Monday, November 8, 2010

War is Killing People, a review of "The Bomb", by Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn: The Bomb. San Francisco, Open Media Series: City Lights Books, 2010, 91 pages. $8.95

Comprised of two previously published essays on the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the French village of Royan at the end of World War Two plus a new Introduction by the author. Both attacks were justified and defended as necessary in bringing the wars with Germany and Japan to an end. Yet, as Zinn and others have shown, not everyone was in agreement with that. More likely the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were done to show the Soviets that we had the ultimate weapon. On the incendiary carpet bombing of the little village of Royan Zinn writes that "The evidence seems overwhelming that factors of pride, military ambition, glory and honor were powerful motives in producing an unnecessary military operation" that, like the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, because of the lack of viable military targets, were carried out against civilian populations to make a point: Resist us and you shall die.

In Humanity: a Moral History of the Twentieth Century (Yale University Press, September 1, 2001), British ethicist Jonathan Glover writes about "the moral slide" in reference to the decision during World War One to block aid shipments to the German people that caused thousands to die of starvation. From there it was a simple matter to push the envelope a little further and allow the bombing of civilians as a means of crushing an enemy's spirit and defeating him. Civilians, in other words, were now players in a military drama. Once frightened non-combatants, they were now an element military strategic planning, bargaining chips in an endgame that they was chosen for them by people they did not even know.

What Glover did in his masterwork, Howard Zinn did years earlier in his essay on the bombing of Hiroshima. "The strategic argument ... that there was no military necessity to use the bomb, is not enough. We need to confront the moral issue directly: faced with the horrors visited on hundreds of thousands of human beings by the massive bombings of modern warfare, can any military-strategic-political 'necessity' justify that?" (emphasis added). It is a question that each of us needs to ask ... and answer for ourselves.

In the Introduction, written in late 2009, Zinn brings the discussion into the present: "What you see over and over again in the news reports is the words 'suspected terrorist' or 'suspected al Qaeda' -- meaning that 'intelligence' is not sure whom we are bombing, that we are willing to justify the killing of a 'suspect' in Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan, something we would not accept from a police operation in New York or San Francisco (emphasis added). This suggests, to our shame, that the lives of people other than Americans are of lesser importance" (page 19).

I don't know if this hits you like it hit me, but when I read that I put the book down, looked out my window at my neighborhood, and thought. I thought about my country's actions in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan and its support of Israel in its dealings with the non-Jewish residents of Palestine. I thought about its deadly "Operation Cast Lead" attack on the tiny enclave of Gaza that unleashed an overwhelming rain of fire and death on everyone living there, and justified it as retaliation for a few missiles Hamas fired in its direction. I thought about the Obama administration's rejection of the well-documented Goldstone Report condemning Israel's actions as unjustified and accused its leaders of war crimes. And our long support of Israel in spite of a growing mass of evidence that shows that its treatment of Palestine's non-Jewish residence has from the beginning been a program of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

And I thought, as a citizen of the U.S.A., they are doing these things in my name. And by my silence I give my unspoken support to behavior that I do not agree with because it is morally reprehensible and wrong. It is this moral question -- are attacks against civilians morally acceptable or not -- that is the basic question for each of us. 

In his book House of War about the Pentagon, James Carroll includes an anecdote about a group of American general officers thinking about nuclear war against the Soviet Union. One of them says that since the U.S. has more of them, we would win, even if there are only two of us and one of them left standing. This is not only irresponsible, it's insane. I remember thinking "You idiot! You haven't won a damn thing! All three of you are men!"

I give Zinn's little book a 5-Star rating. If the moral issues that he raises concern you, and if they don't, buy a copy and read it.


This faces us

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