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.


Lisa said...

On the personal level (which is the political, slogan-wise), Chief says,

you have to expect utterly nonlinear and often completely whack thinking and acts from people in general.


I don't however, necessarily agree with, "So we all acted like beasts in war." If so, the bestiality is relative.

Jim says,

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

Indeed. Think on a personal level here, and you will confirm the truth in that statement. Most everyone thinks himself quite clever and justified whilst committing any number of -- to be charitable -- blunders, or outright cruelties. Perhaps what really matters is, how you mop up your mess.

Chief points out the U.S. did a good job in reconstruction.

rangeragainstwar said...

i never have down time. i'm always a ticking....
as for japan. we allowed the dutch,french,english ,netherlands etc.. run rough shod over most of asia, but got our shorts in a wad when JAPAN wanted to do the exact same thing.think about this-did japan want to make hawaii a state??
they simply wanted a valid sphere of influence that we have always had since the days of Monroe. ditto germany, russia et al.
how/where , and why we draw battle lines i can never figure.
imo we have been screwed every time that we supported british or french or oil interests in asia.
.this is my analysis.think viet nam. we paid for french sins and called it a war against communism. the ME and SEA bear out my contention. think syria.
colonialism on the internatn'l scene was as corrosive and destructive as was slavery in the US., and it was all based on -WHITE IS RIGHT. well that's coming home to roost.the present warrior attitude is based on this assumption, but they'll NEVER admit it. example-how many blacks were in the SS /USMC photo. how many blacks are in force recon or sniper scouts?? or any elite units?
thanks for correcting my spelling-now i have 2 editors.
i need all the help i can get, and
thanks for the reply to my comment.

Lisa said...

jim says,

colonialism on the internatn'l scene was as corrosive and destructive as was slavery in the US., and it was all based on -WHITE IS RIGHT

While colonialism has left behind a lot of problems to be mopped up, it is not all "white is right", is it?

A little publicized fact of slavery in America is that some slaves, once freed, set up their own plots and took on their own slaves. Certainly in many African countries subjugation of black minorities continues, often in the form of economic, if not outright slavery.

The impulse to enslave and colonize is a human issue. Whoever wields the most power will impose that state upon the weaker, white or not.

FDChief said...

I kinda have to go with jim on this one, Lisa; black-on-black slavery was usually atrocity on a retail scale, while white-on-black slavery was the wholesale variety.

In fact, there's some line of thinking that tribal-type slavery (of the sort you found here among the native tribes and in sub-Saharan Africa) was a step up, civilization-wise, from the former tradition of simply killing all the men and boys on the losing side in a tribal war and taking the women and girls into the tribe as baby-factories. A lot of the "slavery" in these tribal settings wasn't hereditary, and in a generation the slave families were tribespeople in good standing.

The colonialism really WAS based on a truly corrosive institutional racism. A Blackfoot saw a Cheyenne as an enemy, not an inferior. A typical Briton saw a native of Bengal as a nigger, the offspring of a Bengali and a European as a half-nigger, a "chi-chi" and considered all of them - to the sixteenth-part non-white - as some sort of bipedal animal. The entire colonial systems used by England, France, Holland, Portugal...and don't get me started on the Belgians...were designed to put the brown, black, and yellow man in his place and keep him there, and the sort of damage that did to the places the Europeans ruled is so huge that it's nearly impossible to tease it out of all the other dysfunctions in those places...


FDChief said...


No question that the tribal hates have crippled Africa. But a lot of the internal problems stem from the way that the colonizers 1) made "nations" out of groups of people who were traditional rivals and/or outright enemies, and 2) then proceeded to use those tribal rivalries to rule, setting one tribe against another.

Look at our situation right now in the Middle East.

Afghanistan is an utterly fake "nation" composed of a whole bunch of tribes that range from distaining to truly despising each other. We've thrown in with the Tajiks and Uzbeks against the southern and eastern Pashtun, and the lack of a political solution has more to do with tribal incompatibilities than "terrorism".

In Iraq we tossed the Sunni Tikriti mob out and all we managed was to replace them with the Shia tribes from the center and south. The northern Kurds have no interest in being "Iraqi" and are merely tolerating the idiots who are scrapping over the qaddi in Baghdad.

Lisa, I do stand corrected on the relative bestiality of the U.S. versus many of our historical enemies; you're right and we HAVE often, when we could, tried to be as humane as we could. But I note that when it's down to lose "the fight" or lose ourselves we've often chosen to err on the Dark Side, whether it's imprisoning innocent Americans because they looked Asian or giving up our own civil rights because we feared "the terrorists".

Our monkey-wrath and monkey-fear have ways of breaking through the civilization that we've made; our own less, perhaps, than the Nazis did the German and the militarists did the Japanese, but perhaps even more shocking for that. We're not shocked when the Nazis flatten Rotterdam or kill millions in the death camps, or when the Japanese murder whole cities like Canton - their central creed was an extreme version of "the strong do what they can" coupled with a vile racism - they truly were Bad Guys.

But I do believe that we were the Good Guys - which makes things like the Tokyo and Dresden fire raids all the more disturbing and shocking. It's like seeing the hero shoot a man in the back; the context makes it more shocking rather than less...

rangeragainstwar said...

then look at politics- guys like Le May make it onto a presidential tiket, even if it is a 3 rd party.
he's a war criminal and a part of our society thot he'd be a viable vp just 1 heart beat from the oval ofc.
the 2nd. ww in the pacific was nothing more than hearstian yellow journalism gone wild. the yellow peril was a dominant theme in our society at the time.
we still have the white is right philosophy. all of our wars since 45 sure seem to bear this out.
would we have nucced Berlin?
think of the stuff the brits did in the colonies. and the belgians, as you mention.i resently saw a antique print in a auction that showed the brits tying Indians to cannons and then launching them down range. nice stuff for a white man's library.

rangeragainstwar said...

i treat colonialism and slavery as 2 distinct subjects.
both have a common white is right basis.
you are correct that slavery was not a purely white thing. the cartheginian african horse men took white slaves in spain.

Lisa said...

We're not shocked when the Nazis . . . kill millions in the death camps . . "

I beg to differ, and will always remain shocked by such devious carnage. It revealed what an erstwhile evolved, complicit modern society is capable of. It is well under 100 since, and already there are people ready to tuck it away and dismiss its validity.

If for only the reason I mentioned, it should never be forgotten.

FDChief said...

Lisa: Horrified? Yes. Shocked...are you shocked when a tiger kills its prey? Shocked when a tyrant kills HIS prey?

I hope we will always be horrified and revolted by what tens or thousands of "good Germans" did at the behest of their masters.

But I've seen too much of humanity to ever be shocked by vile acts. Only the hairless monkey is capable of the sort of truly appalling cruelty that happened inside the gates of Dachau, or Lidice.

Lisa said...


I do feel that perhaps men who have seen fighting have an altered view of humanity. Perhaps even as a student of history it is correct not to be "shocked", yet I still am.

Yes, may a sense of horror and revulsion never leave us, for existing at that level of insensitivity dooms us. Better yet would be not to behave in a horrible or reviling matter, but I don't hold out much hope of that for the human animal.

I read a recent quip from Anthony Hopkins, taught to him by his 3rd wife, which he said had made his life much better: Expect nothing, accept everything.

That may be the size of it.