Friday, February 24, 2012

Melian Dialogue

In his comment on the post about the ghostly photographs from Hiroshima my Ranger buddy jim has some trenchant questions (which I have edited purely for spelling - jim tends to go for function over fussy correctness):
"I constantly marvel at the easy way in which we justify our use of WMD's (the real stuff) and then slap people in jail for life because they had 83 grams of home made PETN in their shoes or under wear. Don't we remember Curtis LeMay?

It confuses my simple mind.

But how do we justify the Hiroshima/Nagasaki, Tokyo firebombing...throw in Hamburg, Dresden and any other that warms your cold heart, AND THEN have the balls to condemn the 9-11 event? Please correct me , as I know you would, if I'm wrong.

The rule as I see it is-if we do it it's OK, but if they do it = no go.

OT - thinking of japan - how did we fuck that up? Things started off well. TR even got a Nobel peace prize supporting them versus the Russians. The cherry blossoms in DC are gifts from the grandparents of the Japanese WW2 fire bombing victims.How did we get from cherry blossoms to nuclear blossoms?"
As usual with jim's thoughts, there's layers upon layers there to ponder - the guy has done some deep thinking during his down time. I'm not sure I can help, but let me at least try and add some of my own, poor as it is, in answer to some of his questions and respond to some of his ideas.

Relations between nations are often as complex as between people, and people are as twisty as a corkscrew. So I think that, first, you have to expect utterly nonlinear and often completely whack thinking and acts from people in general.

In Japan's case I think it had something to do with two Great Powers sharing different edges of the same ocean, with the result that for sixty years or so we were in the positions that Churchill, I think, ascribed to the Germans and the British; someone was either at the others' feet, or at their throats.

Add in the dramatic changes in economic and military power and a healthy slug of racism going both ways and you get what if it had been a celebrity marriage Entertainment Tonight would have called "volatile".

So for all that TR got them a peace treaty the Japanese felt like he'd help shike them out of what they felt they had (and they had in fact) legitimately by the standards of 1904 beaten out of the Russians. Add in the gripes going all the way back to ADM Perry, and you end up at Pearl and Bataan forty years later. And then Tokyo and Hiroshima forty years after that.

We hung Yamashita for the things his troops did, and Tojo for starting the war...but LeMay said flat out that if we had lost he expected that he'd have been tried and executed for the fire raids.

We could - and do - make the excuse that we were the victims of aggressive war. And we were, let's not let the Japanese and Germans off that hook, but that's not particularly germane to whether we needed to incinerate hundreds of thousands of women and kids. We were winning without the fire raids - the USN submarine and naval air forces were seeing to that by sinking everything that floated - and we would have won without the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.

But for all their horror we can't counterfactual what might have happened had the U.S. had to execute Operations OLYMPIC and CORONET, the invasions of mainland Japan.

What we did know - the example of Okinawa - was frightful, both for the Japanese civilians, who killed themselves in droves, and for us. More than 200,000 people died in the "steel wind"; 65,000 Americans and well over 150,000 Japanese.

So we all acted like beasts in war. When people fight we often lose sight that there must be an end to the fighting and then we'll have to own up to our atrocities. And when we DO see them, like people often do, we usually try to find a way to justify our own horrors while mopping and mowing over theirs. That's fucked up, but that's people and always has been.

When the killing does stop nations, like people after fights, find ways to live together. I think it helped that we as a nation really do tend to try and put together the places we wreck. Especially after WW2; we really did help put the conquered Axis people back on their feet.

Out of self-interest as much as altruism, sure, but still...I think the the survivors of the fire raids and the nuclear cities had a sense of what a Japanese occupation of a defeated America might have been like, and had some gratitude that the strong hadn't done what they could and they, the weak, suffered less than they must.

So in a sense the cherry blossoms DID come from a nuclear blossom, or, at least, the trade-off of the horror that occurred for the one that hadn't.

But - also like people - nations also tend to see their own slights and their own injuries as more grievous than others'. So we still remember Bataan and Malmedy - atrocity done retail - and tend to forget the wholesale killing of innocents in the fire raids over Tokyo and Dresden. I had a commentor some while back actually remind me of the evils the Japanese did after the capture of Wake Island in 1942, where they executed almost 100 civilian captives, an atrocity that has (obviously) not yet slipped down the memory hole!

So with 9/11.

On the scale of human atrocities from St. Bartholomew's Day to the Bataan Death March it's kind of a blip, really.But a spectacularly dramatic one, and one that - largely because we in the U.S. have been insulated from what our policies have done and are seen to have done in the Middle East - seemed to come out of nowhere. And it coincided with the rise of the red-meat Right that saw the possibility of using public anger against the ragheads as a way of moving towards a Greater American Century...combined with a liberal interventionist Center who saw it as a way to mobilize U.S. might against potential or existent dictators and similar nasties abroad. The strong would do what they could, and the damn weak Ay-rabs would suffer what they must, because that's the way of the world.

So it's a bit of a perfect storm of hypocrisy, innt? Bin Laden attacks the Towers, not because of U.S. engineering the 1948 coup in Syria or the 1953 coup in Iran or the tacit support of the Israel invasion of Lebanon, or before that the 1958 coup in Lebanon (it really does go on, doesn't it?) but principally because of the U.S.'s stationing of troops in his dear "sacred" Saudi Arabia, home of the burka. And the U.S. uses bin Laden's attack to go completely fucking bugnuts, occupying Afghanistan for longer than Alexander did, invading Iraq for no reason at all (perhaps in order to prove to Tojo that he died in vain...) and shooting and bombing all over the Middle East trying to kill our way to peace.It all seems very...human.

Sometimes I wish that people as groups weren't as smart as the IQ of the smartest person in the group divided by the number in it. But we are, and we always seem to have been. So nations seem to be doomed to be like a giant four-year-old; perpetually greedy, perpetually grieved, always ready to laugh at others' pain and weep furiously over their own. A gross, foolish, rapacious machine for turning food into excretia.

The only excuse for a four-year-old is that occasionally it's cute and eventually it grows up.

I'm honestly not sure what OUR excuse is.

But I expect that we'll always have one.

I'm afraid that's not a good answer to your questions, jim. But it's all I have.

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