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Archive for August, 2010

Hiroshima, 65 Years On: “Countdown to Zero”

Friday, August 6th, 2010

Today, August 6, is the 65th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan. Nagasaki was nuked on Aug. 9. The bombs killed some 90,000 to 160,000 in Hiroshima and some 60,000 to 80,000 in Nagasaki, with half the deaths occurring in the first day, even the first millisecond, of the blast. Over the following months and years, thousands died from burns and radiation sickness.

Read Japanese novelist Kenzaburo Oe’s compelling op-ed in today’s New York Times, “Hiroshima and the Art of Outrage.” A friend of Oe’s mother was an eyewitness to the blast; she only survived because she was protected behind a large brick wall:

Moments before the atomic bomb was dropped, my mother’s friend happened to seek shelter from the bright summer sunlight in the shadow of a sturdy brick wall, and she watched from there as two children who had been playing out in the open were vaporized in the blink of an eye.

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Last night we went to see Countdown to Zero, a powerful new documentary written and directed by Lucy Walker and produced by the folks who brought us An Inconvenient Truth. Despite the film’s serious subject, it’s not a downer: it’s actually positive, affirmative, and you walk out feeling more hopeful. (You may have read about Countdown to Zero a few weeks ago in our tribute to Greenpeace co-founder and anti–nuke-testing activist Jim Bohlen.) Click here for a photo gallery of the film.

Enlivened by the commentary of such experts and officials as Mikhail Gorbachev, Jimmy Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Robert McNamara, Valerie Plame Wilson, Joseph Cirincione, and others, including a U.S. army officer who literally worked down in a nuclear silo with his finger on the button, the film gives a concise overview of the history of the atomic bomb and the reasons why it’s outlived its usefulness and should be eliminated from all arsenals.

The narrative shows how the bomb was developed in ultra top secret Manhattan Project in the early 1940s (even Vice President Harry Truman didn’t know about it until he became president upon the death of FDR in April 1945), and following the detonations over Japan, the bomb prompted misgivings and remorse, evoked most eloquently by nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who recalled the Trinity test in New Mexico (pictured above) in July 1945, just weeks before Hiroshima:

We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.

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WikiLeaks’s Afghan War Diary:
A “Pentagon Papers” for Our Time

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

“In releasing the Pentagon Papers I acted in hope I still hold: that truths that changed me could help Americans free themselves and other victims from our longest war.” —Daniel Ellsberg, Papers on the War (1972)

There’s a kind of appropriate, ironic justice that the Internet, which was originally developed by the Defense Department (as ARPANET)—with taxpayer dollars, naturally—now serves as the delivery system for spilling to the world a trove of secret U.S. military reports on the war in Afghanistan (also funded by the American public): a “Pentagon Papers” for our time. WikiLeaks.org, which in April released a U.S. military video of an Apache helicopter gunship killing civilians and Reuters journalists in Baghdad, has posted on the Internet about 92,000 SIGACTS (significant activity reports) from the Afghan war written between 2004 and 2009. Before posting the secret field reports, WikiLeaks provided to the New York Times, the Guardian (U.K.), and the German magazine Der Spiegel an advance peek. (Click here for a video of a press conference with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, shown above.)

(We meant to write about this earlier, but we’ve been so busy reading all 92,000 documents. Hey, the New York Times had a two-week jump-start! And this leak comes just a week after we bought a first edition of Daniel Ellsberg’s Papers on the War (1972)—in Woodstock, no less. Coincidence? You decide.)

WikiLeaks’s Afghan War Diary was unloaded within days of Newsweek’s publication of a “Rethinking Afghanistan” cover story bluntly titled “We’re Not Winning. It’s Not Worth It” by national security veteran Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations (not a hotbed of radicalism), and just weeks after the Rolling Stone profile of “The Runaway General” Stanley McChrystal IED’d the war effort and cast doubt on the troops’ support of the whole counterinsurgency strategy that Washington hoped would turn the war around. (As the New Yorker’s Amy Davidson points out, Gen. McChrystal himself leaked a report last September when it suited him, an early instance of the insubordination that got him fired.)

“What Does It Mean to Tell the Truth About a War?”

Although much of the WikiLeaks material is dismissed as routine—the White House predictably says there’s “nothing new here”—the documents reveal facts that will be news to the general public, further depressing an already war-weary, crisis-strained nation. Among the reports’ key revelations or substantiations:

  • The double-dealing of our “partner” Pakistan, whose intelligence service, ISI, has colluded with the Taliban to fight against U.S. and Afghan and coalition forces
  • New documentation of close working relationship, including financial support, between Pakistan’s military elite and the Afghanistan Taliban
  • Pakistani ISI agents have coordinated with the Taliban to kill American soldiers and have plotted to assassinate Afghan leaders
  • The U.S. has covered up evidence that Taliban insurgents are using surface-to-air missiles to bring down U.S. helicopters
  • Civilian deaths from drone attacks and other operations are far higher than admitted by the U.S.
  • The Taliban have massively escalated their roadside bombings, killing more than 2,000 civilians
  • A secret U.S. Special Forces unit hunts down and kills Taliban leaders for “kill or capture” without trial
  • To destroy Taliban targets, the Coalition is using Reaper drones remote-controlled from a base in Nevada

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