Thoughts from the epicenter eight decades out
“If you want the present to be different from the past, study the past." – Baruch Spinoza
National surveys by the American Psychological Association in late February and March 2022, revealed that “69% of adults are worried the invasion of Ukraine is going to lead to nuclear war” and believe that Russia and the US are “at the beginning stages of World War III.” I count myself among them, and I think these fears are well founded.
US General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee on April 5 that the US proxy war against Russia in Ukraine will last years.
“I do think this is a very protracted conflict, and I think it's measured in years. I don't know about decade, but at least years for sure."
Russia has about 6,000 nuclear warheads. The US has just over 5,400 warheads, and as the New Yorker recently declared, the war against Russia in Ukraine is “now America’s war too.”
Given their repeated failures of judgment and the reckless and ill-defined US goal of regime change in Russia, it would require staggering naïveté to believe that the people in charge of the thermonuclear arsenals on either side are capable of avoiding their use over a period of years in the heat of an extended military conflict.
In less than three months, the Biden administration and a bipartisan super majority in Congress have allocated $54 billion in war aid to Ukraine, nearly equivalent to Russia’s annual military budget of $65 billion. The US is not involved in, nor does it support, Turkish led diplomatic negotiations to end the war.
After more than two years of pandemic authoritarianism and fearmongering in service to a crackpot vision of a new $100 trillion green utopia, led largely by the same claque of corrupt and witless political shills cheerleading for “total victory” in Ukraine, humanity now finds itself in the midst of historic social, economic, political, and psychological wreckage with a potential suicidal terminus in nuclear war.
This lunatic nuclear brinksmanship started nearly 80 years ago in Japan. At minimum, turning back the current madness requires a clear understanding of the destructive forces that were set in motion in 1945, as well as the deranged story of how they were unleashed.
NUCLEAR WAR IN JAPAN – 1945
During the Vietnam War, I visited the commemorative Cultural Hall (since replaced with a modern new building) in Nagasaki, Japan, at the site of the second nuclear bomb dropped by the US during WW II. The 9.7 meter high (31.8 ft) Peace Statue at the entrance (pictured above) was created by native Nagasaki sculptor Seibou Kitamura. It is described as an artistic expression by the people of Nagasaki “for world peace and a vow that such a tragic war would never be repeated.”
The first thing I remember upon entering the unadorned Cultural Hall were two wall length photographic murals with panoramic vistas of Nagasaki before and after the bombing. It was a sobering introduction to the simple, powerful artifacts exhibited inside.
The exhibits included a human head, arm and leg preserved by some form of plasticization and displayed under glass. They showed the effects of the radiation from the bomb blast. The side of the smooth, hairless head was caved in like a soup bowl. The arm and leg were still recognizable as human limbs, but were horrifically disfigured by proximity to the heat of the bomb blast.
Displays of household utensils, a metal trash can and many other quotidian items twisted and deformed by heat and the physical force of the blast drove home the intimate domestic toll of the bombing.
The “Fat Man” bomb dropped on Nagasaki at 8:15 am on August 6, 1945, at the direct order of then President Truman, and after the war had already ended in Europe, was equivalent to 21 kilotons of TNT. (Kiloton=1,000 tons) It is estimated to have immediately killed as many as 80,000 people out of a population of 263,000, with many thousands more dying afterwards from the effects of burns, radiation sickness and other injuries. The victims were disproportionately women, children and the elderly because most young men were fighting in the war.
Many of Truman’s top advisors and military brass, including Generals Dwight Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur, opposed the bombings. They believed that Japan was already on the verge of surrender after massive casualties from sustained, ruthless US fire bombing of Tokyo that had begun six months earlier and included “Operation Meeting House,” the single most destructive bombing raid in human history, with 100,000 deaths and 1 million left homeless. More than 60 Japanese cities had already been destroyed by conventional bombing. Eisenhower believed the terrible carnage was sufficient if not excessive.
Truman’s chief of staff, Admiral William Leahy, in his 1950 memoir “I Was There,” candidly recounts both his opposition to and revulsion at the decision to use nuclear weapons on the largely civilian population of an already defeated enemy.
“The use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender.… In being the first to use it, we…adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages.”
The Arms Control Association estimates that in 2022, the world’s nine nuclear states have around 13,000 nuclear warheads based on publicly available data; there could be many more, and they’re unlikely to stay neutral if Russia and/or the US launch.
Russia has tested a 50 megaton nuclear weapon, the so called “Tsar bomb.” Although the US claims that its largest weapon is now 1.2 megatons, 57 times more powerful than the Nagasaki bomb, it has tested a 15 megaton hydrogen bomb and is still dealing with the destructive after effects seven decades later. (Megaton = 1 million tons)
A 2018 study by experts in materials science and modeling concluded that the detonation of 100 nuclear weapons was the “pragmatic limit” of their use because even under the most optimistic assumptions, 100 weapons would be so massively destructive to the aggressor nation’s own society, their use would be deemed unacceptable.
This is not a very edifying set of assumptions. The visionless madness that drove the barbaric bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945 is not just alive today, it is more deranged. Absence of vision is now coupled with a seemingly total loss of historical memory. This lethal combination is reflected in the glassy-eyed, memetic expressions of support from US lawmakers and celebrities parading through Ukraine, a war zone transformed into an obligatory A-list red carpet media stop for blind narcissists.
NAGASAKI POEMS IN MALIBU
In the 1990’s, I lived in a secluded old craftsman beach house in Malibu, California. It was a place made for reading and reflection, and I often went in search of new literature at the now defunct Malibu Bookstore in the nearby village center.
One of the unusual books that I found in the bookshop was a rough-hewn, very limited edition of maybe 60 or 80 pages titled “Nagasaki Poems,” written by a survivor of the bombing. Someone had taken the time to translate these poems, with their raw literary imagery, to English as a labor of historical passion. I’m sure the publisher would have been lucky to break even.
My still vivid memories of the Cultural Hall in Nagasaki took on a new significance and sense of urgency after I encountered this tiny book of poems. The author’s clear-eyed verse, written over several years, offered a series of lucid and unflinching accounts of his own and other survivors post-nuclear lives.
In English translation, the book was barely poetry. Yet the writer’s brutally graphic and powerfully granular descriptions bearing historical witness to the physical, emotional and spiritual wounds that never healed, that frequently came back to haunt in the middle of sleepless nights, or that randomly pierced the veil of normality to devastating effect at unexpected moments, are needed more in today’s relentlessly propagandized and enervated culture than when they were written.
Many of the most powerful nations on earth in 2022 are being led by heedless fools who are on a path to civilizational destruction. Three millennia of tenuous moral progress by humanity could disappear in the blink of an eye at their hands, replaced by the sunken eyes and wounded souls of Nagasaki survivors wandering sleeplessly in the night.
Although numbed by the past 26 month assault on reason, democracy and morality, 72% of Americans still believe that the US should play either a minor role or no role at all in Ukraine, while 78% oppose direct US military involvment. (ibid)
Waiting for a midterm election among bi-partisan warmongers is, at best, a risky strategy for preventing wider war. Every concerned citizen can and should be speaking out now against a blank check and open ended US engagement in the Ukraine war.
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