More Troops in Afghanistan and Preserving U.S. Nuclear Dominance... Is This the Path to Ending the Horrors of War?

by Larry Everest 

At West Point on December 1, one of President Barack Obama's key arguments for escalating the war in Afghanistan was the danger that Islamic fundamentalists like al Qaeda or the Taliban might seize power in Pakistan and/or get hold of Pakistan's nuclear weapons.
 
"The people and governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan are endangered," Obama stated. "And the stakes are even higher within a nuclear-armed Pakistan, because we know that al Qaeda and other extremists seek nuclear weapons, and we have every reason to believe that they would use them."
This justification for escalation in Afghanistan is part of a broader argument by Obama about the continued need for U.S. global "leadership" on the danger of nuclear weapons. It goes like this: whatever mistakes the U.S. has made, it has preserved global peace for the past 60-plus years and helped advance the interests of humanity. Now today, in the face of new threats from terrorists—who are far less rational and concerned about human life than the U.S. and its allies, but instead are driven by "rage"—the U.S. should continue in its role as guarantor of world security. Other countries should follow its lead in Afghanistan and on nuclear proliferation overall (especially in regard to Iran and North Korea) because this is the best and most realistic way to prevent the use of nuclear weapons and ultimately eliminate all nuclear weapons.
Obama articulated these themes at West Point and again in Oslo, Norway, when he received the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10.
 
"We will have to take away the tools of mass destruction," Obama declared at West Point. "And that's why I've made it a central pillar of my foreign policy to secure loose nuclear materials from terrorists, to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and to pursue the goal of a world without them, because every nation must understand that true security will never come from an endless race for ever more destructive weapons. True security will come for those who reject them... But more than any other nation, the United States of America has underwritten global security for over six decades."
 
At Oslo, Obama argued that in the wake of the "destruction" of World War 2 and "with the advent of the nuclear age":
 
"America led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace: a Marshall Plan and a United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of war, treaties to protect human rights, prevent genocide, and restrict the most dangerous weapons. In many ways, these efforts succeeded. Yes, terrible wars have been fought, and atrocities committed. But there has been no Third World War."
 
But today, he argued, "this old architecture is buckling under the weight of new threats. The world may no longer shudder at the prospect of war between two nuclear superpowers, but proliferation may increase the risk of catastrophe. Terrorism has long been a tactic, but modern technology allows a few small men with outsized rage to murder innocents on a horrific scale."
Obama is amplifying the core post-September 11 narrative repeated over and over by government and the media: Islamic fundamentalists are unconstrained crazies who think "god" has ordained them to strike their enemies, including with nuclear weapons, without regard for human life or world opinion. And that's why people should back the U.S. in its efforts to defeat them and keep nuclear weapons out of their hands.
 
But before jumping on this bandwagon, people need to stop and think, and examine this logic and where it leads.
 
First, are nuclear weapons a horror? Yes. Would their use—anywhere by anyone—engulf thousands if not millions in an inferno of death and suffering? Yes. Is Islamic fundamentalism a reactionary political movement and outlook, whose tactics reflect its reactionary nature? Yes.
But does it automatically follow that people's best or only choice is fighting with and for the U.S.?
In this article we're going to walk through Obama's claims and arguments—are they true, or not?
And where do they lead?
 
Is it true that the rulers of the U.S. are more rational and less murderous than the Islamic fundamentalists—especially concerning nuclear weapons? Is their stewardship the best way to prevent nuclear conflict and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons? Who actually unleashed the "nuclear genie" on the world, and is most responsible for nuclear proliferation? Who is most likely to use nuclear weapons today? And what is driving the nuclear danger? And, looking honestly at all the facts, who is it today that actually fits Obama's description of how "modern technology allows a few small men with outsized rage to murder innocents on a horrific scale" without regard for world opinion, and justifies this in the name of "god"?
 
Looking at Afghanistan and Pakistan specifically, what gave rise to the possibility that Islamic fundamentalists could gain access to Pakistan's nuclear weapons? And what impact will it actually have for the U.S. to continue—and be allowed to continue by lack of resistance in the U.S.—to play this role overall and to escalate the war in Afghanistan? (Obama's argument is a package deal—supporting Obama's Afghanistan escalation also means supporting the U.S.'s "right" to be the "guarantor of global security" and supporting U.S. efforts to enforce or impose that.)
 
Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Who Uncorked The Nuclear Genie?
 
Obama's narrative of the positive role the U.S. has played in the world regarding nuclear weapons focused on the post World War 2 period and is rooted in the concept of a "just war." According to Obama, one criteria for a "just war" is one in which "the force used is proportional, and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence." World War 2 was a just war, he argued, yet acknowledged it "was a conflict in which the total number of civilians who died exceeded the number of soldiers who perished." Obama then argued that "In the wake of such destruction, and with the advent of the nuclear age, it became clear to victor and vanquished alike that the world needed institutions to prevent another World War"—an effort in which

"America led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace."
 
Here Obama "forgets" to mention the key and central fact—who actually ushered in the "nuclear age": in fact, it was the United States by developing and then dropping two nuclear bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those horrific bombings epitomize the other point Obama forgot to mention: that during World War 2, the United States was guilty of the massive slaughter of civilians. By the end of 1945, between 140,000 and 150,000 people had perished in Hiroshima and another 75,000-80,000 in Nagasaki. The victims—overwhelmingly civilians—died from direct injuries— flash burns, trauma, radiation burns—illness, malnutrition and radiation sickness. In the years that followed, more died from various cancers caused by radiation.
 
The U.S. rulers have long claimed that they were forced to drop "the bomb" because otherwise they would have had to directly invade Japan, and many more lives would have been lost. This is a narrative that fits one of Obama's key criteria for a just war: that such violence be only used "as a last resort or in self-defense."
 
But historians have unearthed abundant evidence disproving this imperialist mythology (which continues to be the dominant narrative about Hiroshima and Nagasaki today). Japan was reeling and its rulers had secretly communicated their desire to end the war—before the bombs dropped. According to historian Gar Alperovitz, “A critical message of July 12, 1945—just before Potsdam [and some 3 weeks before Hiroshima was bombed]—showed that the Japanese emperor himself had decided to intervene to attempt to end the war." In his private journal, President Harry Truman called it a "telegram from [the] Jap Emperor asking for peace,” at once exposing both his racism and that his administration consciously lied about their reasons for nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
 
"The consensus among scholars is that the bomb was not needed to avoid an invasion of Japan and to end the war within a relatively short time," according to J. Samuel Walker, chief historian of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. "It is clear that alternatives to the bomb existed and that Truman and his advisers knew it." (Emphasis added)
So Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not obliterated for self-defense. So then: why were these cities obliterated and over 200,000 people incinerated?
 
Here's how then-Secretary of State James Byrnes' personal assistant put it in his private journal. Byrnes was "hoping for time, believing [that] after [the] atomic bomb Japan will surrender and Russia will not get in so much on the kill, thereby being in a position to press claims against China." Alperovitz writes, "I also believe the evidence is strong, but not conclusive, that American leaders saw the bomb above all as a way to impress the Russians and also as a way to end the war before the Red Army got very far into Manchuria [in northern China]."
 
In sum, the record shows that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were obliterated for coldly-calculated imperialist geopolitical objectives, including weakening the Soviet Union's post-war influence and making a statement to the world that America would henceforth rule the planet and would brook no challenge. (Quotes re Hiroshima/Nagasaki above from Gar Alperovitz, "Hiroshima: Historians Reassess," Foreign Policy, Summer 1995, ncesa.org/html/hiroshima.html; Gar Alperovitz, "Hiroshima After Sixty Years: The Debate Continues," CommonDreams.org, August 3, 2005)
 
Sparing Civilians From Violence? The March 1945 Firebombing of Tokyo
 
U.S. savagery and wanton slaughter of civilians wasn't confined to the dropping of "Fat Man" and "Little Boy"—the codenames turned nicknames for America's first two atomic bombs. These bombings came in the wake of the U.S. bombings of Tokyo and other Japanese cities (where most homes were made of wood) using incendiary bombs designed to burn the cities down. On March 9-10 alone, the firestorm over 16 square miles of Tokyo killed over 100,000 people and injured many more. At the time, former Secretary of Defense and architect of the Vietnam War Robert McNamara was doing statistical analysis for Gen. Curtis E. LeMay of the Army's Air Forces.
 
"We burned to death 100,000 Japanese civilians in Tokyo—men, women and children," Mr. McNamara recalled; some 900,000 Japanese civilians died in all. "LeMay said, 'If we'd lost the war, we'd all have been prosecuted as war criminals.' And I think he’s right. He—and I'd say I—were behaving as war criminals. What makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?" ("Robert S. McNamara, Architect of a Futile War, Dies at 93," New York Times, July 7, 2009. McNamara quotes taken from the Errol Morris film, The Fog of War.)
Did such actions meet Obama's criteria that force be "proportional," and "whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence"?
 
No. The real history of World War 2 gives the lie to any notion that those who run the system base any of their key decisions on concern for civilian life, or that they're bound by any precepts of "just war."
 
Why should such a power be entrusted with "constructing an architecture to keep the peace"?
 
Post-World War 2—Leaving Nukes Behind? Hardly.
 
This is quintessential Obama: rewriting history in the service of imperialism and its current objectives—by acknowledging wrongdoing in a general way, while omitting any specific mention or accounting of the record of towering U.S. crimes and carnage.
 
What, in fact, was the U.S. record after World War 2? Did the U.S. come to its senses after Hiroshima and Nagasaki and do all it could to "prevent another World War," as Obama implied, or halt the use and spread of nuclear weapons?
 
No. The U.S. accelerated its production and development of nuclear weapons (at its peak in the mid-1960s, the U.S. arsenal was comprised of over 30,000 nuclear warheads), it fueled the nuclear arms race, it facilitated nuclear proliferation, it repeatedly threatened the use of nuclear weapons, and took the world to the brink of nuclear war more than once.
 
The U.S.'s development—and use—of nuclear weapons and then its nuclear war threats against the Soviet Union and China, helped spark a nuclear arms race. After World War 2, the U.S. threatened to use nuclear weapons against China during the Korean war (1951-53), and threats of nuclear war against the Soviet Union also hung in the air during the late 1940's and early 1950's. Then the U.S. had secret plans to turn the Soviet Union into a "smoking radiating ruin at the end of two hours." (David Alan Rosenberg and W.B. Moore, "Smoking Radiating Ruin at the End of Two Hours": Documents on American Plans for Nuclear War with the Soviet Union, 1954-55, The MIT Press, 1981.)
 
As part of its "Cold War" struggle against the Soviet Union, the U.S. also helped its allies Britain and France develop nuclear weapons. And it has continued to refine and develop its own nuclear arsenal, both in pursuit of nuclear supremacy and to make its nukes more usable.
 
Iraq 1958: Threatening—and Deploying—Nuclear Weapons Against a Revolution
 
Nuclear weapons were—and continue to be—central to U.S. military strategy, operations and global actions and posture (and a key way the U.S. imperialists, with but 3% of the world's population, planned to dominate the whole planet). The U.S. has never renounced the first use of nuclear weapons, and threatened—either overtly or covertly—or seriously considered the use of nuclear weapons dozens of times in the post-World War 2 period against many different countries. According to one tabulation, the U.S. threatened the use of nuclear weapons at least 15 times after World War 2, in the Middle East, Asia, Latin America and Europe. (academic.evergreen.edu/g/grossmaz/interventions.html)
 
For instance, in the Middle East, in 1958 the U.S. threatened to use nuclear weapons after the Iraqi monarchy—a staunch U.S. ally—was overthrown and a more nationalist regime took power. The U.S. threatened war against the new republic, and U.S. forces—including the Strategic Air Command—were put on worldwide alert. Shortly before Iraq's revolution, 70 naval vessels, hundreds of aircraft and 14,000 Marines had been dispatched to Lebanon. They arrived in mid-July in position to intervene in Iraq. Micah Sifry, formerly Middle East editor at The Nation, notes that these forces reportedly included an "atomic unit" with artillery capable of firing nuclear shells. Eisenhower had in fact issued a secret directive to the Joint Chiefs of Staff ordering them to prepare to use nuclear weapons to prevent an Iraqi takeover of Kuwait's oil fields.
 
In response to U.S. threats and deployments, the Soviet Union began large-scale maneuvers on its borders with Turkey and Iran. Sifry concluded, "Until the makeup and intentions of the new Republic of Iraq became clear, 'general war' was a real possibility." In April 1959, CIA Director Allen Dulles told Congress that the situation in Iraq was "the most dangerous in the world today." (Micah L. Sifry, "U.S. Intervention in the Middle East: A Case Study," The Gulf War Reader, pp. 27-30; William Blum, Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower, pp. 133-134)
 
Iran 1980: "Plunging Headlong into World War 3."
 
The Iranian revolution of 1979 overthrew the Shah who was a key pillar of U.S. dominance in the Middle East. This came at a time of escalating rivalry between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and there was enormous concern in Washington that the Soviets might gain ground in the region in the wake of the Shah's fall and the ongoing turmoil in Iran after the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in November 1979.
 
Soviet fears of U.S. military action against Iran were sparked on August 16, 1980 when columnist Jack Anderson published an article reporting that, "A startling, top-secret plan to invade Iran with powerful military forces has been prepared for President Carter. The ostensible purpose is to rescue the hostages, but the operation also would exact military retribution." Anderson reported that the assault, tentatively scheduled for October, called for seizing and holding Kharg Island, through which 90 percent of Iran's oil flowed, and possibly other oil fields in southern Iran. Anderson called it a "desperate political gamble.... There already have been ominous rumblings out of the Kremlin, warning of retaliation if Iran should be attacked. A Soviet-U.S. clash over Iran, of course, could become the opening skirmish of World War 3."
 
The Carter administration claimed it had no such plans, but the Soviets seem to have responded to Anderson's exposé by placing their forces near Iran in a higher state of readiness, perhaps as a warning. In late August, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s National Security Advisor, writes that Washington detected Soviet forces deployed "in a mode suited for intervention in Iran" and decided to warn the Soviets that any move into Iran "would lead to a direct military confrontation" and to "develop military options both for the defense of Iran itself and for retaliatory military responses elsewhere, in the event of a Soviet move." Those options included the use of tactical nuclear weapons.
 
The atmosphere was so fraught with tension that when the Carter team was debating whether to move AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia following the September 1980 outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war (thus directly inserting advanced U.S. weapons in the region), Brzezinski writes that then-Secretary of State Muskie "exploded and said that we are plunging headlong into World War 3."
 
Journalist and author Dilip Hiro concluded, "In short, when it came to keeping the Soviets out of Iran the Reagan administration (like the Carter administration before it) was prepared to go to the furthest limit, including nuclear warfare."
 
(Sources re Iran crisis: Jack Anderson, "Iran invasion plan reported, denied," Chicago Sun-Times, Aug.16, 1980; Gary Sick, October Surprise: America's Hostages in Iran and the Election of Ronald Reagan, pp. 25-26; Zbigniew Brzezinski, Power and Principle, pp. 451-453; Richard Halloran, New York Times, September 2, 1986; Benjamin F. Schemmer, "Was the U.S. Ready to Resort to Nuclear Weapons for the Persian Gulf in 1980?" Armed Forces Journal International, September 1986, Halloran and Schemmer cited in an unpublished paper by Daniel Ellsberg; Dilip Hiro, Iran Under the Ayatollahs, pp. 325-6)
 
Vietnam 1969: Nuclear "Madmen"... In the White House
 
These and many other examples demonstrate that U.S. threats were not empty bluffs. The U.S. often put its nuclear forces on alert or moved nuclear weapons into position for use; and all the while the U.S. were risking setting in motion events which the U.S. couldn't control which could lead to the use of nuclear weapons. In short—the U.S. was gambling with the future of humanity in order to advance its imperial objectives.
 
The U.S. rulers paint the Islamic fundamentalists as insane, while they themselves are worthy stewards of the planet. In fact, the imperialists practiced "brinksmanship," pushing things to the brink—and even acting as if they were irrational—in order to get opponents to back down.
President Richard Nixon called it "the madman theory," and in 1969, he put it into practice and nearly plunged the world into nuclear war. "I want the North Vietnamese to believe that I've reached the point that I might do anything to stop the war," Nixon told his top advisor. At the time the Vietnam War had turned into a major debacle for the U.S. and Nixon wanted to force the North Vietnamese to sue for peace on U.S. terms—but Hanoi was refusing. "We'll just slip the word to them that for God's sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about communism. We can't restrain him when he's angry, and he has his hand on the nuclear button, and Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace."
 
Nixon soon unleashed his "madman" strategy. "From Oct. 10, 1969, through the rest of the month the U.S. military was ordered to full global war readiness alert, without any provocation, and with no explanation to U.S. commanders as to the alert's purpose," writes James Carroll. "Nuclear armed fighter planes were dispersed to civilian airports, missile countdown procedures were initiated, missile-bearing submarines were dispersed, long-range bombers were launched, targeting was begun. On October 27, in the climactic action designed to make it seem the madman was loose, the Strategic Air Command was ordered to dispatch B-52 bombers, loaded with thermonuclear weapons, toward the Soviet Union."
 
Unbeknownst to Nixon, he put his plan into effect at a moment of escalating threats by the imperialist Soviet Union against revolutionary China, then a socialist country led by Mao Tsetung, with both countries approaching a war footing. "Thus, when signals of an American nuclear countdown were picked up," Carroll continues, "Moscow would have had every reason to assume that the United States was preparing to attack in support of Beijing, perhaps launching a preemption of Moscow's own contemplated attack against China."
 
"If Leonid Brezhnev [the Soviet leader], that is, behaved as Richard Nixon did in October of 1969," Carroll concludes, "the world would have been plunged into nuclear horror." ("Nixon's Madman Strategy", Boston Globe, June 14, 2005)
 
Pentagon whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg, who has also analyzed these developments, writes that at the time, Nixon was seriously considering using nuclear weapons against North Vietnam, but was forced to reconsider after two million people took to the streets for the October 15, 1969 Moratorium against the war. ("Daniel Ellsberg: Time to Drive Out the Bush Regime," Truthdig.org, September 16, 2006, truthdig.com/report/item/20060916_daniel_ellsberg_drive_out_bush)
 
In the first installment of his personal memoir of the nuclear era, Ellsberg paints a bone-chilling picture of overall U.S. plans to wage nuclear war which would have obliterated "most cities and people in the Northern Hemisphere." Ellsberg writes, "The total death toll as calculated by the Joint Chiefs, from a U.S. first strike aimed primarily at the Soviet Union and China, would be roughly 600 million dead. A hundred Holocausts." ("A Hundred Holocausts: An Insider's Window Into U.S. Nuclear Policy," Truthdig.org, September 10, 2009, truthdig.com/report/item/20090910_a_hundred_holocausts_an_insiders_window_into_us_nuclear_policy)
 
The record of U.S. actions shows that in reality, the Islamic fundamentalists are no more irrational or callous toward human life than the imperialists—who are driven by necessities beyond their understanding and control—and the US imperialists have far, far, far more destructive power at their command. The main reason the U.S. hasn't again used nuclear weapons wasn't revulsion at the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was the simple fact that their rivals possessed nuclear weapons as well.
 
 

 

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World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.