Bombing Nagasaki

I'll never get over the role of weather and fuel capacity in the unintended atomic bombing of Nagasaki 74 years ago today. Nagasaki wasn't even on the target list until a few days prior and infamously was only bombed because more conventional targets were inaccessible after a storm depleted the carrier's fuel mid-flight. Blindly bombing Nagasaki was deemed preferable to squandering a billion-dollar nuclear weapon on the ocean… and not by highers-up Washington. Mind-boggling to consider the influence of weather in history; recall that an article in the post from earlier today quoted then-General Eisenhower attributing the Allied victory on the Western Front to their superior meteorologists.

From the book "Nagasaki" by Craig Collie :

Sit tight, boys. We’re going around again.’ Sweeney wheeled into another turn. As the plane came in for its third run, the crew were anxious and edgy. Van Pelt pointed out the stadium was near the arsenal. Beahan responded that the stadium was not the aiming point. Through the Norden, he saw streets and the river, but once again the munitions factory was shrouded. Again, he reported no drop. The tension released a rush of comments: ‘Fighters below, coming up’ (Dehart); ‘Fuel getting very low’ (Kuharek); ‘Let’s get the hell out of here!’ (Gallagher); ‘What about Nagasaki?’ (Spitzer).

Fuel was getting dangerously low and the hornets’ nest of defence they had stirred up below was an unacceptable risk for a plane carrying so destructive a weapon. Sweeney conferred by intercom with Beahan and the weaponeer, Lieutenant-Commander Frederick Ashworth. They decided to leave Kokura and head for Nagasaki, 160km to the south. The weather there didn’t look any more promising than Kokura, but the only other approved target, Niigata in northern Honshu, was too far away for their remaining fuel. Sweeney gathered his composure and asked the navigator, ‘Jim, give me the heading for Nagasaki.’

Sweeney said to his co-pilot, Lieutenant Don Albury, ‘Can any other goddamned thing go wrong?’ On the ground at Kokura, an all-clear had sounded before the Americans’ aborted bombing runs began. People were out of the shelters and getting about their business when they heard the aircraft engines high above them. However, this wasn’t the massed formations they associated with firebombing missions. They assumed it was a reconnaissance mission. Some noted the two planes made three passes over the city, the drone of their engines fading and returning each time. Then the planes disappeared, never to return. Kokurans got on with their lives, the struggle to stay afloat in a war-ravaged country.

The Japanese today have an expression, ‘Kokura’s luck’. It means avoiding a catastrophic event you didn’t even know was threatened.

More from the illuminating Alex Wellerstein thread here

Separately, most Japanese archival evidence shows that the Nagasaki bombing did not materially have an effect on the Japanese high command, either. They learned about it during a meeting they were having to discuss Hiroshima and the Soviet invasion. This was the same meeting where they decided to put forward an offer of conditional surrender (which the US rejected).

There isn’t any evidence that the Nagasaki attack changed anyone’s point of view in that room. Absence of evidence is not absence of effect, but it clearly wasn’t a crucial part of it. The idea that the Japanese didn’t believe that the US had more atomic bombs is mostly untrue. If Nagasaki hadn’t happened, it seems likely that little would have changed regarding surrender. This is why many people who have studied it have found Nagasaki not that justifiable. Ted Telford, the chief US prosecutor at Nuremberg, concluded that had had “never heard a plausible justification of Nagasaki.”

I think one can come up with “plausible justifications” for Hiroshima, even if they are debatable. Nagasaki is definitely a trickier moral issue, if your concern is with not slaughtering masses of civilians unnecessarily.

Hong Kong as a failure of neoliberalism

There is a common saying among some protesters: 「自己香港自己救 」—loosely, "We alone can save our Hong Kong." Like so many Hong Kong slogans, the phrase speaks in multiple registers: it is both a rallying call and a pained observation of the city's existential isolation. In the same way, it points to the impotence of global neoliberalism and its empty promises to safeguard "freedom" in (wealthy) societies everywhere.

Contrary to China's propagandistic accusations that the Hong Kong protests are being propped up by nefarious Western agents, there is little indication the West craves any involvement… That the globalist gods won't even answer the distress signals of this Asian capitalist citadel should be the clearest example yet of what oppressed people around the world have long known: neoliberalism has never been a framework for transnational solidarity as much as a self-serving logic of global exploitation. To the extent that conscious observers, in Hong Kong and elsewhere, harbor reluctance to give up on the post–Cold War fantasy of free-market world peace, it is due to the lack of viable alternative frameworks. The crisis in Hong Kong demonstrates that neoliberalism is declining not because progressives are winning, but because it is being supplanted by a newer, more efficient ideology of authoritarian capitalist violence that is consolidating power everywhere against an alarmingly fragmented opposition. And it shows just how dangerous the world has become due to the lack of a coherent international left position.

More on the recent history of political unrest in Hong Kong here

A review of This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrant's Manifesto by Suketu Mehta

First, catastrophic climate change, global inequality, and the ruinous aftermath of colonialism have ensured that "mass migration is the defining human phenomenon of the twenty-first century." Not since the end of World War II have there been as many displaced persons as there are now. By 2050, up to 30 percent of the planet's surface, home to 1.5 billion people, could be desert; the population of Africa will double to 2.4 billion; in Bangladesh alone, 20 million could be displaced by rising sea levels. By the century's end, land populated by 650 million people could be underwater. Mehta has a lot more stuff like this, none of it reassuring.

His second proposition is that migrants from the poorer parts of the world have a right to settle in richer parts of the world. This right is essentially restitutionary: societies that unjustly enriched themselves at the expense of other societies are obligated to make restitution… "Immigration as reparations," as Mehta terms it." …there are millions in the Central American states that, as Mehta demonstrates, the US has destabilized, traumatized, and plundered for its own gain. There are billions of people in postcolonial societies. If you believe, as Mehta does, that restitution is also due to poor countries suffering from the impoverishment and environmental damage caused by rich countries and their predatory multinational corporations, the scope for reparations grows even larger.

It could also be said, of course, that Mehta is dismissive of the cultural and economic anxieties of the host population. But that is precisely his intention: to dismiss the concerns of white natives about having brown foreigners in their midst. Either their concerns are racist and accordingly without merit, or their concerns have some merit, but not as much merit as the concerns of migrants.

White supremacy and paramilitary violence

Published just ahead of the Dayton and El Paso shootings

For more than a century, anti-communism was a reliable binding agent on the American right. Disparate factions, from tax protesters and libertarians to fundamentalist Christians, from anti-abortion activists to the Ku Klux Klan and white power terror cells, could share a common enemy. For much of the 20th century, the struggles against communism and black progress were close to indistinguishable.

The type of free-market creed that most mainstream conservatives espouse has long been reconcilable with white nativist priorities. The Canadian historian Quinn Slobodian has recently labelled this apparent ideological mongrel 'xenophobic libertarianism', pointing to the fact that the American right has consistently paired the demand for an absolute right to free movement of capital with ever more biologised criteria for the exclusion of people.

The Vietnam War fused white power and anti-communism together. Shared wartime experience during World War Two seems to have reduced racism in the ranks – Truman went on to desegregate the military in 1948 – but Vietnam did the opposite. For the first time in any American war, black troops were over-represented in the ranks. Their presence became a galvanising political issue for the civil rights movement, whose activities in turn became a political issue for many serving white soldiers, who came to view black soldiers as unreliable or worse. As US forces evacuated Saigon, the more conservative among them felt that they had lost one war only to return home to lose another: the civil rights movement had put black rights on the national agenda in a way that imperilled the white future.

The Vietnam War had a further pernicious effect: it helped make possible the paramilitary expression of racist sentiment.

A review of Reporter, by Seymour Hersh

That’s the Hersh autobiography I wrote about in January. The critic, Scott Sherman, does a great job of adding critical context to Hersh's career and my own response at the time now reads as very naïvely taking Hersh's account of his life at face value. In the spirit of one of Hersh's career low points, I'm hereby issuing a correction to my review of the book. He is a self-admitted bully and now I know he has possibly ruined a man's life because of a misjudged retributive streak. Hersh convincingly portrays the image of the reporter as an underdog, but neglects to acknowledge his failure to live up to the responsibility that comes with the power of a self-regulating press.

At its best, Reporter is a lively self-portrait of a maverick and troublemaker. But it is scrubbed and sanitized. He appears in a half-light; the book does not illuminate the darkest corners of his long career… Hersh is less than truthful in chronicling, for instance, the Korry affair, about which Reporter contains two hasty, misleading paragraphs that ignore the damage he inflicted… For a full view of Hersh and an authoritative sense of his career, which embodies the expansive possibilities of muckraking as well as its many perils, one must look elsewhere.

The passages in Reporter devoted to Assad are strikingly friendly. They illustrate the moral dangers of Hersh's brand of muckraking, which entails a relentless determination to get the story at any cost

The journalist who documented war crimes in Vietnam and Cambodia has overlooked them in Syria. …One wishes that Hersh had spent more time adding texture, nuance, and humility to Reporter. If he had scrutinized his own life with the same tenacity he has directed elsewhere, he might have given us one of the great journalistic memoirs.

The egotistic pursuit of prestige described by Sherman is hardly concealed elsewhere in the book; of Hersh's bouncing around different publications, I wrote at the time that "the arrangements seem more like the hiring of a truth-seeking mercenary than an employee." I don't have a problem still considering many aspects of Hersh heroic. The details Sherman provides don't really undermine the qualities I had found most compelling in the narrative, namely the amazing ability of one reporter to effect change in various powerful institutions almost entirely through sheer effort and the insider's vantage of the politics of journalism.

Somewhat related: a retrospective from last year on the 50-year anniversary of the My Lai massacre