Roger’s note: this article exposes a series of myths. US as promoter of democracy; Obama as peacemaker; Democratic presidents as progressive, and so on. See if you can identify others. It is truly frightening that we live in an upsidedown world where illusion poses as truth and the nation that considers itself as the leader of the free world and the beacon of democracy poses the greatest threat ever to humankind.
The United States is focussed on a racist Republican presidential candidate, while those in power – and those seeking it – prepare for war, writes John Pilger.
Returning to the United States in an election year, I am struck by the silence. I have covered four presidential campaigns, starting with 1968; I was with Robert Kennedy when he was shot and I saw his assassin, preparing to kill him. It was a baptism in the American way, along with the salivating violence of the Chicago police at the Democratic Party’s rigged convention.
The great counter revolution had begun.
The first to be assassinated that year, Martin Luther King, had dared link the suffering of African-Americans and the people of Vietnam. When Janis Joplin sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”, she spoke perhaps unconsciously for millions of America’s victims in faraway places.
“We lost 58,000 young soldiers in Vietnam, and they died defending your freedom. Now don’t you forget it.”
So said a National Parks Service guide as I filmed last week at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. He was addressing a school party of young teenagers in bright orange T-shirts. As if by rote, he inverted the truth about Vietnam into an unchallenged lie.
The millions of Vietnamese who died and were maimed and poisoned and dispossessed by the American invasion have no historical place in young minds, not to mention the estimated 60,000 veterans who took their own lives. A friend of mine, a marine who became a paraplegic in Vietnam, was often asked, “Which side did you fight on?”
A few years ago, I attended a popular exhibition called “The Price of Freedom” at the venerable Smithsonian Institution in Washington. The lines of ordinary people, mostly children shuffling through a Santa’s grotto of revisionism, were dispensed a variety of lies: the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved “a million lives”; Iraq was “liberated [by]air strikes of unprecedented precision”.
The theme was unerringly heroic: only Americans pay the price of freedom.
The 2016 election campaign is remarkable not only for the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, but also for the resilience of an enduring silence about a murderous self-bestowed divinity. A third of the members of the United Nations have felt Washington’s boot, overturning governments, subverting democracy, imposing blockades and boycotts. Most of the presidents responsible have been liberal – Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Clinton, Obama.
The breathtaking record of perfidy is so mutated in the public mind, wrote the late Harold Pinter, that it “never happened… nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. It didn’t matter….”
Pinter expressed a mock admiration for what he called “a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”
Take Obama. As he prepares to leave office, the fawning has begun all over again. He is “cool”. One of the more violent presidents, Obama gave full reign to the Pentagon war-making apparatus of his discredited predecessor. He prosecuted more whistleblowers – truth-tellers – than any president. He pronounced Chelsea Manning guilty before she was tried.
Today, Obama runs an unprecedented worldwide campaign of terrorism and murder by drone.
In 2009, Obama promised to help “rid the world of nuclear weapons” and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. No American president has built more nuclear warheads than Obama. He is “modernising” America’s doomsday arsenal, including a new “mini” nuclear weapon, whose size and “smart” technology, says a leading general, ensure its use is “no longer unthinkable”.
James Bradley, the best-selling author ofFlags of Our Fathersand son of one of the US marines who raised the flag on Iwo Jima, said, “[One] great myth we’re seeing play out is that of Obama as some kind of peaceful guy who’s trying to get rid of nuclear weapons. He’s the biggest nuclear warrior there is. He’s committed us to a ruinous course of spending a trillion dollars on more nuclear weapons. Somehow, people live in this fantasy that because he gives vague news conferences and speeches and feel-good photo-ops that somehow that’s attached to actual policy. It isn’t.”
On Obama’s watch, a second cold war is under way. The Russian president is a pantomime villain; the Chinese are not yet back to their sinister pig-tailed caricature – when all Chinese were banned from the United States – but the media warriors are working on it.
Neither Hillary Clinton nor Bernie Sanders has mentioned any of this. There is no risk and no danger for the United States and all of us. For them, the greatest military build-up on the borders of Russia since World War Two has not happened. On May 11, Romania went “live” with a Nato “missile defence” base that aims its first-strike American missiles at the heart of Russia, the world’s second nuclear power.
In Asia, the Pentagon is sending ships, planes and Special Forces to the Philippines to threaten China. The US already encircles China with hundreds of military bases that curve in an arc up from Australia, to Asia and across to Afghanistan. Obama calls this a “pivot”.
As a direct consequence, China reportedly has changed its nuclear weapons policy from no-first-use to high alert, and put to sea submarines with nuclear weapons. The escalator is quickening.
It was Hillary Clinton who, as Secretary of State in 2010, elevated the competing territorial claims for rocks and reef in the South China Sea to an international issue; CNN and BBC hysteria followed; China was building airstrips on the disputed islands.
In its mammoth war game with Australia in 2015, Operation Talisman Sabre, the US practiced “choking” the Straits of Malacca through which pass most of China’s oil and trade. This was not news.
Clinton declared that America had a “national interest” in these Asian waters. The Philippines and Vietnam were encouraged and bribed to pursue their claims and old enmities against China. In America, people are being primed to see any Chinese defensive position as offensive, and so the ground is laid for rapid escalation.
A similar strategy of provocation and propaganda is applied to Russia.
Clinton, the “women’s candidate”, leaves a trail of bloody coups: in Honduras, in Libya (plus the murder of the Libyan president) and Ukraine. The latter is now a CIA theme park swarming with Nazis and the frontline of a beckoning war with Russia.
It was through Ukraine – literally, borderland – that Hitler’s Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, which lost 27 million people. This epic catastrophe remains a presence in Russia. Clinton’s presidential campaign has received money from all but one of the world’s 10 biggest arms companies. No other candidate comes close.
Sanders, the hope of many young Americans, is not very different from Clinton in his proprietorial view of the world beyond the United States. He backed Bill Clinton’s illegal bombing of Serbia. He supports Obama’s terrorism by drone, the provocation of Russia and the return of special forces (death squads) to Iraq.
He has nothing to say on the drumbeat of threats to China and the accelerating risk of nuclear war. He agrees that Edward Snowden should stand trial and he calls Hugo Chavez – like him, a social democrat – “a dead communist dictator”. He promises to support Clinton if she is nominated.
The election of Trump or Clinton is the old illusion of choice that is no choice: two sides of the same coin. In scapegoating minorities and promising to “make America great again”, Trump is a far right-wing domestic populist; yet the danger of Clinton may be more lethal for the world.
“Only Donald Trump has said anything meaningful and critical of US foreign policy,” wrote Stephen Cohen, emeritus professor of Russian History at Princeton and NYU, one of the few Russia experts in the United States to speak out about the risk of war.
In a radio broadcast, Cohen referred to critical questions Trump alone had raised. Among them: why is the United States “everywhere on the globe”? What is NATO’s true mission? Why does the US always pursue regime change in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Ukraine? Why does Washington treat Russia and Vladimir Putin as an enemy?
The hysteria in the liberal media over Trump serves an illusion of “free and open debate” and “democracy at work”. His views on immigrants and Muslims are grotesque, yet the deporter-in-chief of vulnerable people from America is not Trump but Obama, whose betrayal of people of colour is his legacy: such as the warehousing of a mostly black prison population, now more numerous than Stalin’s gulag.
This presidential campaign may not be about populism but American liberalism, an ideology that sees itself as modern and therefore superior and the one true way. Those on its right wing bear a likeness to 19thcentury Christian imperialists, with a God-given duty to convert or co-opt or conquer.
In Britain, this is Blairism. The Christian war criminal Tony Blair got away with his secret preparation for the invasion of Iraq largely because the liberal political class and media fell for his “cool Britannia”.
In theGuardian, the applause was deafening; he was called “mystical”. A distraction known as identity politics, imported from the United States, rested easily in his care.
History was declared over, class was abolished and gender promoted as feminism; lots of women became New Labour MPs. They voted on the first day of Parliament to cut the benefits of single parents, mostly women, as instructed. A majority voted for an invasion that produced 700,000 Iraqi widows.
The equivalent in the US are the politically correct warmongers on theNew York Times,theWashington Postand network TV who dominate political debate.
I watched a furious debate on CNN about Trump’s infidelities. It was clear, they said, a man like that could not be trusted in the White House.
No issues were raised. Nothing on the 80 per cent of Americans whose income has collapsed to 1970s levels. Nothing on the drift to war. The received wisdom seems to be “hold your nose” and vote for Clinton: anyone but Trump.
That way, you stop the monster and preserve a system gagging for another war.
Roger’s note: Obama is going to visit Hiroshima. He will be accompanied by a military aide carrying a metal briefcase, covered in black leather, known as the “nuclear football”. Inside are the codes US presidents need to authorize a nuclear strike when they are away from established command centres such as the White House.
Although many nations possess nuclear weapons, the United States is the only one to have ever used one in war. Many historians contradict the official justification for the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, two population centers of no military strategic importance, to save lives by ending the war without a costly invasion of Japan. General Eisenhower for one opposed the use of the A-Bomb, which killed an estimated 200,000 civilians: “I voiced … 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’.”
Those historians allege the real reason was to demonstrate the weapon to the Soviet Union; as such it was in effect the first shot fired in the Cold War.
According to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, there are 15,350 nuclear warheads on the earth today
Russia and the United States each possess around 7,000. Other nations in this deadly club include the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. Iran, by the way, has none.
The brilliant Russian playwright, Anton,Chekhov famously opined that if a gun appeared in the first act, it was destined to go off in the third. It seems to me that we are dangerously close to that third act.
Roger’s note: I just want to comment on the headline for this article. The New York Times chooses to describe Berrigan as a Pacifist. The Times, along with the rest of the corporate media and political establishment, love the word Pacifist. Resistance and Revolution not so much. Howard Zinn famously said, when accused of disturbing the peace, that there is no peace, what he really was doing was disturbing the war. The reference to his philosophy of non-violence is an attempt to sanitize his radical actions. We need more Daniel Berrigans; may he rest in power.
By DANIEL LEWIS APRIL 30, 2016, New York Times
Rev. Daniel J. Berrigan gave an anti-war sermon at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, 1972. Credit William E. Sauro/The New York Times
The Rev. Daniel J. Berrigan, a Jesuit priest and poet whose defiant protests helped shape the tactics of opposition to the Vietnam War and landed him in prison, died on Saturday in the Bronx. He was 94.
His death, at Murray-Weigel Hall, the Jesuit infirmary at Fordham University, was confirmed by the Rev. James Martin, editor at large at America magazine, a national Catholic magazine published by the Jesuits.
The United States was tearing itself apart over civil rights and the war in Southeast Asia when Father Berrigan emerged in the 1960s as an intellectual star of the Roman Catholic “new left,” articulating a view that racism and poverty, militarism and capitalist greed were interconnected pieces of the same big problem: an unjust society.
It was an essentially religious position, based on a stringent reading of the Scriptures that some called pure and others radical. But it would have explosive political consequences as Father Berrigan; his brother Philip, a Josephite priest; and their allies took their case to the streets with rising disregard for the law or their personal fortunes.
A defining point was the burning of Selective Service draft records in Catonsville, Md., and the subsequent trial of the so-called Catonsville Nine, a sequence of events that inspired an escalation of protests across the country; there were marches, sit-ins, the public burning of draft cards and other acts of civil disobedience.
Father Berrigan, right and his brother Philip Berrigan seized hundreds of draft records and set them on fire with homemade napalm in 1968. Credit United Press International
The catalyzing episode occurred on May 17, 1968, six weeks after the murder of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the outbreak of new riots in dozens of cities. Nine Catholic activists, led by Daniel and Philip Berrigan, entered a Knights of Columbus building in Catonsville and went up to the second floor, where the local draft board had offices. In front of astonished clerks, they seized hundreds of draft records, carried them down to the parking lot and set them on fire with homemade napalm.
Some reporters had been told of the raid in advance. They were given a statement that said in part, “We destroy these draft records not only because they exploit our young men but because they represent misplaced power concentrated in the ruling class of America.” It added, “We confront the Catholic Church, other Christian bodies and the synagogues of America with their silence and cowardice in the face of our country’s crimes.”
In a year sick with images of destruction, from the Tet offensive in Vietnam to the murder of Dr. King, a scene was recorded that had been contrived to shock people to attention, and did so. When the police came, the trespassers were praying in the parking lot, led by two middle-aged men in clerical collars: the big, craggy Philip, a decorated hero of World War II, and the ascetic Daniel, waiting peacefully to be led into the van.
Protests and Arrests
In the years to come, well into his 80s, Daniel Berrigan was arrested time and again, for greater or lesser offenses: in 1980, for taking part in the Plowshares raid on a General Electric missile plant in King of Prussia, Pa., where the Berrigan brothers and others rained hammer blows on missile warheads; in 2006, for blocking the entrance to the Intrepid naval museum in Manhattan.
“The day after I’m embalmed,” he said in 2001, on his 80th birthday, “that’s when I’ll give it up.”
Father Berrigan being handcuffed in 2001 after he and others blocked an entrance to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in Manhattan. Credit Richard Drew/Associated Press
It was not for lack of other things to do. In his long career of writing and teaching at Fordham and other universities, Father Berrigan published a torrent of essays and broadsides and, on average, a book a year.
Among the more than 50 books were 15 volumes of poetry — the first of which, “Time Without Number,” won the prestigious Lamont Poetry Prize (now known as the James Laughlin Award), given by the Academy of American Poets, in 1957 — as well as autobiography, social criticism, commentaries on the Old Testament prophets and indictments of the established order, both secular and ecclesiastic.
While he was known for his wry wit, there was a darkness in much of what Father Berrigan wrote and said, the burden of which was that one had to keep trying to do the right thing regardless of the near certainty that it would make no difference. In the withering of the pacifist movement and the country’s general support for the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, he saw proof that it was folly to expect lasting results.
“This is the worst time of my long life,” he said in an interview with The Nation in 2008. “I have never had such meager expectations of the system.”
What made it bearable, he wrote elsewhere, was a disciplined, implicitly difficult belief in God as the key to sanity and survival.
Many books by and about Father Berrigan remain in print, and a collection of his work over half a century, “Daniel Berrigan: Essential Writings,” was published in 2009.
He also had a way of popping up in the wider culture: as the “radical priest” in Paul Simon’s song “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”; as inspiration for the character Father Corrigan in Colum McCann’s 2009 novel, “Let the Great World Spin.” He even had a small movie role, appearing as a Jesuit priest in “The Mission” in 1989.
But his place in the public imagination was pretty much fixed at the time of the Catonsville raid, as the impish-looking half of the Berrigan brothers — traitors and anarchists in the minds of a great many Americans, exemplars to those who formed what some called the ultra-resistance.
After a trial that served as a platform for their antiwar message, the Berrigans were convicted of destroying government property and sentenced to three years each in the federal prison in Danbury, Conn. Having exhausted their appeals, they were to begin serving their terms on April 10, 1970.
Father Berrigan, right, and a defense lawyer, William M. Kunstler, center, after he was sentenced to three years in federal prison in Danbury, Conn. Credit Associated Press
Instead, they raised the stakes by going underground. The men who had been on the cover of Time were now on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s most-wanted list. As Daniel explained in a letter to the French magazine Africasia, he was not buying the “mythology” fostered by American liberals that there was a “moral necessity of joining illegal action to legal consequences.” In any case, both brothers were tracked down and sent to prison.
Philip Berrigan had been the main force behind Catonsville, but it was mostly Daniel who mined the incident and its aftermath for literary meaning — a process already underway when the F.B.I. caught up with him on Block Island, off the Rhode Island coast, on Aug. 11, 1970. There was “The Trial of the Catonsville Nine,” a one-act play in free verse drawn directly from the court transcripts, and “Prison Poems,” written during his incarceration in Danbury.
Father Berrigan served time for acts of civil disobedience.
In “My Father,” he wrote:
I sit here in the prison ward
nervously dickering with my ulcer
a half-tamed animal
raising hell in its living space
But in 500 lines the poem talks as well about the politics of resistance, memories of childhood terror and, most of all, the overbearing weight of his dead father:
I wonder if I ever loved him
if he ever loved us
if he ever loved me.
The father was Thomas William Berrigan, a man full of words and grievances who got by as a railroad engineer, labor union officer and farmer. He married Frida Fromhart and had six sons with her. Daniel, the fourth, was born on May 9, 1921, in Virginia, Minn.
When he was a young boy, the family moved to a farm near Syracuse to be close to his father’s family.
In his autobiography, “To Dwell in Peace,” Daniel Berrigan described his father as “an incendiary without a cause,” a subscriber to Catholic liberal periodicals and the frustrated writer of poems of no distinction.
“Early on,” he wrote, “we grew inured, as the price of survival, to violence as a norm of existence. I remember, my eyes open to the lives of neighbors, my astonishment at seeing that wives and husbands were not natural enemies.”
Battles With the Church
Born with weak ankles, Daniel could not walk until he was 4. His frailty spared him the heavy lifting demanded of his brothers; instead he helped his mother around the house. Thus he seemed to absorb not only his father’s sense of life’s unfairness but also an intimate knowledge of how a man’s rage can play out in the victimization of women.
At an early age, he wrote, he believed that the church condoned his father’s treatment of his mother. Yet he wanted to be a priest. After high school he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1946 from St. Andrew-on-Hudson, a Jesuit seminary in Hyde Park, N.Y., and a master’s from Woodstock College in Baltimore in 1952. He was ordained that year.
Sent for a year of study and ministerial work in France, he met some worker-priests who gave him “a practical vision of the Church as she should be,” he wrote. Afterward he spent three years at the Jesuits’ Brooklyn Preparatory School, teaching theology and French, while absorbing the poetry of Robert Frost, E. E. Cummings and the 19th-century Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins. His own early work often combined elements of nature with religious symbols.
But he was not to become a pastoral poet or live the retiring life he had imagined. His ideas were simply turning too hot, sometimes even for friends and mentors like Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, and the Trappist intellectual Thomas Merton.
At Le Moyne College in Syracuse, where he was a popular professor of New Testament studies from 1957 to 1963, Father Berrigan formed friendships with his students that other faculty members disapproved of, inculcating in them his ideas about pacifism and civil rights. (One student, David Miller, became the first draft-card burner to be convicted under a 1965 law.)
Father Berrigan was effectively exiled in 1965, after angering the hawkish Cardinal Francis Spellman in New York. Besides Father Berrigan’s work in organizing antiwar groups like the interdenominational Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam, there was the matter of the death of Roger La Porte, a young man with whom Father Berrigan said he was slightly acquainted. To protest American involvement in Southeast Asia, Mr. La Porte set himself on fire outside the United Nations building in November 1965.
Soon, according to Father Berrigan, “the most atrocious rumors were linking his death to his friendship with me.” He spoke at a service for Mr. La Porte, and soon thereafter the Jesuits, widely believed to have been pressured by Cardinal Spellman, sent him on a “fact finding” mission among poor workers in South America. An outcry from Catholic liberals brought him back after only three months, enough time for him to have been radicalized even further by the facts he had found.
For the Jesuits, Father Berrigan was both a magnet to bright young seminarians and a troublemaker who could not be kept in any one faculty job too long.
At one time or another he held faculty positions or ran programs at Union Seminary, Loyola University New Orleans, Columbia, Cornell and Yale. Eventually he settled into a long tenure at Fordham, the Jesuit university in the Bronx, where for a time he had the title of poet in residence.
Father Berrigan was released from the Danbury penitentiary in 1972; the Jesuits, alarmed at his failing health, managed to get him out early. He then resumed his travels.
After visiting the Middle East, he bluntly accused Israel of “militarism” and the “domestic repressions” of Palestinians. His remarks angered many American Jews. “Let us call this by its right name,” wrote Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, himself a contentious figure among religious scholars: “old-fashioned theological anti-Semitism.”
Nor was Father Berrigan universally admired by Catholics. Many faulted him for not singling out repressive Communist states in his diatribes against the world order, and later for not lending his voice to the outcry over sexual abuse by priests. There was also a sense that his notoriety was a distraction from the religious work that needed to be done.
Not the least of his long-running battles was with the church hierarchy. He was scathing about the shift to conservatism under Pope John Paul II and the “company men” he appointed to high positions.
Much of Father Berrigan’s later work was concentrated on helping AIDS patients in New York City. In 2012, he appeared in Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan to support the Occupy Wall Street protest.
He also devoted himself to writing biblical studies. He felt a special affinity for the Hebrew prophets, especially Jeremiah, who was chosen by God to warn of impending disaster and commanded to keep at it, even though no one would listen for 40 years.
A brother, Jerry, died in July at 95, and another brother, Philip, died in 2002 at 79.
Father Berrigan seemed to reach a poet’s awareness of his place in the scheme of things, and that of his brother Philip, who left the priesthood for a married life of service to the poor and spent a total of 11 years in prison for disturbing the peace in one way or another before his death. While they both still lived, Daniel Berrigan wrote:
My brother and I stand like the fences
of abandoned farms, changed times
too loosely webbed against
A really powerful blow
would bring us down like scarecrows.
Nature, knowing this, finding us mildly useful
her backhanded love of freakishness
allows us to stand.
Christopher Mele contributed reporting.
A version of this article appears in print on May 1, 2016, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Daniel J. Berrigan, Defiant Priest Who Preached Pacifism, Dies at 94. Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe
Roger’s note: The cost of the US inspired wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan is in the trillions of dollars. So-called “defense” spending amounts to around 60% of US government discretionary spending. Instruments of death, that is, military weaponry, costs billions of dollars every year. War profiteers delight in the fact that their “product” is designed to be destroyed and therefore perpetually replaced. As you can see, the United States manufactures and exports more weaponry than the rest of the world combined. What all these death dollars could support and jobs create in the areas of health, education. housing, nutrition, and the elimination of poverty worldwide is enough bring one to tears.
Number Of Iraqis Slaughtered In US War And Occupation Of Iraq “1,455,590“
Number of U.S. Military PersonnelSacrificed(Officially acknowledged) In U.S. War And Occupation Of Iraq 4,801
Number Of International Occupation Force Troops Slaughtered In Afghanistan : 3,487
Cost of War in Iraq & Afghanistan $1,659,692,160,956
U.S. Foreign Arms Deals Increased Nearly $10 Billion in 2014
By NICHOLAS FANDOS DEC. 25, 2015, New York Times
WASHINGTON — Foreign arms sales by the United States jumped by almost $10 billion in 2014, about 35 percent, even as the global weapons market remained flat and competition among suppliers increased, a new congressional study has found.
American weapons receipts rose to $36.2 billion in 2014 from $26.7 billion the year before, bolstered by multibillion-dollar agreements with Qatar,Saudi Arabia and South Korea. Those deals and others ensured that the United States remained the single largest provider of arms around the world last year, controlling just over 50 percent of the market.
Russia followed the United States as the top weapons supplier, completing $10.2 billion in sales, compared with $10.3 billion in 2013. Sweden was third, with roughly $5.5 billion in sales, followed by France with $4.4 billion and China with $2.2 billion.
South Korea, a key American ally, was the world’s top weapons buyer in 2014, completing $7.8 billion in contracts. It has faced continued tensions with neighboring North Korea in recent years over the North’s nuclear weapons program and other provocations. The bulk of South Korea’s purchases, worth more than $7 billion, were made with the United States and included transport helicopters and related support, as well as advanced unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles.
Iraq followed South Korea, with $7.3 billion in purchases intended to build up its military in the wake of the American troop withdrawal there.
Brazil, another developing nation building its military force, was third with $6.5 billion worth of purchase agreements, primarily for Swedish aircraft.
The report to Congress found that total global arms sales rose slightly in 2014 to $71.8 billion, from $70.1 billion in 2013. Despite that increase, the report concluded that “the international arms market is not likely growing over all,” because of “the weakened state of the global economy.”
It was the second successive year that global sales remained steady, suggesting that the market has begun to level off after several years of extreme fluctuation.
The lack of market expansion has led to greater competition among suppliers. Some arms producers have adopted measures like flexible financing, counter-trade guarantees and coproduction and co-assembly agreements to try to secure sales, according to the report.
“A number of weapons-exporting nations are focusing not only on the clients with which they have held historic competitive advantages due to well-established military-support relationships, but also on potential new clients in countries and regions where they have not been traditional arms suppliers,” the author of the report, Catherine A. Theohary, wrote.
Despite the competition, the report concluded that, given its positioning, the United States was likely to remain the dominant supplier of arms to developing nations in coming years.
The annual report by the Congressional Research Service, a division of the Library of Congress, was delivered to Congress this week and analyzes trends in arms sales between 2007 and 2014.
As in previous years, the vast majority of arms were supplied by large, established countries to developing ones, which made $61.8 billion in total purchases in 2014.
The report is considered among the most detailed nonclassified international arms sales data available to the public. To ensure that information is comparable to 2014 dollars, the report adjusts figures from previous years for inflation.
Roger’s note: I try to keep my head out of the sand, but when it comes to the apparent inevitability of World War III and climate change disaster (which may be the same thing), then it is a real struggle for me against gravity. If it seemed hopeless sixty years ago, what about today? And yet, without hope … Sixty years after Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell issued their manifesto about the growing threat of world war, the globe continues to face the prospect of nuclear annihilation — coupled with the looming threat of climate change.
It was exactly 60 years ago that Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein gathered together with a group of leading intellectuals in London to draft and sign a manifesto in which they denounced the dangerous drive toward war between the world’s Communist and anti-Communist factions. The signers of this manifesto included leading Nobel Prize winners such as Hideki Yukawa and Linus Pauling.
They were blunt, equating the drive for war and reckless talk of the use of nuclear weapons sweeping the United States and the Soviet Union at the time, as endangering all of humanity. The manifesto argued that advancements in technology, specifically the invention of the atomic bomb, had set human history on a new and likely disastrous course.
The manifesto stated in harsh terms the choice confronting humanity:
Here, then, is the problem which we present to you, stark and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war?
The Russell-Einstein Manifesto forced a serious reconsideration of the dangerous strategic direction in which the United States was heading at that time and was the beginning of a recalibration of the concept of security that would lead to the signing of the Nonproliferation Treaty in 1968 and the arms control talks of the 1970s.
But we take little comfort in those accomplishments today. The United States has completely forgotten about its obligations under the Nonproliferation Treaty, and the words “arms control” have disappeared from the conversation on security. The last year has seen the United States confront Russia in Ukraine to such a degree that many have spoken about the risks of nuclear war.
As a result, on June 16 of this year Russia announced that it will add 40 new ICBMs in response to the investment of the United States over the last two years in upgrading its nuclear forces.
Similar tensions have emerged between Japan and China over the Senkaku/Diaoyutai Isles and between the United States and China over the South China Sea. Discussions about the possibility of war with China are showing up in the Western media with increasing frequency, and a deeply disturbing push to militarize American relations with Asia is emerging.
But this time, the dangers of nuclear war are complemented by an equal, or greater, threat: climate change. Even the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Samuel Locklear, told the Boston Globe in 2013 that climate change “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen . . . that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.’’
More recently, Pope Francis issued a detailed, and blunt, encyclical dedicated to the threat of climate change in which he charged:
It is remarkable how weak international political responses (to climate change) have been. Consequently the most one can expect is superficial rhetoric, sporadic acts of philanthropy and perfunctory expressions of concern for the environment, whereas any genuine attempt by groups within society to introduce change is viewed as a nuisance based on romantic illusions or an obstacle to be circumvented.
As the 60th anniversary of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto drew near, I became increasing disturbed by the complete inaction among the best-educated and best-connected in the face of the most dangerous moment in modern history and perhaps in human history, grimmer even than the catastrophe that Russell and Einstein contemplated. Not only are we facing the increased likelihood of nuclear war, but there are signs that climate change is advancing more rapidly than previously estimated. Science Magazine recently released a study that predicts massive marine destruction if we follow the current trends, and even the glaciers of the Southern Antarctic Peninsula, once thought to be the most stable, are observed to be melting rapidly. And yet we see not even the most superficial efforts to defend against this threat by the major powers.
I spoke informally about my worries with my friend John Feffer, director of Foreign Policy in Focus and associate of the Asia Institute. John has written extensively about the need to identify climate change as the primary security threat and also has worked closely with Miriam Pemberton of the Institute for Policy Studies on efforts to move the United States away from a military economy. Between the two of us we have put together a slightly updated version of the manifesto that highlights climate change — an issue that was not understood in 1955 — and hereby have published it in the form of a petition that we invite anyone in the world to sign. This new version of the manifesto is open to the participation of all, not restricted to that of an elite group of Nobel Prize winners.
I also spoke with David Swanson, a friend from my days working on the Dennis Kucinich campaign for the Democratic nomination back in 2004. David now serves as director of World Beyond War, a broad effort to create a consensus that war no longer has any legitimate place in human society. He offered to introduce the manifesto to a broad group of activists and we agreed that Foreign Policy in Focus, the Asia Institute and World Beyond War would co-sponsor the new manifesto.
Finally, I sent the draft to Noam Chomsky who readily offered to sign it and offered the following comment.
Last January the famous Doomsday Clock was moved two minutes closer to midnight, the closest it has been since a major war scare 30 years ago. The accompanying declaration, which warned that the constant threat of nuclear war and “unchecked climate change” severely threaten human civilization, brings to mind the grim warning to the people of the world just 60 years ago by Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein, calling on them to face a choice that is “stark and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war?” In all of human history, there has never been a choice like the one we face today.
The declaration on the 60th anniversary of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto is displayed below. We urge all people who are concerned about humanity’s future and about the health of the Earth’s biosphere to join us in signing the declaration, and to invite friends and family members to sign. The statement can be signed at the petition page on DIY RootsAction website:
Declaration on the 60th Anniversary of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto
July 9, 2015
In view of the growing risk that in future wars weapons, nuclear and otherwise, will be employed that threaten the continued existence of humanity, we urge the governments of the world to realize, and to acknowledge publicly, that their purpose cannot be furthered by a world war, and we urge them, consequently, to find peaceful means for the settlement of all matters of dispute between them.
We also propose that all governments of the world begin to convert those resources previously allocated to preparations for destructive conflict to a new constructive purpose: the mitigation of climate change and the creation of a new sustainable civilization on a global scale.
This effort is endorsed by Foreign Policy in Focus, the Asia Institute, and World Beyond War, and is being launched on July 9, 2015.
You can sign, and ask everyone you know to sign, this declaration here:
Exactly 60 years ago today, leading intellectuals led by Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein gathered in London to sign a manifesto voicing their concern that the struggle between the Communist and anti-Communist blocs in the age of the hydrogen bomb guaranteed annihilation for humanity.
Although we have so far avoided the nuclear war that those intellectuals dreaded, the danger has merely been postponed. The threat, which has reemerged recently with the conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East, has only grown more dire.
Moreover, the rapid acceleration of technological development threatens to put nuclear weapons, and many other weapons of similar destructiveness, into the hands of a growing circle of nations (and potentially even of “non-state actors”). At the same time, the early possessors of nuclear weapons have failed to abide by their obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to destroy their stockpiles.
And now we are faced with an existential threat that may rival the destructive consequences even of a full-scale nuclear war: climate change. The rapacious exploitation of our resources and a thoughtless over-reliance upon fossil fuels have caused an unprecedented disruption of our climate. Combined with an unmitigated attack on our forests, our wetlands, our oceans, and our farmland in the pursuit of short-term gains, this unsustainable economic expansion has brought us to the edge of an abyss.
The original 1955 manifesto states: “We are speaking on this occasion, not as members of this or that nation, continent, or creed, but as human beings,” members of the human species “whose continued existence is in doubt.”
The time has come for us to break out of the distorted and misleading conception of progress and development that has so seduced us and led us towards destruction.
Intellectuals bear a particular responsibility of leadership by virtue of their specialized expertise and insight regarding the scientific, cultural, and historical forces that have led to our predicament. Between a mercenary element that pursues an agenda of narrow interests without regard to consequences and a frequently discouraged, misled, and sometimes apathetic citizenry stand the intellectuals in every field of study and sphere of activity. It falls to us that it falls to decry the reckless acceleration of armaments and the criminal destruction of the ecosystem. The time has come for us to raise our voices in a concerted effort.
Noam Chomsky, professor emeritus, MIT
Last January the famous Doomsday Clock was moved two minutes closer to midnight, the closest it has been since a major war scare 30 years ago. The accompanying declaration, which warned that the constant threat of nuclear war and “unchecked climate change” severely threaten human civilization, brings to mind the grim warning to the people of the world just 50 years ago by Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein, calling on them to face a choice that is “stark and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war?” In all of human history, there has never been a choice like the one we face today.
Helen Caldicott, author
It was the Russell Einstein manifesto on the threat of nuclear war 60 years ago that started me upon my journey to try to abolish nuclear weapons. I then read and devoured the three volumes of Russell’s autobiography which had an amazing influence upon my thinking as a young girl.
The manifesto was so extraordinarily sensible written by two of the world’s greatest thinkers, and I am truly amazed that the world at that time took practically no notice of their prescient warning, and today we are orders of magnitude in greater danger than we were 60 years ago. The governments of the world still think in primitive terms of retribution and killing while the nuclear weapons in Russia and the US are presently maintained on hair trigger alert, and these two nuclear superpowers are practicing nuclear war drills during a state of heightened international tension exacerbated by the Ukrainian situation and the Middle East. It is in truth sheer luck that we are still here on this lovely planet of ours.
Larry Wilkerson, retired United States Army Colonel and former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell.
From central Europe to Southwest Asia, from the South China Sea to the Arctic, tensions are on the rise as the world’s sole empire is roiled in peripheral activities largely of its own doing and just as largely destructive of its power and corruptive of its leadership. This, while humanity’s most pressing challenge–planetary climate change–threatens catastrophe for all. Stockpiles of nuclear weapons add danger to this already explosive situation. We humans have never been so powerfully challenged–and so apparently helpless to do anything about it.
Benjamin R. Barber, president, Global Parliament of Mayors Project
Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything
David Swanson, director, World Beyond War
John Feffer, director, Foreign Policy in Focus
Emanuel Pastreich, director, The Asia Institute
Leah Bolger, chair, coordinating committee, World Beyond War
Ben Griffin, coordinator, Veterans For Peace UK
Michael Nagler, founder and president, The Metta Center for Nonviolence
John Horgan, science journalist & author of The End of War
Kevin Zeese, co-director, Popular Resistance.
Margaret Flowers, M.D., co-director of Popular Resistance
Dahr Jamail, staff reporter, Truthout
John Kiriakou, associate fellow, Institute for Policy Studies and CIA Torture Whistleblower
Kim Hyung yul, president of the Asia Institute and professor of history, Sook Myung University
Choi Murim, professor of medicine, Seoul National University
Coleen Rowley, retired FBI agent and former Minneapolis Division legal counsel
Ann Wright, retired U.S. Army Colonel and former US diplomat
Mike Madden, vice president, Veterans For Peace, Chapter 27 (veteran of the US Air Force)
Chante Wolf, 12 year Air Force, Desert Shield/Storm veteran, member of Chapter 27, Veterans For Peace
William Binney, former NSA technical director, World Geopolitical & Military Analysis and co-founder of the SIGINT Automation Research Center.
Jean Bricmont, professor, Université Catholique de Louvain
Emanuel Pastreich is the director of the Asia Institute in Seoul, South Korea.
Sign the Declaration of Peace.
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Roger’s note: since the beginning of the nuclear era, the super powers who possess nuclear weapons (enough to destroy the planet several times over) have justified the expansion of their nuclear arsenals by the so-called Mutual Assured Destruction doctrine (appropriately known by its acronym MAD). The theory being that knowing that a nuclear war would annihilate everyone, no one would be motivated to start one. This Dr. Strangeglovian thinking fails to take into account accidents, misunderstanding, or good old fashion human craziness. It ignores the environmental dangers of nuclear stockpiling over time, and above all, it depends upon a 100% success rate, for it only takes one nuclear event to make the whole house of cards come tumbling down. Nuclear disarmament, as any first grader could tell you, is the only solution.
Reprinted from Empire Burlesque
As all the world knows, the United States government is fervently dedicated to advancing the cause of peace throughout the world. Tirelessly, selflessly — and thanklessly — America pursues this noble mission in every corner of the globe: standing shoulder to shoulder with Saudi extremists in slaughtering civilians in Yemen, with al Qaeda and ISIS beheading their way across Syria, with fascist militias in Ukraine. But recently, America’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning president went far beyond these localized acts of lovingkindness and made a beneficent decision that potentially could affect every single person drawing breath on our blue planet.
Late last month, the Peace Prize Prez (PPPOTUS) “blocked a global document aimed at ridding the world of nuclear weapons,” the Washington Post reports. Obama’s peace-loving action means that “the entire blueprint for global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation” has been killed dead in its tracks. It will now be five years until the next UN review of the landmark Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
You might think this is odd behavior from a president who has spent years tightening a stranglehold on Iran with an endless series of aggressive, bellicose acts just short of outright war, in order (ostensibly) to prevent that “rogue nation” from developing nuclear weapons. Very late in the day, he has recently decided to try to craft a non-proliferation deal with Iran that is very similar to the deal that Iran offered the United States more than 12 years ago — the kind of deal that has been on the table from Iran for his entire presidency. It’s likely that the main spur to his belated attempt at deal-making stems from his realization that he desperately needs Iran’s help to quell the ungodly maelstrom of murder, ruin and extremism he and his predecessor (and their Saudi allies) have unleashed in the Middle East.
In any case, he has long insisted that the proliferation of nuclear weapons must be opposed and thwarted at all costs. Why then has he stepped in to stop the global framework for, er, thwarting nuclear proliferation? To protect a “rogue” nuclear state which has illegally developed a vast arsenal of nuclear weapons — and which adamantly refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. (Unlike Iran, which has for years accepted an international inspection regimen far more rigorous than the Treaty calls for.)
The nuclear renegade is, of course, Israel. And the treaty review that Obama just killed would have called for a conference in 2016 on eliminating all nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Of course, only one nation in the Middle East actually has nuclear weapons. But Israel is concerned that such a conference would force it to acknowledge the existence of the large nuclear arsenal that everyone in the world already knows it has.
So the United States — with the slavish support of its London lapdog and Ottawa underling — moved to kill the negotiations for the conference. The decision “has alarmed countries without nuclear weapons, who are increasingly frustrated by what they see as the slow pace of nuclear-armed countries to disarm,” the Post reports. “Amid a growing movement that stresses the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, Austria announced that 107 states have now signed a pledge calling for legal measures to ban and eliminate them.”
Of course, Obama’s action was not merely a benevolent service for Israel. For not only does the United States want to keep Israel as its nuclear-armed crusader fortress in the Middle East — it also has no intention whatsoever of eliminating its own nuclear arsenal. This will never happen, no matter which faction of militarist courtiers happens to wrap their candidate in the imperial purple for a time in 2016 or 2020 or 2024, etc. So any undermining of genuine efforts toward nuclear disarmament also serves America’s bipartisan agenda of unipolar domination of world affairs.
This is far more important than ridding the world of nuclear weapons — or even trying to control their proliferation. Now there are five years of open field ahead for more nations to jump into the nuclear club — including America’s Saudi buddies, who say they might get some nukes for their own selves if Obama cuts a deal with Iran … which, as every Western intelligence agency has avowed, is not actually trying to build a nuclear weapon.
To speak plainly and with no addition: America’s bipartisan elite would rather put the entire world into more nuclear peril than surrender a single iota for their lust for loot and power.
Chris Floyd is an American journalist. His work has appeared in print and online in venues all over the world, including The Nation, Counterpunch, Columbia Journalism Review, the Christian Science Monitor, Il Manifesto, the Moscow Times and many (more…)
Roger’s note: the Korean War (excuse me, police action) has never ended. There has been an armistice since the early 1950s, but the US has always refused to negotiate a peace treaty with North Korea. The US government needs its demons (the infamous “axis of evil”) more than it wants genuine peace. The demonization of a grotesque and cartoon like North Korea, via a complicit corporate media, is deeply embedded in the consciousness of most Americans.
The U.S. should negotiate with North Korea on its proposal to cancel nuclear tests in exchange for a U.S. suspension of joint military exercises with South Korea Why is this important?
The DPRK government (North Korea) disclosed on Jan. 10, 2015, that it had delivered to the United States the day before an important proposal to “create a peaceful climate on the Korean Peninsula.”
This year, we observe the 70th anniversary of the tragic division of Korea in 1945. The U.S. government played a major role in the arbitrary division of the country, as well as in the horrific Korean civil war of 1950-53, wreaking catastrophic devastation on North Korea, with millions of Korean deaths as well as the deaths of 50,000 American soldiers. It is hard to believe that the U.S. still keeps nearly 30,000 troops in South Korea today, even though the Armistice Agreement was signed back in 1953.
According to KCNA, the North Korean news agency, the DPRK’s message stated that if the United States “contribute(s) to easing tension on the Korean Peninsula by temporarily suspending joint military exercises in South Korea and its vicinity this year,” then “the DPRK is ready to take such responsive steps as temporarily suspending the nuclear test over which the U.S. is concerned.”
Unfortunately, it is reported that the U.S. State Department rejected the offer on Jan. 10, claiming that the two issues are separate. Such a quick spurning of the North’s proposal is not only arrogant but also violates one of the basic principles of the U.N. Charter, which requires of its members to “settle their international disputes by peaceful means.” (Article 2 ). To reduce the dangerous military tensions on the Korean Peninsula today, it is urgent that the two hostile States engage in mutual dialogue and negotiation for a peaceful settlement of the lingering Korean War, without any preconditions.
The North’s proposal comes at a time of increasing tensions between the U.S. and DPRK over a Sony film, which depicts a brutal CIA-induced assassination of the current North Korean leader. In spite of the growing doubts by many security experts, the Obama administration hastily blamed the North for last November’s hacking of the Sony Pictures’ computer system and subsequently imposed new sanctions on the country. Pyongyang proposed a joint investigation, denying its responsibility for the cyber-attacks.
The winter U.S.-R.O.K. (South Korea) war drill usually takes place in late Feb. DPRK put its troops on high military alert on such occasions in the past and conducted its own war drills in response. Pyongyang regards the large-scale joint war drills as a U.S. rehearsal for military attacks, including nuclear strikes, against North Korea. In the last year’s drill, the U.S. flew in B-2 stealth bombers, which can drop nuclear bombs, from the U.S. mainland, as well as bringing in U.S. troops from abroad. In fact, these threatening moves not only provoke the North but also violate the Korean War Armistice Agreement of 1953.
Instead of intensifying further sanctions and military pressures against the DPRK, the Obama administration should accept the recent offer from the North in good faith, and engage in negotiations to reach positive agreements to reduce military tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
John Kim, Veterans for Peace, Korea Peace Campaign Project, Coordinator
Alice Slater, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, NY
Dr. Helen Caldicott
David Swanson, World Beyond War
Valerie Heinonen, o.s.u.,Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk for Justice and Peace, U.S. Province
David Krieger, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
Alfred L. Marder,U.S. Peace Council
David Hartsough, Peaceworkers, San Francisco, CA
Coleen Rowley, retired FBI agent/legal counsel and peace activist
John D. Baldwin
Arnie Saiki, Coordinator Moana Nui
Regina Birchem, Women’s International League for Peace and Justice, US
Rosalie Sylen, Code Pink, Long Island, Suffolk Peace Network
Helen Jaccard, Veterans For Peace Nuclear Abolition Working Group, Co-chair
Heinrich Buecker, Coop Anti-War Cafe Berlin
Sung-Hee Choi, Gangjeong village international team, Korea
When Condoleeza Rice argued for a U.S. invasion of Iraq by claiming that “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,” she touched on a real threat of the nuclear war that could wipe out entire countries and destroy civilization as we know it. Rice and the rest of the Bush administration knew that Iraq didn’t have nuclear weapons and never presented such a threat. They also knew that there was one country in the Middle East who did: a nuclear-armed rogue nation who has proven throughout its history to be possibly the most lawless and bellicose country of modern times.That country, of course, is Israel. Since at least the early 1980s, Israel has had nuclear weapons. Instead of waging a war to get rid of them, as the Bush administration argued was necessary with Iraq, the U.S. has done everything it can to help Israel continue and grow its nuclear program and keep the Middle East from becoming a nuclear-free zone.Last month, the United Nations General Assembly sought to counter “the risk of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East” with a resolution recognizing that this “would pose a serious threat to international peace and security.” This threat necessitates “the immediate need for placing all nuclear facilities in the region of the Middle East under full-scope safeguards of the Agency.”
The resolution passed by a margin of 151-4. Only the United States, Israel, Canada and Micronesia voted against it. In a separate resolution, the U.S. and Israel stood alone against 177 other countries who supported further efforts to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. That resolution calls for a “prohibition on the development and manufacture of new types of weapons of mass destruction and new systems of such weapons.”
In March 2003, George W. Bush proclaimed that he was authorized by UN Security Council Resolution 687 to use force against Iraq to rid the country of WMD. Iraq presented such an existential threat that an immediate war was the only conceivable means of dealing with the situation. After Bush did invade Iraq and kill 500,000 Iraqis and create millions of widows, orphans and refugees, what was obvious all along was proven: the administration’s claims about Iraqi WMD were nothing more than lies and distortions.
The administration knew full well that Israel, however, did have a large-scale, rogue WMD program when Bush cited UNSC Resolution 687 as his legal justification for invading Iraq. Four U.S. Presidents have all ignored the actual text in Resolution 687 which declares “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 only country to ever have used nuclear weapons – by dropping two on a country that had been trying for weeks to surrender – has consistently provided Israel with a diplomatic shield in the United Nations. On top of guaranteeing their right to violate international law with impunity, the U.S. has showered Israel with over $140 billion in military aid that amounts to more than $3 billion per year.
Even without its WMD, Israel would pose a grave threat to peace with its army and conventional weapons alone. Israel has repeatedly violated the sovereignty of its neighboring countries, the most flagrant example being the aggressive invasion and occupation of Lebanon in 1982 which killed 20,000 people. Unlike Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Israel has even attacked the United States itself. In 1967, Israeli warplanes bombarded the USS Liberty, killing 34 American servicemen. Israel’s possession of WMD only compounds their destructive capacity.
Israel is one of only four countries in the world (India, Pakistan and South Sudan) that has never signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This landmark treaty, in force since 1970, binds signing nations to work together stop the spread of nuclear weapons and work towards disarmament.
Robert Wood, the U.S. lackey who defended Israel’s right to maintain nuclear weapons recently in the UN, claimed the UN resolution demanding Israel to renounce nuclear arms “fails to meet the fundamental tests of fairness and balance. It confines itself to expressions of concern about the activities of a single country.”As Ali Abunimah noted in the Electronic Intifada: “The fact that Israel is indeed the single country with nuclear weapons in the region, and the single country that has not signed the NPT, apparently escaped his notice.”Israel has not only amassed its own nuclear arsenal, but they have exported nuclear technology and capabilities abroad. Not to just any country, but to the racist, pariah state of apartheid South Africa, the most despicable regime of the last century, other than possibly Israel itself.
While it was long understood that the two ethnic exclusivist regimes maintained close military ties, the first concrete evidence that Israel tried to sell South Africa nuclear warheads emerged several years ago when American scholar Sasha Polakow-Suransky obtained declassified documents from the South African archives.
“South African documents show that the apartheid-era military wanted the missiles as a deterrent and for potential strikes against neighbouring states,” reported the Guardian.
The paper goes on to note that “the collaboration on military technology only grew over the following years. South Africa also provided much of the yellowcake uranium that Israel required to develop its weapons.”
South Africa easily could have followed through with potential nuclear strikes against its neighbors. In 1988, the SADF were being chased out of Angola by Cuban troops assisting the Angolan government. South Africa was illegally occupying the Southeastern part of Angola in a bid to topple that country’s government and install a puppet government friendly to the apartheid regime. Years later, Fidel Castro recounted the potential danger of nuclear strikes Cubans faced as their forces pushed forward to repel the aggression of the South African troops.
“The main problem was the fact that the racist South Africans possessed, according to our calculations, between 10 and 12 nuclear arms,” Castro wrote. “They had carried out tests in oceans or frozen areas to the South. President Ronald Reagan had authorized such tests, and the device necessary for blasting the nuclear charge was among the equipment delivered by Israel.”
Since it developed and used the first nuclear weapons, the United States government has supported weapons of mass destruction on principle. They also refuse the concept of nuclear weapons solely as self-defense, never having accepted a no-first-use policy for nuclear weapons as the Soviet Union had.
The U.S. has never had any moral or legal inhibitions about countries it chooses having a right to WMD. For countries that support the U.S. government’s self-professed right to rule the world, there is no danger to peace or to the survival of civilization itself that Washington will not tolerate and enable.
Matt Peppe writes about politics, U.S. foreign policy and Latin America on his blog. You can follow him on twitter.
Roger’s note: If you are just getting over your Halloween frights, here is something that should really scare you. Only in a world that is controlled by politicians who follow the dictates of generals and CEOs (as opposed to “the people.” which is what democracy is supposed to be about) could such a danger to the very existence of the biosphere and humankind be put in jeopardy. Of course, when I refer to generals and CEOs you know that I mean the capitalist economic system that will doom us if we don’t do something about it. I hope this does not cause you to lose too much sleep.
JANUARY 17, 2014
BY ERIC SCHLOSSER
This month marks the fiftieth anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s black comedy about nuclear weapons, “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Released on January 29, 1964, the film caused a good deal of controversy. Its plot suggested that a mentally deranged American general could order a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, without consulting the President. One reviewer described the film as “dangerous … an evil thing about an evil thing.” Another compared it to Soviet propaganda. Although “Strangelove” was clearly a farce, with the comedian Peter Sellers playing three roles, it was criticized for being implausible. An expert at the Institute for Strategic Studies called the events in the film “impossible on a dozen counts.” A former Deputy Secretary of Defense dismissed the idea that someone could authorize the use of a nuclear weapon without the President’s approval: “Nothing, in fact, could be further from the truth.” (See a compendium of clips from the film.) When “Fail-Safe”—a Hollywood thriller with a similar plot, directed by Sidney Lumet—opened, later that year, it was criticized in much the same way. “The incidents in ‘Fail-Safe’ are deliberate lies!” General Curtis LeMay, the Air Force chief of staff, said. “Nothing like that could happen.” The first casualty of every war is the truth—and the Cold War was no exception to that dictum. Half a century after Kubrick’s mad general, Jack D. Ripper, launched a nuclear strike on the Soviets to defend the purity of “our precious bodily fluids” from Communist subversion, we now know that American officers did indeed have the ability to start a Third World War on their own. And despite the introduction of rigorous safeguards in the years since then, the risk of an accidental or unauthorized nuclear detonation hasn’t been completely eliminated.
The command and control of nuclear weapons has long been plagued by an “always/never” dilemma. The administrative and technological systems that are necessary to insure that nuclear weapons are always available for use in wartime may be quite different from those necessary to guarantee that such weapons can never be used, without proper authorization, in peacetime. During the nineteen-fifties and sixties, the “always” in American war planning was given far greater precedence than the “never.” Through two terms in office, beginning in 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower struggled with this dilemma. He wanted to retain Presidential control of nuclear weapons while defending America and its allies from attack. But, in a crisis, those two goals might prove contradictory, raising all sorts of difficult questions. What if Soviet bombers were en route to the United States but the President somehow couldn’t be reached? What if Soviet tanks were rolling into West Germany but a communications breakdown prevented NATO officers from contacting the White House? What if the President were killed during a surprise attack on Washington, D.C., along with the rest of the nation’s civilian leadership? Who would order a nuclear retaliation then?
With great reluctance, Eisenhower agreed to let American officers use their nuclear weapons, in an emergency, if there were no time or no means to contact the President. Air Force pilots were allowed to fire their nuclear anti-aircraft rockets to shoot down Soviet bombers heading toward the United States. And about half a dozen high-level American commanders were allowed to use far more powerful nuclear weapons, without contacting the White House first, when their forces were under attack and “the urgency of time and circumstances clearly does not permit a specific decision by the President, or other person empowered to act in his stead.” Eisenhower worried that providing that sort of authorization in advance could make it possible for someone to do “something foolish down the chain of command” and start an all-out nuclear war. But the alternative—allowing an attack on the United States to go unanswered or NATO forces to be overrun—seemed a lot worse. Aware that his decision might create public unease about who really controlled America’s nuclear arsenal, Eisenhower insisted that his delegation of Presidential authority be kept secret. At a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he confessed to being “very fearful of having written papers on this matter.”
President John F. Kennedy was surprised to learn, just a few weeks after taking office, about this secret delegation of power. “A subordinate commander faced with a substantial military action,” Kennedy was told in a top-secret memo, “could start the thermonuclear holocaust on his own initiative if he could not reach you.” Kennedy and his national-security advisers were shocked not only by the wide latitude given to American officers but also by the loose custody of the roughly three thousand American nuclear weapons stored in Europe. Few of the weapons had locks on them. Anyone who got hold of them could detonate them. And there was little to prevent NATO officers from Turkey, Holland, Italy, Great Britain, and Germany from using them without the approval of the United States.
In December, 1960, fifteen members of Congress serving on the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy had toured NATO bases to investigate how American nuclear weapons were being deployed. They found that the weapons—some of them about a hundred times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima—were routinely guarded, transported, and handled by foreign military personnel. American control of the weapons was practically nonexistent. Harold Agnew, a Los Alamos physicist who accompanied the group, was especially concerned to see German pilots sitting in German planes that were decorated with Iron Crosses—and carrying American atomic bombs. Agnew, in his own words, “nearly wet his pants” when he realized that a lone American sentry with a rifle was all that prevented someone from taking off in one of those planes and bombing the Soviet Union.
* * *
The Kennedy Administration soon decided to put locking devices inside NATO’s nuclear weapons. The coded electromechanical switches, known as “permissive action links” (PALs), would be placed on the arming lines. The weapons would be inoperable without the proper code—and that code would be shared with NATO allies only when the White House was prepared to fight the Soviets. The American military didn’t like the idea of these coded switches, fearing that mechanical devices installed to improve weapon safety would diminish weapon reliability. A top-secret State Department memo summarized the view of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1961: “all is well with the atomic stockpile program and there is no need for any changes.”
After a crash program to develop the new control technology, during the mid-nineteen-sixties, permissive action links were finally placed inside most of the nuclear weapons deployed by NATO forces. But Kennedy’s directive applied only to the NATO arsenal. For years, the Air Force and the Navy blocked attempts to add coded switches to the weapons solely in their custody. During a national emergency, they argued, the consequences of not receiving the proper code from the White House might be disastrous. And locked weapons might play into the hands of Communist saboteurs. “The very existence of the lock capability,” a top Air Force general claimed, “would create a fail-disable potential for knowledgeable agents to ‘dud’ the entire Minuteman [missile] force.” The Joint Chiefs thought that strict military discipline was the best safeguard against an unauthorized nuclear strike. A two-man rule was instituted to make it more difficult for someone to use a nuclear weapon without permission. And a new screening program, the Human Reliability Program, was created to stop people with emotional, psychological, and substance-abuse problems from gaining access to nuclear weapons.
Despite public assurances that everything was fully under control, in the winter of 1964, while “Dr. Strangelove” was playing in theatres and being condemned as Soviet propaganda, there was nothing to prevent an American bomber crew or missile launch crew from using their weapons against the Soviets. Kubrick had researched the subject for years, consulted experts, and worked closely with a former R.A.F. pilot, Peter George, on the screenplay of the film. George’s novel about the risk of accidental nuclear war, “Red Alert,” was the source for most of “Strangelove” ’s plot. Unbeknownst to both Kubrick and George, a top official at the Department of Defense had already sent a copy of “Red Alert” to every member of the Pentagon’s Scientific Advisory Committee for Ballistic Missiles. At the Pentagon, the book was taken seriously as a cautionary tale about what might go wrong. Even Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara privately worried that an accident, a mistake, or a rogue American officer could start a nuclear war.
Coded switches to prevent the unauthorized use of nuclear weapons were finally added to the control systems of American missiles and bombers in the early nineteen-seventies. The Air Force was not pleased, and considered the new security measures to be an insult, a lack of confidence in its personnel. Although the Air Force now denies this claim, according to more than one source I contacted, the code necessary to launch a missile was set to be the same at every Minuteman site: 00000000.
* * *
The early permissive action links were rudimentary. Placed in NATO weapons during the nineteen-sixties and known as Category A PALs, the switches relied on a split four-digit code, with ten thousand possible combinations. If the United States went to war, two people would be necessary to unlock a nuclear weapon, each of them provided with half the code. Category A PALs were useful mainly to delay unauthorized use, to buy time after a weapon had been taken or to thwart an individual psychotic hoping to cause a large explosion. A skilled technician could open a stolen weapon and unlock it within a few hours. Today’s Category D PALs, installed in the Air Force’s hydrogen bombs, are more sophisticated. They require a six-digit code, with a million possible combinations, and have a limited-try feature that disables a weapon when the wrong code is repeatedly entered.
The Air Force’s land-based Minuteman III missiles and the Navy’s submarine-based Trident II missiles now require an eight-digit code—which is no longer 00000000—in order to be launched. The Minuteman crews receive the code via underground cables or an aboveground radio antenna. Sending the launch code to submarines deep underwater presents a greater challenge. Trident submarines contain two safes. One holds the keys necessary to launch a missile; the other holds the combination to the safe with the keys; and the combination to the safe holding the combination must be transmitted to the sub by very-low-frequency or extremely-low-frequency radio. In a pinch, if Washington, D.C., has been destroyed and the launch code doesn’t arrive, the sub’s crew can open the safes with a blowtorch.
The security measures now used to control America’s nuclear weapons are a vast improvement over those of 1964. But, like all human endeavors, they are inherently flawed. The Department of Defense’s Personnel Reliability Program is supposed to keep people with serious emotional or psychological issues away from nuclear weapons—and yet two of the nation’s top nuclear commanders were recently removed from their posts. Neither appears to be the sort of calm, stable person you want with a finger on the button. In fact, their misbehavior seems straight out of “Strangelove.”
Vice Admiral Tim Giardina, the second-highest-ranking officer at the U.S. Strategic Command—the organization responsible for all of America’s nuclear forces—-was investigated last summer for allegedly using counterfeit gambling chips at the Horseshoe Casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa. According to the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, “a significant monetary amount” of counterfeit chips was involved. Giardina was relieved of his command on October 3, 2013. A few days later, Major General Michael Carey, the Air Force commander in charge of America’s intercontinental ballistic missiles, was fired for conduct “unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.” According to a report by the Inspector General of the Air Force, Carey had consumed too much alcohol during an official trip to Russia, behaved rudely toward Russian officers, spent time with “suspect” young foreign women in Moscow, loudly discussed sensitive information in a public hotel lounge there, and drunkenly pleaded to get onstage and sing with a Beatles cover band at La Cantina, a Mexican restaurant near Red Square. Despite his requests, the band wouldn’t let Carey onstage to sing or to play the guitar.
While drinking beer in the executive lounge at Moscow’s Marriott Aurora during that visit, General Carey made an admission with serious public-policy implications. He off-handedly told a delegation of U.S. national-security officials that his missile-launch officers have the “worst morale in the Air Force.” Recent events suggest that may be true. In the spring of 2013, nineteen launch officers at Minot Air Force base in North Dakota were decertified for violating safety rules and poor discipline. In August, 2013, the entire missile wing at Malmstrom Air Force base in Montana failed its safety inspection. Last week, the Air Force revealed that thirty-four launch officers at Malmstrom had been decertified for cheating on proficiency exams—and that at least three launch officers are being investigated for illegal drug use. The findings of a report by the RAND Corporation, leaked to the A.P., were equally disturbing. The study found that the rates of spousal abuse and court martials among Air Force personnel with nuclear responsibilities are much higher than those among people with other jobs in the Air Force. “We don’t care if things go properly,” a launch officer told RAND. “We just don’t want to get in trouble.”
The most unlikely and absurd plot element in “Strangelove” is the existence of a Soviet “Doomsday Machine.” The device would trigger itself, automatically, if the Soviet Union were attacked with nuclear weapons. It was meant to be the ultimate deterrent, a threat to destroy the world in order to prevent an American nuclear strike. But the failure of the Soviets to tell the United States about the contraption defeats its purpose and, at the end of the film, inadvertently causes a nuclear Armageddon. “The whole point of the Doomsday Machine is lost,” Dr. Strangelove, the President’s science adviser, explains to the Soviet Ambassador, “if you keep it a secret!”
A decade after the release of “Strangelove,” the Soviet Union began work on the Perimeter system—-a network of sensors and computers that could allow junior military officials to launch missiles without oversight from the Soviet leadership. Perhaps nobody at the Kremlin had seen the film. Completed in 1985, the system was known as the Dead Hand. Once it was activated, Perimeter would order the launch of long-range missiles at the United States if it detected nuclear detonations on Soviet soil and Soviet leaders couldn’t be reached. Like the Doomsday Machine in “Strangelove,” Perimeter was kept secret from the United States; its existence was not revealed until years after the Cold War ended.
In retrospect, Kubrick’s black comedy provided a far more accurate description of the dangers inherent in nuclear command-and-control systems than the ones that the American people got from the White House, the Pentagon, and the mainstream media.
“This is absolute madness, Ambassador,” President Merkin Muffley says in the film, after being told about the Soviets’ automated retaliatory system. “Why should you build such a thing?” Fifty years later, that question remains unanswered, and “Strangelove” seems all the more brilliant, bleak, and terrifyingly on the mark.
You can read Eric Schlosser’s guide to the long-secret documents that help explain the risks America took with its nuclear arsenal, and watch and read his deconstruction of clips from “Dr. Strangelove” and from a little-seen film about permissive action links.
Eric Schlosser is the author of “Command and Control.”
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.
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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.
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“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.
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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.”
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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.
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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.