Seventy years ago on this date in 1945, the United States dropped the first of the two atomic bombs that it deployed against Japan; the second fell on Nagasaki three days later, on Aug.9. Immediate deaths from the bombings exceeded 100,000. Over the months that followed this number approximately doubled due to the after effects of radiation sickness, burns, other injuries and illnesses, and malnutrition. The very large majority of these injuries and deaths were suffered by civilians. It is not a date we take much note of in the United States, but it is and will long be a very important ceremonial date in Japan. I am always touched on this date by a sense of sorrow, horror, and guilt.
The suffering endured in that war (as in all wars) takes us to the limits of our understanding. Current estimates (that is, higher than previous) suggest that as many as 80 million people died as a direct result of the war’s conduct. It was the ugly culmination of a complex, brutal and deluded narrative of nationalism, colonialism and industrialism — a narrative that was purposefully suffused with the toxic chemicals of moral necessity and historical inevitability by the relentless propaganda of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Opium Wars, the Crimean War, the Boxer Rebellion, the Sino-Japanese War, Russo-Japanese War, World War I — all led to this global bloodletting.
Such a convulsion it seems was required to end what might be called Phases I and II of Western colonialism. Phase III began with war’s end and masked itself in bogus terms of national liberation, an idea with significant power for the many human beings who had sacrificed so much to liberate Italy, France, Western Europe, China, the Pacific nations, Southeast Asia, et cetera, from the control of two brutal and deranged tyrannies. The Soviets of course peddled the same story to their own satellites. Rather than concoct a highflown and ludicrous narrative of moral necessity to provide cover for rapacious commercial interests (see Conrad, “Exterminate the brutes!” etc), the West in 1945 and after created a narrative of political necessity to do the same. Nations were granted seeming independence but had to throw in their lot either with the Soviets or the West, who then essentially controlled them politically and economically. (Vietnam is an example of a nation that, able to achieve its independence due to the temporary disempowerment of its traditional overseers, was plucked back into a prolonged anti-colonial war of independence that masqueraded as a Cold War showdown. The Vietnamese had no interest in the West, China, or the Soviets — but in a tri-lateral world, such a position was not permissible. This was true of a number of war-ravaged nations in Africa as well: Angola, Somalia, and others.)
The endurance of this bullshit orthodoxy sees us now in the ludicrous position we occupy in Pakistan, continuing to prop up (and, for our own protection, semi-occupy) a land filled with our obvious enemies, supplying them with weapons and staggering quantities of cash and some kind of meagre and incredible story of alliance, all because once upon a time, when such mattered to us, they happened to oppose, for nakedly ugly reasons, the world’s largest democracy that sits beside them — India — which apparently, given our continuing inability to gain close relations with it, we still fear is going to “go Communist”. The historical rationale for this alliance with Pakistan is on its face insane. yet no reformer in Washington — regardless of his or her seeming mandate or power or righteousness — will ever succeed in rationally changing the policy. It is a genetic fact, a vestigial tail, and it will be removed either by catastrophic injury or the invisible forces of evolution. My money’s on the former.
Just so with the growing hostilities between the US and China and between Western Europe (read: Germany) and Russia. If you fill the world with lies and have to behave as if they were never lies at all, these are the positions you find yourself forced to take. This is what lies do: they have a demonic power subtly to disguise the landscape and make outrageous sins seemingly necessary and inevitable.
Given all that, let’s try this as an exercise: at least on this date, but one hopes for all the days that follow, when you hear this bullshit on the news — our “allies” in Pakistan, the necessity of “countering the influence” of China, big bad Putin and Russia — envision a mushroom cloud, see in your mind ten thousand children burned to hideous deformation, and say these words to yourself: 80 million dead.