Thursday, August 17, 2017

Andres Rojas: From the Lost Letters to Matias Perez, Aeronaut


This is another episode of  "Poetry? I just don't get it..." A series where I post a poem or group of poems by one author, followed by anything the author wants to say about the work. This time around it's a poem by Andres Rojas. (Other poets in the series can be found on the tab above.)


Last spring, I was surfing the net, looking for poems of a friend of mine, as you do (see the last post of "Poetry? I just don't get it..."), and found a few at Compose. I clicked to the staff page, to see who the poetry editor was, and was stunned to see the face of a friend I hadn't seen in thirty years: Andres Rojas!


In the late 80's I lived in Jacksonville, Florida, and during that time I was lucky enough to hang out with several wonderful poets and artists. One of those artists was Andres. He was born in Cuba and came to the US at the age of 13 (on the Mariel Boatlift). He is poet, essayist, editor, philosopher, singer/songwriter (watching him play his songs back then encouraged me to start writing my own)... 

I followed a link on Compose to his blogsite and began reading his published poems and immediately wanted to post one here. His work has appeared in Barrow Street, Colorado Review, Massachusetts Review, New England Review, and Notre Dame Review, among many others. For more of his poetry, go to his site at: https://teoppoet.wordpress.com/.

It is how Andy speaks of loss, and its connection to absence, that draws me in. Read the poem, then read the essay, then read the poem again. So many connections in such a short span of time. Illumination awaits.

***



FROM THE LOST LETTERS TO MATIAS PEREZ,  AERONAUT


I imagine what you saw—a boulevard
of moonlight on water, waves

like names on a chart,
your absence, like weather, a given.

My father disappeared
into another country

when I was five—why
not you, a hundred years before?

My first memory is him.
He carries me against his neck,

the beach receding as he walks us
into a life I don’t yet see.

Sometimes I wish
that were the last of him

I kept. Of what’s beyond us,
we know nothing, or we know

enough, the particulars of loss:
sand, the westering sun,

a wind-seized balloon,
the sea.



(Previously published in AGNI)


***

Of What’s To Come

                                                Being dead means being left behind.
                                                                        And being alive comes to the same.

                                                                                    --Gjertrude Schnackenberg

Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars
David Bowie died on January 10th, 2016, on my sister's birthday. Ziggy Stardust is one of the few albums I've never gotten over; "Rock and Roll Suicide" nails it: "and the clock waits so patiently on your song." I've tried to cover it, but I don't have the range. Reach and grasp, and so on. Bowie’s death on my sister’s birthday was a reminder of what we really celebrate when we celebrate one more year of someone’s life.
            
Seventeen days later, my friend Shelbey emailed me a writing prompt she had ran into, "You are an astronaut. Describe your perfect day." Her piece began, "It takes ninety-two minutes to circle the earth." That's the International Space Station's orbital time. The ISS is 236 miles high, but closer to Earth than my home in Jacksonville, Florida, is to, say, Atlanta. Moving at the ISS's speed, I'd get there in 50 seconds. My friends in south Florida are hours farther. Of course, these things are relative: the higher you are, the slower you go, and the longer it takes to go around the earth back to where you started from.
            
I answered Shelbey with a quick, 11-line poem (all of 56 syllables) riffing off Bowie, "We Know Major Tom's a Junkie," imagining each orbit as a life-cycle: a quick life, a quick death, followed by another, and another, and another. (I write about death often; it’s my go-to metaphor for loss.) 

Over the next few days I drafted and redrafted the poem, but I felt it had stalled. On February 8, 2016, I happened to read (and copied into my journal) Soren Stockman's "Morning in Wyoming," which had been published almost a year earlier in The Literary Review and which I'd belatedly found via Twitter: "Death will be gorgeous. There is no love / when there is nothing but love." What do we, the living, know about death? Maybe not much, but more than the dead, who don't even know they are dead: there is no death when there is nothing but death, but there’s not much else either. 

I turned Stockman's words to my own use: "Death / will not lack beauty / altogether, nor that love / which never takes us with it." Then, on February 16, 2016, I hand wrote a few lines on the latest draft: "I can't tell what you see right now." On the 18th, the 13th anniversary of my father's death (of hepatitis C and cirrhosis of the liver, but more on that later), I wrote, "I imagine what you saw." I'd gone from observing my own limitations to empathy, and I felt the writing shift under me.
            
Matias Perez
Five days later, the first draft of a new poem launched by my father and that new line arrived in the person of Matías Pérez, Cuba's legendary (lost) balloonist. Pérez was an early ballooning enthusiast who became a folkloric figure: on his second flight out of Havana, he vanished, never to be found except in the popular saying that still endures: "He flew off like Matías Pérez." What happened is easily surmised: after a long day of waiting for strong winds to subside, Pérez took off from Old Havana on what he imagined would be a short flight to the west. Instead, the wind carried him north into the Florida Straits, where he came down that night with no hope of rescue. He was not the first, and certainly not the last, Cuban to die in those waters.
            
I was, of course, using the new poem to address my father in all his absences: when I was five, he left for the United States; as far as I knew, he had disappeared, vanished. He thought my mother (pregnant with my sister) and I would get our exit visas in a matter of days and follow him to the U.S. shortly; I didn't see him again for eight years. He was 90 miles and a universe away. I wrote him a few times, and he answered once, but he was not one for writing: I think he coped with his loss by not thinking about us after a while.

Mariel Boat lift, 1980
By the time we reunited in Miami, via the Mariel boat lift, he had become addicted to heroin and had kicked the habit, taken up quaaludes and alcohol (he was not a good drunk), and made and spent a significant amount of money as a small-time drug runner in South Florida. He had a void somewhere in him that could not be filled, but he did not fail to try: power over my mother, my sister, and me, in various manifestations; prostitutes; casual drug use over the years; God before, during, and after both the prostitutes and the drugs, until he was too ill and had only God left. He could be friendly and entertaining if he didn't feel threatened, but being around him was like living with a wild bear who could go into a dark rage at the slightest perceived provocation. 

After almost a decade of trying to have any real connection with him, I finally removed myself as much as I could and kept him at bay for the last 14 years of his life. This time I was the one who did the leaving; his death simply confirmed what I had already accomplished. I had mourned his loss already, years earlier. There is no loss, I suppose, where there is nothing but loss, but there's not much of anything else either. Thankfully, I have never been in such a desolation, except through my father.
            
Ironically, I find myself working on this piece over Father’s Day weekend – ironically because “From the Lost Letters to Matias Perez, Aeronaut” is not about my father any more than it is about Matias Perez or Bowie’s Major Tom. While writing the poem, I was accompanying my mother to her radiation appointments following a cancer diagnosis and a (successful) partial mastectomy. For several years I had been preparing myself for the inevitable (I have loss issues, yes; I do these things), and yet when the time came, I found myself wholly unprepared for the possibility of her loss. She is in the poem, too, but no one would know it. 

At the same time, I was coming to accept that my last six years of work had not produced a publishable manuscript: despite dozens of queries and contest submissions, despite hundreds of dollars on manuscript consultation fees and entry fees, I was still bookless (and still am, though I now have a nifty phrase to show for my efforts: “It will not be for lack of trying”). I was, though not literally (not even literarily, though there’s hope there), letting go of the expectation I would soon have a first book out and instead girding for the reality of a long, grinding process still ahead, with no guarantees.
            
Of what’s to come, I know nothing or I know enough. I think I know enough. Most of us do, of course. There is no wisdom where there is nothing but wisdom. Randall Jarrell called it pain; I prefer to call it life. And there is no life where there is nothing but life. Or, as Jarrell also put it, the ways we miss our lives are life.


Andres Rojas

***

Some Links

The Perils of Poetry/Tedx talk with Andres



Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Original Child Bomb: What We Talk About When We Talk About The Bomb (Part 6)



Today is the 72nd anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki. This is the last post in the series. For now. The other posts can be found here: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4, Part 5

Nagasaki, August 1945
There are still so many issues to explore: how the collusion between science and big money (The Manhattan Project) created a legacy of how science is done to this day; the Dr. Strangelove-ian aestheticism that some feel toward the god-like power and extreme violence of these weapons; how the US government censored much of the information and imagery about the bombings from the US public and how that legacy of being treated as children has shaped how the US public sees itself in terms of each new war that has followed (as innocent children, willfully ignorant of atrocities committed in their name); and a look at nuclear weapons proliferation and the lack of interest on the part of any nuclear power to begin talking about disarmament.

Nagasaki Peace Park, 2017

Right now, today, the nuclear missile saber rattling is still going on between Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump. Two narcissistic leaders, consumed with their own power; showing the world, through their reckless rhetoric, what deep insecurities they have about their manhood. It would be almost funny…but mostly sad…if you saw this threat and counter-threat going on in a bar…but we're talking about nuclear weapons. Too many lives are at stake. As I've said a few times in this series: NO ONE should have this kind of power. Not the US, not North Korea, not Russia, not China, or any other countries possessing a nuclear arsenal. No one is capable of handling it.

A Shadow Etched in Stone


Nagasaki, 1945
As I explored different aspects of the nuclear weapons debate, specifically taking a good, long look at the strategy of bombing civilians in general, the image of the shadow etched in stone on the steps of a bank in Hiroshima kept coming back to me. The shadow without body, an image of a person who is not there, anonymous, became etched deep into my mind, and, for a time, I couldn't shake it. It appeared in my mind's eye before sleep, and returned when I woke up. Who was that? Why were they waiting in front of the bank? Did they have money worries? What did they hear that morning before the blast? Birds? Trolleys?


Nagasaki, 1945
I began to see the image of the shadow on the stone steps as a symbol for all those who have ever died, or suffered terrible loss, from falling bombs - not just Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims - but all the dead everywhere. When bombs begin falling, civilians become shadows without bodies. No one considers all those bodies in their decision-making process. Which leads me to a conclusion about the nuclear bombing of the two Japanese cities in 1945: it is my belief that once war is declared and the fighting begins - a hideous and morally indefensible decision like that is bound to be made.

Shadow Poem

Mother & Child/Hiroshima, August 1945
During the weeks when I could not shake the image of the shadow in stone, a poem began to form. The subject matter called to mind the writing of Paul Celan - creating a balance between the desperate urge to give something so terrible a voice and the desire to remain silent as an appropriate form of reverence to the magnitude of the pain and loss suffered. I started reading Celan again. After I finished the poem, I realized that the last half of the last line is from one of Celan's later, more fragmentary poems. So, a gassho to Celan for helping me finish it.
  

Absence: Shadow

1.

What is always there
is what is not there.

2.

A lifted leg, deep in stone.
Running, deeper into stone.

3.

No tongue, can't say the word.
Take it, please take it, my word.

4.

Money worries. Morning heat.
The heart. A bird.

5.

No skin. No sense.
Take it, take it, my cheek against stone.

6.

At what temperature
does love burn?

7.

No lifted hand, gesturing for water.
Take it, please take it, drink from my mouth.


(for all the dead from falling bombs)


Hiroshima Peace March, 2017


 Other resources:


Nagasaki: the forgotten victim of nuclear terror (article about Southard's book)

Hiroshima by John Hersey




Peace crane offerings at the Children's Peace Memorial, Hiroshima

Organizations


ICAN: international campaign to abolish nuclear weapons: http://www.icanw.org/

Nuclear Age Peace Foundation: https://www.wagingpeace.org/

Nukewatch: https://nukewatch.org/  


Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament: http://www.cnduk.org/




Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Original Child Bomb: What We Talk About When We Talk About The Bomb (Part 5)


This is the fifth part in the series, Original Child Bomb. Below I've given an all-too-brief description of the environmental devastation, close calls, and insanity of nuclear deterrence policy: all are part of the legacy of those first bombs dropped on Japan. You can find the rest of the series here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.




Environmental Devastation

The history of US nuclear weapons since Hiroshima and Nagasaki is a history of tragedy and poison - for the environment, below ground and above ground, for many who were used as guinea pigs, and for those unfortunate enough to be downwind to test sites. Results: cancer, tortured landscapes and people, superfund sites, waste. There has been the loss of staggering amounts of money that went into research and development for bigger and bigger weapons…and now, smaller and smaller weapons (mini-nukes, bunker-busters).

The Realm of Pluto

Rocky Flats being disassembled
Back in the fall of '98, I went on a tour of Rocky Flats, a former nuclear weapons production plant that was in the process of being disassembled. For forty years Rocky Flats had manufactured what were called plutonium triggers, or "pits". When I was there most of the buildings had been broken down and shipped to salt caves beneath the earth near Carlsbad, New Mexico (Waste Isolation Pilot Plant), a place licensed to permanently dispose of transuranic radioactive waste left over from the research and production of nuclear weapons (more on that below).

Here are a few of the incidents that occurred at Rocky Flats over the years:



Glove-box after fire, 1957
"On September 11, 1957, a plutonium fire occurred in one of the gloveboxes used to handle radioactive materials, igniting the combustible rubber gloves and plexiglas windows of the box.  The accident resulted in the contamination of Building 771, the release of plutonium into the atmosphere, and caused $818,600 in damage. An incinerator for plutonium-contaminated waste was installed in Building 771 in 1958.

"Barrels of radioactive waste were found to be leaking into an open field in 1959. This was not made publicly known until 1970 when wind-borne particles were detected in Denver.

"In 1967, 3,500 barrels (560 m3) of plutonium contaminated lubricants and solvents were stored on Pad 903. A large number of them were found to be leaking, and low-level contaminated soil was becoming wind-borne from this area. This pad was covered with gravel and paved over with asphalt in 1969." (Rocky Flats Plant/Wikipedia

A close encounter with Pad 903

On the Rocky Flats tour, we had a guide who worked for the Department of Defense (Dante had his Virgil, as a guide through the underworld, the realm of Pluto, and we had a former journalist, who made cliché statements about the harmlessness of current radioactive levels by talking about how much radiation a banana gives off. I ended up naming him our "Crap Virgil."). At one point, we were standing on the edge of Pad 903, and Crap Virgil told us about the leakage and how the problem of the contaminated soil was solved by paving it over. Those of us on the tour looked out over the pad (you could see Denver and the northern suburbs of Denver in the distance). There were numerous cracks in the asphalt. Mullein and thistle were growing out of the cracks. Someone pointed at one of the larger cracks and said, "But…" And then everyone laughed. A high, keening, nervous kind of laughter.

The list of accidents and leaks of radioactive materials continued through 1989. In 1989, things got so bad at the facility that it was raided by the EPA and the FBI and was shut down. Operators of the plant eventually pleaded guilty to criminal violations of environmental law.

Nuclear Industrial Complex/Nukewatch
These accidents were not isolated to Rocky Flats. They have happened throughout the nuclear-industrial complex. But if you think that nuclear accidents are now a thing of the past, think again. There have been recent accidents, one of which may be one of the worst (and costliest) since the nuclear age began: a drum of radioactive waste blew up in an underground cave at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico on February 14, 2014. The long-term cost of the clean-up could be more than $2 billion. Because it has contaminated the place where nuclear weapons grade waste is dumped (and probably the larger region - the Carlsbad desert community), thousands of tons of radioactive waste has been backed up across the country, waiting for transport. (Nuclear Accident in New Mexico among costliest in US history, August 22, 2016, LA Times)   

What is not listed here are all the accidents that are constantly happening among the other nuclear powers. And there are now nine: The US, Russia, China, the UK, France, Pakistan, India, Israel, and North Korea. God knows what has gone on and is still going on in their nuclear industrial complexes.

The clean-up (List of Superfund Sites/Wikipedia ) from all the chemicals, the radioactive materials, has cost and is currently costing the US billions of dollars that could be have been funneled back into our crumbling infrastructure, into our schools, into job skills programs, into rebuilding our inner cities and our rural areas, into rehabilitation-oriented drug programs, into clean energy research…the list seems endless. 



With this tremendous power has come tremendous waste.  


Bombing Ourselves: Close Calls, Tests


Nevada Test Site, 1951
It has been sheer luck that the world (or, at the very least, a city or two) hasn't burned in a nuclear conflagration. There are no highly qualified, omniscient "masters" at the helm of all this power who will protect us from harm. There are only human beings working in this underworld - human beings just like you and me. I find this terrifying.

Nuclear Explosion seen from Las Vegas, 1950's
The list of military nuclear accidents since 1944 is quite long (and can be found here: List of Military Nuclear Accidents/Wikipedia). In fact, there are so many incidents that I'll only list one, from 1966: A B-52 bomber, carrying four hydrogen bombs, was on routine patrol and collided with a re-fueling jet over Spain. The four nuclear weapons fell to earth. There were explosions, but the warheads did not detonate. One bomb was temporarily lost in the ocean, and two bombs exploded, spreading plutonium over the village of Palomares. "In
Fuselage in field/Palomares accident, 1966
1966, American troops removed about 5,000 barrels of contaminated soil after the accident and called the cleanup complete. But about a decade ago, the Spanish authorities found elevated levels of plutonium over 99 acres. Some of the areas of elevated radioactivity almost touched private homes, as well as fields and greenhouses. (4 Hydrogen Bombs from '66 Scar Spanish Village, NYT, June 20, 2016)



Nuclear Fallout from Tests/Nukewatch
It is common knowledge that the US tested in Nevada and the Pacific across four decades - above ground and then below ground. There were numerous "tests" on soldiers in the field, resulting in thousands of deaths from cancer many years later. Those living downwind from these tests had inordinate amounts of cancer compared to the rest of the population. (You can see on the Nukewatch chart above where the radioactive waste was carried.)  

The Psychopathology of Deterrence


Since WWII, nuclear deterrence theory postulates that possessing nuclear weapons is a deterrence against nuclear attack by another nation. Nuclear strategy and "security" has relied on Mutually Assured Destruction" (MAD): the idea that that any attack would result in massive retaliation and ultimately the annihilation of ALL combatants. By destroying your enemy, you destroy yourself. What is rarely pointed out is that nuclear weapons have not secured the world against war at all - they have only deterred the world from nuclear war. A strange irony, that. The creation and possession of the weapon gives rise to the deterrence of war with that very weapon? Some dark humor involved in that. Hideously dark. It seems once you become a nuclear power, you become a nuclear target…

Two men, one in the military, the other a civilian - but both involved in the nuclear military-industrial complex, have had important things to say about its psychopathology: General George Lee Butler, commander of SAC (1991-2) and head of Strategic Command (1993-4); and William Perry, Secretary of Defense (1994-7).

Butler has said: "Mankind escaped the Cold War without a nuclear holocaust by some combination of diplomatic skill, blind luck and divine intervention, probably the latter in greatest proportion." He also said that nuclear deterrence is "a slippery intellectual construct that translates very poorly into the real world of spontaneous crises, inexplicable motivations, incomplete intelligence and fragile human relationships." (Many articles on and speeches by Butler can be found at wagingpeace.org)


Perry described strategic nuclear thinking in the 60's (of which he was a part) as "surreal." In his book, My Life at the Nuclear Brink (Stanford University Press, 2015), he says:

 "When I look back on those years I see a historically all-too-familiar irrational, impassioned thinking, a thinking that has led to wars throughout human history and a thinking in the nuclear age more dangerous than ever. This thinking drove the frenzied debates on nuclear strategy, drove the huge additions in destructiveness we made to our nuclear forces, and brought us to the brink of blundering into a nuclear war. It was a colossal failure of imagination not to see where this was leading. Even before the nuclear arms buildups of the 1970's and 1980's, our nuclear forces were more than enough to blow up the world. Our deterrent forces were fearsome enough to deter any rational leader. Yet we obsessively claimed inadequacies in our nuclear forces. We fantasized about a 'window of vulnerability.' Both governments - ours and that of the Soviet Union - spread fear among our peoples. We acted as if the world had not changed with the emergence of the nuclear age, the age in which the world had changed as never before."

What truly alarmed both Perry and Butler was that strategic planning "saw nuclear weaponry as the high end of conventional weaponry - and could be used tactically." (The Violent American Century, 2017, John W. Dower, p 41)


Mini-Nukes
& The New Nuclear Weapons Race


The belief that nuclear weapons can be used tactically is still very much in vogue. Although the world's nuclear arsenals have been decreased by substantial amounts since the end of the Cold War, production on new forms of nuclear weaponry has resulted in a new Cold War pace of production.

"Moscow is fielding big missiles topped by miniaturized warheads, and experts fear that it may violate the global test ban as it develops new weapons. According to Russian news reports, the Russian Navy is developing an undersea drone meant to loft a cloud of radioactive contamination from an underwater explosion that would make target cities uninhabitable…. The Chinese military…is flight-testing a novel warhead called a 'hypersonic glide vehicle.' It flies into space on a traditional long-range missile but then maneuvers through the atmosphere, twisting and careening at more than a mile a second. That can render missile defenses all but useless…and as part of the modernization process, it (the US military) is also planning five classes of improved nuclear arms and associated delivery vehicles that, as a family, are shifting the American arsenal in the direction of small, stealthy and precise." (Race for latest class of nuclear weapons, New York Times, April 16, 2016)

And this: Military experts argue that miniaturized weapons will help deter an expanding range of potential attackers. "The United States needs discriminate nuclear options at all rungs of the nuclear escalation ladder," said a report in 2015 from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a research group in Washington.

And this: "Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has confirmed that as part of the Pentagon's ongoing nuclear posture review, it is looking at a new generation of low-yield 'mini-nukes' in order to ensure that the threat from America's nuclear arsenal remains credible."(Pentagon considering mini-nukes for maximum deterrence, Washington Examiner, August 5, 2017)


How This Will Play Out:
Money, Money, & More Money

"You might think that the most powerful weapons in the U.S. arsenal -- nuclear warheads -- would be paid for out of the Pentagon budget.  And you would, of course, be wrong.  The cost of researching, developing, maintaining, and “modernizing” the American arsenal of 6,800 nuclear warheads falls to an obscure agency located inside the Department of Energy: the National Nuclear Security Administration, or NNSA. It also works on naval nuclear reactors, pays for the environmental cleanup of nuclear weapons facilities, and funds the nation’s three nuclear weapons laboratories, at a total annual cost of more than $20 billion per year." (William D. Hartung in an article at Tomdispatch)

There's gold in them thar bombs! That's why they keep getting made, why there is more and more research done. There are people and corporations out there making a killing. Once again, as it was in the beginning, it's clear that very few involved in the making of or the strategy about nuclear weapons are facing the consequences. Who among them will have the courage to look back at the devastated cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and say "Stop"? Who among them will ask who was that person standing in front of a bank when the first bomb exploded, leaving only an anonymous shadow on the stone steps?



Next:
(the final section...for now)
Shadow: Absence


Monday, August 7, 2017

Original Child Bomb: What We Talk About When We Talk About The Bomb (Part 4)


This is a continuation of a short history of the decision to drop the bomb. The previous section, about the saturation bombing campaign as a precursor to dropping the atomic bomb, can be found below (part 3). 


The first part in the series can be found here (part 1). The second can be found here (part 2).




The Soviet Angle

The Soviet Union had promised to enter the Pacific War three months after victory in Europe. That would be mid-August. The Allies knew that the Japanese High Command feared this happening - since the Soviet army was only, by all calculations, ten days away from Tokyo.

Stalin
After the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima two days went by before the Japanese High Command convened. Despite the strange communiques to the command about the power of the bomb and its devastation, the command did not convene immediately to discuss surrender. What was another city destroyed to them? They were only interested in a surrender that maintained the imperial system. The saturation bombing had been going on for five months. The callousness that had been created by the massive bombing campaign, that had gone into the decision to drop the bomb, existed with the military on both sides. 

But then, on August 8, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. The High Command convened six hours after hearing this news. (Five Myths of Nuclear WeaponsWard Wilson, 2013, p 31) "In a careful analysis of Japanese records between August 6 and August 17, the historian Tsuyoshi Hasegawa found only two statements (out of twelve) referring to the impact of the bombs alone. The rest mentioned bombs and Soviet action or Soviet action alone." (Dower, 243


It is not that the bomb had NO EFFECT, it is that it was not the ONLY thing that ended the war. This is important - because the myth of the bomb being solely responsible for ending the war gave the US military free reign (for four decades) in creating and building a nuclear arsenal and using overwhelming air power in almost every conflict.

"Many other high-ranking Japanese, including the most militant diehards, regarded the Soviet attack as the true tipping point, sufficient in itself to prompt immediate surrender." (Dower, 242)

Red Army entering Berlin, 1945
It wasn't only the Japanese that feared the Soviet Union. The US had had a fearful eye on the Red Army as possibly the only threat to postwar world US hegemony since the middle of the war. General Groves, the military head of the Manhattan Project, stated this in sworn testimony: "I think it's important to state…I think it is well known - that there was never, from about two weeks from the time I took charge of this project (September 1942), any illusion on my part but that Russia was our enemy and that the project was conducted on that basis. I didn't go along with the attitude of the country as a whole that Russia was a gallant ally. I always had suspicions and the project was conducted on that basis. Of course, that was so reported to the President." (Dower, p 246; Atomic Energy Commission, In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer, p 173; Groves' memoir, Now It Can Be Told, p 132, 141)

It's a cliché now, but it's still true. The dropping of the atomic bombs were not the last shots fired in WWII, but the first shots fired in the Cold War. It was very much a show of force, not against Japan, but directed at Stalin. They also wanted the war to end before the Soviet Union made claims on Japanese territory. The US did not want to share occupation duties with the communists in Japan as they were forced to do in Europe.

The Angle of Partisan Politics

 Another angle that is less talked about is the angle of partisan politics. The Manhattan Project had cost over a trillion dollars. This is in terms of the economy of the 1940's. It's an astronomical sum. Many people around President Truman were worried that if the bomb was not used, the opposing party (The Republicans) could point at this seemingly useless boondoggle and cry "Foul! You wasted taxpayer's money in a time of war! For what?"

Byrnes, Cover of Time, September 1945
Also, there was the question of continued research. James F. Byrnes, Secretary of State at the time, and member of the Interim Committee said: "How would you get Congress to appropriate money for atomic energy research if you do not show results for the money which has been spent already?" (Dower, p 250)

So, "using the atomic bombs as flamboyantly as possible…complemented this agenda but also introduced one by helping to ensure broad support for a post-hostilities commitment to developing nuclear energy."(Dower, p 245)

(A side note: The Franck Report referred to this political consideration as a warning: "Congress and the American public will demand a return for their money.")

It is important to understand that these politicians allowed partisan politics to help make the decision to drop the bomb for them. Instead of thinking "shame, shame" (what's the point?), for me, one question arises: how can we leave the production and possible use of these weapons to partisan politics? Adding to that, another question: how can we leave the decisions on the use of something that can annihilate the world to any group of human beings? The power is too great, too frightening, for anyone to handle. Partisan politics and individual flaws versus hundreds of thousands of lives?

Aftermath and Culpability

So, we've gone over the same ground that historians have been plowing for the last seventy years, and found some of the same old truths: that a good part of the decision to drop the bomb was to end the war quickly (before the Soviets had a chance to invade), intimidating the Soviet Union, and preempting partisan political criticism at home.

What I find missing from the story is that the Japanese High Command were culpable in helping maintain the myth that the bomb was what made them capitulate. Many in the military and the government commented that the Soviet entry AND the use of the bombs were "in a sense, a gift from the gods "(Hirohito and the making of modern Japan, Herbert P. Bix, 2000, 509-10). By pointing out that they were overwhelmed, they could surrender unconditionally with their honor intact. And the American military could point to their statements about the power of the weapon to bear up the myth that the bomb was the decisive factor in ending the war.

Reliance on Overwhelming Force: 
Legacy of Death & Ashes

It is sad that the US military and the culture in general still relies on this outdated story of the bomb - as the triumph of overwhelming force - as the truth of how WWII ended. The many threads that led to the end provides a much more complicated picture (I didn't even begin to crack the surface). The US continues this strategy of overwhelming force to this day in conventional terms (saturation bombing, drones, shock and awe), along with the constant background threat of nuclear annihilation.

But how has the use of overwhelming force worked in the last seventy years? 

It has been estimated that 667,557 tons of bombs (including 32,557 tons of napalm) were dropped on Korea (The Korean War: a history, Bruce Cumings, Modern Library, 2010, p 159) Was the US victorious? No.

The estimate for bombs dropped on Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos by US forces is somewhere around 7 million tons - 3 1/2 times the tonnage dropped in all of WWII (Micheal Clodfelter, Vietnam in Military Statistics: A History of the Indochina Wars, 1792—1991. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers, 1995, p. 225) (See also, List of Bombs dropped in the Vietnam War/WikipediaThe US lost the war in Vietnam. 


And this, from Nick Turse, Senior Editor/Alternet, about bombs dropped over Iraq: "In 1991, the United States unleashed a bombing campaign of staggering proportions against Iraq: 120,000 sorties were launched and 265,000 bombs dropped. From then on, the missions never stopped. From 1991 to 2003, the U.S. and its allies conducted a low-level air war to enforce no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq, while attacking Iraq’s air defenses and other targets. In February 2003, the U.S. would again conduct a blistering “shock and awe” campaign and, by mid-April, Iraq had been subjected to 41,000 sorties and 27,000 bombs dropped. The U.S. air war would continue on as, year after year, U.S. planes attacked targets, killing enemy fighters and civilians alike."  (Nick Turse/Alternet, November 14, 2011) Iraq is in chaos. No one won anything. 

The US is in its seventeenth year of fighting in Afghanistan. I could not find the statistics for tonnage of bombs dropped on Afghanistan during the US' seventeen year war there, but in 2016 alone, the Obama administration dropped at least 26,171 bombs. As of this writing, I have no idea what the "Trump strategy" will be - but these strategies are less about who sits behind the desk in the oval office and more about groupthink and habit in the Pentagon. So, we can probably expect more of the same.  


What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Bombs:
Civilian Deaths

What I've failed to mention when citing all these statistics for bomb tonnage dropped is the grotesque and incalculable tragedy of civilian deaths. The estimated Korean civilian deaths in the Korean War is a staggering 2,730,000 (not all from falling bombs, obviously). The estimate for the Vietnam War is an equally horrifying two million. (Civilian Casualty Ratio/Wikipedia) Two million people! (For civilian dead in Iraq, see Iraq Body Count.) 
Can you process that in terms of your own culture, your own country? How have these staggering numbers, including the numbers for deaths with only one bomb (Hiroshima, Nagasaki) do in terms of numbing us to horrors suffered now, on a daily basis, in Afghanistan, in Syria, in Yemen, all over the world, simply because the numbers are smaller?


Hiroshima 
 We need to end this legacy of the use of overwhelming force. Who has benefited from this? The only answer I can come up with is - a few military careers and those corporations who produce the machinery of war.  

I end this long section with some wise words from an Afghan soldier: “We know from the past 40 years that bullets don’t stop war.” (The War America Can't Win: how the Taliban is regaining control in Afghanistan, The Guardian, August 3, 2017)


Next: 
Environmental Disaster, Economic Devastation & The New Nuclear Race (mini-nukes)


Hiroshima radiation burn victim

Research that asks questions about the role of the Bomb 
in ending the war:






Other Resources:



Cultures of War by John W. Dower


The Violent American Century by John W. Dower

A History of Bombing by Sven Lindqvist 

The Deaths of Others: The fate of civilians in America's wars  
by John Tirman


Article from the NY Times (2012): 
Why do we ignore the civilians killed in American wars?