Proud to be a deplorable

W.J. Astore

Today, my wife got stuck behind a pickup truck sporting a bumper sticker of considerable meaning: “Proud to be a deplorable.” No, this wasn’t red state Mississippi; it was blue state Massachusetts.

It’s worth a chuckle or two, until you realize its larger meaning. Many people are proud to vote for Trump because establishment Democrats like Hillary Clinton don’t speak to them, except when they’re dismissing them as deplorables that are “irredeemable,” as Hillary put it in 2016.

Take that, Hillary and all you “libtards”!

It’s never smart to dismiss potential voters as dumbasses without hope, but Hillary thought she had the election in the bag. She lost because she ran a poor campaign and because her elitism and sense of privilege were so obvious. But she also had no compelling messages for the “deplorables.” And Trump did. Trump talked about bad trade deals, the offshoring of jobs, the betrayal of ordinary Americans by the financial set, the big money people, the ones who paid Hillary so handsomely for a few empty speeches.

Of course, Trump didn’t and doesn’t care about ordinary Americans. From all appearances, Trump cares only about himself (and perhaps his immediate family). Nevertheless, he was smart enough to offer the people something, even if all they were left with in the end was a rebel identity as a deplorable.

Establishment Democrats, demonstrating their ability to learn nothing, are once again offering “deplorables” nothing specific. No universal health care (indeed, Joe Biden said he’d veto such a bill if it reached his desk as president). No firm and trustworthy commitment to a $15 minimum wage. No firm and trustworthy commitment to ending those endless foreign wars. Biden promises nothing more than he’s not Trump, end of story.

His choice of Vice President backs this up. Kamala Harris is a conservative Democrat; she’s establishment through and through. But she’s a woman who’s multiracial, so this is considered proof of her diversity and her commitment to helping the less fortunate. Come again?

As Tulsi Gabbard pointed out during a debate, Harris smugly joked about smoking marijuana even as she put “deplorable” users into prison, among other positions that showcased her privileged hypocrisy, but no matter. Even though Harris dropped out early (after boasting of being a top-tier candidate), even though she couldn’t win a single delegate in the primaries, she was handpicked by Joe Biden to lend some excitement to the ticket. Mission unaccomplished.

So I fear, like Michael Moore, that Trump could win again, probably losing the popular vote but winning enough swing states to put him over the top in the electoral college. Trump could win because the “deplorables” in their trucks across blue- and red state America know how to stand by their man. Even though he’s a no-good cheatin’ fool, Trump offers them something, something unquantifiable but powerful, an identity, perhaps, and the ability, in casting their votes, to give a big FU to all the elites that keep telling them they don’t measure up — and never will.

The Face of America

The Face of America

W.J. Astore

The Republican National Convention is over. Its main message: be afraid. Be very afraid. Of socialism. Of people coming to take your guns. Of open borders. Of anarchy in the street. Of “cancel culture.” And so on.

Its ancillary message: the Democrats are not a rival party of patriotic Americans. They are dangerous. Dishonest. Scheming. And un-American.

In last night’s acceptance speech, Trump was his usual huckster and grifter self. Perhaps my favorite claim was when Trump said he’d done more to help black people than any other president, Abraham Lincoln excepted. There’s little doubt that in his own mind Trump believes he’s done more than Lincoln “for the black.”

What can I say that hasn’t already been said about the alternate (un)reality that Trump sells to his acolytes? It’s total BS, it’s fantasy, it’s often hateful or spiteful, but it resonates with certain people, even as it disgusts others.

Trump, among many other things, is a sower of discord. A manufacturer of outrage based on lies and misinformation. But he needs an audience of willing followers, and there are plenty of those in America.

In life, Trump has failed at so many things. I’d argue he has failed miserably as a president, dividing the country instead of uniting it, effectively feeding the rich while starving the poor. Yet the man has captured an entire political party and the fervid support of roughly one-third of those Americans most likely to vote in November.

He has shown us a face of America we’d prefer not to see, a face defined by appetites and grievances and prejudices actuated by violence and fear and lies. But I’d go further. By fomenting violence and fear and lies, Trump has acted not like a true mirror but a funhouse one. He has distorted America. He has made it more grotesque. He has twisted it and contorted it and made it more like him.

In short, he has made his mark on the face of America. And that mark will be a very difficult one to erase.

The Republican Party of the Perpetual Now

Not much need for History in Trump’s America

W.J. Astore

As a historian, I have an allegiance to the past, and to getting the facts right about that past. Because, if you can’t get the facts right, if you can’t do research with rigor and honesty, you can’t call yourself an historian.

So you won’t be surprised to learn that Trump’s version of the Republican Party is anathema to me. The party has no respect for the past. And getting facts right? What does that matter in a time of “alternative facts,” in an administration that lies routinely and about everything?

Trump’s version of the Republican Party is a party of the perpetual now, in which the meaning of “now” is remarkably labile and open to interpretation (and re-interpretation). In a strange way, Trump’s party is the party of post-modernism, where all facts are contingent, where everything is open to being constructed and deconstructed. Truth itself is a social construct in the Trumpian universe, determined by Trump himself and the various ass-kissers he’s assembled around him.

Not only is the Trumpian Party without a meaningful past: it’s also without a mediated future. According to the official platform of the Republican Party adopted last night, the party and its platform is what Trump says it is, world without end, Amen.

Here’s how it was put in a press release:

“RESOLVED, That the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda” and “The 2020 Republican National Convention will adjourn without adopting a new platform until the 2024 Republican National Convention.”

The platform is Trump and Trump is the platform. The future is whatever Trump wills it to be, in his usual egotistical and often nonsensical way.

Facts don’t matter. The (true) past doesn’t matter. America as will and idea, as defined by Trump’s mind and driven by Trump’s desires.

As many have said, this isn’t a party, it’s a cult. A cult of unreflective minds, a cult unconcerned with critical thinking about the past, a cult that believes the future is best defined by one man.

One thing is certain: You won’t need any historians in Trump’s world. Just a lot of stenographers and sycophants willing to accept reality as Trump presents it, a perpetual now that’s constantly constructed and deconstructed before your eyes, the only constant being the celebration of Trump.

Remember: you can’t believe your lying eyes, but you can believe in Trump. If that’s not the end of history, I don’t know what is.

What Trump Can Do to Win Again (Fair and Square)

With Trump trailing in the polls, some people have suggested an “October surprise” looms, such as a provocation against Iran, that could swing the election. But what if this “surprise” is something different. What if Trump decides to outflank Biden on an issue of great importance to ordinary Americans. It’s a scenario that’s more than possible, as the redoubtable M. Davout argues in his latest article for this site. W.J. Astore

He’s willing to thump a Bible — why not thump Medicare for All?

M. Davout

In my first contribution to Bracing Views a little more than four years ago, I appealed, as an enthusiastic advocate for Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primaries, to fellow Bernie supporters in swing states to vote for Hillary Clinton in the upcoming general election. This election cycle I will be taking a different approach.

The virtual Democratic National Convention for the 2020 general election has just ended with the nomination of a candidate, Joe Biden, whose political instincts, record in office, and stated policy goals are in most essential respects updates of Clinton’s. Despite the convention speakers’ almost universal silence about policy, we can expect from a Biden win a continuation of what has largely been the Democratic Party policy agenda of the last forty years: maintenance of the US global military umbrella, protection of neoliberal economic interests, and gestures of racial inclusiveness and multicultural tolerance.

If Biden wins, it will be because of Trump’s catastrophic public health leadership failures in the face of the Covid pandemic, which has radically disrupted social life, tanked many parts of the economy, and thus far killed 175,000+ American lives. And Trump’s heartless and authoritarian response to the mobilization of millions of people in street demonstrations affirming that Black Lives Matter has not helped his electoral prospects.

In his acceptance speech, Biden emphatically told us that if elected he will take effective action to get a grip on the Covid crisis. Yet, on other occasions, he has also told us that if he wins, he will not fundamentally address the more insidious and chronic crisis of tens of millions of Americans with few, if any, health care options, even going so far as to say that he would veto any Medicare-for-All bill passed by Congress. On the issue of policing, he has been up front about his intention not to challenge the militarized and racist institutions of policing in this country other than to call for more training and prohibition of police use of choke holds.

The sad truth is that of the two major party candidates, only one has ever run a national campaign as an economic populist and it isn’t the current standard bearer of the Democratic Party. In 2016, Donald Trump promised Americans that he would get all of them great health care, take on Big Pharma and make prescription drugs affordable, end the hemorrhaging of American lives and treasure in foreign wars and drain the swamp by putting a stop to special interest corruption of members of Congress. Trump was lying, of course, but these lies were just effective enough in states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania because the Democratic Party had lost all credibility as the party of working people.

So, this cycle, rather than try to persuade my fellow Bernie supporters once again to vote democratic, let me try a different approach and offer Trump some electoral advice. Give a nationally televised Oval Office speech in which you commit to stopping the pandemic and embrace, as one of the main pillars of your pandemic response, Medicare-for-All. Tell the American people the truth—that the private health insurance system in the U.S. has failed to protect the health of the American people and instead has lined the pockets of CEOs, rich shareholders, medical specialists, insurance industry lobbyists and members of Congress. Tell them that ensuring universal and affordable access to healthcare through universal expansion of Medicare is an essential step not only in defeating Covid-19 but also in protecting against the pandemics that might occur down the road. A true nation-state takes care of its own and Medicare-for-All will Make America Great Again.

As a certified political scientist, I can guarantee that you stand only to gain electorally by taking this advice. You won’t lose your business supporters and anti-Communist Republican voters–they will know that you are lying. The idea of universal health insurance based on the expansion of a system on which their parents and grandparents have relied will be attractive to your white working class base voters who have suffered disproportionately from opioid and alcohol addiction and deaths. And, who knows, maybe some progressives, unhinged by Biden’s hostility to universal coverage, will pull the lever for you. It may be enough to keep Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania in your column (and maybe even swing Minnesota your way).

I give this advice not because I want Trump to win but because of my conviction that until the Democratic Party is forced to compete for working class votes on the basis of economic populism, we are going to be locked into an ever more dangerous cycle of alternating rule by neoliberal Democrats and nationalist-racist Republican populists.

M. Davout teaches political science in the Deep South.

My Vote for President in 2020

tulsi-gabbard-gty-aa-191228_hpMain_16x9_992

W.J. Astore

I’ve given a lot of thought to my vote for the presidency in 2020.  Neither Trump nor Biden is attractive to me.  These men haven’t earned my vote.  Who has?

I like Tulsi Gabbard, and I’m planning on voting for her in November 2020.

I know: she’s pulled out of the race.  She even endorsed Joe Biden.  But I can’t vote for the Biden/Harris ticket.  To me, they’re corporate cronies who endorse U.S. militarism and empire.

Trump, the Republican alternative, is a disaster.  Totally self-absorbed and lazy to boot, Trump cares nothing about our country and will sacrifice anything and everything to his own definition of success.

Now, I live in a state that is safely blue; in the big picture, my vote is meaningless.  But it’s not meaningless to me.  I want to vote for something I believe in, and I believe in Tulsi’s stand against war.

Here’s a recent statement from Tulsi Gabbard that convinced me she’s still in the vanguard of reform.  If only Biden/Harris would say something like this, but of course they won’t.

STATEMENT FROM TULSI GABBARD

When I first ran for Congress in 2012, I knew that we needed to bring our troops home from Afghanistan and made that a central focus of my campaign. After two decades of fighting in a war that has no clear objective, cost thousands of lives, and continues to cost taxpayers at least $4 billion a month, most Democrats and Republicans want to continue this war. This is why I voted against this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) – a $740.1 Billion defense bill that disproportionately benefits the military industrial complex, continues to escalate the new Cold War, and needlessly continues our decades-long war in Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, this bill passed the House with bipartisan support.

Nevertheless, as a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, I fought hard to get many provisions added to the bill, including:

  • improving the quality of life for servicemembers and military families,
  • addressing sexual assault in the military,
  • providing transparency of the devastating humanitarian impact of U.S. sanctions,
  • allowing servicemembers to use over-the-counter hemp products,
  • and helping to mitigate and reduce the environmental threats that impact our troops.
READ MORE

We have much work ahead of us. I will continue to do all I can to bring our troops home from Afghanistan, work to end the new Cold War and nuclear arms proliferation, and ensure the safety, prosperity, and well-being of the American people and our planet.

Now, it’s time for Congress and this Administration to do the same.

Mahalo and be well,
Tulsi

Update (8/16/20): I believe politicians have to earn our votes.  We should never feel obligated to vote for them.

For the sake of argument, let’s say Trump wins. People will predictably argue that it’s people like me who are to blame, since I didn’t vote for Biden. (Nor will I vote for Trump.)

No. It won’t be my fault. If you wish to blame someone, blame the Trump voters. And blame the DNC for nominating a candidate (Biden) who didn’t earn the vote of people like me.

The same applies to Hillary’s loss in 2016. She lost to a con man and a reality TV celebrity because she ran a poor campaign, and because her hypocrisy and elitism were so obvious. Remember her “basket of deplorables” comment? Remember all the money she took from Goldman Sachs and the like? $675K for three speeches, even as she opposed Bernie’s call for $15 minimum wage.

With a $15 minimum wage, it would take a “deplorable” more than 22 years of hard work to earn what Hillary got in roughly three hours of speechifying.

And I’m supposed to admire Hillary and vote for her because the DNC said so?

And I’m supposed to vote for Biden because once again the DNC, joined by Obama and Hillary, gave the shaft to Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard?

If I vote for Joe, I’m rewarding the DNC for its blatant corruption.  So I choose to vote for someone who’s offering something more than the status quo of endless war and bottomless corruption.

Update (8/18/20):

I’m surprised that David Sirota, who worked for Bernie Sanders, had this to say about Democrats’ alleged “choice”:

“If the Sanders-Biden battle was perceived as a choice between Sanders’s daunting promise of an exhausting revolutionary struggle and Biden’s promise of a glide path back to normal, then it’s no mystery why Biden ultimately prevailed. Easy street was an understandably alluring vision for an electorate already tired out by Trump’s never-ending conflicts and controversies.

In reality, though, this was not a choice between two possibilities — it was a choice between honesty and fantasy, and Democratic voters picked the latter.”

https://sirota.substack.com/p/did-americans-want-a-political-revolution

I disagree with him because Democratic voters chose nothing. They had no choice. The DNC, the establishment, and especially Obama intervened to torpedo and sink Bernie just as he was riding high. Saint Obama even convinced Amy K. and Mayor Pete to drop out; we’ll see their rewards/price if Biden wins.

Democratic voters, when polled, broadly support Bernie’s agenda. But DNC operatives don’t give a f*ck about what voters want; they care about what the owners and donors want.

This is why I refuse to watch this convention. It’s a rigged, dishonest, show.

I know what happened to the two candidates I favored: Bernie and Tulsi. And I refuse to reward the DNC with my vote based on everything that we witnessed in this corrupt primary season.

Surprise! It’s Biden/Harris

Slate
Joe Biden, meet your VP, Kamala Harris (appropriately on the far right)

W.J. Astore

Back in April 2019, before all the primaries and posturing, I made a grim prediction: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris would emerge as the dream ticket of the DNC.

Can you believe I got it right?

I can.  Not because I’m that smart.  Not because I’m some kind of soothsayer.  In making that prediction, I was being as coldly cynical as I could be.  I pretended, in my own mind, to be a corporate operator in the DNC.  And it followed Biden/Harris would be the dream ticket.  Both are basically moderate Republicans who are business-friendly.  Both have no progressive vision whatsoever.  Both are “pay-to-play” politicians.  And so on, in distressing and depressing detail.

Below is what I wrote in April of last year.  You can see I wasn’t right about the scenario, but I was right about the candidates.  My secret?  Be coldly cynical.  Think money and power without principles.  And you’ll have your dream ticket.  A “dream” that’s a nightmare for progressives, for workers, indeed for anyone looking for real change in America.

WHAT I WROTE IN APRIL 2019

Now that Joe Biden is officially in the race, the dream Democratic ticket has emerged: Biden and Kamala Harris.

By “dream,” I don’t mean the Progressive dream.  I don’t mean the dream of working-class voters who are hurting.  I don’t mean the dream of Americans who are tired of never-ending wars that enfeeble our economy (and kill lots of people, mainly foreigners).  Those “dream” candidates are true Progressives like Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard.  A Sanders/Gabbard ticket would truly shake things up, which is why it’s not going to happen, as much as I’d like to see it.

No — the corporate-loving DNC wants to preserve the status quo, wants to feed the military-industrial complex, wants big funding from Wall Street, and therefore favors status quo candidates like Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

A likely scenario in 2020: Bernie Sanders wins the most votes and delegates, but Joe Biden emerges as a close second.  With all the other candidates (roughly 20 now) splitting the vote, no candidate has enough delegates to win in the first round at the national convention.  So the super-delegates (remember them?), the corporate tools, spring into action in the second and subsequent rounds of voting and throw their support to the “sensible, electable” candidate, in this case Biden.  But of course they can’t let an old white guy represent the “new” Democratic Party, and that’s where Kamala Harris comes in.  She’s black!  And a woman!  And makes noises that sound slightly progressive.  The perfect balanced ticket!  Shut up and color, liberals and Progressives.

Of course, if gaffe-prone Biden implodes, a distinct possibility, there are other safe white guys waiting in the wings to headline the ticket.  Mayor Pete?  Beto O’Rourke?

It’s all so sadly predictable.  And so too is Biden’s loss to Trump in 2020.

P.S.  To state the obvious, I hope I’m wrong about this.

Greed-War: The Power and Danger of the Military-Industrial Complex

Everything seems so peaceful in America. I took a dip in the ocean today, blue sky overhead, little kids running around, people passing on kayaks or boards: it all seemed so normal. You’d never know the “defense” budget is once again pegged near $750 billion; you’d never know America is in a state of permanent war; you’d never know that even basic services like mail delivery are under attack by the Trump administration. Even as the postal service is starved of funds, in an attempt to discredit it and privatize it for corporate greed, even as Americans lose their health care during a pandemic, people are still taking vacations, enjoying the sun and fun. Can you blame them?

I suppose it was like this at the tail end of the Roman Empire. People were partying, enjoying life, acting normal, even as the empire was collapsing around them.

And so it goes in this hot and humid American summer. Meanwhile, greed-war has been with us since at least the 1950s, as C. Wright Mills noted, and war is an even bigger racket now than it was when retired General Smedley Butler lodged his dissent in the 1930s.

If America is to reverse its decline and fall, putting an end to greed-war should be first on the list. But how are we to do this, when Congress kowtows to the military-industrial complex and our presidents lack the guts to challenge seriously the military and its corporate handlers and fellow travelers?

Perhaps we might recall that one day, long ago, America took pride in a small military and a foreign policy that tried to avoid unnecessary foreign entanglements?

Just about the only candidate who took on the military-industrial complex was Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard; for this, she was smeared as a Russian asset by no less a chickenhawk than Hillary Clinton. NBC News also accused Gabbard of being a servant of Russia just before she announced her candidacy. And yet Gabbard is a serving officer (a major) in America’s armed services.

Naturally, when Gabbard withdrew and endorsed Joe Biden, she suddenly became a patriot again to the powers-that-be. Her fate is a cautionary tale to anyone who attempts to pump the brakes on greed-war in America.

Maybe I just need to take a deep breath and another plunge into the ocean, while there’s still time …

Bracing Views

Ike Ike in 1959: Too critical of the military to be elected today

W.J. Astore

President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave his most powerful speech as he left office in 1961.  He warned the American people about an emerging military-industrial complex, a complex that was already beginning to erode democratic rule in America.  Originally, Ike had Congress as a collaborator with and enabler of that Complex, but he deleted the reference in the final version, apparently deciding that by alienating Members of Congress, he’d only push them further into the Complex’s corner.

The military-industrial complex, the Complex for short, has only grown in power over the last half-century.  Today, more than half of Federal discretionary funding goes to it.  With the post-9/11 addition of Homeland Security and more and more intelligence agencies (seventeen of them at last count), the Complex continues to grow like Topsy.  It consumes roughly $750 billion each…

View original post 1,722 more words

It Should Never Be Done Again: Hiroshima, 75 Years Later

Hiroshima after the bomb
Hiroshima after the bomb

W.J. Astore

Note: I wrote this article in 2015 on the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima.  Nuclear weapons should be eliminated from the planet.

August 6, 1945.  Hiroshima.  A Japanese city roughly the size of Houston.  Incinerated by the first atomic bomb.  Three days later, Nagasaki.  Japanese surrender followed.  It seemed the bombs had been worth it, saving countless American (and Japanese) lives, seeing that a major invasion of the Japanese home islands was no longer needed.  But was the A-bomb truly decisive in convincing the Japanese to surrender?

President Truman’s decision to use atomic bombs against Japan is perhaps the most analyzed, and, in the United States, most controversial decision made during World War II.  The controversy usually creates more heat than light, with hardliners posed on mutually opposed sides.  The traditional interpretation is that Truman used the A-bombs to convince a recalcitrant Japanese Emperor that the war was truly lost.  A quick Japanese surrender appeared to justify Truman’s choice.  It also saved tens of thousands of Allied lives in the Pacific (while killing approximately 250K Japanese).  This thesis is best summed up in Paul Fussell’s famous essay, “Thank God for the Atomic Bomb.”

Even before Hiroshima, however, a small number of scientists argued that the A-bomb should not be used against Japan without a prior demonstration in a remote and uninhabited location.  Later, as the horrible nature of radiation casualties became clearer to the American people, and as the Soviet Union developed its own arsenal of atomic weapons, threatening the United States with nuclear Armageddon, Americans began to reexamine Truman’s decision in the context of the Cold War and the nuclear arms race.  Gar Alperovitz’s revisionist view that Truman was practicing “atomic diplomacy” won its share of advocates in the 1960s. (Alperovitz expanded upon this thesis in the 1990s.)  Other historians suggested that racism and motives of revenge played a significant role in shaping the U.S. decision.  This debate reached its boiling point in the early 1990s, as the Smithsonian’s attempt to create a “revisionist” display to mark the bomb’s 50th anniversary became a lightning rod in the “culture wars” between a Democratic administration and a resurgent Republican Congress.

Were the atomic bombs necessary to get the Japanese to surrender?  Would other, more humane, options have worked, such as a demonstration to the Japanese of the bomb’s power?  We’ll never know with certainty the answer to such questions.  Perhaps if the U.S. had been more explicit in their negotiations with Japan that “unconditional surrender” did not mean the end of Japan’s Emperor, the Japanese may have surrendered earlier, before the A-bomb was fully ready.  Then again, U.S. flexibility could have been interpreted by Japanese hardliners as a sign of American weakness or war fatigue.

Unwilling to risk appearing weak or weary, U.S. leaders dropped the A-bomb to shock the Japanese into surrendering. Together with Stalin’s entry into the war against Japan, these shocks were sufficient to convince the Japanese emperor “to bear the unbearable,” in this case total capitulation, a national disgrace.

A longer war in the Pacific — if only a matter of weeks — would indeed have meant higher casualties among the Allies, since the Japanese were prepared to mount large-scale Kamikaze attacks.  Certainly, the Allies were unwilling to risk losing men when they had a bomb available that promised results.  The mentality seems to have been: We developed it.  We have it.  Let’s use it.  Anything to get this war over with as quickly as possible.

That mentality was not humane, but it was human.  Truman had a weapon that promised decisiveness, so he used it.  The attack on Hiroshima  was basically business as usual, especially when you consider the earlier firebombing raids led by General Curtis LeMay.  Indeed, such “conventional” firebombing raids continued after Hiroshima and Nagasaki until the Japanese finally sent a clear signal of surrender.

Of course, an event as momentous, as horrific, as Hiroshima took on extra meaning after the war, given the nuclear arms race, the Cold War and a climate represented by the telling acronym of MAD (mutually assured destruction). U.S. decisionmakers like Truman were portrayed as callous, as racist, as war criminals.  Yet in the context of 1945, it’s difficult to see any other U.S. president making a different decision, especially given Japan’s apparent reluctance to surrender and their proven fanaticism at Iwo Jima, Okinawa and elsewhere.

As Andrew Rotter notes in Hiroshima: The World’s Bomb (2008), World War II witnessed the weakening, if not erasure, of distinctions between combatants and non-combatants, notably during LeMay’s firebombing of Tokyo in March 1945 but in many other raids as well (Rotterdam and Coventry and Hamburg and Dresden, among so many others). In his book, Rotter supports the American belief that Japan would fight even more fanatically for their home islands than they did at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, two horrendous battles in 1945 that preceded the bomb. But he argues that Truman and Secretary of War Henry Stimson engaged in “self-deception” when they envisioned that the effects of the atomic bomb could be limited to “a purely military” target.

A quarter of a million Japanese died at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and in the years and decades following.  They died horrible deaths.  And their deaths serve as a warning to us all of the awful nature of war and the terrible destructiveness of nuclear weapons.

Hans Bethe worked on the bomb during the Manhattan Project.  A decent, humane, and thoughtful man, he nevertheless worked hard to create a weapon of mass destruction. His words of reflection have always stayed with me.  They come in Jon Else’s powerful documentary, “The Day After Trinity: J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb.”

Here is what Bethe said (edited slightly):

The first reaction we [scientists] had [after Hiroshima] was one of fulfillment.  Now it has been done.  The second reaction was one of shock and awe: What have we done?  What have we done.  The third reaction was it should never be done again.

It should never be done again: Just typing those words here from memory sends chills up my spine.

Let us hope it is never done again.  Let us hope a nuclear weapon is never used again. For that way madness lies.

Here are two comments I made in response to previous comments on this article:

1.

I think the comments once again show that no consensus is possible on whether the atomic bombs were decisive in ending the war sooner. Even well-informed people at the time disagreed.

Again, I return to the context of August 1945. A war-weary America, facing the prospect of a delayed Japanese surrender, was using every weapon at its disposal to drive the Japanese into the ground. That included blockade, firebombing, and invasions (Iwo Jima and Okinawa). A longer blockade and more Japanese would have starved. More firebombing, more dead Japanese. More invasions, more dead Japanese, and of course Allied troops as well. The Japanese were well indoctrinated to fall in battle like cherry blossoms in the service of the emperor, whom they viewed as a god.

How to get a Japanese leadership and people to surrender when they saw the very act as dishonorable to the warrior code of Bushido? How to persuade a military that was already committing suicide on a massive scale in Kamikaze attacks against Allied ships to capitulate and live on with the shame of defeat?

It’s clear from the evidence that Truman believed the atomic bomb would shock the “beast” of Japan (“beast” was Truman’s word, a description that Allied soldiers and other Asian peoples who suffered at the hands of Japan, e.g. the Chinese, the Vietnamese, the Koreans, would have agreed with). It surely did shock them. Profoundly. Was it sufficient? Was it necessary?

Again, there is no alternate reality in which the atomic bomb wasn’t dropped, and thus no way of knowing whether in that other reality, the Japanese would have agreed to surrender on August 15th.

2.

My reading of the evidence is that impressing the Soviets was a factor, but not THE factor, in the decision to use the bomb. Ending the war as quickly as possible was the driving factor. If the bomb had been ready in December 1944, it would have been used against Nazi Germany as the Battle of the Bulge raged. But the bomb wasn’t ready until July 1945, when the Germans had already surrendered.

Iwo Jima and Okinawa were fresh in the minds of everyone. Though the Japanese had extended peace-feelers, others in Japan were hardline and didn’t wish to surrender on any terms. Faced with a war that could last weeks or months longer, perhaps into 1946 if an invasion of the Japanese home islands had been necessary, the US leadership decided the bomb could be the shock that would force the Japanese to capitulate. And so it seemed, after the fact.

It’s a very complicated question that I’ve read a lot about, and written about as well. Many people at the time simply saw the bomb as a “bigger” bomb, not as something world-changing. Only a few people truly grasped the horror of atomic weapons.

I know this probably isn’t convincing, but again this is my reading of the evidence. Certainly, Nagasaki was completely unnecessary — it came far too quickly for the Japanese to process what had happened at Hiroshima.

The Superpower As Super-Spreader, and Other Snippets

US Navy aircraft carrier
I need one of these to protect me from Covid-19.  And it will stimulate the economy!

W.J. Astore

Item: After reading an interesting story about Joseph McCarthy’s rise and fall in the 1950s, I came across this headline today at NBC News: “‘I’m not a communist’: Potential Biden running mate Rep. Bass reassures Cuban American voters.”

Explains Congresswoman Bass of California:  “I’m not a socialist. I’m not a communist. I’ve belonged to one party my entire life and that’s the Democratic Party and I’m a Christian,” Bass told NBC News.

Isn’t that reassuring?  She’s a Christian and a Democrat.  And she has to deny strongly that she’s a communist, as if 2020 was really 1952 at the height of McCarthyism.

Why today are we supposed to be so scared of the commie wolf?  I thought America won the Cold War thirty years ago.

Item: Speaking of the big bad commie wolf, a friend who’s privy to senior U.S. military thinking (ha!) tells me that this is the “New Era of Great Power Competition,” i.e. a new cold war.  How else can you justify rapidly expanding “defense” budgets?  Another concept — or opportunistic notion — being kicked around is “unbounded strategic uncertainty.”  For the military-industrial complex, this sounds like a very useful concept indeed.  In these unbounded, uncertain times, shouldn’t America’s “defense” budget also be unbounded?  Who knows what will be the next threat?  We must dominate everything!

This reminds me of the story of mask shortages among troops in the U.S. military.  The military’s solution, at least in the short-term, was to encourage troops and their families to make their own protective masks for the Covid-19 outbreak.  A trillion-dollar military complex can’t afford to outfit troops with protective masks that cost pennies on the dollar.  But of course we can fund more F-35s, more aircraft carriers … It’s like the satirical Onion said: Each American should get an aircraft carrier as a stimulus.  What better way to protect ourselves while stimulating the economy?

Item: Andrea Mazzarino, a Navy spouse, has a great new article at TomDispatch.com that brings together two subjects that are rarely connected: the U.S. has a global empire with bases in 80 countries, even as Covid-19 cases spike in the “homeland” and affect (and infect) U.S. troops.  It’s conceivable that infected U.S. troops, in their worldwide deployments, will emerge as super-spreaders of a sort, especially given the out-of-control nature of Covid-19 cases in the American South, where so many U.S. troops are stationed.

We Americans fancy ourselves as the world’s sole superpower.  Will we emerge as the world’s viral super-spreader as well?  Yet another example of full spectrum dominance!

And that’s enough items to ponder today.  Readers, what say you?

Such a Sad Headline

Smith_&_Wesson_.357_Model_686_Plus
Flying off the shelves …

W.J. Astore

I saw this headline and story at the Guardian today: “Pandemic and protests spur Americans to buy guns at record pace.”

And it just made me sad.  Sad because Americans see guns as a security blanket.  Sad because guns are so expensive and also so easily misused.  Sad because more guns is really not the answer to anything.  Certainly not a pandemic.

Consider the sheer expense of guns.  A decent revolver, ammunition, a cleaning kit, and a few hours at your local gun range will likely cost at least a grand ($1000) at a time when almost half of Americans can’t meet an unexpected expense of $400.  Yet people find solace in a gun, a form of mental comfort, a sense of “I’m prepared.”  For Covid-19?  For peaceful protesters?  For the Purge?  Who knows?

It’s sad as well to recognize a gun in the home raises the risk of suicide by gun, and of course of accidental shootings.  Too many people buy a gun without knowing much about them — and how important it is to keep them secure, especially from children.

Look: I’ve owned guns and have shot everything from pellet pistols and rifles to Dirty Harry’s famed Smith & Wesson .44 magnum.  I can even cite Harry’s “Feel lucky, punk” line from memory.  I’m not anti-gun, but I am anti-hysteria.

Too many Americans are looking down the barrel of a loaded pistol for answers — and that’s neither the wisest nor safest place to look.  We need to strengthen our communities, not fortify our bunkers.  Buying more guns only does the latter.

Yesterday, an oldie by George Harrison came on my radio:

Give me love/Give me love/Give me peace on earth/Give me light/Give me life
Keep me free from birth/Give me hope/Help me cope, with this heavy load
Trying to, touch and reach you with,/Heart and soul.

What he sang.  That’s what we need, America, not more guns.