Chapter 8: Weapons of Mass Destruction
We have just passed the 66th anniversary of the United States atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Whenever weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) are mentioned, most people understandably think of atomic weapons. But on the website of a group I’ve been associated with for over 15 years, our opening sentence is this:
“Sanctions are the economic nuclear bomb.”
– Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate, returning from a March 1999 visit to Iraq.
This is not simply poetic metaphor! In 1999 UNICEF estimated that 500,000 Iraqi kids would have been alive if the declining mortality conditions in 1990 had continued. That does not count the sick, the elderly, and children over five, who also suffered excess deaths. That makes the number of civilian deaths from U.S. policy on Iraq at least twice all the civilian deaths from the atomic bombings at both Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Clearly bombing a country’s civilian infrastructure and then imposing and continuing economic sanctions for a period of years can become a weapon of mass destruction.
But there are other telling similarities with the deaths in Iraq and those in Japan in 1945.
To justify these respective policies, myths were perpetuated which sound plausible at first hearing. But these are myths which cannot stand much comparison with a factual or historical analysis. I have already discussed five common myths which are often repeated to justify or explain the deaths of Iraqi civilians – and why they were “not our fault.”
I repeat one of the most common myths here:
“Children die because Saddam Hussein built palaces.” From Madeleine Albright’s 1996 interview on CBS‘ 60 Minutes — when she infamously said the deaths of half a million Iraqi children were “worth the price” — she claimed that Saddam Hussein spent an enormous amount of money building his palaces while Iraqi children were malnourished and dying. In her statement she implied that the reason Iraqi children are dying is because Saddam Hussein spent $2 billion on his palaces. But simple arithmetic shows this comes to 4 cents per Iraqi per day. Is that why they died?
Now I can sadly add to Ms. Albright’s record, one further misrepresentation about the Iraq sanctions. On a Democracy Now! program she said, “there never were sanctions against food and medicine. And you people need to know there never were sanctions against food and medicine ….” To which I replied, “I have long wanted to get this into a court of law, where rules of evidence govern, and so you can ask somebody: well, if there never were sanctions on medicine, why is there a fine on Mr. Sacks and other people?”
In 2004, federal Judge James L. Robart ruled “the Medicine Restriction is Valid and Enforceable.” And in 1993, when the Office of Foreign Assets Control did grant a license to export medicine to Iraq, it imposed the condition that “All fees and other payments must come from a source not currently within the United States or within the possession or control of a United States person, including overseas branches.” That is, not only was medicine sanctioned – contrary to Ms. Albright’s claim – but even when a license was granted, an American was not allowed to help buy any of it for the sick and dying Iraqis.
How does this compare with myths about the atomic bombing of Japan in 1945?
I think the most common myth – repeated often as if it were an unquestioned fact of history – is that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was necessary to end the war, to avoid an American invasion, and to save between 500,000 and a million American lives.
I recently listened to an exceptional talk by Gar Alperovitz, “one of the most highly regarded experts on Hiroshima and U.S. policy.” The talk was from Alternative Radio (celebrating 25 years of remarkable audio with a $1 mp3 download of this and other talks!). I was aware of some myths about our atomic bombing of Japan, but this hour-long presentation was really eye-opening. Here is one paragraph from that talk:
The then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the 1945 structure was slightly different. He was a conservative admiral, Admiral Leahy. He was also Chief of Staff to the President of the U.S. He wore two hats: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, conservative admiral, and Chief of Staff to the President. This is what he had to say publicly after the war. Think of Colin Powell after the bombings in the Iraq war publicly saying something like this about his friend the President. This man was a friend, not a critic of the President, a very good friend. Admiral William D. Leahy said, “The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender. The use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan at all. In being the first to use it, we adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion. Wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.”
I’ve added my emphasis several times in that quote. The middle one echoes all of the historical military and intelligence documents which Gar Alperovitz cites: our military and the President knew, before we chose to drop the atomic bombs, that they were not necessary to end the war or save American lives. (I highly recommend you pay your $1 and download an mp3 of the talk. You’ll almost certainly learn a great deal more! Educate others about the myths that Gar Alperovitz demolishes. Listen to a brief snippet here.)
But my first emphasis is about Colin Powell, President George H.W. Bush, and the first Gulf War in 1991. Can we imagine Colin Powell objecting to the massive destruction of Iraq’s civilian infrastructure, especially the electrical grid, under the apparent belief that we could “win” the Gulf War and replace Saddam Hussein by “destroying women and children” in Iraq? I’m not aware of any major statement made by Colin Powell – as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or in any subsequent public statement – that begins to compare with the ethical and practical viewpoint stated by Admiral Leahy.
The other similarity between the bombing of Japan and the sanctions on Iraq – along with the great number of civilians who died in both wars – is why we’ve been kept in the dark for so long about the real consequences and reasons of these two wars.
That’s a matter of the reporting by our media.
Amy Goodman on a recent broadcast of Democracy Now! discussed the censored reporting about – and the deliberate misrepresentations of – the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One of the books discussed is Hiroshima in America: A Half Century of Denial. Whether you choose to listen to Gar Alperovitz’s talk or not, listening to that segment about Hiroshima (or reading the transcript) is in itself very enlightening.
My February posting on this site dealt specifically with the media. My January posting dealt with the background to the story of Iraq sanctions. My March posting dealt with nonviolence and ways it might relate to the media, to discussions with anyone on this issue, and on what it requires of us as individuals and activists.
The question then becomes how can we respond.
Frankly, I am still looking to find the best ways to respond. With a trial seeming to be less likely now then only a few days ago – and the “news hook” I felt it represented for this issue – I continue to look for alternative ways to “get the word out.” If any readers would like to offer suggestions, please do so at the Contact page.
I just received a gift in the mail. It’s a scarf with this quote from Gandhi: “We must never lose our faith in humanity.” I think Mahatma Gandhi is right. It would be bad for the world – and especially for ourselves – if we were to lose our faith in humanity … no matter what is going on.