“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, and US warships being sent to the Sea of Japan, there are many who are jittery about the potential of a confrontation involving chemical weapons or worse, a nuclear incident between North Korea and the US. There is reason to be. 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 instant misery. And North Korea is a paranoid authoritarian regime which has elevated the worship of the State to an art form. It has recently unveiled what appear to be new weapons, and it is widely known to possess nuclear weapons.
Nuclear weapons are arguably the most totally destructive weapon ever conceived of by our species. Even now, years after the Cold War ended, they continue to menace our world with irreversible and utter devastation. But there has been only one nation on the planet which has actually detonated not one but two nuclear bombs on two cities, incinerating thousands of civilians in a micro-second and killing nearly 130,000 women, children and men. The United States did this in spite of evidence that Japan was already in ruins and was perhaps ready to 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.
At its heart the nature of empire is to see itself as 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 regions. 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. It did all of this 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 atrocities. Imperial Japan was brutal and ruthless, and 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 or Russia. With all of this in mind one must ask what moral leg any government has to stand upon when it comes to making the world safe or bringing peace? How can any one of them be trusted with sweeping military power? Are we really expected to believe that in this day and age any of them have the best of intentions when they use such powers?
Kenn Orphan 2017
Addendum: I wanted to add something personal to this article. My father was in the US Navy during the second world war, and was scheduled to be deployed to Japan just before the bombing of Hiroshima. So I did not write this with flippancy. If he had been deployed I may not have been born. But I rarely entertain hypothetical arguments, especially when real flesh and blood human beings have been killed. And I cannot rationalize incinerating hundreds of thousands of civilians for a theory that it might have saved millions. To me it is a ghoulish game that is only relished by the powerful.
I loved my father, but he was told and believed one version of the story: the victor’s version. There is now strong evidence that indicates the contrary or at least other possibilities. Empires lie, and they lie well. Especially when they are the victors of war. It is up to us to parse through those lies and reject the insidious nationalism they use to justify their crimes against humanity.