One of the most depressing headlines in recent memory is the one accompanying this article by Antiwar.com’s Jason Ditz: "Nearly 64 Years Later, US Support for Hiroshima Nuking Lingers." The story itself is no less dispiriting:
"Today, a poll by Quinnipiac University found that 61% of Americans felt the attack was "the right thing" while only 22% believe it was wrong. Somewhat encouraging, however, was that the willingness to question the attack was significantly larger among younger people, with people between the ages of 18-34 split roughly down the middle about whether the killings were acceptable."
Whether Americans are moral monsters, inured to the horror of mass murder on an unimaginable scale, or just garden variety ignoramuses – the article goes on to note "In the US, it is still common for school children to be taught that the nuclear attack saved millions of lives" – is a question I’d rather not confront today, having answered it before to decidedly mixed reactions.
Suffice to say that this ambiguity pretty much defines our present predicament, and on good days I tend to believe the ignorance-is-bliss argument: after all, the very same Americans who hate George W. Bush and all his works – our foreign policy of perpetual war, the large scale assault on our civil liberties launched in the wake of 9/11, the politics of fear epitomized by the neocon-ized GOP – worship at the altar of FDR, a president who lied us into war, smeared his enemies as a "fifth column," interned hundreds of thousands on account of their race, and died just in time to avoid moral responsibility for a heinous act that his demand for "unconditional surrender" rendered inevitable.
History is not our best subject: we believe what we are taught, and it is a long, slow process undoing the work of war propagandists since Truman‘s time. That’s why Antiwar.com is a long-term educational project, one that requires patience and the sort of innate optimism that seems to be lacking in this writer on anniversaries such as this. In any case, the past is not what I’m primarily concerned with today, because I’m more concerned about the future. The Bomb has only been dropped twice since its invention by a passel of mad scientists in the employ of the US government, and we can argue ‘til the cows come home as to whether or not it was justified, but what I want to know is this: what are the chances that it will be used again? And by whom?
During the cold war, we all lived in the shadow of the Bomb. I recall, as a very young boy, playing a game with my friends that we called "Let’s pretend there’s been an atomic war." We would wander through our usual wooded haunts, picking up stray bits of twisted metal and noting piles of bricks and stone that had once been something-or-other, exclaiming aloud: "Look! The ruins of an ancient American city!" and wondering how and why those ancient Americans destroyed themselves. We were thrilled-yet-horrified by such movies as "On the Beach," which depicted a nuclear apocalypse as a real possibility, and in school, of course – where we endured endless "duck and cover" drills – it was impressed on us that nuclear incinceration was our probable destiny.
The implosion of the Communist empire, preceded by the signing of comprehensive nuclear disarmament treaties by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, saw the recession of this nuclear nightmare. Suddenly, the pall we had lived with all our lives was lifted. But the cloud that hung over us all our lives has unfortunately returned …
There is a real possibility that nuclear weapons will be used in future wars, and if they are a great deal of the responsibility will fall on the administration of George W. Bush, which systematically dismantled arms agreements hammered out between the US and the former Soviet regime and laid the foundations for a new arms race, one that is proceeding today at a rapid pace. President Obama, far from undoing this great evil, has refused to back down from his predecessor’s nuclear provocations, and is just as insistent as Bush was that the US will deploy destabilizing "anti-missile" shields in Poland and the Czech Republic, thus causing the Russians to respond in kind.
It is highly unlikely, however, that either the US or the Russians will use nukes in a high-stakes game of geopolitical Risk: it’s far more probable that, in this scenario, a nuclear accident will occur, on account of some highly preventable miscalculation or technical glitch. Yet we have been living with that since the dark days of the cold war, and the conclusion of that twilight struggle didn’t end it completely. What is far scarier is the use of nukes by a power other than the US, and the candidates for that dubious honor are proliferating rapidly – along with the weaponry that will make such a horror possible.
When you mention nukes and the possibility of a rogue nation arising capable of unleashing a fresh holocaust, the first word that pops into my mind is Pakistan. Here is a country that can barely hold itself together, is threatened – or so we are told – by imminent overthrow and a radical Islamist takeover, and which is engaged in a years-long military stand-off with another nuclear power, India.
Speaking of which, New Delhi is just as likely as Islamabad to give the order to launch a nuclear attack – after all, don’t the Hindu ultra-nationalists who wield so much power in Indian politics believe in reincarnation? If they destroy their own nation as well as Pakistan in a nuclear exchange, won’t they come back and live to fight another day? In which case, "victory" is all but certain….
These are examples that we have learned to live with, in recent years, and so are therefore not cause for undue alarm – or, at least, imminent alarmism of the sort we felt during the cold war years. We aren’t quite living under the constant threat of a nuclear Sword of Damocles falling on our heads, are we? Well, not so fast….
Aside from the ever-present prospect of a terrorist strike utilizing nuclear elements, such as the "dirty bomb" the Bushies were convinced was about to take out American cities in the months after 9/11, there is a fresh possibility of thermonuclear hellfire raining down on our heads that didn’t exist until recently. For months, now, the Israelis have been threatening to attack Iran, if their American lobby can’t manipulate us into starting a war with Tehran first. They have declared Iran’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons represents as an "existential threat" to the Jewish state, and have repeatedly warned that they will take unilateral action if the warmongering crusade of their state-side propagandists and pressure groups fails to inspire us with sufficiently warlike intentions. There’s just one problem….
Israel hasn’t got the technical means to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities, which are spread out over a wide area, and not readily identifiable. Absent a refueling base – say, in the former Soviet republic of Georgia – an Israeli attack mission would necessarily be a suicide squad, one that would, in any case, fail to accomplish their preferred goal: to knock out Iran’s nuclear facilities in a single devastating blow.
There is one way, however, that they could pull it off without US help. As the whole world knows by now, the Israelis have nukes of their own – enough to destroy all their enemies, and then some – and could wipe out Tehran, not to mention virtually every major city in Iran, if they so chose. It is highly doubtful the Iranians would be able to launch any sort of effective counter-attack: the only fallout, so to speak, would be a veritable outcry of international indignation and revulsion, one that they are enduring anyway, albeit not to the degree they would suffer as a result of nuking Iran.
There are several reasons to believe that they would, indeed, carry out such a monstrous act, knowing full well the consequences — moral, material, and diplomatic – that would ensue. First, we must take seriously their contention that the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran threatens their very existence, and raises the possibility of a Second Holocaust from which the Jewish people might never recover. Never mind whether or not it is valid – it isn’t – and concentrate, instead, on their rising hysteria. Surely they take themselves entirely seriously — and so must we. This seriousness was underscored by the publication of an op ed piece in the New York Times by Israeli historian Benny Morris – a rabid warmonger and Arab-hater, whose prominence and political connections gave his article a semi-official tone – making the case that Israel would be entirely justified in nuking Iran.
Secondly, such a threat merely puts into practice the announced strategic doctrine of the US, which claims the "right" to preemptively attack any nation, anywhere, using maximum force if it is deemed to pose a future threat to our national security. The present administration has never repudiated this odious precept, and certainly the Israelis fully support it, as well they ought – because they invented it.
The argument in favor of an Israeli nuclear strike comes out roughly equivalent to the rationale advanced for torture: the "ticking time bomb" scenario, in which you have ten minutes to force Abdul to tell you where the nukes are hidden, or else New York City and environs will be blown to smithereens and the entire Northeast rendered uninhabitable.
What do you do? Why, of course, you throw over thousands of years of civilization, the Christian tradition, and the basic rules of human decency, in favor of saving your own skin. The Israelis – who believe their very existence is threatened by Iran — can be expected to do the same.
Add to this the recent degeneration of the Israeli body politic into collective madness, and the rise of an outright thug and fascist like Avigdor Lieberman to occupy the country’s foreign ministry, and you have a very worrying scenario. Here, after all, is a man who once said he wouldn’t hesitate to bomb the Aswan Dam as a way to teach the Arabs a lesson – and killing tens of thousands in the process. Mass death by drowning, or by nuclear fire – what difference does it make?
No, Lieberman’s finger is not yet on the nuclear trigger, but I wouldn’t rule it out in the future – the near future. And if the US persists in avoiding a confrontation with Iran, or in drawing out the "negotiating" process beyond the limits of tolerability as defined by Tel Aviv, the possibility that the Israelis will act, and trump Truman’s war crimes, cannot be credibly denied.
If they ever did go ahead and drop the bomb on Tehran, whatever blowback they had to endure could be written off as the inevitable price of survival – and the price, as I’ve said, isn’t likely to be very high. I doubt whether even this gross act of mass murder would provoke Washington to do very much more than express outrage – without, however, cutting off so much as a dime of the billions in aid we ship to Israel every year. The "special relationship," you can rest assured, would endure – and, soon enough, we’d be hearing the same sort of rationalization we are now hearing on the anniversary of Truman’s crime against humanity. It was necessary to bring the Iranians to heel, Israel had no choice, it was kill or be killed – failure to act on the Israelis’ part would have amounted to committing national suicide. I can hear it now.
That is the sad and quite disgusting truth of the matter, and now that I’ve thoroughly depressed myself – and you – I’ll bring this column to an abrupt but entirely necessary close.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
It’s amazing, but true: you can go shopping and help Antiwar.com – simultaneously!
I never realized the sheer variety of products available on Amazon.com – yes, you can buy a barbecue set, potato chips, and even a land cruiser tank, as well as my books. What’ll they think of next? Well, the answer to that question is: 9%. That’s the maximum percentage Antiwar.com gets when you make your Amazon.com purchase through us. So, you can go shopping without ever leaving your house – and help the chronically broke-but-essential web site you need and love. Just click here – and then go shopping!