Hillary, Hiroshima, and Hubris

Justin Raimondo is taking the day off. His column will return Monday.

The anniversary of the U.S. bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is, perhaps, a good time to note that arguments rationalizing and even valorizing the use of nuclear weapons, once considered beyond the pale, are now back in fashion. Here we have yet more evidence of the Bizarro Effect, which, ever since 9/11, has stood everything – especially our traditional concept of morality – on its head, not only repealing the laws of logic and common sense but also ensconcing evil in the place of good.

Why, just the other day, U.S. presidential aspirant and sometime antiwar candidate Barack Obama was asked by a reporter if he would authorize the use of nuclear weapons against al-Qaeda. Instead of looking at the man as if he were more than half-crazy and pointedly asking to see his press credentials, Obama ruled out the possibility… or, maybe not. I’ll leave it to my readers to make the call:

“‘I think it would be a profound mistake for us to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance … involving civilians,’ he said, appearing uncomfortable with the query.

“A moment later, he seemed to retract the entire response, saying: ‘Let me scratch that. There’s been no discussion of nuclear weapons. That’s not on the table.'”

If it wasn’t “on the table,” it sure is now. As to how we would fight al-Qaeda with nukes is hard to imagine, at least in any realistic sense. The real threat from bin Laden’s boys comes from cells inside the United States, not from the wilds of Waziristan. Hillary Clinton knows this perfectly well, and yet:

“A smile darted onto Clinton’s face Thursday when she was read Obama’s comment during a Capitol Hill news conference several hours later.

“‘I think that presidents should be very careful at all times in discussing the use or non-use of nuclear weapons,’ she said. ‘And I don’t believe that any president should make any blanket statements with respect to the use or non-use of nuclear weapons. But I think we’ll leave it at that, because I don’t know the circumstances in which he was responding.'”

Mass murder? We can’t rule it out. That wouldn’t be “presidential.”

In the age of empire, the main weapon of the American hegemon is a double-edged sword of fear, wielded by our imperial “president” against citizens and non-citizens alike. To foreigners, the message is: get out of line and you may just be nuked – for the good of mankind, of course. As for the Americans, the specter of a nuclear-armed enemy convinced them to go to war with Iraq, and the same gambit is being used to provoke the coming war with Iran. This fearful dynamic is what Obama dared not challenge, as he hurriedly retracted his abjuration of nuclear mass murder and correctly noted that the nuking of Pakistan and/or Afghanistan is not on anyone’s agenda.

Hillary’s blanket statement about never making blanket statements regarding the use (or “non-use”) of nukes is in line with the policy of American presidents stretching all the way back to Harry Truman. The U.S. government has never rejected the first use of nuclear weapons. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has followed a similar policy, and this is the default position of the “responsible” sectors of the foreign policy commentariat: Hillary is merely following in the footsteps of husband Bill and his postwar predecessors.

Everyone knows that the U.S. is perfectly prepared to use nuclear weapons – after all, what other government on earth has actually nuked an enemy nation? And this fondness for nuclear brinkmanship is a bipartisan phenomenon, as Hillary’s comments illustrate. Harry Truman, the author of the single most unjustified act of savagery in American history, is the iconic figure of today’s “national security” (i.e., pro-war) Democrats, the hero of Peter Beinart‘s paean to Cold War liberal interventionism, The Good Fight. And it is not for nothing that the pro-war Left has taken up the cause of Truman’s genocide. Oliver Kamm presents the case for mass murder here, in his typically bilious, self-important manner.

According to Comrade Kamm, “New historical research in fact lends powerful support to the traditionalist interpretation of the decision to drop the bomb.” Yet, somehow, in all his research, this learned scholar has never come across Gen. Dwight David Eisenhower’s dissent from Truman’s deadly decision. He likewise ignores the almost unanimous opinion of top military figures at the time – including Adm. William Leahy, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Gen. Curtis LeMay, Gen. Henry Arnold, Brig. Gen. Bonner Fellers, Adm. Ernest King, Gen. Carl Spaatz, Adm. Chester Nimitz, and Adm. William “Bull” Halsey – that using the Bomb twice was not a military necessity.

The Japanese, for their part, were ready to surrender: all that prevented them from doing so was the Americans’ insistence on unconditional surrender. They feared the emperor would be harmed or deposed.

In any event, a non-lethal demonstration of the fearful power at America’s disposal – say, in the Sea of Japan – would arguably have convinced the Japanese to dispense with such niceties as honor and devotion to tradition. Instead, Truman chose to incinerate hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians – not in order to save American lives, since the Japanese were more than ready to give up the fight, but as a demonstration of raw American power.

There is merit to the argument that this was directed not so much at the remnants of Japan’s war party as it was at the Kremlin – and that in dropping the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki Truman was firing the first two shots of the Cold War. Yet I wouldn’t emphasize this too much, because it detracts from what seems to be the unique nature of this particular weapon as an expression of pure hubris. One can well imagine our little pygmy of a president, the haberdasher who knew he was making history, glorying in his Zeus-like role as the hurler of thunderbolts.

Arrogance of that sort cannot go unpunished for long. To be able to wreak massive instantaneous destruction, to wield such godlike power with impunity and without regard for innocent human life, invites retaliation, human if not divine. If the U.S. will not renounce first use of nuclear terror, then no wonder our rulers are constantly conjuring the looming threat of nuclear terrorism in one or more of our major cities.

As the Bizarro Effect continues to wreak havoc with the moral sense of millions, and especially in the vicinity of Washington, D.C., so far, in the Democratic Party presidential primary, a major candidate has proposed invading Pakistan – and the front-runner declares that we can’t rule out using nukes to go after al-Qaeda, even if that means wiping out, say, the city of Islamabad.

Lest I be accused of partisanship, I hasten to point out that Dr. Strangelove is all the vogue in the GOP, too. At one or another of the Republican debates, all the GOP presidential aspirants – with the notable exception of Ron Paul – refused to rule out nuking Iran. The liberal-conservative bipartisan unity on this question of nuclear mass murder – extending all the way from Hillary on the left to Tom “Nuke Mecca” Tancredo on the nut-job right – is really rather breathtaking, and it illustrates an important point: when it comes to the intersection of war, nukes, and foreign policy, Hillary and her hickish/hawkish constituency are but a milder and less kooky left-wing version of the fiercely nationalistic Republican fundamentalist hicks, who positively welcome the prospect of nuclear devastation as a sign of the “end times” and the second coming of Christ.

There is a sinister campaign afoot to make the use of nuclear weapons, albeit miniaturized “bunker-busters,” acceptable, and this, too, is part of the spreading Bizarro Effect: in a world ruled by moral inversion, the unthinkable is now being openly talked about and justified. In a further sign that the Bizarro Effect has taken over the national consciousness, Hillary refusing to rule out the possible mass killing of hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis and/or Afghans is now considered a move toward the “center,” while Obama’s initial moral revulsion (quickly overcome) is considered a “radical” deviation from the norm.

Ah, but don’t forget: in the Bizarro World universe we slipped into after 9/11, the “norm” is the bizarre.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].