“It is such a supreme folly to believe that nuclear weapons are deadly only if they’re used. The fact that they exist at all, their presence in our lives, will wreak more havoc than we can begin to fathom. Nuclear weapons pervade our thinking. Control our behavior. Administer our societies. Inform our dreams. They bury themselves like meat hooks deep in the base of our brains. They are purveyors of madness. They are the ultimate colonizer. Whiter than any white man that ever lived. The very heart of whiteness.” – Arundhati Roy
With tensions rising around the world thanks to Donald Trump’s escalation of militarism against Iran and Venezuela there are some who have raised the alarm over a coming nuclear confrontation. There is reason to be concerned given that a narcissistic megalomaniac with the moral intelligence of a tsetse fly is seated on the throne of the American Empire. With one unhinged tweet the world could be plunged into an instant and enduring misery.
Nuclear weapons are the most totally destructive weapon ever conceived. Even now, years after the Cold War ended, they continue to menace our world with irreversible and utter devastation. But on the anniversary of the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki it is worth remembering that there has been only one nation on the planet which used these weapons on civilian populations, incinerating thousands of civilians in a micro-second and killing nearly 150,000 innocent women, children and men. The heat of those bombs was so intense that it burned the image of some of its victims onto the pavement of the cities. The United States detonated these monstrous behemoths in spite of convincing evidence that Japan, already in ruins, was on the brink of surrender. Borrowing tactics from other imperial entities in history, it was most likely an effort to send a message of dominance to another rising power, Soviet Russia.
Of course at its heart the nature of empire is to see itself and its actions as nothing but noble. Edward Said observed: “Every empire, however, tells itself and the world that it is unlike all other empires that its mission is not to plunder and control but to educate and liberate.” Said understood that the role of these myths were to obscure its supremacist character. Its atrocities can always be justified via empty slogans like “freedom” and “democracy,” or the lie of “humanitarian military intervention.” The disease of nationalism convinces the public of its virtuous intentions. And “the nationalist”, as George Orwell noted: “not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.”
In the years following the Second World War the United States launched an aggressive assault on the Korean peninsula completely leveling Pyongyang in a war that took the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, mostly civilians. The growing American super power also tested its nukes out on the once pristine Marshall Islands and its indigenous population in the Pacific, forever poisoning the land and causing untold misery for generations. It exposed its own soldiers and citizens to the detrimental effects of radiation from nuclear tests in the Nevada desert from 1951 and 1957. It dropped napalm and Agent Orange on Southeast Asia, and carpet bombed entire swaths of the earth. During the Gulf War in the 1990s the US exposed hundreds of thousands of soldiers to nerve gas which continues to cause suffering today. More recently the Pentagon has admitted that it used depleted uranium in Iraq and Syria, causing horrific birth defects and cancer outbreaks primarily in infants and children. It committed all of these crimes with the noblest of intentions, or so we have been told.
Of course the United States is not the only nation to have committed large scale, horrific atrocities. Imperial Japan was brutal and ruthless. Nazi Germany was a genocidal monster. Stalinist Russia had its own brand of cruel repression and mass murder, and the history of European colonialism is drenched in the blood of millions. Indeed, small nations too have committed barbarous acts of savagery often with the blessing of super powers like the US, Europe, China and Russia.
But in terms of global militarism, it is the American Empire which has been arguably the most aggressive on a global scale with nearly 800 military bases in over 70 countries. And it is today it is at the forefront of leading the world toward nuclear war. Indeed, under Obama and Trump it has excelled when it comes to nuclear proliferation in the first half of the 21st century. It justifies all of this with the same old canards about the need for an effective deterrence against the threat of “rogue states” or terrorism. But to accept this line of thinking is deny these documented crimes of Empire, and to deny that war itself is terrorism with nuclear bombs as its supreme expression.
It has been over seventy years since those bombings in Japan. Over seventy years of forgetting the horror. Over seventy years of normalizing the inhumanity. Over seventy years of nation states, big and small, creating newer, more fearsome, more cruel and more totally annihilating weapons of mass destruction, with the most powerful one of all leading the pack in this mad journey toward oblivion. But in those seventy plus years very little has been learned from those hateful skies about building a just and peaceful world, or from the shadows of human ghosts cast from them onto the unforgiving pavement. Their shadows are a haunting reminder to all of us of the fragility of all life. And as the Empire flirts with the fires of hell once again, may those ghosts bestow on us an undeserved mercy to spare us a similar fate.