped by the U.S. on August 6, 1945. (Photo: flickr / cc)
“I hate war,” Koji Hosokawa told me as we stood next to the A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima, Japan. The skeletal remains of the four-story building stand at the edge of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. The building was one of the few left standing when the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima at 8:15 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1945. Three days later, the U.S. dropped the second bomb on Nagasaki. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed—many instantly, and many more slowly from severe burns and what would come to be understood as radiation sickness.
The world watches in horror this summer as military conflicts rage, leaving destruction in their wake from Libya, to Gaza, to Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Ukraine. Never far from the dead and injured, nuclear-armed missiles stand by at the alert, waiting for the horrible moment when hubris, accident or inhumanity triggers the next nuclear attack. “I hate war,” Hosokawa reiterated. “War makes everyone crazy.”
Koji Hosokawa was 17 years old in 1945, and worked in the telephone exchange building, less than 2 miles from ground zero. “I miraculously survived,” he told me. His 13-year-old sister was not so fortunate: “She was … very close to the hypocenter, and she was exposed to the bomb there. And she was with a teacher and the students. In all, 228 people were there together with her.” They all died.
We walked through the park to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. There, on display, were the images of death: the shadows of victims burned into the walls of buildings, the pictures of the fiery chaos that followed the bombing, and of the victims of radiation. Almost seven decades later, Hosokawa’s eyes tear up in the recollection. “My biggest sorrow in my life is that my younger sister died in the atomic bomb,” he said.
The day before my meeting with Koji Hosokawa, I sat down in Tokyo to interview Kenzaburo Oe, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was 10 years old in 1945. “When Japan experienced the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this was a greater catastrophe than anything we had ever known,” he told me. “The feeling of having to survive this, go beyond this and renew from this, was great.”
Now nearing 80, Kenzaburo Oe thinks deeply about the connection between the atomic bombings and the disaster at Fukushima, the nuclear power plant meltdown that began when Japan was struck by a devastating earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. The Nobel laureate told the French newspaper Le Monde: “Hiroshima must be engraved in our memories: It’s a catastrophe even more dramatic than natural disasters, because it’s man-made. To repeat it, by showing the same disregard for human life in nuclear power stations, is the worst betrayal of the memory of the victims of Hiroshima.”
After the Fukushima disaster, Oe said, “all Japanese people were feeling a great regret … the atmosphere in Japan here was almost the same as following the bombing of Hiroshima at the end of the war. Because of this atmosphere, the government [in 2011], with the agreement of the Japanese people, pledged to totally get rid of or decommission the more than 50 nuclear power plants here in Japan.”
A-bomb survivors like Koji Hosokawa, writers like Kenzaburo Oe, and hundreds of thousands of others, now elderly, have lived through the dawn of the nuclear age in 1945 and seen its potential for devastation recently, at Fukushima. Nuclear-weapon arsenals and nuclear power plants each pose separate, horrific risks to humanity, yet the two are connected, with the byproducts of some power plants usable as material for nuclear warheads. Whether from an act of war, or an act of terrorism from a so-called loose nuke in the hands of a non-state actor, or from an uncontrolled meltdown at a nuclear power plant, nuclear disasters are massively destructive. Yet they are completely preventable. We need a new way of thinking, a new effort to eliminate nuclear weapons and shift to safe, renewable energy, worldwide.
As we were leaving the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Koji Hosokawa told me to stop. He looked me in the eye, and told me not to forget the victims: “People lived here. They lived here.”
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 1,100 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.
Investigation reveals systematic exploitation of homeless by big business and organized crime
- Jon Queally, staff writer
Shizuya Nishiyama, a 57-year-old homeless man from Hokkaido, speaks during an interview with Reuters at Sendai Station in Sendai, northern Japan December 18, 2013. (Credit: REUTERS/Issei Kato)
Private labor contractors in Japan are “recruiting” homeless individuals throughout the country, luring them to perform clean-up work in the areas near the destroyed nuclear power plant at Fukushima for less than minimum wage.
That’s the finding of a new special Reuters investigation which says that shady business operators are employing men like Seiji Sasa to “prowl” train stations and other places throughout the country targeting “homeless men” who are “willing to accept minimum wage for one of the most undesirable jobs in the industrialized world: working on the $35 billion, taxpayer-funded effort to clean up radioactive fallout across an area of northern Japan larger than Hong Kong.”
The investigation found a shady but systematic labor scheme—much of it run by organized crime but also involving some of the nation’s top construction firms—in which day laborers are exploited by contractors receiving state funds to clean up areas near the plant.
“We’re an easy target for recruiters,” said 57-year-old Shizuya Nishiyama, a homeless man recruited at a train station in the city of Sendai. “We turn up here with all our bags, wheeling them around and we’re easy to spot. They say to us, are you looking for work? Are you hungry? And if we haven’t eaten, they offer to find us a job.”
In exchange for bringing workers to the sites, the middlemen receive a cut of their wages.
“I don’t ask questions; that’s not my job,” said Sasa, one of these so-called “middle men,” in an interview with Reuters. “I just find people and send them to work. I send them and get money in exchange. That’s it. I don’t get involved in what happens after that.”
Reviewing police records and conducting interviews with some of the people directly involved, Reuters reveals the ongoing and perilous nature of the clean-up work at Fukushima and the ways in which society’s most vulnerable are being exploited for profit in the aftermath of one of the worst nuclear disasters in history.
According to Reuters, the scheme plays out when large construction firms like Obayashi, the nation’s second biggest and major contractor at Fukushima, employs sub-contractors like Sasa:
Seiji Sasa, 67, a broad-shouldered former wrestling promoter, was photographed by undercover police recruiting homeless men at the Sendai train station to work in the nuclear cleanup. The workers were then handed off through a chain of companies reporting up to Obayashi, as part of a $1.4 million contract to decontaminate roads in Fukushima, police say. […]
Only a third of the money allocated for wages by Obayashi’s top contractor made it to the workers Sasa had found. The rest was skimmed by middlemen, police say. After deductions for food and lodging, that left workers with an hourly rate of about $6, just below the minimum wage equal to about $6.50 per hour in Fukushima, according to wage data provided by police. Some of the homeless men ended up in debt after fees for food and housing were deducted, police say.
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.”
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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
- Andrea Germanos, staff writer
IAEA experts examine recovery work on top of Unit 4 of TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on 17 April 2013. (Photo: Greg Webb / IAEA)
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 Timesexplains.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Washington doesn’t merely lack the legal authority for a military intervention in Syria.
It lacks the moral authority. We’re talking about a government with a history of using chemical weapons against innocent people far more prolific and deadly than the mere accusations Assad faces from a trigger-happy Western military-industrial complex, bent on stifling further investigation before striking.
Here is a list of 10 chemical weapons attacks carried out by the U.S. government or its allies against civilians..
1.The U.S. Military Dumped 20 Million Gallons of Chemicals on Vietnam from 1962 – 1971
During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military sprayed 20 million gallons of chemicals, including the very toxic Agent Orange, on the forests and farmlands of Vietnam and neighboring countries, deliberately destroying food supplies, shattering the jungle ecology, and ravaging the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. Vietnam estimates that as a result of the decade-long chemical attack, 400,000 people were killed or maimed, 500,000 babies have been born with birth defects, and 2 million have suffered from cancer or other illnesses. In 2012, the Red Cross estimated that one million people in Vietnam have disabilities or health problems related to Agent Orange.
2.Israel Attacked Palestinian Civilians with White Phosphorus in 2008 – 2009
White phosphorus is a horrific incendiary chemical weapon that melts human flesh right down to the bone.
In 2009, multiple human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and International Red Cross reported that the Israeli government was attacking civilians in their own country with chemical weapons. An Amnesty International team claimed to find “indisputable evidence of the widespread use of white phosphorus” as a weapon in densely-populated civilian areas. The Israeli military denied the allegations at first, but eventually admitted they were true.
After the string of allegations by these NGOs, the Israeli military even hit a UN headquarters(!) in Gaza with a chemical attack. How do you think all this evidence compares to the case against Syria? Why didn’t Obama try to bomb Israel?
3.Washington Attacked Iraqi Civilians with White Phosphorus in 2004
In 2004, journalists embedded with the U.S. military in Iraq began reporting the use of white phosphorus in Fallujah against Iraqi insurgents. First the military lied and said that it was only using white phosphorus to create smokescreens or illuminate targets. Then it admitted to using the volatile chemical as an incendiary weapon. At the time, Italian television broadcaster RAI aired a documentary entitled, “Fallujah, The Hidden Massacre,” including grim video footage and photographs, as well as eyewitness interviews with Fallujah residents and U.S. soldiers revealing how the U.S. government indiscriminately rained white chemical fire down on the Iraqi city and melted women and children to death.
4.The CIA Helped Saddam Hussein Massacre Iranians and Kurds with Chemical Weapons in 1988
CIA records now prove that Washington knew Saddam Hussein was using chemical weapons (including sarin, nerve gas, and mustard gas) in the Iran-Iraq War, yet continued to pour intelligence into the hands of the Iraqi military, informing Hussein of Iranian troop movements while knowing that he would be using the information to launch chemical attacks. At one point in early 1988, Washington warned Hussein of an Iranian troop movement that would have ended the war in a decisive defeat for the Iraqi government. By March an emboldened Hussein with new friends in Washington struck a Kurdish village occupied by Iranian troops with multiple chemical agents, killing as many as 5,000 people and injuring as many as 10,000 more, most of them civilians. Thousands more died in the following years from complications, diseases, and birth defects.
5.The Army Tested Chemicals on Residents of Poor, Black St. Louis Neighborhoods in The 1950s
In the early 1950s, the Army set up motorized blowers on top of residential high-rises in low-income, mostly black St. Louis neighborhoods, including areas where as much as 70% of the residents were children under 12. The government told residents that it was experimenting with a smokescreen to protect the city from Russian attacks, but it was actually pumping the air full of hundreds of pounds of finely powdered zinc cadmium sulfide. The government admits that there was a second ingredient in the chemical powder, but whether or not that ingredient was radioactive remains classified. Of course it does. Since the tests, an alarming number of the area’s residents have developed cancer. In 1955, Doris Spates was born in one of the buildings the Army used to fill the air with chemicals from 1953 – 1954. Her father died inexplicably that same year, she has seen four siblings die from cancer, and Doris herself is a survivor of cervical cancer.
6.Police Fired Tear Gas at Occupy Protesters in 2011
The savage violence of the police against Occupy protesters in 2011 was well documented, and included the use of tear gas and other chemical irritants. Tear gas is prohibited for use against enemy soldiers in battle by the Chemical Weapons Convention. Can’t police give civilian protesters in Oakland, California the same courtesy and protection that international law requires for enemy soldiers on a battlefield?
7.The FBI Attacked Men, Women, and Children With Tear Gas in Waco in 1993
At the infamous Waco siege of a peaceful community of Seventh Day Adventists, the FBI pumped tear gas into buildings knowing that women, children, and babies were inside. The tear gas was highly flammable and ignited, engulfing the buildings in flames and killing 49 men and women, and 27 children, including babies and toddlers. Remember, attacking an armed enemy soldier on a battlefield with tear gas is a war crime. What kind of crime is attacking a baby with tear gas?
8.The U.S. Military Littered Iraq with Toxic Depleted Uranium in 2003
In Iraq, the U.S. military has littered the environment with thousands of tons of munitions made from depleted uranium, a toxic and radioactive nuclear waste product. As a result, more than half of babies born in Fallujah from 2007 – 2010 were born with birth defects. Some of these defects have never been seen before outside of textbooks with photos of babies born near nuclear tests in the Pacific. Cancer and infant mortality have also seen a dramatic rise in Iraq. According to Christopher Busby, the Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, “These are weapons which have absolutely destroyed the genetic integrity of the population of Iraq.” After authoring two of four reports published in 2012 on the health crisis in Iraq, Busby described Fallujah as having, “the highest rate of genetic damage in any population ever studied.”
9.The U.S. Military Killed Hundreds of Thousands of Japanese Civilians with Napalm from 1944 – 1945
Napalm is a sticky and highly flammable gel which has been used as a weapon of terror by the U.S. military. In 1980, the UN declared the use of napalm on swaths of civilian population a war crime. That’s exactly what the U.S. military did in World War II, dropping enough napalm in one bombing raid on Tokyo to burn 100,000 people to death, injure a million more, and leave a million without homes in the single deadliest air raid of World War II.
10.The U.S. Government Dropped Nuclear Bombs on Two Japanese Cities in 1945
Although nuclear bombs may not be considered chemical weapons, I believe we can agree they belong to the same category. They certainly disperse an awful lot of deadly radioactive chemicals. They are every bit as horrifying as chemical weapons if not more, and by their very nature, suitable for only one purpose: wiping out an entire city full of civilians. It seems odd that the only regime to ever use one of these weapons of terror on other human beings has busied itself with the pretense of keeping the world safe from dangerous weapons in the hands of dangerous governments.
… And they did. (Photo: Greenpeace)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.
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 1,100 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.
Roger’s note: this posting contains two somewhat related articles. The second article, presents the view that the nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was for geopolitical and not military reasons. I first read this interpretation back in the 1960s in a book by the so-called revisionist historian, Gar Alperovitz,“Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam.” Also, according to Wikipedia, ‘Alperovitz is the author of critically acclaimed books on the atomic bomb and atomic diplomacy and was named “Distinguished Finalist” for the Lionel Gelber Prize for The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth, (Knopf, 1995).’ I am no historian, but I find the “revisionist” argument to be quite persuasive.
Published on Wednesday, August 14, 2013 by Lobe Log
Last week marked the 68th anniversary of the WWII destruction of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima (Aug. 6) and Nagasaki (Aug. 9) — the first and only deployment of nuclear weapons in human history. Within moments of the nuclear explosions that destroyed these cities, at
An atomic cloud rises over Hiroshima. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
least 200,000 people lost their lives. Tens of thousands subsequently died from radiation poisoning within the next two weeks. The effects linger to this day.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has implied that this would the be fate of Israel if Iran was allowed to obtain nuclear weapon-making capabilities, including the ability to enrich high-grade uranium. To prevent this from happening, the economy of Iran must be crippled by sanctions and the fourth largest oil reserves in the world must be barred from global markets, as the oil fields in which they are situated deteriorate. Israel — the only state in the region that actually possesses nuclear weapons and has blocked all efforts to create a Middle East Nuclear Weapon Free Zone – should thus be armed with cutting-edge American weaponry. Finally, the US must not only stand behind its sole reliable Middle East ally, which could strike Iran at will, it should ideally also lead — not merely condone — a military assault against Iranian nuclear facilities.
Netanyahu invariably frames the threat posed by Iranian nuclear capability (a term that blurs distinctions between civilian and potential military applications of nuclear technology) as “Auschwitz” rather than “Hiroshima and Nagasaki”, even though the latter might be a more apt analogy. The potential for another Auschwitz is predicated on the image of an Israel that is unable — or unwilling to — defend itself, resulting in six million Jews going “like sheep to the slaughter.” But if Israel and/or the US were to attack Iran instead of the other way around, “Hiroshima and Nagasaki” would be the analogy to apply to Iran.
A country dropping bombs on any country that has not attacked first is an act of war, as the US was quick to point out when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor — and this includes so-called “surgical strikes”. In a July 19 letter about US options in Syria, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reminded the Senate Armed Services Committee that “…the decision to use force is not one that any of us takes lightly. It is no less than an act of war” [emphasis added].
If the use of atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during wartime remains morally and militarily questionable, one might think that there would be even less justification for a military strike on Iran, with whom neither Israel nor the US is at war. Of course, there are those who disagree: the US is engaged in a war on terror, Iran has been designated by the US as the chief state sponsor of terrorism since 1984 and so on. Therefore, the US is, or should be, at war with Iran.
“All options are on the table” is the operative mantra with regard to the US halting Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon. But if bombs start dropping on Iran, what kind will they be? In fact, the 30,000 lb. Massive Ordnance Penetrators (MOPs) that could be employed against Iranian nuclear facilities are nuclear weapons, since they derive their capability of penetrating 200 feet of concrete in the earth from depleted uranium. Furthermore, some Israelis have darkly hinted that, were Israel to confront Iran alone, it would be more likely to reach into its unacknowledged nuclear armoury if that meant the difference between victory and defeat.
Given all this, comparing the damage that would be done by bombing Iran with the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is not farfetched. It also reveals some troubling parallels. In the years prior to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in response to what the US regarded as Japanese expansionism, imposed economic sanctions on Japan in 1937. Just before the US entered the war, an embargo was placed on US exports of oil to Japan, upon which Japan was utterly dependent.
In 1945, it was already clear that Japan was preparing to surrender and that the outstanding issue at hand was the status of its emperor. There was neither a military nor political need to use atomic weapons to bring an end to the war. Numerous justifications for dropping atomic bombs on Japan were invoked, but nearly all of them were challenged or discredited within a few years after the war ended. Three are particularly noteworthy today, as we continue to face the prospect of war with Iran.
Saving lives: US Secretary of War Henry Stimson justified the decision to use atomic weapons as “the least abhorrent choice” since it would not only would save the lives of up to a million American soldiers who might perish in a ground assault on Japan, it would also spare the lives of hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians who were being killed in fire bombings. President Harry Truman also claimed that “thousands of lives would be saved” and “a quarter of a million of the flower of our young manhood was worth a couple of Japanese cities.” But as Andrew Dilks points out, “None of these statements were based on any evidence.”
Speaking in Warsaw, Poland on June 12 — two days before the Iranian election that he declared would “change nothing” with regard to Iran’s alleged quest to develop nuclear weaponry — Netanyahu used the opening of an Auschwitz memorial to make his case. “This is a regime that is building nuclear weapons with the expressed purpose to annihilate Israel’s six million Jews,” he said. “We will not allow this to happen. We will never allow another Holocaust.” About the Iranians who would perish after an Israeli attack, Netanyahu said nothing.
Justifying expenditures: The total estimated cost of the Manhattan Project, which developed the bombs dropped on Japan, was nearly $2 billion in 1945, the equivalent of slightly more than $30 billion today. Secretary of State James Byrnes pointed out to President Harry Truman, who was up for re-election in 1948, that he could expect to be berated by Republicans for spending such a large amount on weapons that were never used, according to MIT’s John Dower.
A recent report by the Congressional Research Service shows that Israel is the single largest recipient of US aid, receiving a cumulative $118 billion, most of it military aid. The Bush administration and the Israeli government had agreed to a 10-year, $30 billion military aid package in 2007, which assured Israel of funding through 2018. During his March 2013 visit to Israel, President Barack Obama, who had been criticized by the US pro-Israel lobby for being less concerned than previous American presidents about Israel’s well being and survival, pledged that the United States would continue to provide Israel with multi-year commitments of military aid subject to the approval of Congress. Not to be outdone, the otherwise tightfisted Congress not only approved the added assistance Obama had promised, it also increased it. An Iran that is not depicted as dangerous would jeopardize the generous military assistance Israel receives. What better way to demonstrate how badly needed those US taxpayer dollars are than to show them in action?
Technological research and development: One of the most puzzling questions about the decision to use nuclear weaponry against Japan is why, three days after the utter devastation wreaked on Hiroshima, a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. It was unnecessary from a militarily perspective. Perhaps the answer exists in the fact that the Manhattan Project had produced different types of atomic bombs: the destructive power of the “Little Boy”, which fell on Hiroshima, came from uranium; the power of “Fat Man”, which exploded over Nagasaki, came from plutonium. What better way to “scientifically” compare their effectiveness at annihilation than by using both?
The award winning Israeli documentary, The Lab, which opens in the US this month, reveals that Israel has used Lebanon and Gaza as a testing ground for advances in weaponry. Jonathan Cook writes, “Attacks such as Operation Cast Lead of winter 2008-09 or last year’s Operation Pillar of Defence, the film argues, serve as little more than laboratory-style experiments to evaluate and refine the effectiveness of new military approaches, both strategies and weaponry.” Israeli military leaders have strongly hinted that in conducting air strikes against Syria, the Israeli Air Force is rehearsing for an attack on Iran, including the use of bunker-buster bombs.
The Pentagon, which reportedly has invested $500 million in developing and revamping MOP “bunker busters”, recently spent millions building a replica of Iran’s Fordow nuclear research facility in order to demonstrate to the Israelis that Iranian nuclear facilities can be destroyed when the time is right.
Gen. Dempsey arrived in Israel on Monday to meet with Israel’s Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and Israel’s political leaders. Members of Congress from both political parties are also visiting — Democrats last week, Republicans this week — on an AIPAC-sponsored “fact-finding” mission. No doubt they will hear yet again from Israeli leaders that the world cannot allow another Auschwitz.
The world cannot allow another Hiroshima and Nagasaki either.
Marsha B. Cohen is an analyst specializing in Israeli-Iranian relations and US foreign policy towards Iran and Israel. Her articles have been published by PBS/Frontline’s Tehran Bureau. IPS, Alternet, Payvand and Global Dialogue. She earned her PhD in International Relations from Florida International University, and her BA in Political Philosophy from Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
It is perceived wisdom throughout the Western world – particularly America – that the dropping of two nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was “necessary” to end the war with Japan. Printed throughout textbooks in the post-war world, the understanding is that, had these targets not been struck, the war would have waged on indefinitely, with potentially untold American soldier and Japanese civilian deaths.
As the world commemorates the 68th anniversary of the attacks, however, it is important to take a step back and view the catastrophic event not through the prism of propaganda and mythologizing, but instead through the lens of historical scrutiny. For, as if often the case, the disparity between “Official History” and reality is characterized by lies and deceptions bolstered by patriotism and American exceptionalism.
We are told repeatedly that, without the use of weapons which current Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui refers to as the “ultimate inhumane weapon and an absolute evil”, Japan would never have surrendered. We are told that President Truman was troubled by the mounting Allied casualties, and that the Joint Chiefs had told him to expect 1,000,000 dead Americans in the pending attack on the Japanese home islands. Yet this figure is a complete fabrication, invented by Secretary of War Stimson. No such claim was made by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Truman himself, in different statements, asserted “thousands of lives would be saved,” and “a quarter of a million of the flower of our young manhood was worth a couple of Japanese cities,” and also “I thought 200,000 of our young men would be saved by making that decision.” None of these statements were based on any evidence.
The alleged indefatigably of the Japanese military and their unwillingness to surrender is also a proven myth. By the summer of 1945 their position was hopeless and numerous attempts to surrender had already been made. Brigadier Gen. Carter W. Clarke stated: “We brought them down to an abject surrender through the accelerated sinking of their merchant marine and hunger alone, and when we didn’t need to do it, and we knew we didn’t need to do it, and they knew that we knew we didn’t need to do it, we used them as an experiment for two atomic bombs.”
Truman knew weeks before the Potsdam Conference, which began in July, 1945, that the Japanese were making overtures to surrender, the only condition being the retention of the Emperor. But Truman was determined to test the new bombs. In the words of General Douglas McArthur: ”The war might have ended weeks earlier, he said, if the United States had agreed, as it later did anyway, to the retention of the institution of the emperor.” In the event, the US agreed to the terms of the Japanese surrender anyway – but not until they had tested their new weapons and caused the deaths of 100,000s of innocent civilians.
In reality, most of the military top brass were disgusted at the decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki and understood completely that it served no military purpose whatsoever. Admiral William D. Leahy, the President’s Chief of Staff said, “The use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender.” This view was reiterated by Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, who said, “The Japanese had, in fact, already sued for peace… The atomic bomb played no decisive part, from a purely military standpoint, in the defeat of Japan.”
So what is the truth about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Why, when intelligence agencies knew months in advance that contingency plans for a large-scale invasion were completely unnecessary and that Japan desperately sought peace, did they, as Admiral Leahy put it, adopt “an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages”?
There are two main reasons. Firstly, the Russians had entered the Japanese war and were making striking advances through Manchuria, decimating the already weakened Japanese army. Indeed, their role was pivotal – as Air Force General Claire Chennault stated: “Russia’s entry into the Japanese war was the decisive factor in speeding its end and would have been so even if no atomic bombs had been dropped.” The last thing the American leadership wanted was for Russia to receive equal spoils of war and emerge from the war as a superpower equal to the US.
In this sense, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are more accurately perceived as the opening salvos of the Cold War, rather than the final shots fired in the Second World War – the Cold War was, after all, defined essentially as a balance of nuclear powers; realpolitik and the primacy of power where the arms race and military insanity took supremacy over diplomacy.
The other, far more sinister reason, was one of scientific curiosity. After making such a huge investment in the Manhattan Project (2 billion in 1940) and with three bombs completed, there was little to no desire to shelve the weapons. The fissionable material in the Hiroshima bomb was uranium, while the Nagasaki bomb was plutonium, and subsequently there was intense scientific curiosity as to the different effects these bombs would produce. As the US Army director of the project, General Leslie Groves pondered: “what would happen if an entire city was leveled by a single uranium bomb?” “What about a plutonium bomb?” For the science experiment to go ahead, surrender was not an option.
Perhaps Stanley Kubrick in his movie Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb expressed his understanding more than most of the mentality of those who pushed for the use of atomic weapons on the Japanese at Hiroshima and Nagasaki – it was a decision based on a kind of hell-bent fanatical militarism combined with the worst kind of scientific endeavor devoid of any sense of humanity. Small wonder that this history books and the propaganda machine went into overdrive in the following years, endlessly justifying the use of what President Eisenhower described as “that awful thing”.