Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?

Tomgram: Frida Berrigan, 64 Years Too Late and Not a Moment Too Soon by Tom Englehardt and Frida Berrigan on TomDispatch.com.

And they were pikers compared to the top military brass who, in 1960, found themselves arguing over the country's first Single Integrated Operational Plan for nuclear strategy. In it, a scenario was laid out for delivering more than 3,200 nuclear weapons to 1,060 targets in the Communist world, including at least 130 cities which would, if all went well, cease to exist. Official, if classified, estimates of possible casualties from such an attack -- and by then, nuclear weaponry and its delivery systems had grown far more powerful -- ran to 285 million dead and 40 million injured (and this probably underestimated radiation effects).

Of course, to the American people, this was presented as only a 'response' that we would give to a Communist attack on us. But, note carefully how the planners dream of wiping out the Communist world. That was the real goal. And the fact that they were willing to consider killing nearly 300,000,000 people to achieve that goal might just be the recorded high water mark (so far) of the evil that the human heart is capable of.

We consider Bin Laden a vicious and evil man for killing 3000 Americans. We consider Hitler a historically evil man for killing 6,000,000 in his concentration camps. But we must now put that in context by remembering that American military leaders were willing to kill 300,000,000 people to achieve their goals. And remember with this that these were the same men who used to regularly send American nuclear bombers on raids over the pole towards the Soviet Union, only breaking off the raid at the last minute .... apparently in an attempt to provoke a response from the Soviets. And that these were the men who were actively planning to stage fake attacks in Operation Northwoods to provide the excuse to start such a war.

In this, at least, I know I'm not a typical American: Hiroshima and Nagasaki still seem all too real to me. As the child of anti-nuclear activists, I was raised to pay attention to two significant dates in American history -- the day when the Enola Gay, a B-29 Superfortress bomber named after the pilot's mother, dropped Little Boy, a five-ton uranium explosion bomb, on Hiroshima; and the moment, three days later, when another plane, jokingly named Bock's Car (after the plane's original pilot), dropped Fat Man (a moniker supposedly given it in honor of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill), a more complex plutonium implosion bomb, on Nagasaki.

I guess I'm another atypical American, in that I also consider these to be very important dates. I studied nuclear engineering in college. At some point, it became important to me to remember these dates, and the awful crimes against humanity that were committed on them. I consider that the price, or penance, of having learned too much of such a black art.

I remember listening to the blather coming out of the TV sets on 9/11 and 9/12, of how idiot commentators trying to fan a new war were calling the attacks of 9/11 the greatest atrocity in human history. Of how they were saying more people died in those crimes than in any other day. In my mind, I couldn't help to remember that Americans had killed 70,000+ on two separate days in a week. I suppose one reason I don't fit in well in an American corporate environment is that I tend to remind co-workers of such unpleasant historical truths when they mindlessly repeat the blather from the tv set to me while at work.

Meanwhile, my eclectic reading tastes took me somewhere else already today. I read a lot of history, and I had a history of WWII sitting in my bathroom. I'd already read it, but I was bored and picked it up to a random page today.

"Kurt Meyer of 12 SS Panzer Division became the youngest divisional commander in the German army at the age of thirty three. He was the perfect product of Nazi fanaticism. Tall, handsome, with penetrating blue eyes, he knew only what Hitler had told him, and believed it all. He was prepared to die for his faith in National Socialism and he was utterly ruthless in forcing others to die for it as well. Tried as a war criminal for inciting his troops to murder Canadian prisoners-of-war, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. In such a man, the Nazi virus will always live. It has become part of his lifeblood."
"Defeat in the West" by Milton Shulman. (The book is from 1947, and is one of several books published by allied officers who had a chance to interview Nazi generals in prison camps after the war).

When I read that, I wondered how many Americans fit that description today. They know only what Fox News, Republicans and the Pentagon tell them. They believe it all.

We tend to paper over and forget our evil acts. Watch around you as the anniversaries of Hiroshima and Nagasaki roll past yet again on the calendar. How many people around you even notice these dates. There is certainly no acts of national remembrance of the days when we killed 70,000+ innocent civilians. Attacking innocent civilians is a war crime. Made even worse when it occurs in the final days of a war that was winding down anyways against an enemy who was already beaten.

We tend to believe that we are a nation that does good. This idea of American exceptionalism is used to cover our more modern crimes. Our intentions are good, so its ok if a million Iraqis and thousands of Afghanistanis die in our wars. That's one of several good reasons why its important to remember the anniversaries of the days when American committed acts of great evil in the world. Its a reminder that we must always be careful as to what we do, even if its done with good intentions. We must always remember that we, like the rest of human kind, are indeed capable of committing horrendous atrocities. We must remember so that we can try to make sure we stop committing more atrocities in the future.

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