Category Archives: Nukes

How John Hersey Blew the Whistle on the Reality of Nuclear War

In this crisply written, well-researched book, Lesley Blume, a journalist and biographer, tells the fascinating story of the background to John Hersey’s pathbreaking article Hiroshima, and of its extraordinary impact upon the world.

In 1945, although only 30 years of age, Hersey was a very prominent war correspondent for Time magazine—a key part of publisher Henry Luce’s magazine empire—and living in the fast lane.  That year, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel, A Bell for Adano, which had already been adapted into a movie and a Broadway play.  Born the son of missionaries in China, Hersey had been educated at upper class, elite institutions, including the Hotchkiss School, Yale, and Cambridge.  During the war, Hersey’s wife, Frances Ann, a former lover of young Lieutenant John F. Kennedy, arranged for the three of them to get together over dinner.  Kennedy impressed Hersey with the story of how he saved his surviving crew members after a Japanese destroyer rammed his boat, PT-109.  This led to a dramatic article by Hersey on the subject—one rejected by the Luce publications but published by the New Yorker.  The article launched Kennedy on his political career and, as it turned out, provided Hersey with the bridge to a new employer – the one that sent him on his historic mission to Japan.

Blume reveals that, at the time of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Hersey felt a sense of despair—not for the bombing’s victims, but for the future of the world.  He was even more disturbed by the atomic bombing of Nagasaki only three days later, which he considered a “totally criminal” action that led to tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths.

Most Americans at the time did not share Hersey’s misgivings about the atomic bombings.  A Gallup poll taken on August 8, 1945 found that 85 percent of American respondents expressed their support for “using the new atomic bomb on Japanese cities.”

Blume shows very well how this approval of the atomic bombing was enhanced by U.S. government officials and the very compliant mass communications media.  Working together, they celebrated the power of the new American weapon that, supposedly, had brought the war to an end, producing articles lauding the bombing mission and pictures of destroyed buildings.  What was omitted was the human devastation, the horror of what the atomic bombing had done physically and psychologically to an almost entirely civilian population—the flesh roasted off bodies, the eyeballs melting, the terrible desperation of mothers digging with their hands through the charred rubble for their dying children.

The strange new radiation sickness produced by the bombing was either denied or explained away as of no consequence.  “Japanese reports of death from radioactive effects of atomic bombing are pure propaganda,” General Leslie Groves, the head of the Manhattan Project, told the New York Times.  Later, when, it was no longer possible to deny the existence of radiation sickness, Groves told a Congressional committee that it was actually “a very pleasant way to die.”

When it came to handling the communications media, U.S. government officials had some powerful tools at their disposal.  In Japan, General Douglas MacArthur, the supreme commander of the U.S. occupation regime, saw to it that strict U.S. military censorship was imposed on the Japanese press and other forms of publication, which were banned from discussing the atomic bombing.  As for foreign newspaper correspondents (including Americans), they needed permission from the occupation authorities to enter Japan, to travel within Japan, to remain in Japan, and even to obtain food in Japan.  American journalists were taken on carefully controlled junkets to Hiroshima, after which they were told to downplay any unpleasant details of what they had seen there.

In September 1945, U.S. newspaper and magazine editors received a letter from the U.S. War Department, on behalf of President Harry Truman, asking them to restrict information in their publications about the atomic bomb.  If they planned to do any publishing in this area of concern, they were to submit the articles to the War Department for review.

Among the recipients of this warning were Harold Ross, the founder and editor of the New Yorker, and William Shawn, the deputy editor of that publication.  The New Yorker, originally founded as a humor magazine, was designed by Ross to cater to urban sophisticates and covered the world of nightclubs and chorus girls.  But, with the advent of the Second World War, Ross decided to scrap the hi-jinks flavor of the magazine and begin to publish some serious journalism.

As a result, Hersey began to gravitate into the New Yorker’s orbit.  Hersey was frustrated with his job at Time magazine, which either rarely printed his articles or rewrote them atrociously.  At one point, he angrily told publisher Henry Luce that there was as much truthful reporting in Time magazine as in Pravda.  In July 1945, Hersey finally quit his job with Time.  Then, late that fall, he sat down with William Shawn of the New Yorker to discuss some ideas he had for articles, one of them about Hiroshima.

Hersey had concluded that the mass media had missed the real story of the Hiroshima bombing.  And the result was that the American people were becoming accustomed to the idea of a nuclear future, with the atomic bomb as an acceptable weapon of war.  Appalled by what he had seen in the Second World War—from the firebombing of cities to the Nazi concentration camps—Hersey was horrified by what he called “the depravity of man,” which, he felt, rested upon the dehumanization of others.  Against this backdrop, Hersey and Shawn concluded that he should try to enter Japan and report on what had really happened there.

Getting into Japan would not be easy.  The U.S. Occupation authorities exercised near-total control over who could enter the stricken nation, keeping close tabs on all journalists who applied to do so, including records on their whereabouts, their political views, and their attitudes toward the occupation.  Nearly every day, General MacArthur received briefings about the current press corps, with summaries of their articles.  Furthermore, once admitted, journalists needed permission to travel anywhere within the country, and were allotted only limited time for these forays.

Even so, Hersey had a number of things going for him.  During the war, he was a very patriotic reporter.  He had written glowing profiles about rank-and-file U.S. soldiers, as well as a book (Men on Bataan) that provided a flattering portrait of General MacArthur.  This fact certainly served Hersey well, for the general was a consummate egotist.  Apparently as a consequence, Hersey received authorization to visit Japan.

En route there in the spring of 1946, Hersey spent some time in China, where, on board a U.S. warship, he came down with the flu.  While convalescing, he read Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, which tracked the different lives of five people in Peru who were killed when a bridge upon which they stood collapsed.  Hersey and Shawn had already decided that he should tell the story of the Hiroshima bombing from the victims’ point of view.  But Hersey now realized that Wilder’s book had given him a particularly poignant, engrossing way of telling a complicated story.  Practically everyone could identify with a group of regular people going about their daily routines as catastrophe suddenly struck them.

Hersey arrived in Tokyo on May 24, 1946, and two days later, received permission to travel to Hiroshima, with his time in that city limited to 14 days.

Entering Hiroshima, Hersey was stunned by the damage he saw.  In Blume’s words, there were “miles of jagged misery and three-dimensional evidence that humans—after centuries of contriving increasingly efficient ways to exterminate masses of other humans—had finally invented the means with which to decimate their entire civilization.”  Now there existed what one reporter called “teeming jungles of dwelling places . . . in a welter of ashes and rubble.”  As residents attempted to clear the ground to build new homes, they uncovered masses of bodies and severed limbs.  A cleanup campaign in one district of the city alone at about that time unearthed a thousand corpses.  Meanwhile, the city’s surviving population was starving, with constant new deaths from burns, other dreadful wounds, and radiation poisoning.

Given the time limitations of his permit, Hersey had to work fast.  And he did, interviewing dozens of survivors, although he eventually narrowed down his cast of characters to six of them.

Departing from Hiroshima’s nightmare of destruction, Hersey returned to the United States to prepare the story that was to run in the New Yorker to commemorate the atomic bombing.  He decided that the article would have to read like a novel.  “Journalism allows its readers to witness history,” he later remarked.  “Fiction gives readers the opportunity to live it.”  His goal was “to have the reader enter into the characters, become the characters, and suffer with them.”

When Hersey produced a sprawling 30,000 word draft, the New Yorker’s editors at first planned to publish it in serialized form.  But Shawn decided that running it this way wouldn’t do, for the story would lose its pace and impact.  Rather than have Hersey reduce the article to a short report, Shawn had a daring idea.  Why not run the entire article in one issue of the magazine, with everything else—the “Talk of the Town” pieces, the fiction, the other articles and profiles, and the urbane cartoons—banished from the issue?

Ross, Shawn, and Hersey now sequestered themselves in a small room at the New Yorker’s headquarters, furiously editing Hersey’s massive article.  Ross and Shawn decided to keep the explosive forthcoming issue a top secret from the magazine’s staff.  Indeed, the staff were kept busy working on a “dummy” issue that they thought would be going to press.  Contributors to that issue were baffled when they didn’t receive proofs for their articles and accompanying artwork.  Nor were the New Yorker’s advertisers told what was about to happen.  As Blume remarks:  “The makers of Chesterfield cigarettes, Perma-Lift brassieres, Lux toilet soap, and Old Overholt rye whiskey would just have to find out along with everyone else in the world that their ads would be run alongside Hersey’s grisly story of nuclear apocalypse.”

However, things don’t always proceed as smoothly as planned.  On August 1, 1946, President Truman signed into law the Atomic Energy Act, which established a “restricted” standard for “all data concerning the manufacture or utilization of atomic weapons.”  Anyone who disseminated that data “with any reason to believe that such data” could be used to harm the United States could face substantial fines and imprisonment.  Furthermore, if it could be proved that the individual was attempting to “injure the United States,” he or she could “be punished by death or imprisonment for life.”

In these new circumstances, what should Ross, Shawn, and Hersey do?  They could kill the story, water it down, or run it and risk severe legal action against them.  After agonizing over their options, they decided to submit Hersey’s article to the War Department – and, specifically, to General Groves – for clearance.

Why did they take that approach?  Blume speculates that the New Yorker team thought that Groves might insist upon removing any technical information from the article while leaving the account of the sufferings of the Japanese intact.  After all, Groves believed that the Japanese deserved what had happened to them, and could not imagine that other Americans might disagree.  Furthermore, the article, by underscoring the effectiveness of the atomic bombing of Japan, bolstered his case that the war had come to an end because of his weapon.  Finally, Groves was keenly committed to maintaining U.S. nuclear supremacy in the world, and he believed that an article that led Americans to fear nuclear attacks by other nations would foster support for a U.S. nuclear buildup.

The gamble paid off.  Although Groves did demand changes, these were minor and did not affect the accounts by the survivors.

On August 29, 1946, copies of the Hiroshima edition of the New Yorker arrived on newsstands and in mailboxes across the United States, and it quickly created an enormous sensation, particularly in the mass media.  Editors from more than thirty states applied to excerpt portions of the article, and newspapers from across the nation ran front-page banner stories and urgent editorials about its revelations.  Correspondence from every region of the United States poured into the New Yorker’s office.  A large number of readers expressed pity for the victims of the bombing.  But an even greater number expressed deep fear about what the advent of nuclear war meant for the survival of the human race.

Of course, not all readers approved of Hersey’s report on the atomic bombing.  Some reacted by canceling their subscriptions to the New Yorker.  Others assailed the article as antipatriotic, Communist propaganda, designed to undermine the United States.  Still others dismissed it as pro-Japanese propaganda or, as one reader remarked, written “in very bad taste.”

Some newspapers denounced it.  The New York Daily News derided it as a stunt and “propaganda aimed at persuading us to stop making atom bombs . . . and to give our technical bomb secrets away . . . to Russia.”  Not surprisingly, Henry Luce was infuriated that his former star journalist had achieved such an enormous success writing for a rival publication, and had Hersey’s portrait removed from Time Inc.’s gallery of honor.

Despite the criticism, Hiroshima continued to attract enormous attention in the mass media.  The ABC Radio Network did a reading of the lengthy article over four nights, with no acting, no music, no special effects, and no commercials.  “This chronicle of suffering and destruction,” it announced, was being “broadcast as a warning that what happened to the people of Hiroshima could next happen anywhere.”  After the broadcasts, the network’s telephone switchboards were swamped by callers, and the program was judged to have received the highest rating of any public interest broadcast that had ever occurred.  The BBC also broadcast an adaptation of Hiroshima, while some 500 U.S. radio stations reported on the article in the days following its release.

In the United States, the Alfred Knopf publishing house came out with the article in book form, which was quickly promoted by the Book-of-the-Month Club as “destined to be the most widely read book of our generation.”  Ultimately, Hiroshima sold millions of copies in nations around the world.  By the late fall of 1946, the rather modest and retiring Hersey, who had gone into hiding after the article’s publication to avoid interviews, was rated as one of the “Ten Outstanding Celebrities of 1946,” along with General Dwight Eisenhower and singer Bing Crosby.

For U.S. government officials, reasonably content with past public support for the atomic bombing and a nuclear-armed future, Hersey’s success in reaching the public with his disturbing account of nuclear war confronted them with a genuine challenge.  For the most part, U.S. officials recognized that they had what Blume calls “a serious post-`Hiroshima’ image problem.”

Behind the scenes, James B. Conant, the top scientist in the Manhattan Project, joined President Truman in badgering Henry Stimson, the former U.S. Secretary of War, to produce a defense of the atomic bombing.  Provided with an advance copy of the article, to be published in Harper’s, Conant told Stimson that it was just what was needed, for they could not have allowed “the propaganda against the use of the atomic bomb . . . to go unchecked.”

Although the New Yorker’s editors sought to arrange for publication of the book version of Hiroshima in the Soviet Union, this proved impossible.  Instead, Soviet authorities banned the book in their nation.  Pravda fiercely assailed Hersey, claiming that Hiroshima was nothing more than an American scare tactic, a fiction that “relishes the torments of six people after the explosion of the atomic bomb.”  Another Soviet publication called Hersey an American spy who embodied his country’s militarism and had helped to inflict upon the world a “propaganda of aggression, strongly reminiscent of similar manifestations in Nazi Germany.”

Ironically, the Soviet attack upon Hersey didn’t make him any more acceptable to the U.S. government.  In 1950, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover assigned FBI field agents to research, monitor, and interview Hersey, on whom the Bureau had already opened a file.  During the FBI interview with Hersey, agents questioned him closely about his trip to Hiroshima.

Not surprisingly, U.S. occupation authorities did their best to ban the appearance of Hiroshima in Japan.  Hersey’s six protagonists had to wait months before they could finally read the article, which was smuggled to them.  In fact, some of Hersey’s characters were not aware that they had been included in the story or that the article had even been written until they received the contraband copies.  MacArthur managed to block publication of the book in Japan for years until, after intervention by the Authors’ League of America, he finally relented.  It appeared in April 1949, and immediately became a best-seller.

Hersey, still a young man at the time, lived on for decades thereafter, writing numerous books, mostly works of fiction, and teaching at Yale.  He continued to be deeply concerned about the fate of a nuclear-armed world—proud of his part in stirring up resistance to nuclear war and, thereby, helping to prevent it.

The conclusion drawn by Blume in this book is much like Hersey’s.  As she writes, “Graphically showing what nuclear warfare does to humans, Hiroshima has played a major role in preventing nuclear war since the end of World War II.”

A secondary theme in the book is the role of a free press.  Blume observes that “Hersey and his New Yorker editors created Hiroshima in the belief that journalists must hold accountable those in power.  They saw a free press as essential to the survival of democracy.”  She does, too.

Overall, Blume’s book would provide the basis for a very inspiring movie, for at its core is something many Americans admire:  action taken by a few people who triumph against all odds.

But the actual history is somewhat more complicated.  Even before the publication of Hiroshima, a significant number of people were deeply disturbed by the atomic bombing of Japan.  For some, especially pacifists, the bombing was a moral atrocity.  An even larger group feared that the advent of nuclear weapons portended the destruction of the world.  Traditional pacifist organizations, newly-formed atomic scientist groups, and a rapidly-growing world government movement launched a dramatic antinuclear campaign in the late 1940s around the slogan, “One World or None.”  Curiously, this uprising against nuclear weapons is almost entirely absent from Blume’s book.

Even so, Blume has written a very illuminating, interesting, and important work—one that reminds us that daring, committed individuals can help to create a better world.

The post How John Hersey Blew the Whistle on the Reality of Nuclear War first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Squad & Co: Unite as a Block to Downsize Biden’s Military Budget

Photo credit:  ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons)

Imagine this scenario:

A month before the vote on the federal budget, progressives in Congress declared, “We’ve studied President Biden’s proposed $753 billion military budget, an increase of $13 billion from Trump’s already inflated budget, and we can’t, in good conscience, support this.”

Now that would be a show stopper, particularly if they added, “So we have decided to stand united, arm in arm, as a block of NO votes on any federal budget resolution that fails to reduce military spending by 10-30 percent. We stand united against a federal budget resolution that includes upwards of $30 billion for new nuclear weapons slated to ultimately cost nearly $2 trillion. We stand united in demanding the $50 billion earmarked to maintain all 800 overseas bases, including the new one under construction in Henoko, Okinawa, be reduced by a third because it’s time we scaled back on plans for global domination.”

“Ditto,” they say, “for the billions the President wants for the arms-escalating US Space Force, one of Trump’s worst ideas, right up there with hydroxychloroquine to cure COVID-19, and, no, we don’t want to escalate our troop deployments for a military confrontation with China in the South China Sea. It’s time to ‘right-size’ the military budget and demilitarize our foreign policy.”

Progressives uniting as a block to resist out-of-control military spending would be a no-nonsense exercise of raw power reminiscent of how the right-wing Freedom Caucus challenged the traditional Republicans in the House in 2015. Without progressives on board, President Biden may not be able to secure enough votes to pass a federal budget that would then green light the reconciliation process needed for his broad domestic agenda.

For years, progressives in Congress have complained about the bloated military budget. In 2020, 93 members in the House and 23 in the Senate voted to cut the Pentagon budget by 10% and invest those funds instead in critical human needs. A House Spending Reduction Caucus, co-chaired by Representatives Barbara Lee and Mark Pocan, emerged with 22 members on board.

Meet the members of the House Defense Spending Reduction Caucus:

Barbara Lee (CA-13); Mark Pocan (WI-2); Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12); Ilhan Omar (MN-5); Raùl Grijalva (AZ-3); Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11); Jan Schakowsky(IL-9); Pramila Jayapal (WA-7); Jared Huffman (CA-2); Alan Lowenthal (CA-47); James P. McGovern (MA-2); Peter Welch (VT-at large); Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14); Frank Pallone, Jr (NJ-6).;  Rashida Tlaib (MI-13); Ro Khanna (CA-17); Lori Trahan (MA-3); Steve Cohen (TN-9); Ayanna Pressley (MA-7), Anna Eshoo (CA-18).

We also have the Progressive Caucus, the largest Caucus in Congress with almost 100 members in the House and Senate. Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal is all for cutting military spending. “We’re in the midst of a crisis that has left millions of families unable to afford food, rent, and bills. But at the same time, we’re dumping billions of dollars into a bloated Pentagon budget,” she said. “Don’t increase defense spending. Cut it—and invest that money into our communities.”

Now is the time for these congresspeople to turn their talk into action.

Consider the context. President Biden urgently wants to move forward on his American Families Plan rolled out in his recent State of the Union address. The plan would tax the rich to invest $1.8 trillion over the next ten years in universal preschool, two years of tuition-free community college, expanded healthcare coverage and paid family medical leave.

President Biden, in the spirit of FDR, also wants to put America back to work in a $2-trillion infrastructure program that will begin to fix our decades-old broken bridges, crumbling sewer systems and rusting water pipes. This could be his legacy, a light Green New Deal to transition workers out of the dying fossil fuel industry.

But Biden won’t get his infrastructure program and American Families Plan with higher taxes on the rich, almost 40% on income for corporations and those earning $400,000 or more a year, without Congress first passing a budget resolution that includes a top line for military and non-military spending. Both the budget resolution and reconciliation bill that would follow are filibuster proof and only require a simple majority in the House and Senate to pass.

Easy.

Maybe not.

To flex their muscles, Republicans may refuse to vote for a budget resolution crafted by the Democratic Party that would open the door to big spending on public goods, such as pre-kindergarten and expanded health care coverage. That means Biden would need every Democrat in the House and Senate on board to approve his budget resolution for military and non-military spending.

So how’s it looking?

In the Senate, Democrat Joe Manchin from West VA, a state that went for Trump over Biden more than two-to-one, wants to scale back Biden’s infrastructure proposal, but hasn’t sworn to vote down a budget resolution. As for Senator Bernie Sanders, the much-loved progressive, ordinarily he might balk at a record high military budget, but if the budget resolution ushers in a reconciliation bill that lowers the age of Medicare eligibility to 60 or 55, the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee may hold his fire.

That leaves anti-war activists wondering if Senator Elizabeth Warren, a critic of the Pentagon budget and “nuclear modernization,” would consider stepping up as the lone holdout in the Senate, refusing to vote for a budget that includes billions for new nuclear weapons. Perhaps with a push from outraged constituents in Massachusetts, Warren could be convinced to take this bold stand. Another potential hold out could be California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who co-chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, the committee that oversees the budgeting for nuclear weapons. In 2014, Feinstein described the US nuclear arsenal program as “unnecessarily and unsustainably large“.

Over in the House, Biden needs at least 218 of the 222 Democrats to vote for the budget resolution expected to hit the floor in June or July, but what if he couldn’t get to 218? What if at least five members of the House voted no—or even just threatened to vote no—because the top line for military spending was too high and the budget included new “money pit” nuclear land-based missiles to replace 450 Minute Man missiles.

The polls show most Democrats oppose “nuclear modernization”—a euphemism for a plan that is anything but modern given that 50 countries have signed on to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons making nuclear weapons illegal and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) requires the US pursue nuclear disarmament to avoid a catastrophic accident or intentional atomic holocaust.

Now is the time for progressive congressional luminaries such as the Squad’s AOC, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Presley to unite with Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, as well as Barbara Lee, Mark Pocan and others in the House Spending Reduction Caucus to put their feet down and stand as a block against a bloated military budget.

Will they have the courage to unite behind such a cause? Would they be willing to play hardball and gum up the works on the way to Biden’s progressive domestic agenda?

Odds improve if constituents barrage them with phone calls, emails, and visible protests. Tell them that in the time of a pandemic, it makes no sense to approve a military budget that is 90 times the budget of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Tell them that the billions saved from “right sizing” the Pentagon could provide critical funds for addressing the climate crisis. Tell them that just as we support putting an end to our endless wars, so, too, we support putting an end to our endless cycle of exponential military spending.

Call your representative, especially If you live in a congressional district represented by one of the members of the Progressive Caucus or the House Spending Reduction Caucus. Don’t wait for marching orders from someone else. No time to wait.  In the quiet of the COVID hour, our Congress toils away on appropriations bills and a budget resolution. The showdown is coming soon.

Get organized. Ask for meetings with your representatives or their foreign policy staffers. Be fierce; be relentless. Channel the grit of a Pentagon lobbyist.

This is the moment to demand a substantial cut in military spending that defunds new nuclear weapons.

The post Squad & Co: Unite as a Block to Downsize Biden’s Military Budget first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Denis Halliday: A Voice of Reason in an Insane World

Photo credit: indybay.org

Denis Halliday is an exceptional figure in the world of diplomacy. In 1998, after a 34-year career with the United Nations—including as an Assistant Secretary-General and the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq—he resigned when the UN Security Council refused to lift sanctions against Iraq.

Halliday saw at first hand the devastating impact of this policy that had led to the deaths of over 500,000 children under the age of five and hundreds of thousands more older children and adults, and he called the sanctions a genocide against the people of Iraq.

Since 1998, Denis has been a powerful voice for peace and for human rights around the world. He sailed in the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza in 2010, when 10 of his companions on a Turkish ship were shot and killed in an attack by the Israeli armed forces.

I interviewed Denis Halliday from his home in Ireland.

Nicolas Davies:   So, Denis, twenty years after you resigned from the UN over the sanctions on Iraq, the United States is now imposing similar “maximum pressure” sanctions against Iran, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, denying their people access to food and medicines in the midst of a pandemic. What would you like to say to Americans about the real-world impact of these policies?

Denis Halliday:   I’d like to begin with explaining that the sanctions imposed by the Security Council against Iraq, led very much by the United States and Britain, were unique in the sense that they were comprehensive. They were open-ended, meaning that they required a Security Council decision to end them, which, of course, never actually happened – and they followed immediately upon the Gulf War.

The Gulf War, led primarily by the United States but supported by Britain and some others, undertook the bombing of Iraq and targeted civilian infrastructure, which is a violation of the Geneva Conventions, and they took out all electric power networks in the country.

This completely undermined the water treatment and distribution system of Iraq, which depended upon electricity to drive it, and drove people to use contaminated water from the Tigris and the Euphrates. That was the beginning of the death-knell for young children, because mothers were not breast-feeding, they were feeding their children with child formula, but mixing it with foul water from the Tigris and the Euphrates.

That bombing of infrastructure, including communications systems and electric power, wiped out the production of food, horticulture, and all of the other basic necessities of life. They also closed down exports and imports, and they made sure that Iraq was unable to export its oil, which was the main source of its revenue at the time.

In addition to that, they introduced a new weapon called depleted uranium, which was used by the U.S. forces driving the Iraqi Army out of Kuwait. That was used again in southern Iraq in the Basra area, and led to a massive accumulation of nuclear debris which led to leukemia in children, and that took three, four or five years to become evident.

So when I got to Iraq in 1998, the hospitals in Baghdad, and also, of course, in Basra and other cities, were full of children suffering from leukemia. Meantime adults had gotten their own cancer, mainly not a blood cancer diagnosis. Those children, we reckon perhaps 200,000 children, died of leukemia. At the same time, Washington and London withheld some of the treatment components that leukemia requires, again, it seemed, in a genocidal manner, denying Iraqi children the right to remain alive.

And as you quoted 500,000, that was a statement made by Madeleine Albright, the then American Ambassador to the United Nations who, live on CBS, was asked the question about the loss of 500,000 children, and she said that the loss of 500,000 children was “worth it,” in terms of bringing down Saddam Hussein, which did not happen until the military invasion of 2003.

So the point is that the Iraqi sanctions were uniquely punitive and cruel and prolonged and comprehensive. They remained in place no
matter how people like myself or others, and not just me alone, but UNICEF and the agencies of the UN system – many states including France, China and Russia – complained bitterly about the consequences on human life and the lives of Iraqi children and adults.

My desire in resigning was to go public, which I did. Within one month, I was in Washington doing my first Congressional briefing on the consequences of these sanctions, driven by Washington and London.

So I think the United States and its populus, who vote these governments in, need to understand that the children and the people of Iraq are just like the children of the United States and England and their people. They have the same dreams, same ambitions of education and employment and housing and vacations and all the things that good people care about. We’re all the same people and we cannot sit back and think somehow, “We don’t know who they are, they’re Afghans, they’re Iranians, they’re Iraqis. So what? They’re dying. Well, we don’t know, it’s not our problem, this happens in war.” I mean, all that sort of rationale as to why this is unimportant.

And I think that aspect of life in the sanctions world continues, whether it’s Venezuela, whether it’s Cuba, which has been ongoing now for 60 years. People are not aware or don’t think in terms of the lives of other human beings identical to ourselves here in Europe or in the United States.

It’s a frightening problem, and I don’t know how it can be resolved. We now have sanctions on Iran and North Korea. So the difficulty is to bring alive that we kill people with sanctions. They’re not a substitute for war – they are a form of warfare.

ND: Thank you, Denis. I think that brings us to another question, because whereas the sanctions on Iraq were approved by the UN Security Council, what we’re looking at today in the world is, for the most part, the U.S. using the power of its financial system to impose unilateral sieges on these countries, even as the U.S. is also still waging war in at least half a dozen countries, mostly in the Greater Middle East. Medea Benjamin and I recently documented that the U.S. and its allies have dropped 326,000 bombs and missiles on other countries in all these wars, just since 2001 – that’s not counting the First Gulf War.

You worked for the UN and UNDP for 34 years, and the UN was conceived of as a forum and an institution for peace and to confront violations of peace by any countries around the world. But how can the UN address the problem of a powerful, aggressive country like the United States that systematically violates international law and then abuses its veto and diplomatic power to avoid accountability?

DH:  Yes, when I talk to students, I try to explain that there are two United Nations: there’s a United Nations of the Secretariat, led by the Secretary-General and staffed by people like myself and 20,000 or 30,000 more worldwide, through UNDP and the agencies. We operate in every country, and most of it is developmental or humanitarian. It’s good work, it has real impact, whether it’s feeding Palestinians or it’s UNICEF work in Ethiopia. This continues.

Where the UN collapses is in the Security Council, in my view, and that is because, in Yalta in 1945, Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill, having noted the failure of the League of Nations, decided to set up a United Nations that would have a controlling entity, which they then called the Security Council. And to make sure that worked, in their interests I would say, they established this five-power veto group, and they added France and they added China. And that five is still in place.

That’s 1945 and this is 2021, and they’re still in power and they’re still manipulating the United Nations. And as long as they stay there and they manipulate, I think the UN is doomed. The tragedy is that the five veto powers are the very member states that violate the Charter, violate human rights conventions, and will not allow the application of the ICC to their war crimes and other abuses.

On top of that, they are the countries that manufacture and sell weapons, and we know that weapons of war are possibly the most profitable product you can produce. So their vested interest is control, is the military capacity, is interference. It’s a neocolonial endeavor, an empire in reality, to control the world as the way they want to see it. Until that is changed and those five member states agree to dilute their power and play an honest role, I think we’re doomed. The UN has no capacity to stop the difficulties we’re faced with around the world.

ND:   That’s a pretty damning prognosis. In this century, we’re facing such incredible problems, between climate change and the threat of nuclear war still hanging over all of us, possibly more dangerous than ever before, because of the lack of treaties and the lack of cooperation between the nuclear powers, notably the U.S. and Russia. This is really an existential crisis for humanity.

Now there is also, of course, the UN General Assembly, and they did step up on nuclear weapons with the new Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which has now officially entered into force. And every year when it meets, the General Assembly regularly and almost unanimously condemns the U.S. sanctions regime against Cuba.

When I wrote my book about the war in Iraq, my final recommendations were that the senior American and British war criminals responsible for the war should be held criminally accountable, and that the U.S. and the U.K. should pay reparations to Iraq for the war. Could the General Assembly possibly be a venue to build support for Iraq to claim reparations from the U.S. and the U.K., or is there another venue where that would be more appropriate?

DH:   I think you’re right on target. The tragedy is that the decisions of the Security Council are binding decisions. Every member state has got to apply and respect those decisions. So, if you violate a sanctions regime imposed by the Council as a member state, you’re in trouble. The General Assembly resolutions are not binding.

You’ve just referred to a very important decision, which is the decision about nuclear weapons. We’ve had a lot of decisions on banning various types of weapons over the years. Here in Ireland we were involved in anti-personnel mines and other things of that sort, and it was by a large number of member states, but not the guilty parties, not the Americans, not the Russians, not the Chinese, not the British. The ones who control the veto power game are the ones who do not comply. Just like Clinton was one of the proposers, I think, of the ICC [International Criminal Court], but when it came to the end of the day, the United States doesn’t accept it has a role vis-a-vis themselves and their war crimes The same is true of other large states that are the guilty parties in those cases.

So I would go back to your suggestion about the General Assembly. It could be enhanced, there’s no reason why it couldn’t be changed, but it requires tremendous courage on the part of member states. It also requires acceptance by the five veto powers that their day has come to an end, because, in reality, the UN carries very little cachet nowadays to send a UN mission into a country like Myanmar or Afghanistan.

I think we have no power left, we have no influence left, because they know who runs the organization, they know who makes the decisions. It’s not the Secretary-General. It’s not people like me. We are dictated to by the Security Council. I resigned, effectively, from the Security Council. They were my bosses during that particular period of my career.

I have a lecture I do on reforming the Security Council, making it a North-South representative body, which would find Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa in situ, and you’d get very different decisions. You’d get the sort of decisions we get in the General Assembly: much more balanced, much more aware of the world and its North and South and all those other variations. But, of course, again, we can’t reform the Council until the five veto powers agree to that. That is the huge problem.

ND:   Yes, in fact, when that structure was announced in 1945 with the Security Council, the five Permanent Members and the veto, Albert Camus, who was the editor of the French Resistance newspaper Combat, wrote a front-page editorial saying this was the end of any idea of international democracy.

So, as with so many other issues, we live in these nominally democratic countries, but the people of a country like the United States are only really told what our leaders want us to know about how the world works. So reform of the Security Council is clearly needed, but it’s a massive process of education and democratic reform in countries around the world to actually build enough of a popular movement to demand that kind of change. In the meantime, the problems we’re facing are enormous.

Another thing that is very under-reported in the U.S. is that, out of desperation after twenty years of war in Afghanistan, Secretary Blinken has finally asked the UN to lead a peace process for a ceasefire between the U.S.-backed government and the Taliban and a political transition. That could move the conflict into the political realm and end the civil war that resulted from the U.S. invasion and occupation and endless bombing campaign.

So what do you think of that initiative? There is supposed to be a meeting in a couple of weeks in Istanbul, led by an experienced UN negotiator, Jean Arnault, who helped to bring peace to Guatemala at the end of its civil war, and then between Colombia and the FARC. The U.S. specifically asked China, Russia and Iran to be part of this process as well. Both sides in Afghanistan have agreed to come to Istanbul and at least see what they can agree on. So is that a constructive role that the UN can play? Does that offer a chance of peace for the people of Afghanistan?

DH:   If I were a member of the Taliban and I was asked to negotiate with a government that is only in power because it’s supported by the United States, I would question whether it’s an even keel. Are we equally powerful, can we talk to each other one-to-one? The answer, I think, is no.

The UN chap, whoever he is, poor man, is going to have the same difficulty. He is representing the United Nations, a Security Council dominated by the United States and others, as the Afghans are perfectly well aware. The Taliban have been fighting for a helluva long time, and making no progress because of the interference of the U.S. troops, which are still on the ground. I just don’t think it’s an even playing-field.

So I’d be very surprised if that works. I absolutely hope it might. I would think, in my view, if you want a lasting relationship within a country, it’s got to be negotiated within the country, without military or other interference or fear of further bombing or attacks or all the rest of it. I don’t think we have any credibility, as a UN, under those circumstances. It’ll be a very tough slog.

ND:  Right. The irony is that the United States set aside the UN Charter when it attacked Yugoslavia in 1999 to carve out what is now the semi-recognized country of Kosovo, and then to attack Afghanistan and Iraq. The UN Charter, right at the beginning, at its heart, prohibits the threat or use of force by one country against another. But that is what the U.S. set aside.

DH:   And then, you have to remember, the U.S. is attacking a fellow member state of the United Nations, without hesitation, with no respect for the Charter. Perhaps people forget that Eleanor Roosevelt drove, and succeeded in establishing, the Declaration of Human Rights, an extraordinary achievement, which is still valid. It’s a biblical instrument for many of us who work in the UN.

So the neglect of the Charter and the spirit of the Charter and the wording of the Charter, by the five veto members, perhaps in Afghanistan it was Russia, now it’s the United States, the Afghanis have had foreign intervention up to their necks and beyond, and the British have been involved there since the 18th century almost. So they have my deepest sympathy, but I hope this thing can work, let’s hope it can.

ND:  I brought that up because the U.S., with its dominant military power after the end of the Cold War, made a very conscious choice that instead of living according to the UN Charter, it would live by the sword, by the law of the jungle: “might makes right.”

It took those actions because it could, because no other military force was there to stand up against it. At the time of the First Gulf War, a Pentagon consultant told the New York Times that, with the end of the Cold War, the U.S. could finally conduct military operations in the Middle East without worrying about starting World War III. So they took the demise of the Soviet Union as a green light for these systematic, widespread actions that violate the UN Charter.

But now, what is happening in Afghanistan is that the Taliban once again control half the country. We’re approaching the spring and the summer when the fighting traditionally gets worse, and so the U.S. is calling in the UN out of desperation because, frankly, without a ceasefire, their government in Kabul is just going to lose more territory. So the U.S. has chosen to live by the sword, and in this situation it’s now confronting dying by the sword.

DH:   What’s tragic, Nicolas, is that, in our lifetime, the Afghanis ran their own country. They had a monarchy, they had a parliament – I met and interviewed women ministers from Afghanistan in New York – and they managed it. It was when the Russians interfered, and then the Americans interfered, and then Bin Laden set up his camp there, and that was justification for destroying what was left of Afghanistan.

And then Bush, Cheney and a few of the boys decided, although there was no justification whatsoever, to bomb and destroy Iraq, because they wanted to think that Saddam Hussein was involved with Al Qaeda, which, of course, was nonsense. They wanted to think he had weapons of mass destruction, which also was nonsense. The UN inspectors said that again and again, but nobody would believe them.

It’s deliberate neglect of the one last hope. The League of Nations failed, and the UN was the next best hope and we have deliberately turned our backs upon it, neglected it and distrusted it. When we get a good Secretary General like Hammarskjold, we murder him. He was definitely killed, because he was interfering in the dreams of the British in particular, and perhaps the Belgians, in Katanga. It’s a very sad story, and I don’t know where we go from here.

ND:   Right, well, where we seem to be going from here is to a loss of American power around the world, because the U.S. has so badly abused its power. In the U.S., we keep hearing that this is a Cold War between the U.S. and China, or maybe the U.S., China and Russia, but I think we all hopefully can work for a more multipolar world.

As you say, the UN Security Council needs reform, and hopefully the American people are understanding that we cannot unilaterally rule the world, that the ambition for a U.S. global empire is an incredibly dangerous pipe-dream that has really led us to an impasse.

DH:   Perhaps the only good thing coming out of Covid-19 is the slow realization that, if everybody doesn’t get a vaccine, we fail, because we, the rich and the powerful with the money and the vaccines, will not be safe until we make sure the rest of the world is safe, from Covid and the next one that’s coming along the track undoubtedly.

And this implies that if we don’t do trade with China or other countries we have reservations about, because we don’t like their government, we don’t like communism, we don’t like socialism, whatever it is, we just have to live with that, because without each other we can’t survive. With the climate crisis and all the other issues related to that, we need each other more than ever perhaps, and we need collaboration. It’s just basic common sense that we work and live together.

The U.S. has something like 800 military bases around the world, of various sizes. China is certainly surrounded and this is a very dangerous situation, totally unnecessary. And now the rearming with fancy new nuclear weapons when we already have nuclear weapons that are twenty times bigger than the one that destroyed Hiroshima. Why on Earth? It’s just irrational nonsense to continue these programs, and it just doesn’t work for humanity.

I would hope the U.S. would start perhaps retreating and sorting out its own domestic problems, which are quite substantial. I’m reminded every day when I look at CNN here in my home about the difficulties of race and all the other things that you’re well aware of that need to be addressed. Being policeman to the world was a bad decision.

ND:   Absolutely. So the political, economic and military system we live under is not only genocidal at this point, but also suicidal. Thank you, Denis, for being a voice of reason in this insane world.

The post Denis Halliday: A Voice of Reason in an Insane World first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Limitations of JCPOA Negotiation

On April 1 — appropriate date, perhaps, for a saga of unending western foolishness and villainy — the EU announced that officials from Iran, Russia, China, the UK, France, and Germany would be meeting virtually to discuss a possible return of the USA to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Later announcements indicated that representatives of both the USA and Iran would meet with European partners in Vienna in the first week of April, although possibly from different rooms to separate US and Iranian representatives. Talks began on August 6.

A State Department spokesman welcomed the move, indicating the Biden administration’s preparedness to return to the 2015 deal tortuously negotiated over several years between Iran, the US Obama administration and European powers, and that former President Donald Trump later unilaterally abrogated in May 2018. A pretense by the USA and Europe that resumption of JCPOA requires arduous negotiation camouflages the reality that it has always been obvious that removal of US sanctions on Iran would automatically prompt its immediate return to the JCPOA framework.

The use of the potential (but not the actuality) of nuclear weapons in the form of weapons development capability has arguably been an instrument of Iranian foreign diplomacy from the days of the Shah, first as a defense against nuclearization of regional neighbors and, since the Islamic revolution in 1979 — and in the guise of varying percentages of uranium enrichment and the construction of centrifuges (many unused) — against US and European opposition to Iranian independence from Washington.

The 2015 deal itself was the outcome of a long-standing, bullying, propaganda campaign by the USA, Israel, and Europe (UK, France, and Germany) to smear Iran’s peaceful nuclear energy program (including the slight enrichment of uranium for scientific and medical purposes, far below the 90%+ required for nuclear weaponry) as a meaningful threat of nuclear war. Yet Iran, a signatory in 1968 of the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), had over several decades conceded detailed scrutiny of its energy program (perfectly legitimate, under the NPT) to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Israel, on the other hand, in possession of one hundred or more nuclear warheads, never signed the NPT.

Israel, with a far smaller population (9 million) than Iran (82 million) and a far smaller territory (22,145 sq.km to Iran’s 1,648,195 sq km), is and has consistently shown evidence of being by far the more likely nuclear aggressor in the Middle East. In June 1981, an Israeli airstrike destroyed an unfinished suspected Iraqi nuclear reactor located 17 kilometers southeast of Baghdad, Iraq. In 2007, Israel struck a suspected nuclear reactor in the Deir ez-Zor region of Syria. In the period 2009 to 2012 the Israeli administration of Benjamin Netanyahu several times threatened to attack Iranian nuclear facilities. In addition, the US and Israeli administrations collaborated in a cyberattack on Iranian facilities (“Stuxnet”) in 2009. There have been several assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists – the latest reported in November 2020 – mostly attributed to Israel’s Mossad.

Through JCPOA, Iran — which has never possessed nuclear weapons and which has never formally revealed evidence of wanting or planning them — was cowered into conceding an implicit but false admission to being at fault in some way. Iran’s Supreme Leaders have consistently stated their belief that such weapons are immoral.  Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, confirmed a fatwa against the acquisition, development and use of nuclear weapons in October 2003. “Evidence” of Iranian scientists’ planning for nuclear weaponry is based on forgeries.
1 The bullying gang was a cabal of more prosperous nations that unlike Iran, did possess nuclear weapons and, in the case of the USA, had actually used them and, from time to time, demonstrated continuing willingness to consider their use.

Furthermore, Washington has never shown a fraction of the hysteria it regularly performs on account of Iran’s (non-existent) nuclear “threat” as it did with the actual nuclear weaponization of India from 1998 (with possibly 150 nuclear warheads today) and Pakistan in 1972.

Iran’s misleading concession to the West’s false narrative was the product of Western coercion through sanctions’ regimes. US-driven sanctions’ terror over Iran, both primary (involving relations between Iran and U.S. actors) and secondary (involving relations between Iran and non-U.S. actors), started from the early 1980s and extended in 1995 to cover bilateral trade and foreign investment in Iranian oil and gas development. Sanctions were further extended in 2002 to include nuclear and missile technology, financial services, transportation, foreign banks operating in Iran, and purchase of Iranian oil. Although many sanctions were lifted by JCPOA, others were retained, including Iranian support for terrorism, development of ballistic missiles, arms-related transactions, violations of human rights and corruption. The slipperiness of concepts such as “terrorism,” “human rights,” and “corruption” in the hands of U.S. and allied states and state-compliant “NGO” agencies provides ample room for continuing sanctions aggression on false or misleading pretext. This is particularly worrisome in the contexts of covert and proxy wars between the US, European powers, Gulf States, Israel, and Salafist rebels in Syria, on the one hand and, on the other, the Syrian government, Russia, and Iranian-backed Hezbollah, as also in the case of Iranian support for the Houthis in Yemen. Even a return to JCPOA, therefore, would exercise considerable restraint on Iranian exercise of its legitimate, sovereign power.

Iran’s peaceful nuclear energy program originated from imperial machinations in Iran. It was launched in 1957 with US and European assistance in the administration of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Shah of Iran, in the wake of the US-UK orchestrated coup d’etat of 1953 that toppled democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh. The program continued until the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The Shah approved plans to construct up to 23 nuclear power stations by 2000. It is possible that the Shah always entertained the possibility of transitioning from a nuclear energy to a nuclear weapons program should neighboring states do the same. The USA supplied the country with a reactor fueled by highly enriched uranium in 1967. After a two-year hiatus, the Shah’s program was resumed by the revolutionary administration in 1981. The regime intended to continue collaborating with a French-owned consortium, but France succumbed to pressure from the Reagan administration in 1984 to end all nuclear cooperation with Iran, despite the absence of any evidence for US claims that Iran’s then only reactor presented a risk of proliferation. In the 1990s, Russia formed a joint research organization with Iran, providing Iran with Russian nuclear experts and technical information.

Sanctions have a negative impact on the Iranian economy and the welfare of its people. The value of Iranian petroleum exports fell from $53 billion in 2016-2017 to $9 billion in 2019-2020. Iranian GDP shrank by between 5% and 6.5% each year in the period 2018-2020, and inflation rose each year between 30% and 41%. The value of the Iranian currency, the rial, fell from 64,500 rials to the dollar in May 2018 to 315,000 to the dollar in October 2020.

As strategies of control, sanctions have significant other weaknesses, even from the western point of view. Since the revolution of 1979, first, there is a clear correlation between western aggression towards Iran and the influence on the Iranian polity of anti-western Iranian conservatives and their control over Iranian society through the clerical hierarchy and its exercise of superordinate power over Iran’s parliamentary democracy by the Office of the (non-elected) Supreme Leader, the Council of Guardians, the religious foundations (or bonyads) and Revolutionary Guards. Second, sanctions encourage Iranian strategies of import substitution and technological independence. Third, they help consolidate Iran’s relations with global powers that rival Washington, including Russia and China, and its relations with sympathetic powers in the region, including Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. In March 2021 Iran and China agreed a deal whereby China would invest $400 billion in Iran over 25 years in exchange for a steady supply of oil to fuel. The deal represented a further incursion of Chinese influence in the Middle East (extending to an offer by China to broker peace between Israel and Palestine) at the likely expense of the USA, promising further escalation of tensions between China and the USA and the ultimate threat of nuclear war.

  1. Kiriakou, J. and Porter, G. (2020) The CIA Insider’s Guide to the Iran Crisis: From CIA Coup to the Brink of War. New York: Skyhorse Publishing.
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Britain Threatens Humanity with Nuclear Winter without Explaining Why It Foresees War  

Both before the First World War and before the Second World War, the world public basically simply watched the arms build up and other preparations for war. This lackadaisical blandly interested public attitude seems to be present again. Criminally insane investors in war openly race forward with the inventing and manufacturing of ever new and novel weapons of mass destruction, while planning and propagandizing a need for war. From time to time, spokespersons for their political, media and military lackeys discuss their prerogatives for war as if the rest of us didn’t matter a hoot.

CNBC published an article headlined: “Britain changes policy so it can use nuclear weapons in response to ‘emerging technologies’” on 17 March.

The U.K. has changed its defense policy which may enable it to use nuclear weapons in response to “emerging technologies.”

The country’s 111-page Integrated Defense Review, published Tuesday, included a subtle line on when the U.K. “reserves the right” to use nuclear weapons.

It says the U.K. could use nuclear weapons if other countries use “weapons of mass destruction” against it. Such weapons include “emerging technologies that could have a comparable impact” to chemical, biological weapons or other nuclear weapons. [italics added by author]

So if the British feel or think they feel an attack of whatever sort, they have the right to cause the possible destruction of all life on the planet.

The U.K.’s nuclear program, known as Trident, was established in 1980. The Integrated Defense Review confirmed that the U.K. is allowing a self-imposed cap on its nuclear weapon stockpile to rise to 260, abandoning the previous cap of 225 warheads as well as the current reduction target of 180 by the mid-2020s.

A single Trident II submarine can inflict more death than all prior wars in history. Twenty-four missiles, launched while submerged, each with seventeen independently targeted, maneuverable nuclear warheads five times more powerful than the atom bomb that destroyed Nagasaki, can travel 5,000 nautical miles to strike within 300 feet of 408 predetermined targets. Nuclear winter might very well follow even if no other weapons are used.

No nation or individual should be permitted to possess the power to destroy the world. An imperative need is for an informed and active public to struggle for its right to survive.
— Former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark1

Is it not a crime to claim a right to endanger all life on Earth?

Is there no legal authority to sanction the UK and its officials involved in threatening humanity — the UN Monitoring Verification and Inspection Commission, the IAEA, the WHO, the International Criminal Court? Is it not a crime to claim a right to endanger all life on Earth?

Shall we all ignore the fact that the officials of the United Kingdom claim Britain to be threatened by China, Russia and Iran without giving any evidence for this claim, or what could possibly be a motive to attack Britain. And what simple-minded tough talk leaves out mention of the incoming nuclear missiles that would be in response to Britain’s Trident missiles.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson informed Parliament that the UK will now expand its nuclear arsenal.

The 100 page report titled ‘Global Britain in a Competitive Age,’ is the product of an integrated review of security, defence and foreign policy designed to refocus British policy in the face of perceived threats from Russia, China, and other adversaries.

Do humans just sit around and merely listen to the officials of the former #1 genocidal colonial powered British Empire citing imaginary threats from Russia and China and calling them adversaries? Neither the Chinese nor Russians refer to Britain as an adversary. It is up to us observant bystanders to call a spade a spade, and expose such braggadocio from a apparent bunch of jerks.

The same CNBC article seemed to report a British plan to return to world empire status.

Indo-Pacific tilt

The Integrated Defense Review also outlined a new “tilt” toward the Indo-Pacific region.

“By 2030, we will be deeply engaged in the Indo-Pacific as the European partner with the broadest, most integrated presence in support of mutually-beneficial trade, shared security and values,” the document reads.

It says the U.K. will the push into the Indo-Pacific region partly in response to “geopolitical and geoeconomic shifts” including China’s global “power and assertiveness,” as well as the growing importance of the region to “global prosperity and security.”

The report references partnerships with countries including India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. [italics added by author]

Another headline reads, “UK seeks more influence in Indo-Pacific as ‘moderating impact’ on China”:

Calling the Indo-Pacific “increasingly the geopolitical centre of the world”, the government highlighted a planned British aircraft carrier deployment to the region and said a previously postponed visit to India would go ahead in April.

The Chinese and Indians, representing two fifths of the population of planet Earth, have not forgotten the long murderous British military occupation of their lands. Does PM Boris Johnson imagine the rest of us have? The UK will push back into the Indo-Pacific region? We assume that those who wrote the Integrated Defence Review mean for Britain to ‘push back in’ Asia by riding on the coat tails of the American Empire’s killing machine, similarly as it has done in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Whew! It is sad to see such preposterous tough-guy war talk go unanswered by our leading alternate media anti-imperialist journalists. This nonsensical, boisterous, almost childish posturing of grown men (and some women) may be puerile, but they are curiously officials representing a nation with the sixth most powerful economy in the world. This is regardless of the fact that it be ever so dwarfed by that of China.

This author, awaited some response to the British announcement of its increasing its number of nuclear warheads, but to date, has not read any published response.

Postscript

There is presently a renewed Western media frenzy over a hyped up demand for North Korea to give up its (defensive) nuclear weapons even after having been threatened by at least three US presidents with atomic attack (Truman, Eisenhower, and Trump, who threatened nuclear annihilation). Meanwhile Britain announces plans to increase its nuclear arsenal, claims a right to use nuclear weapons, and at the same time calls for China to reduce its nuclear arsenal.

Cosmic insanity! North Korea, a tiny nation of twenty-five million has its citizens of all ages punished with cruel economic sanctions by the United Nations because it finally has a few nuclear weapons as a deterrent, after having been threatened for years with nuclear destruction. Meanwhile officials of the government of the United States of Americans, which once destroyed every North Korea city and town with napalm and bombs before threatening to use atomic bombs, regularly discusses how and when it might use its tens of thousands of nuclear tipped missiles in wars without referring to what would happen to the Earth’s atmosphere.

It was the Americans, after dropping two atomic bombs on Japanese cities, who then targeted Soviet cities before the Soviets got their own nuclear bombs and were able to reply in kind. Yet, there is never even a polite request from the mass of Americans to destroy their vast nuclear arsenal — an arsenal of apocalyptic proportions!

Last, but not least, is it apropos to mention the probability that humankind can no longer afford to have so much of its financial and human resources used for weapons and wars, and still have enough to avert a cataclysm by climate change and the abysmal ongoing degradation of Mother Nature.

  1. From foreword, Micho Kaku and Daniel Axelrod, To Win a Nuclear War, 1987.
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North Korea Steadfastly Resisting US Hegemony

I learned a while back to be especially skeptical of western mass media and their governments.1 My experience of life in China is nothing like how western demonization portrays it to be. Therefore, I looked forward to the chance to experience North Korea first hand. I traveled there with a Chinese group departing China. Starting out from Dandong, China, we crossed the Yalu River to Sinuiju, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). From Sinuiji we took a train to Pyongyang and explored other areas of the DPRK in 2017. I wrote about this in “There Are Human Beings in North Korea. Neither Wealthy Nor Poor.” My impression of North Korea was extremely positive, and I look very forward to returning there one day.

A.B. Abrams has written a comprehensive book, Immovable Object: North Korea’s 70 Years at War with American Power,2 that is extensively footnoted and details how American imperialism works. Abrams does this by focusing on a United States-designated enemy state: the DPRK.

Abrams begins with the history. He writes about the role of Lyuh Woon Hyung (aka Yo Un Hyung)3 and the seldom-mentioned grassroots formation of the People’s Republic of Korea at the end of World War II, a republic that was successfully functioning before the arrival of the Americans in Korea. However, the “independence and nationalist character of the People’s Republic was seen as a threat to American designs for the Korean nation…” and the republic was deposed and outlawed. (p 14)

The US split the peninsula into northern and southern states. The United States Army Military Government in Korea (USAMGIK) ruled the southern half of the Korean Peninsula using the despised former Japanese occupiers to aid in ruling. Later the US brought in an Americanized Korean, Sygnmann Rhee, to be a dictator. The US staunchly opposed reunification fearing a democratic result that would bring about socialism in the entire peninsula. North Koreans formed their own government and at the outset outperformed the Republic of Korea (ROK, i.e., South Korea) economically.

To maintain a grip, the Americans and Rhee government brutally suppressed socialism in South Korea, committing many massacres. (ch 6) This helped set the stage for war on the peninsula.

Abrams casts serious doubt on the notion that the war in Korean was started by the North. Several South Korean attacks on North Korean communities “confirmed by U.S. and British intelligence” and the seizure of the small North Korean city of Haeju initially confirmed by South Korean sources. (p 68)

Regardless of whichever side fired the first shots, Abrams posits this may be inconsequential to the actual casus belli. He points to

… the forceful abolishment of the Korean People’s Republic and later extremely brutal suppression of its remnants by the United States Army Military Government with the assistance of youth groups–described as terrorists even by their American allies–and with the backing of the Rhee government itself. (p 59)

After the onset of war, the DPRK almost achieved a quick military victory, but after the US landing at Inchon, the forces and military equipment of the US were too much for the small republic to withstand. In addition, the DPRK was facing a United Nations coalition arranged to back the US. The US pushed back and carried out a scorched earth campaign. General Douglas MacArthur of the UN Forces in Korea referred to the devastation as “a slaughter never heard of in the history of mankind.” (p 65)

Chapters 3 to 8 in Immovable Object are a must read to grasp the magnitude of the extreme brutality and gore fomented by US warfare; the killing of civilians (including South Korean political prisoners);4 widespread rapes and sexual violence; torture by US forces; its willfulness to lie for imperial ends; the obliteration of agriculture (to create famine), industry, cities, towns, and buildings; firebombing and the use of chemical and biological weapons along with the demands by the US military brass to use nuclear bombs.

*****
US wars are not only a function of its government and military. It is important to realize that the US carries out it warring and provocations against foreign countries often with overwhelming approval of the American populace. Abrams writes that the majority of American citizens supported using nukes against North Korea. (p 131) American public support for warring was also evident by support for intensified bombing by the US during armistice negotiations. (p 224) That this American public support for militarism was not an anomaly was revealed during the US attacks on Muslim nations following 9-11, with 70% of Americans indicating a belief in Saddam Hussein being connected to Al Qaeda. (p 390)

*****

Massacres and gore were a staple of US-inflicted violence in Korea. Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and My Lai are just more recent accounts of the cornucopia of American war crimes. WARNING: The following accounts are graphic!

Kim Sun Ok, 37, the mother of four children [who had been] killed by a bomb, stated that she was evacuated in the village by Americans…. The Americans led her naked through the streets and later killed her by pushing a red-hot iron bar into her vagina. Her small son was buried alive. (p 175)

Kim Sen Ai, another 11-year-old girl…, said she was in the fourth class in school when American soldiers entered her village and apprehended her and her parents. Her mother was a member of the Korean Workers’ Party, and so earned special treatment–her breasts were cut off. Her father was tortured and thrown in a river, and her four-year-old sister was then buried alive. (p 177)

Jo Ok Hi, chairman [sic] of the Haeju women’s organization, was imprisoned and submitted to slow torture. Her eyes were pulled out, and after some time her nose and breasts were cut off. (p 178)

The Commission of the Association of Democratic Lawyers issued a report that concluded:

Taking the view that excessive murders are not the result of individual excesses, but indicate a pattern of behaviour by the U.S. forces throughout the areas occupied by them… the Commission is of the opinion that the American forces are guilty of the crime of Genocide as defined by the Geneva Convention of 1948. (p 183)

With the US military approaching the Yalu River despite warnings from China to steer clear, China entered the war and together China and the DRRK pushed the US-ROK-UN forces back to the middle ground of the peninsula. China had recently emerged from a civil war, and the war on the peninsula was a costly proposition for China.

The middle ground represented a return, more-or-less, to the geopolitical border prior to the outbreak of war. Here was a seeming stalemate, perhaps a result that war-weary combatants could accept without loss of face.

But Americans threw a wrench in talks to end the war by

… what can only be described as gross violations of the law and serious war crimes. These pertained to the brutal mistreatment of prisoners including killings, medical experimentation, torture and coercion of the most extreme kind to force them to remain behind enemy lines after the war’s end. (p 230)

China has trumpeted the end of the warring 70 years later as a victory for itself and North Korea. Abrams is more circumspect: “Which party, if any, ‘won’ the Korean War5 remains open to interpretation.” (p 240)

The results reverberate through to today as the clean-up for unexploded American ordnance is estimated to endanger North Koreans for another century. (p 66, 242)

An armistice has been signed but no peace treaty; therefore, the foes remain technically at war. The DPRK has learned from its experience and has made itself militarily adept at defending itself. North Korea has become a leader in underground fortifications, and has placed much of its armaments and materials deep beyond easy reach of missiles. Northerners have also become technically proficient and have developed an intercontinental ballistic missile capability of striking anywhere in the continental US, including submarine-launched ICBMs. These missiles can be topped with miniaturized nuclear devices and pose a most credible deterrent. And a deterrent it is, as the DPRK has pledged no first use of nukes — unlike the US. As well, it is well known that the DPRK will not hesitate to respond to provocation. The DPRK’s nuclearization has prevented any attack against it by a rational actor, as both sides would be extremely bloodied and damaged by such a conflict.

It is an important lesson that Iran ought to closely consider: the effectiveness of military strength, including nuclearization, as deterrence. In fact, much of Iran’s missile capability and fortification resulted from cooperation with the DPRK. (p 289-295)

Libya paid the price for

… having ignored direct warnings from both Tehran and Pyongyang not to pursue such a course [of unilaterally disarming], Libya’s leadership would later admit that disarmament, neglected military modernisation, and trust in Western good will proved to be their greatest mistake–leaving their country near defenceless when Western powers launched their offensive in 2011. (p 296)

Has South Korea Not Also Paid a Price for Trusting Western Goodwill?

Abrams examines how the ROK has fared as an independent and sovereign state. Is South Korea independent and sovereign?6 Asked Abrams, “Could America claim to ‘liberate’ southern Korea while at the same time occupying it, forcefully dismantling its existing government and threatening those Koreans who did not abide by its will with death?” (p 310)

Abrams describes the “apparently sadistic pleasure [American] personnel took in tormenting the [South] Korean people…,” (p 312) the objectification of “servile Korean women,” (p 313) and the massive expansion of the Japanese system of comfort stations. (p 314) “Methods used to recruit comfort women to serve American soldiers involved rape and violence to disorient and break women in. They would afterwards have little choice but to ‘consent’ to sex work for the U.S. Military.” (p 327)

In contrast,

Pyongyang not only abolished the comfort women system from 1945, but strictly enforced the outlawing of prostitution entirely and establishing formal legal equality for women…. [Thus] the nation’s dignity, pride and right to self-determination were never violated–neither were its women. (p 330)

DPRK Resilience

In the 1990s, the North Koreans were hit hard by weather calamities, crop failures, while the western sanctions continued to be applied, but the DPRK pulled through what they call the Arduous March.

How did the North Koreans resist? Early on, the war-ravaged homefront on the Korean peninsula ably put up a staunch defense, abetted by a Chinese peasant fighting force. North Koreans practice Juche (self-reliance) and Songun, a military first posture that “is firmly rooted in resistance to external pressure as a means of safeguarding Korea independence.” (p 553) To this end, the DPRK has emphasized modernization, advanced technologies, and providing for economic needs.

Pyongyang Photo: kim

The DPRK has a no first use of nukes policy, but any strike against the DPRK will result in a lethal counter attack. It must be emphasized that the DPRK military’s orientation is: “among the most defensively oriented in the world, with its power projection capabilities negligible to non-existent–in stark contrast to the U.S. Military which is heavily oriented towards overseas power projection.” (p 437) Along with having achieved a self-sustaining economy that provides the basics for the people, it would appear that the DPRK has withstood, and some would say triumphed, against US machinations aimed at the country and its system of governance.

To be fair, it is not just US warring against the DPRK. Every country that participates in the warring and sanctions against the DPRK, arguably, has sullied itself. Take Canada, for example; Canadian peace activist James Endicott was harassed by his government for verifying American biological weapon use in the war, in which Canada was also a belligerent against the DPRK. (p 141) Reporter George Barrett wrote that Canadian troops along with US troops committed “widespread and regular rapes.” (p 168, 184) Egregiously, Canada was also a destination for human trafficking of young girls and women from South Korea. (p 330)

It must also be pointed out that in stark contrast to western forces committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Korea, the Chinese and North Korean troops were highly disciplined in their conduct toward civilians and adversaries. (p 152)

A Highly Recommended Read

Abram has irrefutably laid bare the intentions of US imperialism. Immovable Object leaves no stone unturned. The sordid history of the US toward Koreans, in the north and south, is scrutinized, detailed, and substantiated. It is a battle of ideologies that drives Americans to pursue information warfare (actually a disinformation war) and economic warfare (sabotaging the economies of designated enemy states through sanctions, “a weapon of mass destruction,” and hence the well-being and lives of the people in targeted countries). In the case of imposing US hegemony to Korea, it appears that while the US is succeeding in the ROK, it has suffered ignominious failure against the DPRK.

Immovable Object: North Korea’s 70 Years at War with American Power is a superb book that I most highly recommend. There is so much more information and narrative to be gleaned from Abrams’s book that a review (even as lengthy as this) can touch on. Abrams goes into western media disinformation and propaganda campaigns against the DPRK. He answers why the DPRK state secrecy, media censorship, and why North Korean defector accounts should be regarded with deep skepticism. Read the impeccably substantiated Immovable Object and find out for yourself what undergirds the DPRK’s resistance to US hegemony.

  1. This can also hold for the purportedly progressivist media. Paul Jay, then with the Real News, interviewed the former United States state department employee Lawrence Wilkerson and received a jaundiced opinion on North Korea. The Real News presented an account that the DPRK had fired a missile that sank the ROK navy ship Cheonan without definitive evidence. Abrams questions placing blame on the DPRK, (p 411-415) noting, “Pyongyang has historically never shied away from claiming credit for previous strikes.” (p 414)
  2. I submit that a more accurately worded subtitle would be American Power’s 70 Years at War with North Korea.
  3. Lee Wha Rang, “Who was Yo Un-hyung? (Part 2),” Association for Asian Research, 1 March 2004.
  4. “South Korean authorities have logged reports of 61 separate massacres of civilians carried out by U.S. forces…” (p 162)
  5. I submit that this is a misnomer; more accurately it should be depicted as a US war on Korea since as Abrams makes clear, South Koreans had no heart for battling their northern kin.
  6. It is a question I have posed previously.
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Building a Nuclear Weapon-Free World

On January 22, 2021, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) became international law for the 122 states who signed the agreement in July 2017. Article 1a of TPNW states: “Each State Party undertakes never under any circumstances to… Develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”

Initiated by a cross-regional group comprising Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa, the TPNW was approved by the United Nations General Assembly by a vote of 122-1. The treaty required that 50 signatory nations officially ratify it before it could become international law. That happened on October 24, 2020, when Honduras became the fiftieth country to do so. And then 90 days had to pass, which occurred on January 22.

Disregard for World Peace

The nuclear nine – the United States, Russia, China, the UK, France, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea – boycotted the vote. In October 2020, the US government circulated a letter asking those governments who signed the treaty to withdraw from it. The US ambassador to the United Nations in 2017 – Nikki Haley – said that the TPNW threatens the security of USA. She asked those governments who had joined TPNW: “do they really understand the threats that we have?”

The nuclear powers are in violation of the 50-year-old Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which requires them to negotiate to reduce and eventually eliminate all nuclear weapons. Instead, the nuclear powers are developing new nuclear weapons. The US is spending $494 billion over the next ten years, and more than $1.7 billion in the next 30 years to “upgrade” its arsenal of nuclear weapons. Powerful corporations will be making billions of dollars from the nuclear programs over the next decade.

The US has withdrawn from one nuclear weapons treaty after another. Whether it is the Iran nuclear deal, Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty or the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty – USA has tried its hardest to undermine the idea of a world free from nuclear weapons. The last bilateral nuclear weapons treaty between the US and Russia, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) concerning strategic nuclear forces, expires February 5, 2021.

As a US Senate condition for ratifying New START in 2010, the US administration carelessly initiated a multi-trillion-dollar nuclear weapons modernization program. Russia and China have responded with their own nuclear modernization programs. The new strategic arms are hypersonic – six times faster. Modernization also deploys more tactical nukes in conventional forces with the dangerous military doctrine of “escalate to de-escalate.”

The allies of nuclear-armed nations, including all NATO members, have also opposed TPNW.  These powers lack nuclear weapons but are relieved that their guardians do. The notion of an “umbrella of extended nuclear deterrence”  provides them comfort. For that reason Japan, despite advocating for the non-use and eventual elimination of nuclear weapons, has refused to endorse the weapons ban.

Nuclear Annihilation

In January 2020, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set the Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight – the closest it has ever been. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, founded by Albert Einstein and students from the University of Chicago in 1945, created the “Doomsday Clock” as a symbol to represent how close the world is to a possible apocalypse.

It is set annually by a panel of scientists, including 13 Nobel laureates, based on the threats that the world faced in that year. When it was first created in 1947, the hands of the clock were placed based on the threat posed by nuclear weapons. Over the years, they have included other threats, such as climate change and technologies like artificial intelligence.

As is evident from the Doomsday Clock, human civilization is moving closer toward possible destruction. One of things which can be done to avert such a scenario is for nuclear-armed nations to completely abolish nuclear weapons. The US and Russia have more than 90% of all the 13,410 warheads. Four countries – the US, Russia, the UK and France – have at least 1,800 warheads on high alert, which means that they can be fired at very short notice. A situation like this carries the threat of nuclear annihilation. Major nuclear powers should comply with TPNW to prevent such an occurrence.

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We Are Living in an Emergency That Requires Urgent Action

The first newsletter of the new year is written in collaboration with our friend, the great linguist and prophetic voice, Noam Chomsky. What follows is a statement by Noam and me.

Xiang Wang (China), Extinction, 2020

Xiang Wang (China), Extinction, 2020

Three Major Threats to Life on Earth That We Must Address in 2021: A Note from Noam Chomsky and Vijay Prashad

Large parts of the world – outside of China and a few other countries – face a runaway virus, which has not been stopped because of criminal incompetence by governments. That these governments in wealthy countries cynically set aside the basic scientific protocols released by the World Health Organisation and by scientific organisations reveals their malicious practice. Anything less than focusing attention to managing the virus by testing, contact tracing, and isolation – and if this does not suffice, then imposing a temporary lockdown – is foolhardy. It is equally distressing that these richer countries have pursued a policy of ‘vaccine nationalism’ by stockpiling vaccine candidates rather than a policy for the creation of a ‘people’s vaccine’. For the sake of humanity, it would be prudent to suspend intellectual property rules and develop a procedure to create universal vaccines for all people.

Yoshiko Michitsuji (Japan), I Ran Toward My House Through a Sea of Flames, 1974 (courtesy of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum).

Yoshiko Michitsuji (Japan), I Ran Toward My House Through a Sea of Flames, 1974  (courtesy of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum).

Although the pandemic is the principal issue on all of our minds, other major issues threaten the longevity of our species and of our planet. These include:

Nuclear annihilation. In January 2020, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set the 2020 Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight, too close for comfort. The clock, created two years after the first atomic weapons were developed in 1945, is evaluated annually by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, who decide whether to move the minute hand or keep it in place. By the time they set the clock again, it may well be closer to annihilation. Already limited arms control treaties are being shredded as the major powers sit on close to 13,500 nuclear weapons (more than 90% of which are held by Russia and the United States alone). The yield of these weapons could easily make this planet even more uninhabitable. The United States navy has already deployed low-yield tactical W76-2 nuclear warheads. Immediate moves toward nuclear disarmament must be forced onto the world’s agenda. Hiroshima Day, commemorated each year on 6 August, must become a more robust day of contemplation and protest.

Aline Amaru (Tahiti), La Famille Pomare, 1991.

Aline Amaru (Tahiti), La Famille Pomare, 1991.

Climate catastrophe. A scientific paper published in 2018 came with a startling headline: ‘Most atolls will be uninhabitable by the mid-21st century because of sea-level rise exacerbating wave-driven flooding’. The authors found that atolls from Seychelles to the Marshall Islands are liable to vanish. A 2019 UN report estimated that a million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction. Add to this the catastrophic wildfires and the severe bleaching of the coral reefs and it is clear that we no longer need to linger over clichés about one thing or another being a canary in the coalmine of climate catastrophe; the danger is not in the future, but in the present. It is essential for major powers – who utterly fail to shift from fossil fuels – to commit to the ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ approach of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. It is telling that countries such as Jamaica and Mongolia updated their climate plans to the United Nations before the end of 2020 – as mandated by the Paris Agreement – even though these countries produce a tiny fraction of global carbon emissions. The funds that were committed to developing countries for their participation in the process have virtually dried up while external debt has ballooned. This shows a lack of basic seriousness from the ‘international community’.

Karim Saifou (Iraq), Baghdad the Day After, 2003.

Karim Saifou (Iraq), Baghdad the Day After, 2003.

Neoliberal Destruction of the Social Contract. Countries in North America and Europe have eviscerated their public function as the state has been turned over to the profiteers and civil society has been commodified by private foundations. This means that the avenues for social transformation in these parts of the world have been grotesquely hampered. Terrible social inequality is the result of the relative political weakness of the working class. It is this weakness that enables the billionaires to set policies that cause hunger rates to rise. Countries should not be judged by the words written in their Constitutions but by their annual budgets; the US, for example, spends almost a trillion dollars (if you add the estimated intelligence budget) on its war machine, while it spends a fraction of this on public good (such as on health care, something evident during the pandemic). The foreign policies of Western countries seem to be well lubricated by arms deals: the United Arab Emirates and Morocco agreed to recognise Israel on the condition that they purchase $23 billion and $1 billion worth of US-made weapons respectively. The rights of the Palestinians, the Sahrawi, and the Yemeni people did not factor into these deals. The use of illegal sanctions by the United States against thirty countries including Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela has become a normal part of life, even during this public health crisis being faced around the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a failure of the political system when the populations in the capitalist bloc are unable to force their governments – which are in many ways democratic in name only – to take a global perspective regarding this emergency. Rising rates of hunger reveal that the struggle for survival is the horizon for billions of people on the planet (all this while China is able to eradicate absolute poverty and largely eliminate hunger).

Nuclear annihilation and extinction by climate catastrophe are twin threats to the planet. Meanwhile, for victims of the neoliberal assault that has plagued the past generation, the short-term problems of sustaining their mere existence displace fundamental questions about the fate of our children and grandchildren.

Global problems of this scale require global cooperation. Pressured by the Third World states in the 1960s, the major powers agreed to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (1968), although they rejected the deeply important Declaration on the Establishment of a New International Economic Order (1974). The balance of forces available to drive such a class agenda on the international stage is no longer there; political dynamics in the countries of the West, in particular, but also in the larger states of the developing world (such as Brazil, India, Indonesia, and South Africa), are necessary to change the character of the governments. A robust internationalism is necessary to pay adequate and immediate attention to the perils of extinction: extinction by nuclear war, by climate catastrophe, and by social collapse. The tasks ahead are daunting, and they cannot be deferred.

Xiang Wang (China), Internationalism, 2020

Xiang Wang (China), Internationalism, 2020

This note from Noam Chomsky and me comes as an appeal to unite and struggle against the forces of money, the military, and hypocritical moralism. This year, at Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, we will focus attention on these perils, with special emphasis on the threat of war. After the United States atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima, Shinoe Shōda began to write tanka poetry in order to never forget the attack. Since the US Occupation censored work such as hers, Shōda had a Hiroshima prison guard mimeograph 150 copies of this book, which she then hand delivered to survivors of the blast. Amongst those poems is this short piece of brilliance:

Since
so many small skulls
are gathered here,
these large bones
must be the teacher’s.

The human spirit rebels against extinction. It must now rebel not only to preserve life, but to improve life – both human life and the life of our planet.

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“I Told You So. You Damned Fools”: 75 Years of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Leafing – or in this case scrolling through – the commemorative issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists after 75 years of publication is a tingling exercise of existence.  The subject matter pushes you to the edge.  You threaten to fall off.  Death is promised; extinction contemplated.  Nuclear holocaust.  Your sanity is called into question.  The Bulletin’s own Doomsday Clock pointing to potential nuclear Armageddon continues to guarantee a permanent state of terrifying insecurity.

The commemorative issue is a compendium of highlights.  Early attitudes to the atomic bomb are covered in the June 1947 issue of the Bulletin, with Sylvia Eberhart’s report.  Eberhart had been tasked by Dr. Leonard S. Cottrell, Jr., subcommittee chair of the Committee on the Social Aspects of Atomic Energy of the Social Science Research Council, to compile the findings.  Few Americans, she suggested, ventured to “depreciate the power of the bomb.”  There was a universal emphasis on “its destructiveness.”  A sense of the weapon’s normality was detected.  “On the whole, it must be concluded from the survey that the threat of the bomb does not greatly preoccupy the people, and that they are not giving special attention to the issues in which it is involved.”

Much of this might have been put down to ignorance.  A third of those surveyed were unable to explain the role of the United Nations or know what it was designed to accomplish.  This was all the more notable for the fact that the UN was meant to be responsible for the control of the bomb.  Opposition to the UN having such control was notable in the survey, as it was perceived to be “giving the bomb secret away to foreign countries.”

For those surveyed, the bomb as a “psychological refuge” was also a detectable theme.  The terrifying notion of nuclear deterrence can already be found, as many “reasoned that the bomb was a contribution to peace because it seemed unthinkable that governments would dare to provoke a war when so terrible a weapon might be used by any side.”

Concern of the Soviet Union – or Russia, as the report terms it – had already taken root, providing the raw material for a future arms race.  “Most of the people believe that we cannot depend on her to be friendly to us, and their desire to keep the bomb secret, their criticisms of our giving in too much, their dissatisfactions with the progress of the UN are often related to misgivings about Russia.”

The commemorative issue then takes us to the debate of legitimised insanity: that any balance of terror required each side to discover the next incalculably lethal weapon.  In March 1950, the scientists took to the podium of debate.  President Harry S. Truman had announced on January 31 that year that the Atomic Energy Commission would “continue its work on all forms of atomic weapons, including the so-called hydrogen or super-bomb.”  This was, in no small part, occasioned by the destruction of the US atomic monopoly in August 1949, with the Soviet Union’s first successful test.

Albert Einstein’s contribution is all warning and foreboding about the coming National Security State.  According to the Nobel laureate, “The idea of achieving security through national armament is, at the present state of military technique, a disastrous illusion.”  The bomb had given the US a false sense of comfort: that it, and it alone, could attain “decisive military superiority.”  The contours of the Cold War and its future social and political costs are charted.  Superiority could only be achieved through intimidation.  Global military bases would have to be established; potential allies would have to be strengthened and armed.  Society would be militarised; the loyalty of citizens supervised.  Independent thinking would be questioned.  Radio, press and school would become tools of indoctrination.  Public information would be restricted for reasons of military secrecy.

As pessimistic as he was, Einstein’s note outlines a view that would govern the disarmament movement for years.  The Second World War might have seen the vanquishing of “an external enemy,” but the mentality created by the war had remained.  Mutual fear and distrust had to be dealt with.  Trust could only be attained through “loyal give and take.”  Violence had to be eschewed.

The militarily minded Edward Teller, future father of the hydrogen bomb, refused to wade into the moral implications of such weapons.  Those in the business of working on atomic weapons had “grave responsibility.”  But scientists were not responsible for the laws of nature.  It was merely their job “to find out how these laws operate.”  There have been fewer better expositions of the amoral scientist.  It was “not the scientist’s job to determine whether a hydrogen bomb should be constructed, whether it should be used, or how it should be used.”  Design the weapons of mass murder; let others – namely “the American people” and their “chosen representatives,” decide on their use.

For the squeamish, Teller recalled the bomb loving scientists of 1939 who were keen to get the business of building an atomic weapon underway.  Poland had been crushed; Nazi Germany, rampant.  Scoffingly, he recalled a colonel who had little time for such weapons.  They were faddish things.  Wars, he suggested “are not won by weapons.”  Now, it was the turn of the scientists to voice that same scepticism.  “Ghost of the colonel!”  With gravity, Teller proclaimed the holiday over.  “Hydrogen bombs will not produce themselves.  Neither will rockets nor radar.”

With such thinking as Teller’s, the voices of reason became heretical prophets; the lunacy of mega death intellectuals held sway.  But the Bulletin would still run pieces bucking the trend.  Contributions by J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Los Alamos Laboratory during the Manhattan Project, and the mathematician philosopher Bertrand Russell, reflect on the role of science more broadly and the need for new political orders.  In September 1956, Oppenheimer wrote of science as alleviating “man’s sufferings, moderated his harshest limitations, and responded to his long-sustained aspirations.”  But with scientific knowledge came the potential of powers the exercise of which could “spell disaster.”  The nuclear legacy could spell an end to “our human inheritance”.  But hopes could be entertained: that “honest and viable international communities, with increasing common knowledge and understanding” might be created.

Russell, in September 1958, sees such an honest international community as only possible with renouncing the bomb (unilateral disarmament for Britain is advocated) and confining it, via agreement, to the US and Soviet Union.  The piece takes issue with the ignorance of politicians. The views of US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles is taken as an example.  “Does Dulles really think that anybody could ‘win’ a hot war, or does he merely pretend to believe it in order to encourage bellicosity in his dupes?”

The Soviet Union’s Premier Nikita Khrushchev is not spared either, he also being of the view that a nuclear war might be winnable against the “imperialists”.  It was important to state “that the views of such men as Mr Dulles and Mr Khrushchev are utterly disastrous, and would receive almost no support if the facts were widely known.”  Cooling measures were preferable: disengagement in Central Europe; the use of international arbitration for disagreements between the powers; disarmament summits; the abolition of poisonous nuclear testing.  But for Russell, it was the idea of world government as part of the “machinery for the permanent prevention of great powers” that held most promise, “a single federal world government, possessing a monopoly of all the serious weapons of war.”

As for discussions of the weapons themselves, the assessment of hydrogen weapons and the neutrino bomb by theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson from September 1961 remains chilling.  The hydrogen bomb was a symptom of a disease, part of “the continuous and apparently irresistible march of technology which makes all kinds of weapons progressively more simple, more versatile, and more lethal.”  He turns to the potential use of a neutrino weapon.  Were it to be deployed by infantry units as “standard ammunition,” Dyson was “convinced that the effects would be as important as the effects of the hydrogen bomb.”

In both cases, the physicist muses that such weapons would be needless, their lethal mission being easily accomplished by older weapons.  But nuclear weaponry remains symbolic and political.  “Politically, these [neutrino] bombs would be the symbol of military power in the eyes of the world, the latest, most modern, most refined, most chillingly murderous of mankind’s instruments.”

With the Soviet Union’s termination as a political entity and the conclusion of the Cold War, we have Arthur C. Clarke, science fiction scribe and futurist, likening nuclear weapons to gun lust.  Few people need guns; too many want them.  He reminds us of his slogan: “Guns are the crutches of the impotent.”  Weapon systems of high-tech wonder were also “crutches of impotent nations; nukes are just the decorative plating.”

Clarke ponders a utopia without such crutches, some of them startling: devices that could kill no more than one person (“civilised weaponry”); martial-arts devices of a non-lethal nature; genetically modified aides (“canine, ursine, or simian”) taking the role of guard dogs, albeit with higher IQs; passive defence robots governed by Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics.  “We are now one global family, and however much we may dislike our siblings, family quarrels should not be settled with hand grenades or AK-47s – much less with ICBMs.”

The author indulges his readers with a moment of reflection. It is a trip down madness lane, recalling the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction he first articulated in the March 1946 issue of the Royal Air Force Quarterly.  (This point eludes the drier texts on the subject.)  “Too much thinking about MAD is liable to induce that dislocation from reality, the Strangelove syndrome, for which there is no known cure.”  By 1986, he had bidden “the whole dismal subject” farewell in his Nehru address “Star Wars and Star Peace” in Delhi.  The bomb could be loved no longer.

In concluding, Clarke throws us the quotation from H.G. Wells: “You damn fools!  I told you so!”  (The epitaph by Wells, from his 1941 edition of The War in the Air, was actually: “I told you so.  You damned fools.”)  Many a “told you so moment” can be found in this Bulletin issue.  But will today’s powers, aided by their modern generation of amoral Tellers and damned foolery, listen?

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Insanity reigns: The US, Israel and Iran

All too often, events occur that make me feel that I am living in ‘Bizarro World’. The recent talk and extensive US corporate media coverage about whether or not the US and/or Israel will soon attack Iran is one of these occasions. The alleged rationale for such an attack is the possibility that Iran might pursue the development of a nuclear weapon. This rationale ignores the religious ruling or fatwa issued by the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei against the acquisition, development and use of nuclear weapons.

In its reporting on the possibility of the US or Israel attacking Iran, the US corporate-controlled media usually fails to mention that these threats are illegal under international law. Of course, illegality is not an issue for the media when these two countries are involved.

In addition, also seldom mentioned is the fact that the US is the only nation that has dropped atomic bombs on another country. The US is also a country that many nations claim has not complied with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Moreover, Israel is a country that has not even accepted the NPT and also has nuclear weapons. Also generally ignored is the fact that the US and Israel routinely violate international law with their unprovoked attacks on other nations. These are the two nations threatening Iran over the possibility that it might develop nuclear weapons. Such incredible hypocrisy and the media fails to call it out!

Note that Iran has gone the extra mile to demonstrate its willingness to reach a diplomatic resolution, but that is not enough for the US under President Trump and Israel under Prime Minister Netanyahu. For example, in 2015 Iran agreed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, an agreement with China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the US. This deal, also endorsed by the UN Security Council, restricted the development of Iran’s nuclear program. During the next few years, Iran was in full compliance with the agreement.

Even more bizarre, despite Iranian compliance, in 2018 the US pulled out of the agreement. The US then reimposed sanctions and imposed new sanctions on Iran. In an attempt to destroy the Iranian economy, the US also threatened nations that traded with Iran. These illegal and barbaric US sanctions, still in effect during the covid-19 pandemic, have tremendously harmed the Iranian people and the US image. Despite all of this, Iran continued to honor the agreement for a full year after the US withdrawal.

Note the US National Intelligence Estimate has repeatedly concluded Iran does not have an active nuclear weapons program. Many former high-ranking Israeli intelligence and military officials agree that Iran is not an existential threat to Israel. Thus, in a sane world, wouldn’t there be international pressure being placed on the US and Israel over their nuclear weapons and over their war crimes? Instead, in this ‘Bizarro World’, because the US and Israel demand it, the focus is on Iran and its attempted development of a nuclear energy option.

In addition, given this background of no credible evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program nor of an existential threat to Israel, maybe the real motivation for the US and Israel is not about an Iranian nuclear weapon. Perhaps the goal is for a change in leadership in Iran to someone more compliant with US and Israeli plans. The US has used its illegal unilateral sanctions to cause suffering among the Iranian people in a misguided effort to get them to reject the current Iranian leadership. Despite overwhelming evidence that this approach doesn’t work, the US continues to use this barbaric, illegal and flawed tactic.

Why do the US and Israel continue to play the risky game of needlessly provoking Iran? One possible reason is that Netanyahu would like to see Iran respond in order to draw in the US into a military conflict with Iran. His thinking may be that the US would so weaken Iran, something that Israel cannot do without using its nuclear weapons, that Iran could no longer prevent Israel from achieving hegemony in the Middle East. Perhaps the revenge motive drives Trump and the US neocons. They cannot forgive Iran for overthrowing the Shah and humiliating the US in 1979 as well as for Iran following its own interests.

The recent provocations may also serve domestic considerations for Trump and Netanyahu even if they don’t lead to a military conflict. For Netanyahu, this focus would distract from his criminal trial for fraud, bribery and breach of trust. For Trump, the provocations would make it more difficult for President-Elect Biden to rejoin the JCPOA. Who knows for sure in ‘Bizarro World’?

One crucial concern for the US and Israel is the relationship among Iran, Russia and China. How would Russia and China react if the US and Israel were to attack Iran? Might such an attack lead to a much larger conflict that could escalate to a nuclear war? Thus these needless US and Israeli provocations may be more risky than the dangerous duo of Netanyahu and Trump want to admit.

The post Insanity reigns: The US, Israel and Iran first appeared on Dissident Voice.