Jon Letman: The Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima, Nagasaki “Morally Indefensible

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The US government gives the impression of a dishonest political actor to those who believe it should not demand other countries to abandon their nuclear programs while possessing a large stockpile of atomic weapons itself.

The United States was the first nation to use nuclear weapons during wartime, and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 prompted a massive humanitarian disaster in which more than 220,000 people were killed and hundreds of others were affected with radiations and the consequences of nuclear explosions for several years.

An American journalist based in Hawaii says the United States is not well-suited to advise other countries on nuclear non-proliferation as long as it maintains a huge nuclear arsenal.

“… America cannot preach about the danger of nuclear proliferation while at the same time continuing to develop, build, test, store and use its own nuclear weapons as a tool of fear and intimidation,” said Jon Letman in an interview he gave to Fars News Agency.

Commenting on the US nuclear policies, Letman added, “operating under ‘double standards’ is so thoroughly ingrained in the American social and political psyche that a huge segment of the American public simply accepts it as a given that certain rules apply to certain parties, while those same rules may not apply to another party – fairness and consistency be damned.”

Letman, whose writings have appeared on Al Jazeera English, Truthout, Inter Press Service and Christian Science Monitor, believes the nuclear bombing of the two Japanese cities were “morally indefensible” and unnecessary, as opposed to what some observers say was an impetus for forcing Japan into surrender.

“It’s important to remember that even after the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, air assaults on an already devastated Japan continued with an estimated 15,000 more Japanese dying before Japan’s surrender,” he asserted.

Jon Letman is an independent freelance journalist and photographer from the Hawaiian island of Kauai. He writes on Asia-Pacific politics and environment.

Before taking part in the interview with FNA on the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Jon Letman asked us to clarify that he is not an authority on nuclear energy and foreign policy. However, he responded to our questions elaborately and provided an insight into the nuclear policies of the US government and the “militarization” of US foreign policy.

“America can’t expect to be fully respected as long as it wags its finger at other countries, speaking down to them like a parent scolding a naughty child,” Letman told FNA.

Q: The use of atomic bombs against Japan by the United States in August 1945 turned a dark chapter in the contemporary history of military conflicts. It was said at that time that without the nuclear bombings following the Japanese empire’s military strike against the US naval base in Pearl Harbor, the war would have spiraled out of control and massive killings would have taken place, but the atomic bombings averted that, saved lives and forced Japan into surrender. Do you agree with this conviction?

A: In the United States we frequently hear how the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki “saved lives.” The question is: whose lives? Certainly it didn’t save the lives of tens of thousands of Japanese civilians who were roasted in their homes nor did it save the lives of the countless hibakusha or atomic bombing survivors, who lived and died with unspeakable pain after their world was destroyed.

There is no shortage of thoughtful, fact-based analysis that debunks the idea that two atomic bombs or even one was necessary to end the war. One of the best recent books to explore these questions in detail is Joseph Gerson’s Empire and the Bomb. “The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus” also has plenty of well-researched articles that consider the question of the atomic bombings of August 1945.

It’s important to remember that even after the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, air assaults on an already devastated Japan continued with an estimated 15,000 more Japanese dying before Japan’s surrender. In Gerson’s book he points out that the US was prepared to employ as many as seven atomic bombs against Japan by the end of October 1945.

Another important point [on] the question of proportionality is considered in Errol Morris’ 2003 film The Fog of War in which former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara reflects on the America’s relentless firebombing of Japan even before August 1945.

My own view is that Japanese civilians were used as guinea pigs by the US government and military in its attempt to test its awesome new weapon and to send the world, especially the Soviet Union, a strong message. Not only were the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki not “necessary,” they are morally indefensible.

Q: The United States has been criticized by many academicians and people with some influence over the public opinion for what’s being considered to be its nuclear double standards. It has pressured Iran for over 12 years through harsh economic sanctions over its non-existent nuclear weapons, and at the same time, ignored the possession of atomic warheads and nuclear bombs by Israel, India and Pakistan. What could be the sources of this inconsistency?

A: Operating under “double standards” is so thoroughly ingrained in the American social and political psyche that a huge segment of the American public simply accepts it as a given that certain rules apply to certain parties, while those same rules may not apply to another party – fairness and consistency be damned.

If asked, most Americans would probably say they’d prefer India and especially Pakistan to be free of nuclear weapons and yet the US accepts and lives with both as nuclear states. However, neither India nor Pakistan has been demonized to the extent Iran has. For more than 35 years, Americans have heard an oversimplified and incomplete but consistent narrative that “Iran is evil, Iran is dangerous” and so it stands to reason. Americans find the idea of a nuclear-armed Iran, no matter how close or far that idea may be from reality, is enough to send politicians and the public into fits of hysteria.

Israel, on the other hand, is treated as though it is a bastion of freedom and democracy in a region beset by anti-American hostility and so our “closest ally” in the Middle East – sorry Saudi Arabia! – gets a pass on its undeclared nuclear weapons. That said, in general, Israeli nuclear weapons are shrouded in a sort of cloak of immunity for serious debate in the US; think of the three monkeys covering their eyes, ears and mouths.

And then there is the largely ignored question of America’s own nuclear weapons. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, as of January 2015 the US has a nuclear weapons stockpile in excess of 7,200, second only to Russia with 7,500. Furthermore, according to the Ploughshares Fund and other nuclear experts, the US may invest as much as $1 trillion on “upgrading” or “modernizing” its nuclear weapons.

Somehow, these issues almost never come up in the discussion of the purported “threat” of a nuclear Iran. The American corporate media, in particular, is largely negligent in holding American politicians and policy makers to account. Usually most big US media is too afraid to jeopardize its access to politicians to pursue the issue of double standards and, in many cases it is complicit in parroting the willful deception that is central to American nuclear narratives.

Q: As we’re talking, the Japanese people have just commemorated the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There are three key issues here: the moral grounds, the legal basis and the necessity of deploying atomic bombs. Was the nuclear bombing of the two Japanese cities morally defensible, legally justifiable and necessary?

A: I don’t know what kind of moral standards one could claim to have if they were arguing that roasting 200,000 men, women and children in three days with atomic weapons was “morally defensible.” I can’t tell you if such a bombing was “legal” or not but if one was to say it was, what would that say about our laws?

Q: You raised an interesting point. The US government considers its large nuclear arsenal an instrument of deterrence against those who might harbor ill wishes against its security and sovereignty. Why should the United States, which spends on its military and defense projects more than the seven next biggest world countries combined, be fearful about its security and respond to this anxiety by possessing nuclear weapons?

A: In the US we talk a lot about “national security” when we should probably be discussing “national insecurity.” Fear is fostered and fed on many levels in the US – everything from our education system to our domestic law enforcement to our foreign policy and even our recreation and entertainment industries are steeped in fear and insecurity.

In spite of the enormous military spending of the US, and despite the well-documented record arms sales conducted between the US and a multitude of Middle East and other nations under President Obama, he is still targeted by critics especially in Congress for “eviscerating” the military. If you listen to many Republican candidates in the 2016 race, they still talk about the need for a bigger, stronger, more powerful military and are roundly applauded when they do so.

Q: Right. So, I only have a couple of more questions. The former US ambassador to Afghanistan and retired United States Army Lieutenant General Karl W. Eikenberry argued in a speech that the US foreign policy, over the course of past few decades, has become excessively militarized and dependent on hard power. This is specifically evident in the decisions made by the US administration under President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama following the beginning of the project of the War on Terror. What could be the reasons for the expansion of the military dimension of the US foreign policy?

A: There are many reasons but to name two obvious ones. First, a lack of imagination and patience. As we see with the P5+1 talks with Iran, real diplomacy takes time and requires a lot of hard work. It involves understanding the other side on a level deeper than simply good or bad. It requires patience, planning and both an understanding of history and the ability to foresee possible future consequences. Diplomacy requires cooperation, compromise, trust and humility.

A commitment to diplomacy also requires striving to effort understand the other side’s position – not only their means and aspirations, but their sense of spirit and their sources of fear and pride. This sort of approach to foreign policy takes a lot of time and effort. It’s much easier to just be loud and brash and make wild declarations like “you’re either for us or you’re against us” or “they are an evil nation,” and such. It’s easier to hit than it is to talk.

The other big reason, I think, is money. War is very, very profitable for defense contractors and the business of promoting conflict, instability and fear, has been the oil that has lubricated the American machine for a long time.

Q: And my concluding question. As the first nation to have produced and the only nation to have used nuclear weapons in warfare, what should the United States do in order to improve its global image and standing in the eyes of public and those who consider its nuclear policies insincere?

A: I think if the US wants to be respected and not just feared, it needs to fundamentally restructure how it engages with the rest of the world. The first thing that needs to go is this notion of “American exceptionalism” – the idea that America is imbued with God-given qualities that make it a special nation above all others.

America can’t expect to be fully respected as long as it wags its finger at other countries, speaking down to them like a parent scolding a naughty child.

America cannot continue to treat every country and every corner of the world as if it is vital to its own “national interests,” a term that is so often used as a pretext for America doing whatever it wants.

And lastly, specific to the question of nuclear weapons, America cannot preach about the danger of nuclear proliferation while at the same time continuing to develop, build, test, store and use its own nuclear weapons as a tool of fear and intimidation.

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