July 2010, Week 3


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Mon, 19 Jul 2010 21:24:33 -0400
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Howard Zinn's The Bomb 

By David Swanson

The late Howard Zinn's new book "The Bomb" is a
brilliant little dissection of some of the central
myths of our militarized society.  Those who've read "A
Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the
CIA's Secret Cold War Experiments," by H.P. Albarelli
Jr. know that this is a year for publishing the stories
of horrible things that the United States has done to
French towns.  In that case, Albarelli, describes the
CIA administering LSD to an entire town, with deadly
results.  In "The Bomb," Zinn describes the U.S.
military making its first use of napalm by dropping it
all over another French town, burning anyone and
anything it touched.  Zinn was in one of the planes,
taking part in this horrendous crime.

In mid-April 1945, the war in Europe was essentially
over.  Everyone knew it was ending.  There was no
military reason (if that's not an oxymoron) to attack
the Germans stationed near Royan, France, much less to
burn the French men, women, and children in the town to
death.  The British had already destroyed the town in
January, similarly bombing it because of its vicinity
to German troops, in what was widely called a tragic
mistake.  This tragic mistake was rationalized as an
inevitable part of war, just as were the horrific
firebombings that successfully reached German targets,
just as was the later bombing of Royan with napalm. 
Zinn blames the Supreme Allied Command for seeking to
add a "victory" in the final weeks of a war already
won.  He blames the local military commanders'
ambitions.  He blames the American Air Force's desire
to test a new weapon.  And he blames everyone involved
-- which must include himself -- for "the most powerful
motive of all: the habit of obedience, the universal
teaching of all cultures, not to get out of line, not
even to think about that which one has not been
assigned to think about, the negative motive of not
having either a reason or a will to intercede."

When Zinn returned from the war in Europe, he expected
to be sent to the war in the Pacific, until he saw and
rejoiced at seeing the news of the atomic bomb dropped
on Hiroshima, 65 years ago this August.  Only years
later did Zinn come to understand the inexcusable crime
of the greatest proportions that was the dropping of
nuclear bombs in Japan, actions similar in some ways to
the final bombing of Royan.  The war with Japan was
already over, the Japanese seeking peace and willing to
surrender.  Japan asked only that it be permitted to
keep its emperor, a request that was later granted. 
But, like napalm, the nuclear bombs were weapons that
needed testing.  The second bomb, dropped on Nagasaki,
was a different sort of bomb that also needed testing. 
President Harry Truman wanted to demonstrate nuclear
bombs to the world and especially to Russia.  And he
wanted to end the war with Japan before Russia became
part of it.  The horrific form of mass murder he
employed was in no way justifiable.

Zinn also goes back to dismantle the mythical reasons
the United States was in the war to begin with.  The
United States, England, and France were imperial powers
supporting each other's international aggressions in
places like the Philippines.  They opposed the same
from Germany and Japan, but not aggression itself. 
Most of America's tin and rubber came from the
Southwest Pacific.  The United States made clear for
years its lack of concern for the Jews being attacked
in Germany.  It also demonstrated its lack of
opposition to racism through its treatment of African
Americans and Japanese Americans.  Franklin D.
Roosevelt described fascist bombing campaigns over
civilian areas as "inhuman barbarity" but then did the
same on a much larger scale to German cities, which was
followed up by the destruction on an unprecedented
scale of Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- actions that came
after years of dehumanizing the Japanese.  Zinn points
out that "LIFE magazine showed a picture of a Japanese
person burning to death and commented: 'This is the
only way.'"  Aware that the war would end without any
more bombing, and aware that U.S. prisoners of war
would be killed by the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, the
U.S. military went ahead and dropped the bombs.

Americans allowed these things to be done in their
name, just as the Germans and Japanese allowed horrible
crimes to be committed in their names.  Zinn points
out, with his trademark clarity, how the use of the
word "we" blends governments together with peoples and
serves to equate our own people with our military,
while we demonize the people of other lands because of
actions by their governments.  "The Bomb" suggest a
better way to think about such matters and firmly
establishes that --what the U.S. military is doing now,
today, parallels the crimes of the past and shares
their dishonorable motivations; --the bad wars have a
lot in common with the so-called "good war," about
which there was little if anything good; --Howard Zinn
did far more in his life for peace than for war, and
more for peace than just about anybody else, certainly
more than several Nobel Peace Prize winners.

David Swanson is the author of "Daybreak: Undoing the
Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union"


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