Sometime ago I had a short discussion regarding the morality of the USA dropping two atomic bombs on Japan in an effort to end the war without further American loss. I wondered if one bomb would have been enough even though the Japanese did not respond to the demands for surrender. The point is moot whether waiting a bit longer before dropping the second bomb on Nagasaki might still have resulted in surrender.
I was really thinking about the dangers of retroactively applying our 21st century thinking to a time and situation that we cannot understand. We know that there were huge American losses as they fought their way across the Pacific and I can understand that the appetite to lose more was not there. It must have been an attractive thought that the large loss of life in ending the war should be Japanese and not American. The large majority of the lost lives were civilian, and amounted to some 200,000 people. The war was ended and the World had a demonstration of the awesome destruction which mankind now possessed.
Historically we can trace the progress of man’s killing ability. I think of Kubrick’s 2001 where an ape discovers that he can hit something with a long bone and break that something. It took only a short time for him to understand that he had a weapon and to set about promptly using it on other apes. Through the centuries weapons developed and eventually we had gunpowder and were able to send lethal missiles for long distances. By the time air power came along with the ability to drop high explosives and incendiaries, man was now in a position to become remote from those being killed. Up to this point killing in war time was usually up close and certainly more personal. The number of people being killed was being exponentially increased till the time of nuclear weapons when the multitudes who would be destroyed is almost beyond comprehension.
The original discussion started with the question being asked as to whether dropping atomic bombs on civilians could be considered a war crime and against the Geneva Convention which is supposed to contain the limits of warfare and delineates what is criminal and what is not. Pretty stupid, I think as surely war itself is rather nasty and will always degenerate into whatever nastiness will win. The point being made was, however, how the West is perhaps being more than a little hypocritical. We have “the crimes against humanity” Court in the Hague, which has tried a number of individuals for war crimes. No one from the West has been tried. Africans and former Yugoslavians seem to be fair game.
Since the ushering in of the Atomic Era wars seem to have been conducted over the globe in incessant fashion. Some individual soldiers from the West have been tried in Military courts for war crimes. Burning villages in Viet Nam; shooting civilians in Afghanistan and in Iraq. But what about the obvious large war crimes? 500,000 children died in Iraq due to Western sanctions against that country. Well, the sanctions were an attempt to get rid of Saddam Hussein who was supposed to be an evil tyrant. The children died of starvation and in an infamous 60 Minutes interview the American Secretary of State, Madeleine Allbright, said that their deaths had been worth it. Is that worth a trip to the Hague?
I will stay in Iraq and ask whether Tony Blair and George Bush, who lied to their respective legislative bodies about the existence of weapons of mass destruction being held by Saddam Hussein, could be considered guilty of war crimes. Many deaths occurred because of these lies and many more will occur in the future because of the use of depleted uranium in the invasion of Iraq.
We can apply our modern sensibilities to the activities in Iraq as we have lived through the time of these events. In real time we can watch events unfold in Syria, the Ukraine, Libya and still Afghanistan and Iraq. Why are we, the West, in these countries in the first place? If our reasons are not totally justifiable are we not guilty of war crimes? I know we are battling ISIS, or are supposed to be battling ISIS, but as there would seem to be evidence that this entity was created by the West in the first place, surely that hardly counts. I am using the term “the West” deliberately. There may be many who would say, with some truth, that I should be talking about the US and the UK. However the rest of us go along with it and are therefore complicit in the crime. The rulers of these invaded counties are, and were, nasty individuals, but at least there was a much lower mortality and destruction of lives under their rule than as a result of our interventions. I have seen very little in our main stream media about this topic. Are they guilty of crimes by their silence?
There is much more that could be said about man’s inhumanity to man, but I have said enough for now. I have been a bit rambling in this post but I have tried to point out that our willingness to tolerate the destruction of other parts of mankind seems to have kept pace with the increase in our ability to destroy. As our new cold war rumbles on I find myself being afraid that we could be close to the destruction of all mankind. I have leapt from the Middle East to the West’s confrontation with Russia and China without explanation; sorry about that, another time, perhaps. We now face the possibility of nuclear annihilation if any mistakes are made. I would submit that the fault for this lies largely in the West as there is little evidence that the Russians wish to wage war on us. The Chinese would prefer to defeat us commercially rather than martially. Washington and the City of London are the ones who are pushing us towards this disaster. Our governments and opinion makers are guilty also by their silence. We need radical change in how we, the people, can communicate our displeasure to our governors. More of us need to wake up and confront the dangers we face. The evidence is clear that we are standing at a precipice and may just fall off.