August 9, 1945 (a Thursday)

Nagasaki and Pearl Harbor: The Same or Different?

The city of Nagasaki is shown as a teeming urban area, above, then as a flattened, desolate wasteland following the detonation of an atomic bomb, below. Circles indicate the thousands of feet from ground zero. (AP Photo)

The city of Nagasaki is shown as a teeming urban area, above, then as a flattened, desolate wasteland following the detonation of an atomic bomb, below. Circles indicate the thousands of feet from ground zero. (AP Photo)

On this date during World War II, a second atomic bomb, nicknamed “Fat Man,” was dropped by the United States on Japan, this one on the city of Nagasaki. The Americans had originally intended to drop it on August 11 in the event that Japan did not agree to “unconditional surrender” after the first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, but bad weather expected for that day pushed the date up to August 9. The bomb was dropped at 11:02 AM from an altitude of 1,650 feet (500 m) above the city.

Interestingly, on 10 August 1945, the day after the bombing of Nagasaki, Yamahata Yōsuke began to photograph the devastation, still working as a military photographer. He walked through the darkened ruins and the dead corpses for hours. By late afternoon, he had taken his final photographs near a first aid station north of the city. In a single day, he had completed the only extensive photographic record of the immediate aftermath of the atomic bombing of either Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Unfortunately, the U.S. occupation forces imposed strict censorship on Japan, prohibiting anything “that might, directly or by inference, disturb public tranquility” and used it to prohibit all pictures of the bombed cities. What pictures were released by the U.S. government to the American people were after corpses had been removed and streets had been cleared following the attacks.

President Truman delivered a radio address to the American people at 10:00 PM Washington time on 9 August 1945. Strangely enough, although by this time the atomic bomb had already been dropped on Nagasaki, he did not mention it but did refer to the earlier Hiroshima bombing:

The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians… Having found the bomb we have used it. We have used it against those who attacked us without warning at Pearl Harbor, against those who have starved and beaten and executed American prisoners of war, and against those who have abandoned all pretense of obeying international law of warfare.

Survivors of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki on 10 August 1945. Photograph by Yamahata Yousuke (1917-1966).

Survivors of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki on 10 August 1945. Photograph by Yamahata Yousuke (1917-1966).

Two things are noteworthy. First, Hiroshima did contain a military base, used as a staging area for Southeast Asia, where perhaps 25,000 troops might be quartered. But the bomb had been aimed not at the “military base” but at the very center of a city of 350,000, with the vast majority women, children, and elderly males. In fact, more than 95% of the victims were noncombatants.

A U.S. survey of the damage at Hiroshima, not released to the press, found that residential areas bore the brunt of the bomb, with less than 10 percent of the city’s manufacturing, transportation, and storage facilities damaged. The two most important reasons Hiroshima had been selected for nuclear attack were: the hills surrounding the city on three sides would have a “focusing effect” (as the Target Committee put it on May 10-11), increasing the bomb’s destructive force; and Hiroshima (like Nagasaki) had not been subjected to conventional bombing by the United States (because it was not a key military target), making it an undamaged city ideal for testing the effects of a new weapon.

Aerial photograph, looking east, with Hickam Army Air Field in center and Honolulu beyond, 13 October 1941. The Pearl Harbor Navy Yard is in the left-center, and Ford Island is at the far left.

Aerial photograph, looking east, with Hickam Army Air Field in center and Honolulu beyond, 13 October 1941.
The Pearl Harbor Navy Yard is in the left-center, and Ford Island is at the far left.

On the other hand, Pearl Harbor in Hawaii was a U.S. Naval Base. During the Japanese attack on 7 December 1941, roughly 2,335 American military personnel (Army, Navy, and Marines) died and 1,143 were wounded. Nearly half of the servicemen that were killed were on board one battleship, the U.S.S. Arizona, when it exploded. In addition, 68 American civilians were killed and 35 were wounded during the attack. It seems likely that most, if not all, of the casualties in civilian areas were inflicted by “friendly fire,” American anti-aircraft shells falling back to earth and exploding after missing attacking planes.

At Pearl Harbor, twelve ships were sunk or beached and nine were damaged. Of ships sunk or beached, all, except the U.S.S. Arizona, the U.S.S. Utah, and the U.S.S. Oklahoma, were salvaged and later saw action. Of the American aircraft in Hawaii, 188 were destroyed and 159 damaged. Almost none was actually ready to take off to defend the base. According to Edward R.L. Doty, Hawaiian director of civilian defense, it was business-as-usual the next day in Honolulu, the city nearest Pearl Harbor.

At Urakami Station in Nagasaki, 10 August 1945. Photograph by Yamahata Yousuke (1917-1966)

At Urakami Station in Nagasaki, 10 August 1945. Photograph by Yamahata Yousuke (1917-1966)


Secondly, the United States had itself already abandoned obeying international law of warfare, even before Hiroshima. By 1945, the bombing of civilians was already an established practice. In fact, the earlier U.S. firebombing campaign of Japan, which began in 1944, killed an estimated 315,922 Japanese, a greater number than the estimated deaths attributed to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The firebombing of Tokyo alone resulted in roughly 100,000 Japanese killed.

Thus, it was hypocritical for Truman to use Japanese violation of international law to justify deploying atomic bombs. According to American historian Gabriel Kolko in The Politics of War (1990):

The basic moral decision that the Americans had to make during [World War II] was whether or not they would violate international law by indiscriminately attacking and destroying civilians, and they resolved that dilemma within the context of conventional weapons. Neither fanfare nor hesitation accompanied their choice, and in fact the atomic bomb used against Hiroshima was less lethal than massive fire bombing.

Leo Szilard, one of the low-level scientists who worked in the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb, voiced the same sentiments in an interview published in U.S. News & World Report in 1960:

…in 1939 President Roosevelt warned the belligerents against using bombs against the inhabited cities, and this I thought was perfectly fitting and natural. Then, during the war, without any explanation, we began to use incendiary bombs against the cities of Japan. This was disturbing to me and it was disturbing many of my friends.

Burnt body of an unidentified boy in Nagasaki on 10 August 1945. Photograph by Yamahata Yousuke (1917-1966).

Burnt body of an unidentified boy in Nagasaki on 10 August 1945. Photograph by Yamahata Yousuke (1917-1966).

Ever since the event, a controversy has raged about whether the decision to use the atomic bomb was justified or not, and what the real goals of its use were. According to Alex Wellerstein, an historian of science at the American Institute of Physics, “This was why, in 1947, Secretary of War Henry Stimson put his name on an article in Harpers that February 1947 titled ‘The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb‘ — it was meant to be the ‘official’ response to the on-going debates and speculation.”

According to J. Samuel Walker, the official or “traditional” argument, goes like this:

  • Truman made a decision to use the bomb on the basis of ending the war quickly;
  • As far as the U.S. was concerned, Japan would not surrender on acceptable terms without either the bomb or invasion;
  • Of those two options, the bomb was the option that would cost the least number of American and Japanese lives;
  • As the Japanese Emperor acknowledged in his surrender statement, the bomb did in fact end the war promptly.

The traditional argument has been opposed by the “revisionist” argument, which originated at about the same time:

  • Japan was already defeated at the time the decision to use the bomb was made, and U.S. intelligence already knew this;
  • Japan had been suing for peace and was ready to surrender without an invasion;
  • The real reason the bomb was used was so to demonstrate its power to the Soviet Union, in an attempt to exert more influence on them in the postwar;
  • The Japanese Emperor’s surrender statement invoked the bomb only as a politically-acceptable “excuse” for his people, when actually he surrendered primarily because of the Soviet invasion of Manchuria.

Boy carrying his injured brother a day after the Nagasaki bombing. Photograph by Yamahata Yousuke (1917-1966).

Boy carrying his injured brother a day after the Nagasaki bombing. Photograph by Yamahata Yousuke (1917-1966).

It is clear that there were multiple reasons for using the atomic bomb, but military necessity was not one of them. In official internal military interviews, diaries, and other private as well as public materials, literally every top U.S. military leader involved subsequently said the atomic bomb was not necessary. It is not likely that they had “revised” their views in response to negative public opinion following the Japanese surrender, because the U.S. public overwhelmingly supported the use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A Gallup poll taken from the 10th to the 15th of August 1945 found that 85 percent of Americans supported the bombings, 10 percent were opposed to them, and 5 percent had no opinion. As reports came in about the magnitude of the destruction on Japan, the support began to fall but even in August 2009, a poll by Quinnipiac University found that 61 percent of Americans supported the bombing, with 22 percent opposed and 16 percent undecided.

At the same time, there were also strategies that may have proved equally effective in prompting a Japanese surrender without using atomic bombs.

Walter Trohan, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune with impeccable credentials for integrity and accuracy, published an article on 19 August 1945 in that newspaper and in the Washington Times-Herald in which he revealed the following:

Release of all censorship restrictions in the United States makes it possible to report that the first Japanese peace bid was relayed to the White House seven months ago.

Two days before the late President Roosevelt left the last week in January for the Yalta conference with Prime Minister Churchill and Marshal Stalin he received a Japanese offer identical with the terms subsequently concluded by his successor, Harry S. Truman.

The Jap offer, based on five separate overtures, was relayed to the White House by Gen. MacArthur in a 40-page communication. The American commander, who had just returned triumphantly to Bataan, urged negotiations on the basis of the Jap overtures.

The offer, as relayed by MacArthur, contemplated abject surrender of everything but the person of the Emperor. The suggestion was advanced from the Japanese quarters making the offer that the Emperor become a puppet in the hands of American forces.

Two of the five Jap overtures were made through American channels and three through British channels. All came from responsible Japanese, acting for Emperor Hirohito.

President Roosevelt dismissed the general’s communication, which was studded with solemn references to the deity, after a casual reading with the remark, “MacArthur is our greatest general and our poorest politician.”

(…)

Officials said it was felt by Mr. Roosevelt that the Japs were not ripe for peace, except for a small group, who were powerless to cope with the war lords [the Japanese high-command], and that peace could not come until the Japs had suffered more.

The Jap overtures were made on acknowledgment that defeat was inevitable and Japan had to choose the best way out of an unhappy dilemma — domination of Asia by Russia or by the United States. The unofficial Jap peace brokers said the latter would be preferable by far.

(…)

In July the Tribune reported that a set of terms were being drafted for President Truman to take to Potsdam…

These terms, which were embodied in the Potsdam declaration did not mention the disposition of the Emperor. Otherwise they were almost identical with the proposals contained in the MacArthur memorandum.

The Trohan story was ignored by other news media and almost immediately dropped off the public radar. Historian Harry Elmer Barnes, in his essay “Hiroshima: Assault on a Beaten Foe,” published on 10 May 1958 in the National Review, corroborated Trohan’s account:

The government has never made this sensational episode public, so it may fairly be asked how we know the above statement about MacArthur’s communication to Roosevelt to be a fact. It so happens that MacArthur’s document passed over the desk of a high-ranking military officer in Washington [now known to be Admiral William D. Leahy, FDR's chief of staff] who was greatly disturbed at what he feared might happen at Yalta. He wished to get MacArthur’s communication on record so it could not be destroyed by Mr. Roosevelt or his associates or hidden away from the public for many years as “top-secret” material. Hence, he called in his friend, Walter Trohan of The Chicago Tribune, and suggested that Trohan make an exact copy of the Japanese overtures. But he first bound Trohan to absolute secrecy and confidence until the end of the war. Trohan kept his promise…

The authenticity of the Trohan article was never challenged by the White House or the State Department, and for very good reason. After Gen. MacArthur returned from Korea in 1951, his neighbor in the Waldorf Towers, former President Hoover, took the Trohan article to Gen. MacArthur and the latter confirmed its accuracy in every detail and without qualification.

By June 1945 there were already divisions within the Japanese Supreme War Council (“the Big Six”) discussing how to end the war with the Americans, with the largest reservation to surrender being the desire to allow the Emperor Hirohito to remain on his throne. On 12 July 1945, Japan sent a message to the Soviet Union expressing its desire to surrender and end the war. The United States had broken Japan’s codes and read the telegram. Truman referred in his diary on July 18 to “the telegram from Jap Emperor asking for peace.” Allen Dulles, at the time chief of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services in Switzerland (and later director of the CIA), said in his book The Secret Surrender (1966) that he had relayed a similar message:

On July 20, 1945, under instructions from Washington, I went to the Potsdam Conference and reported there to Secretary [of War] Stimson on what I had learned from Tokyo – they desired to surrender if they could retain the Emperor and their constitution as a basis for maintaining discipline and order in Japan after the devastating news of surrender became known to the Japanese people.

By just inserting into the Potsdam Declaration the provision that the Japanese could retain their Emperor, which is what eventually happened anyway after the war, the U.S. could have saved both American lives and the lives of those Japanese residing in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson noted in his memoirs published in 1948, “history might find that the United States, by its delay in stating its position [in regards to the Emperor], had prolonged the war.”

Most likely, the decisive factor leading the Japanese to surrender was not the dropping of the two bombs but the entry of the Soviet Union into the war, between the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Acting in accordance with the Yalta agreements but in violation of the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact, Soviet Foreign Commissar Molotov informed Japanese ambassador Sato at 11:00 PM Moscow time on 8 August 1945 that the Soviet Union had declared war on the Empire of Japan effective the next day. At one minute past midnight Moscow time on 9 August 1945, Soviet forces invaded Japanese-held Manchuria. For the Japanese, these events dashed any hope of ending the war through Soviet mediation.

Inhabited Japanese cities destroyed by U.S. incendiary bombings in the weeks prior to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Inhabited Japanese cities destroyed by U.S. incendiary bombings in the weeks prior to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Japan’s Supreme War Council met for the first time since the Hiroshima bombing at 10:30 AM Tokyo time on August 9 to decide what to do about the Soviet invasion of Manchuria. In the middle of the meeting, shortly after 11:00 AM, news arrived that the Nagasaki bomb had exploded. Even after the details of the Nagasaki bomb were made clear, it was largely ignored. Half the members of the council insisted that Japan should continue fighting. The debate was deadlocked between the pacifists and militarists. The meeting broke up without a decision.

The Supreme War Council reconvened at 11:30 PM on the same day, August 9. Again, no consensus emerged. Around 2:00 AM (August 10), one member of the divided council, Admiral Kantaro Suzuki, shocked everyone by asking the Emperor Hirohito what he thought they should do. Asking the Emperor, who was regarded as a god, to speak was unprecedented if not sacrilegious.

As surprising as the move was, Hirohito was prepared. He said the terms of the Potsdam Declaration should be accepted:

I have given serious thought to the situation prevailing at home and abroad, and I have concluded that continuing the war means destruction of the nation and a prolongation of bloodshed and cruelty in the world. The time has come when we must bear the unbearable… I swallow my tears and give my sanction to the proposal to accept the Allied proclamation.

The nuclear catastrophes were — not the ending of a World War — but the theatrical opening of the Cold War, aimed at sending a message to the Soviets. Many low and high ranking officials in the U.S. military, including commanders in chief, have been tempted to “nuke” more cities ever since.
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This film Hiroshima-Nagasaki: August, 1945 (1970) was created by filmmaker Erik Barnouw in 1968 from Japanese footage that the U.S. Defense Department had suppressed for over 20 years. It was screened at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, but none of the three main television networks would air the film. The reason why becomes obvious as you view it.
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The tragedy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is not just Japan’s, but it is the world’s. Therefore, it is the responsibility of all nations to prevent another nuclear disaster for the safety and well-being of all humanity.

References:

  • Gar Alperovitz. The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth (Vintage, 1995).
  • H.H. Arnold. “Third Report of the Commanding General of the Army Air Forces to the Secretary of War,” 12 November 1945 (Baltimore, MD: Schneidereith & Sons), pp. 36-37.
  • Harry Elmer Barnes, “Hiroshima: Assault on a Beaten Foe,” National Review (10 May 1958) pp. 441-43.
  • Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, “The myths of Hiroshima“, The Los Angeles Times, (5 August 2005),
  • Allen W. Dulles. The Secret Surrender: The Classic Insider’s Account of the Secret Plot to Surrender Northern Italy During WWII (New York: Harper & Row, 1966) p. 219.
  • George Gallup. The Gallup Poll: Public Opinion 1935-1971. Volume One. (New York: Random House, 1972) p. 521.
  • Tsuyoshi Hasegawa. Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan (The Belnap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005).
  • Gabriel Kolko. The Politics of War: The World and United States Foreign Policy, 1943–1945 (New York: Random House, 1968; 1990 ed. with new afterword).
  • Stephen Large. Emperor Hirohito and Showa Japan: A Political Biography (Routledge, 2002) p. 126
  • Doug Long. “Hiroshima: Was It Necessary?” Accessed online on 6 August 2013 at http://www.doug-long.com/hiroshim.htm.
  • Greg Mitchell, “Sixty-Eight Years Ago: Truman Opened the Nuclear Era With a Lie About Hiroshima”, The Nation, (6 August 2013). Accessed online on 12 August 2013 [archived here].
  • Henry Stimson and McGeorge Bundy. On Active Service In Peace and War (New York: Harper, 1948) p. 629.
  • Leo Szilard, “President Truman Did Not Understand“, U.S. News & World Report (15 August 1960) p. 68-71.
  • Walter Trohan, “Bare Peace Bid U.S. Rebuffed 7 Months Ago”, Chicago Tribune (19 August 1945) p. 1.

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August 6, 1945 (a Monday)

THE ATOMIC BOMBING OF HIROSHIMA: WHY?…

The basic moral decision that the Americans had to make during [World War II] was whether or not they would violate international law by indiscriminately attacking and destroying civilians, and they resolved that dilemma within the context of conventional weapons. Neither fanfare nor hesitation accompanied their choice, and in fact the atomic bomb used against Hiroshima was less lethal than massive fire bombing.

– American historian Gabriel Kolko, The Politics of War (1990), pp. 539–40.

…in [July] 1945… Secretary of War Stimson, visiting my headquarters in Germany, informed me that our government was preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. I was one of those who felt that there were a number of cogent reasons to question the wisdom of such an act… the Secretary, upon giving me the news of the successful bomb test in New Mexico, and of the plan for using it, asked for my reaction, apparently expecting a vigorous assent.

During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of ‘face’. The Secretary was deeply perturbed by my attitude…

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Mandate For Change, p. 380

…the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Ike on Ike”, Newsweek, 11 November 1963.

It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons.

The lethal possibilities of atomic warfare in the future are frightening. My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.

– Admiral William D. Leahy, the Chief of Staff to Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, I Was There, p. 441.

I think that the Japanese were ready for peace, and they already had approached the Russians and, I think, the Swiss. And that suggestion of [giving] a warning [of the atomic bomb] was a face-saving proposition for them, and one that they could have readily accepted.

(…)

In my opinion, the Japanese war was really won before we ever used the atom bomb. Thus, it wouldn’t have been necessary for us to disclose our nuclear position and stimulate the Russians to develop the same thing much more rapidly than they would have if we had not dropped the bomb.

– Under Secretary of the Navy Ralph Bird, “War Was Really Won Before We Used A-Bomb”, U.S. News and World Report, 15 August 1960, pp. 73-75.

The Japanese had, in fact, already sued for peace before the atomic age was announced to the world with the destruction of Hiroshima and before the Russian entry into war… The atomic bomb played no decisive part, from a purely military standpoint, in the defeat of Japan.

– Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, The New York Times, 6 October 1945.

Major General Curtis E. LeMay: The war would have been over in two weeks without the Russians entering and without the atomic bomb.
The Press: You mean that, sir? Without the Russians and the atomic bomb?
LeMay: The atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war at all.

Press conference on 20 September 1945, reported in The New York Herald Tribune; quoted in Gar Alperovitz, The Decision To Use the Atomic Bomb, p. 336.

The first atomic bomb was an unnecessary experiment… It was a mistake to ever drop it… [the scientists] had this toy and they wanted to try it out, so they dropped it… It killed a lot of Japs, but the Japs had put out a lot of peace feelers through Russia long before.

– Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., Commander U.S. Third Fleet, public statement in 1946; quoted in Gar Alperovitz, The Decision To Use the Atomic Bomb, p. 331.

The greatest obstacle to unconditional surrender by the Japanese is their belief that this would entail the destruction or permanent removal of the Emperor and the institution of the Throne. If some indication can now be given the Japanese that they themselves, when once thoroughly defeated and rendered impotent to wage war in future, will be permitted to determine their own future political structure, they will be afforded a method of saving face without which surrender will be highly unlikely.

(…)

Those who hold that the Emperor and the institution of the Throne in Japan are the roots of their aggressive militarism can hardly be familiar with the facts of history…

– Acting Secretary of State Joseph C. Grew in conversation with President Truman on 28 May 1945; quoted in United States Department of State / Foreign relations of the United States : diplomatic papers, 1945. The British Commonwealth, the Far East, pp. 545-46.

His Majesty the Emperor, mindful of the fact that present war daily brings greater evil and sacrifice upon peoples of all belligerent powers, desires from his heart that it may be quickly terminated. But so long as England and United States insist upon unconditional surrender in Great East Asian War, Empire has no alternative but to fight on with all its strength for honour and existence of Motherland. His Majesty is deeply reluctant to have any further blood lost among people on both sides and it is his desire, for welfare of humanity, to restore peace with all possible speed…

It is the Emperor’s private intention to send Prince Konoe to Moscow as a Special Envoy with a letter from him containing the statements given above. Please inform [Soviet Foreign Commissar] Molotov of this and get the Russians’ consent to having the party enter the country.

– Text of message from Japanese Foreign Minister Togo Shigenori to Japan’s Ambassador Sato in Moscow for delivery to the Russians before the Potsdam conference opened, intercepted on 12 July 1945 and decoded by the U.S. Navy; quoted in Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, Racing the Enemy, p. 124. The intercept was rushed to Potsdam on 13 July 1945 in a locked pouch. The significance of this latest intercept was not lost on the few Americans privileged to read it, among them Navy secretary James V. Forrestal; the pages of his diary relating to it were removed after his death and classified top secret for the next thirty years.

Influential press and radio commentators are increasingly calling for a statement to supplement — or to succeed — the “unconditional surrender” formula; and public opinion polls indicate considerable willingness to accept less than unconditional surrender, since nearly a third of the nation would “try to work out a peace” with Japan on the basis of Japanese renunciation of all conquests… These polls also suggest that a considerable portion of the public would not insist upon the conquest of the Japanese homeland before any effort is made to reach a peace settlement — provided Japanese power is ended in the Pacific islands and in Asia.

– A study by the State Department Office of Public Opinion Studies on “Current Public Attitudes Toward the Unconditional Surrender of Japan” dated 16 July 1945; quoted in Gar Alperovitz, The Decision To Use the Atomic Bomb.

Generalissimo Joseph Stalin: Last night the Russian delegation was given a copy of the Anglo-American declaration [the Potsdam Proclamation] to the Japanese people. We think it our duty to keep each other informed. I inform the Allies of the message that I received from the Japanese Emperor through the Japanese ambassador. I sent a copy of my answer to this peace plea which was in the negative. I received another communication informing me more precisely of the desire of the Emperor to send a peace mission headed by Prince Konoye who was stated to have great influence in the Palace. It was indicated that it was the personal desire of the Emperor to avoid further bloodshed [see above]… Our answer of course will be negative.
President Truman: I appreciate very much what the Marshal has said.

Conversation during the Potsdam Conference on 28 July 1945; quoted in United States Department of State / Foreign relations of the United States: diplomatic papers: the Conference of Berlin (the Potsdam Conference), 1945, p. 467. Truman, to whom all this was known from the codebreakers anyway, immediately changed the subject.

…the Potsdam declaration in July, demand[ed] that Japan surrender unconditionally or face “prompt and utter destruction.” MacArthur was appalled. He knew that the Japanese would never renounce their emperor, and that without him an orderly transition to peace would be impossible anyhow, because his people would never submit to Allied occupation unless he ordered it. Ironically, when the surrender did come, it was conditional, and the condition was a continuation of the imperial reign. Had the General’s advice been followed, the resort to atomic weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki might have been unnecessary.

William Manchester, American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964, p. 512.

MacArthur’s views about the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were starkly different from what the general public supposed… When I asked General MacArthur about the decision to drop the bomb, I was surprised to learn he had not even been consulted. What, I asked, would his advice have been? He replied that he saw no military justification for the dropping of the bomb. The war might have ended weeks earlier, he said, if the United States had agreed, as it later did anyway, to the retention of the institution of the emperor.

Norman Cousins, a consultant to General MacArthur during the American occupation of Japan, The Pathology of Power, pp. 65, 70-71.

I have always felt that if, in our ultimatum to the Japanese government issued from Potsdam [in July 1945], we had referred to the retention of the emperor as a constitutional monarch and had made some reference to the reasonable accessibility of raw materials to the future Japanese government, it would have been accepted. Indeed, I believe that even in the form it was delivered, there was some disposition on the part of the Japanese to give it favorable consideration. When the war was over I arrived at this conclusion after talking with a number of Japanese officials who had been closely associated with the decision of the then Japanese government, to reject the ultimatum, as it was presented. I believe we missed the opportunity of effecting a Japanese surrender, completely satisfactory to us, without the necessity of dropping the bombs.

John McCloy, Assistant Secretary of War; quoted in James Reston, Deadline, p. 500.

[A clearer assurance that the Emperor would not be displaced] was omitted from the Potsdam declaration and as you are undoubtedly aware was the only reason why it was not immediately accepted by the Japanese who were beaten and knew it before the first atomic bomb was dropped.

– Rear Admiral L. Lewis Strauss, in a private letter to Navy historian Robert G. Albion; quoted in Gar Alperovitz, The Decision To Use the Atomic Bomb, p. 393.

If we consider international agreement on total prevention of nuclear warfare as the paramount objective, and believe that it can be achieved, this kind of introduction of atomic weapons [on Japan] to the world may easily destroy all our chances of success. Russia… will be deeply shocked. It will be very difficult to persuade the world that a nation which was capable of secretly preparing and suddenly releasing a weapon, as indiscriminate as the rocket bomb and a thousand times more destructive, is to be trusted in its proclaimed desire of having such weapons abolished by international agreement.

…looking forward to an international agreement on prevention of nuclear warfare – the military advantages and the saving of American lives, achieved by the sudden use of atomic bombs against Japan, may be outweighed by the ensuing loss of confidence and wave of horror and repulsion, sweeping over the rest of the world…

From this point of view a demonstration of the new weapon may best be made before the eyes of representatives of all United Nations, on the desert or a barren island. The best possible atmosphere for the achievement of an international agreement could be achieved if America would be able to say to the world, “You see what weapon we had but did not use. We are ready to renounce its use in the future and to join other nations in working out adequate supervision of the use of this nuclear weapon.”

(…)

We believe that these considerations make the use of nuclear bombs for an early, unannounced attack against Japan inadvisable. If the United States would be the first to release this new means of indiscriminate destruction upon mankind, she would sacrifice public support throughout the world, precipitate the race of armaments, and prejudice the possibility of reaching an international agreement on the future control of such weapons. [emphasis in original]

Memorandum on “Political and Social Problems” from Members of the “Metallurgical Laboratory” of the University of Chicago to Sec. of War Henry Stimson ["The Franck Report"], dated 12 June 1945, U.S. National Archives, Washington D.C.: Record Group 77, Manhattan Engineer District Records, Harrison-Bundy File, folder #76.

I don’t believe in speculating on the mental feeling and as far as the bomb is concerned I ordered its use for a military reason — for no other cause — and it saved the lives of a great many of our soldiers. That is all I had in mind.

– President Harry S. Truman; excerpt from Transcript of Interview by William Hillman and Morton Roysewith with former President Truman, Post-Presidential File, ca. 1955, Truman Papers, Harry S. Truman Library.

The atomic bomb… is far worse than gas and biological warfare because it affects the civilian population and murders them by the wholesale.

Harry S. Truman to Thomas Murray, 19 January 1953, President’s Secretary’s Files (PSF), Harry S. Truman Library.

Zen stones

Hiroshima Before and After Aerial Photos

Nakajima Honmachi District Before and After

 

On this date during World War II, at 8:15 AM local time an American B-29 bomber dropped the world’s first deployed atomic bomb, dubbed “Little Boy”, over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The explosion wiped out 90 percent of the city and immediately killed 80,000 people; tens of thousands more would later die of radiation exposure.

On the same day, Truman released a press statement announcing the atomic bombing, in which he described Hiroshima as an “important Japanese Army base”, when in fact it was a city composed almost entirely of civilians. [As J. Samuel Walker has noted, if Hiroshima had been a more important military target, it likely would have suffered conventional bombing before August 6 — the fact that it was still intact was in part a reflection of its lack of military presence.] Moreover, his statement used terms which described the atomic bomb as similar to a high-explosive weapon, making no mention of the fact that it was also a radiation weapon. Its radiological effects made the atomic bomb worse than poison gas whose use was prohibited by international law.

A photo prepared by U.S. Air Intelligence for analytical work on destructiveness of atomic weapons. The total area devastated by the atomic strike on Hiroshima is shown in the darkened area (within the circle) of the photo. The numbered items are various targets with the percentages of total destruction. Notice that all four of the military targets were far from the aiming point for the atomic strike. (Photo from U.S. National Archives, RG 77-AEC).

A photo prepared by U.S. Air Intelligence for analytical work on destructiveness of atomic weapons. The total area devastated by the atomic strike on Hiroshima is shown in the darkened area (within the circle) of the photo. The numbered items are various targets with the percentages of total destruction. Notice that all four of the military targets were far from the aiming point for the atomic strike. (Photo from U.S. National Archives, RG 77-AEC).

In all fairness to Truman, the man most likely was uninformed about the true nature of the atomic bomb. There were certainly physicists who understood that the first atomic bombs would produce significant amounts of radiation and were likely to cause both radiation sickness and nuclear fallout effects. But J. Robert Oppenheimer, scientific director of the Manhattan Project, never seemed to be very interested in that and spoke almost exclusively of the bomb in terms of heat and blast effects. Due to the chain of command, because Oppenheimer didn’t know/care about radiation effects, General Leslie Groves didn’t really, either; if Groves didn’t know/care, then the Target Committee under Groves and the Interim Committee under Secretary of War Henry Stimson didn’t know at all; and if Stimson didn’t know, Truman didn’t know. In fact, after months of public denials that radiation sickness had occurred, Groves famously replied to a question from Senator Millikin at a meeting of the Special Senate Committee on Atomic Energy in late November 1945:

Millikin: General, is there any medical antidote to excessive radiation?
Groves: I am not a doctor, but I will answer it anyway. The radioactive casualty can be of several classes. He can have enough so that he will be killed instantly. He can have a smaller amount which will cause him to die rather soon, and as I understand it from the doctors, without undue suffering. In fact, they say it is a very pleasant way to die. Then, we get down below that to the man who is injured slightly, and he may take some time to be healed, but he can be healed. [emphasis added]

Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Causes and Consequences

Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Causes and Consequences

Interestingly, Yoshito Matsushige, a 32 year old cameraman for the Chugoku Shimbun, was at home a little over 1.6-miles (2.7 km) south of the hypocenter when the bomb detonated, but he was not seriously injured in the blast. Heading out to the center of the city, Matsushige took the only photographs taken of Hiroshima on that calamitous day. He had two rolls of film with twenty-four possible exposures in the 10 hours he spent wandering the devastated city. He lined up one gripping shot after another but he could push the shutter only seven times. When he was done he returned to his home and developed the pictures in the most primitive way, since every darkroom in the city, including his own, had been destroyed. Under a star-filled sky, with the landscape around him littered with collapsed homes and the center of Hiroshima still smoldering in the distance, he washed his film in a radiated creek and hung it out to dry on the burned branch of a tree. But only five of the seven came out right. There are victims in these images, many of whom no doubt died later, but not a single corpse. Only Matsushige knows what the seventeen photos he didn’t take would have looked like. He later testified:

Even though I too was a victim of the same bomb, I only had minor injuries from glass fragments, whereas these people were dying. It was such a cruel sight that I couldn’t bring myself to press the shutter. Perhaps I hesitated there for about 20 minutes, but I finally summoned up the courage to take one picture. Then, I moved 4 or 5 meters forward to take the second picture… I walked through the section of town which had been hit hardest. I walked for close to three hours. But I couldn’t take even one picture of that central area. There were other cameramen in the army shipping group and also at the newspaper as well. But the fact that not a single one of them was able to take pictures seems to indicate just how brutal the bombing actually was. I don’t pride myself on it, but it’s a small consolation that I was able to take at least five pictures.

A makeshift hospital in Hiroshima after the atomic strike. (Intl Cmte of the Red Cross / hist-02959-31)

A makeshift hospital in Hiroshima after the atomic strike. (Intl Cmte of the Red Cross / hist-02959-31)

A few weeks later, the American military confiscated all of the post-bomb prints, just as they seized the Japanese newsreel footage, “but they didn’t ask for the negatives,” Matsushige said. LIFE magazine published Matsushige’s photos on 29 September 1952, hailing them as the “First Pictures – Atom Blasts Through Eyes of Victims”, breaking the long media blackout on graphic images from Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

On 9 August 1945, a second B-29 dropped another A-bomb on Nagasaki, killing an estimated 40,000 people. On 10 August 1945, the Japanese government sent an official protest over the atomic bombing to the U.S. State Department through the Swiss Legation in Tokyo:

Protest against the Attack of a New-Type Bomb by American Airplane

On the 6th of this month, an airplane of the United States dropped a new-type bomb on the urban district of the city of Hiroshima, and it killed and wounded a large number of the citizens and destroyed the bulk of the city. The city of Hiroshima is an ordinary local city which is not provided with any military defensive preparations or establishments, and the whole city has not a character of a military objective. In the statement on the aerial bombardment in this case, the United States President “Truman” asserts that they will destroy docks, factories and transport facilities.

However, since the bomb in this case, dropped by a parachute, explodes in the air and extends the destructive effect to quite a wide sphere, it is clear to be quite impossible in technique to limit the effect of attack thereby to such specific objectives as mentioned above; and the above efficiency of the bomb in this case is already known to the United States. In the light of the actual state of damage, the damaged district covers a wide area, and those who were in the district were all killed indiscriminately by bomb-shell blast and radiant heat without distinction of combatant or non-combatant or of age or sex. The damaged sphere is general and immense, and judging from the individual state of injury, the bomb in this case should be said to be the most cruel one that ever existed.

It is a fundamental principle of international law in time of war that a belligerent has not an unlimited right in choosing the means of injuring the enemy, and should not use such weapons, projectiles, and other material as cause unnecessary pain; and these are each expressly stipulated in the annex of the Convention respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and articles 22 and 23(e) of the Regulations respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land. Since the beginning of the present World War, the Government of the United States has declared repeatedly that the use of poison or other inhumane methods of warfare has been regarded as illegal by the public opinion in civilized countries, and that the United States would not use these methods of warfare unless the other countries used these first.

However, the bomb in this case, which the United States used this time, exceeds by far the indiscriminate and cruel character of efficiency, the poison and other weapons the use of which has been prohibited hitherto because of such an efficiency. Disregarding a fundamental principle of international law and humanity, the United States has already made indiscriminate aerial bombardments on cities of the Empire in very wide areas, and it has already killed and injured a large number of old people, children, and women and collapsed or burned down shrines, temples, schools, hospital and ordinary private houses.

Also, the United States has used the new bomb in this case which has indiscriminate and cruel character beyond comparison with all weapons and projectile of the past. This is a new offense against the civilization of mankind. The Imperial Government impeaches the Government of the United States in its own name and the name of all mankind and of civilization, and demands strongly that the Government of the United States give up the use of such an inhumane weapon instantly.

Japan’s Emperor Hirohito announced his country’s unconditional surrender in World War II in a radio address at noon on August 15, citing the devastating power of “a new and most cruel bomb.”

The Truman administration made extraordinary and largely successful efforts to manage American public perceptions of the atomic attack. During the American occupation of Japan, MacArthur went to great lengths to prevent journalists visiting ground zero and seeing the effects of the bomb, to prevent photographic images and film of the disaster reaching Americans and Europeans, and to suppress scientific assessments of the radiation damage and its long term effects.

Photos of the Prefectural Industrial Promotion Building before (inset) and after the bombing of Hiroshima. The remains were later preserved as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, Atomic Bomb Dome or Genbaku Dome.

Photos of the Prefectural Industrial Promotion Building before (inset) and after the bombing of Hiroshima. The remains were later preserved as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, Atomic Bomb Dome or Genbaku Dome.

After World War II, most of Hiroshima would be rebuilt, though one destroyed section was set aside by the City as a reminder to the world of the horrors of nuclear weapons and as a symbol for global peace. This area contains the remains of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. Since it was located only about 160 meters from the hypocenter, all those inside the building died, but parts of the structure survived the blast. To protect the building from the weather, regular reinforcement and repairs with steel beams and resin injection are performed. Also, frequent seismic assessments and soundness surveys for the dome are implemented.

2013 Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony.

2013 Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony.

The ruin was named Hiroshima Peace Memorial and was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, although China and the United States objected — China because “it was the other Asian countries and peoples who suffered the greatest loss in life and property” and the U.S. because a focus on Japan lacked “historical perspective.” Each August 6, thousands of people gather at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park to join in interfaith religious services commemorating the anniversary of the bombing. Speeches by the Japanese Prime Minister, the Mayor of Hiroshima City, and the representatives of local children are given; then, a one-minute silence for the victims is observed at 8:15 AM, the time of the explosion.

Original location of the Shinran statue that survived the a-bomb blast.

Original location of the Shinran statue that survived the a-bomb blast.

Even after the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, no international treaty banning or condemning nuclear warfare has ever been ratified. According to F.W. de Klerk, former president of South Africa, “…despite all the lip service that is given to the ideal of nuclear disarmament, South Africa is the only country that has ever voluntarily dismantled an existing nuclear capability. We did so in 1993 and have learned that true security comes from our ability to solve complex problems peacefully rather than by imagining that we can achieve anything by threatening ultimate destruction.”

Statue of Shinran Shonin between 105th and 106th Streets on Riverside Drive, New York City.

Statue of Shinran Shonin between 105th and 106th Streets on Riverside Drive, New York City.

Unlike most of the buildings in Hiroshima, the bronze figure of Shinran Shonin (1173–1263) — the Japanese Buddhist monk who founded Jodo Shinshu (Shin) Buddhism — miraculously survived the devastation. The 15-foot statue had stood 2.5 kilometers northwest from the hypocenter of the detonation of the atomic bomb. It depicts Shinran Shonin in his missionary travel robe as he appeared most of his life propagating the doctrine he developed to reveal the one unobstructed way through which one can become awakened.

Closeup of the face of the Shinran statue.

Closeup of the face of the Shinran statue.

In 1955, the statue was removed from the Hiroshima park, packed into an enormous wooden crate, and shipped to New York City, where it was presented to the New York Buddhist Church on Riverside Drive near 106th Street in Manhattan as a testament to the devastation of the atomic bomb as well as a symbol for hope and world peace.

On 11 September 1955, just over ten years after the bombing of Hiroshima, D. T. Suzuki — one of the most influential figures in introducing Zen Buddhism to the West — gave an eloquent keynote address at the statue’s unveiling ceremony. In this address, I think Suzuki best answers the question, “Why?”, that I began with:

The present state of things as we are facing everywhere politically, economically, morally, intellectually, and spiritually is no doubt the result of our past thoughts and deeds we have committed as human beings through[out] the whole length of history, through aeons of existence, not only individually but collectively — let me repeat, collectively. As such, we are, every one of us, responsible for the present world situation filled with [its] awesome forebodings. The bombing of Hiroshima was not, after all, the doing of the American armies, but the doing of mankind as a whole, and as such, we, not only the Japanese and Americans but the whole world, are to be held responsible for the wholesale slaughter witnessed ten years ago….

As far as I can see, [we must find] the living Shonin who is surely among us answering to the call of his name; only we have not been able to hear his response, our ears have not yet been fully opened innerly as well as outwardly to [that] still small voice….

We must realize that modern civilization is thoroughly oriented towards dehumanizing humanity in every possible way; that is to say, we are fast turning into robots or statues with no human souls. Our task is to get humanized once more.

The statue stands a few blocks from Columbia University, where much of the atomic bomb program began.

References:

  • Gar Alperovitz. The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth (Vintage, 1995).
  • Norman Cousins. The Pathology of Power (W. W. Norton, 1987).
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower. Mandate for Change, 1953-1956: The White House Years (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co, Inc, 1963).
  • Tsuyoshi Hasegawa. Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan (The Belnap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005).
  • Rachel Hiles, “Humanized Once More“, Tricycle, Vol. 20 No. 4 (Summer 2011). Accessed on 12 August 2013.
  • Gabriel Kolko. The Politics of War: The World and United States Foreign Policy, 1943–1945 (New York, NY: Random House, 1968; 1990 ed. with new afterword).
  • William D. Leahy. I Was There: The Personal Story of the Chief of Staff to Presidents Roosevelt and Truman (Whittlesey House, 1950).
  • Doug Long. “Hiroshima: Was It Necessary?” Accessed online on 6 August 2013.
  • Sean L. Malloy, “‘A Very Pleasant Way to Die': Radiation Effects and the Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb against Japan”, Diplomatic History Vol. 36 No. 3 (June 2012): 515–545.
  • William Manchester. American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur, 1880-1964 (Boston/Toronto: Little, Brown & Company, 1978).
  • Robert Jay Lifton and Greg Mitchell. Hiroshima in America: Fifty Years of Denial (Putnam, 1995).
  • James Reston, Deadline: A Memoir (Random House, 1991).
  • Kyoko Selden and Mark Selden, eds. The Atomic Bomb: Voices from Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1989).
  • Michael B. Stoff, ed. The Manhattan Project: A Documentary History (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991), pp. 140-147.
  • J. Samuel Walker. Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of Atomic Bombs Against Japan (University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 61-62.

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August 30, 1831 (a Tuesday)

Charles Darwin by G Richmond.

On this date, Charles Darwin wrote to Revd. Henslow that his father would not allow him to go on the voyage of the HMS Beagle. At the same time, Darwin’s father wrote a letter to his brother-in-law, Josiah Wedgwood II, about the offer Darwin had been given, listing all the reasons why Darwin should not go on the voyage. Later that afternoon, Darwin rode out to Maer Hall (home of the Wedgwood’s) with his father’s letter for the start of the bird shooting season on September 1. Upon his arrival at Maer Hall, Darwin spoke to his uncle Josiah about the voyage and presented his father’s objections to it. After much discussion, Josiah sent a letter off to Darwin’s father, expressing his view that the voyage was a good idea.

August 30, 1909 (a Monday)

Canadia is a polychaete, a segmented marine worm, from the Burgess Shale of British Columbia, Canada.

On this date, Charles Doolittle Walcott discovered interesting fossils while traveling alone along a horse trail near Burgess Pass in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Legend has it that his horse stopped in front of a rock which he then cracked open, discovering fossils. He returned the next day accompanied by his wife Helena and his son Stuart. Together they found several other remarkable fossils that Walcott immediately sketched in his field notebook. Obviously impressed by this discovery, Walcott’s entry for Aug. 31st – Sept 1st reads:

Out with Helena, Stuart collecting fossils from the Stephen Formation. We found a remarkable group of Phyllopod crustaceans – Took a large number of fine specimens to camp. [The next day:] We continued collecting found a fine group of sponges on slope (in-situ) – Beautiful warm days

Charles and Stuart Walcott at the fossil bed, August 1910.

The fossils discovered by the Walcotts represented types of animals that had never been seen before.

The Walcotts spent a total of five days that year collecting fossils in the area, mostly from loose slabs of rock found near the trail and on slopes.

Walcott quickly realized the importance of his finds. In a letter sent later that year to William Arthur Parks (his colleague and long-term correspondent at the University of Toronto) Walcott wrote: “…I had a few days collecting in the Stephen Formation [today's Burgess Shale] in the vicinity of Field in September, and found some very interesting things.”

The following season, he located the source of the fossils higher up on Fossil Ridge, and began excavating.

*Pikaia* is the earliest known representative of the phylum Chordata, to which humans belong, although it was not a vertebrate.

The fossils, with their exquisite preservation, were unlike anything he had seen before. Walcott named the site the Burgess Shale, after nearby Mt. Burgess, but they received little attention until fifty years later. The Burgess Shale fossils, as they have come to be known, provide a glimpse of what life was like on Earth 505 million years ago. Over 60,000 unique fossils have been found, dominated by arthropods, although other fossils are found in great abundance, including worms, crinoids, sea cucumbers, chordates, and other organisms with no mineralized shell.

August 29, 1831 (a Monday)

Charles Darwin by G Richmond.

On the evening of this date, upon returning from Northern Wales where Adam Sedgwick had given him a crash course in field geology, Charles Darwin found letters waiting for him from Revd. John Henslow and George Peacock. Darwin had been invited to be a naturalist for the unpaid position of gentleman’s companion to Robert FitzRoy, the captain of HMS Beagle. The ship was to set sail on September 25 on a two-year expedition (later extended to five years) to chart the coastline of South America. Darwin wanted to go but his father and sisters were totally against the idea, seeing it as a continuation of his long line of idle pursuits.

Darwin’s father objected to his proposed journey on several grounds:

  • Such a voyage would reflect badly on his future prospects as a member of the clergy.
  • The entire plan seemed adventurous and wild.
  • Why was a naturalist still being considered so close to the start of the voyage? Other people must have been considered. Why had they refused the offer?
  • Going on the voyage would prevent Charles from settling down to a real life.
  • The accommodations on the ship would be very poor.
  • The voyage would offer Charles another excuse to change his focus in life.
  • It would be a complete waste of his time.

However, his father’s refusal was not absolute; he told his son that if he could find a man with common sense who thought it was a good idea, then he would allow him to go.

August 28, 1963 (a Wednesday)

Martin Luther King, Jr. delivering *I Have a Dream* speech.

On this date, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D. C.

Dr. King was a clergyman and civil rights leader but, as Jeff Nall pointed out in 2005, his wisdom has too often been forgotten:

Today it’s fashionable to recall Martin Luther King Jr. as a civil rights hero and passionate reverend. But sadly, amidst his legacy the entirety of his intellectual prowess and vast philosophical wisdom often goes unrecognized. Particularly troubling, King has become a tool for a variety of causes wrongly associated with him, including the attack on the separation of church and state.

In 2003 George W. Bush said, “There’s still a need for us to hear the words of Martin Luther King to make sure the hope of America extends its reach into every neighborhood across this land.” But considering the president’s efforts to combine God and government, it seems that Bush himself is ignorant of King’s words and at least two of his salient ideas. King was a proponent of the separation of church and state and also one of religion’s most ardent critics.

In a 1965 interview with Playboy magazine, Dr. King was asked how he felt about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision ruling school prayer unconstitutional. In response he said:

I endorse it. I think it was correct. Contrary to what many have said, it sought to outlaw neither prayer nor belief in God. In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer shall be spoken, and by whom? Legally, constitutionally, or otherwise, the state certainly has no such right. I am strongly opposed to the efforts that have been made to nullify the decision.

Church/State sign.

In another clear endorsement of church-state separation, King stated that the church “is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool.”

Dr. King also blamed organized religion for its support of contemporary dogma — the kind that insists on favoring creationism over evolution — at the expense of truth.  He berated what he called softmindedness. “Softminded individuals,” he said, “are prone to embrace all kinds of superstitions. . . . The soft-minded man always fears change.” More specifically, King wrote in his book entitled Strength to Love (1963):

Softmindedness often invades religion. This is why religion has sometimes rejected new truth with a dogmatic passion. Through edicts and bulls, inquisitions and excommunications, the church has attempted to prorogue truth and place an impenetrable stone wall in the path of the truth-seeker….

Softminded persons have revised the Beautitudes to read ‘Blessed are the pure in ignorance: for they shall see God.’ This has led to a widespread belief that there is a conflict between science and religion. But this is not true. There may be a conflict between softminded religionists and toughminded scientists, but not between science and religion….

Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals. They are complementary. Science keeps religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism.

His appreciation of science, though hardly acknowledged by most admirers of Dr. King, isn’t surprising. In arguing against notions of black racial inferiority, he frequently cited current anthropological research. In the same book cited above, King wrote:

Softmindedness is one of the basic causes of race prejudice. The toughminded person always examines the facts before he reaches conclusions; in short, he post judges. The tenderminded person reaches a conclusion before he has examined the first fact; in short, he prejudges and is prejudiced. Race prejudice is based on groundless fears, suspicions and misunderstandings. There are those who are sufficiently softminded to belief in the superiority of the white race and the inferiority of the Negro race in spite of the toughmindedness research of anthropologists who reveal the falsity of such a notion.

In his article on Dr. King, Jeff Nall concluded:

Yes, Martin Luther King Jr. was much more than just a reverend or just a civil rights champion; he was a learned philosopher who understood the importance of reason and balance in society. Unlike some of the Christian extremists who use his name for their cause and political gains, King valued the pluralism of American society, respected the U.S. Constitution, and never would have supported the corrupt motivation behind efforts to unite church and state.

Suggested reading:

  • Martin Luther King, Jr.,  Strength to Love (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1963).
  • Jeff Nall, “Will the real Martin Luther King please stand up?” The Humanist (May/June 2005).

August 27, 413 B.C.E.

The Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.E.)

On this date, a lunar eclipse caused panic among the sailors of the Athens fleet in Sicily and eventually affected the outcome of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.E.). Just as the Athenian forces were ready to sail home from Syracuse, the Moon was eclipsed. The soldiers and sailors were frightened by this celestial omen and were reluctant to leave. Their commander, Nicias, described by the ancient Greek historian Thucydides as a particularly superstitious man, asked the priests what he should do. They suggested the Athenians wait for another twenty-seven days, and Nicias agreed. The Syracusans took advantage of this, and seventy-six of their ships attacked eighty-six Athenian ships in the harbor, beginning what has become known as the Second Battle of Syracuse. The Syracusans ultimately defeated the entire Athenian fleet and army in September and executed Nicias.

Why do I mention this footnote to the history of ancient Athens? It illustrates that the failure (or refusal) to recognize the natural causes of natural events, such as a lunar eclipse, may seem harmless but can have disastrous consequences.

August 26, 1909 (a Thursday)

Otto Hauser

On this date, an almost perfectly preserved Cro-Magnon male skeleton, about 34,000 years old, was discovered by Swiss-German antiquities dealer and historian Otto Hauser. He was a member of a party hunting fossils in the Combe-Capelle rockshelter, France. The following year, Hauser sold this and an earlier discovery of Neandertal skeletal remains from Le Moustier (1908) to the Berlin Völkerkunde-Museum. Most of the skeleton itself is believed to have been destroyed during WW II by allied bombing raids.

The Cro-Magnons are the earliest known European examples of Homo sapiens, living between 35,000 and 10,000 years ago, whose skeletons were first discovered in March, 1868. They were anatomically identical to tall and muscular modern humans, but slightly more robust on average. Finely crafted stone and bone tools, shell and ivory jewelry, and polychrome paintings found on cave walls all testify to the cultural advancement of Cro-Magnon man.

August 25, 1835 (a Tuesday)

On this date, the the first in a series of six articles announcing the supposed discovery of life on the moon appeared in the New York Sun newspaper (subsequent installments appeared on August 26, 27, 28, 29, and 31). It bore the headline:

GREAT ASTRONOMICAL DISCOVERIES
LATELY MADE
BY SIR JOHN HERSCHEL, L.L.D. F.R.S. &c.
At the Cape of Good Hope
[From Supplement to the Edinburgh Journal of Science]

"A View of the Inhabitants of the Moon" Illustration from an 1836 English pamphlet, publisher unknown. Note the biped beavers on the right.

The article began by triumphantly listing a series of stunning astronomical breakthroughs that the famous British astronomer, Sir John Herschel, had apparently made “by means of a telescope of vast dimensions and an entirely new principle.” Herschel, the article declared, had established a “new theory of cometary phenomena”; he had discovered planets in other solar systems; and he had “solved or corrected nearly every leading problem of mathematical astronomy.” Then, almost as if it were an afterthought, the article revealed Herschel’s final, stunning achievement: he had discovered life on the moon!

The article continued on and offered an elaborate account of the fantastic sights viewed by Herschel during his telescopic observation of the moon. It described a lunar topography that included vast forests, inland seas, and lilac-hued quartz pyramids. Readers learned that herds of bison wandered across the plains of the moon; that blue unicorns perched on its hilltops; and that spherical, amphibious creatures rolled across its beaches. The highpoint of the narrative came when it revealed that Herschel had found evidence of intelligent life on the moon: he had discovered both a primitive tribe of hut-dwelling, fire-wielding biped beavers, and a race of winged humans living in pastoral harmony around a mysterious, golden-roofed temple. Herschel dubbed these latter creatures the Vespertilio-homo, or “man-bat”.

1835 lithograph of the lunar "Ruby Amphitheater" and moon men, described in the New York Sun's moon hoax.

The article, of course, was an elaborate hoax. Herschel had in fact traveled to Capetown, South Africa, in January 1834 to set up an observatory with a powerful new telescope. But Herschel had not really observed life on the moon, nor had he accomplished any of the other astronomical breakthroughs credited to him in the article. In fact, Herschel was not even aware until much later that such discoveries had been attributed to him. Furthermore, the Edinburgh Journal of Science had stopped publication years earlier, and Grant was a fictional character. However, the New York Sun managed to sell thousands of copies of the article before the public realized that it had been hoaxed.

The articles were most likely written by Richard Adams Locke, a Sun reporter educated at Cambridge University. Intended as satire, they were designed to poke fun at earlier, serious speculations about extraterrestrial life, particularly those of Reverend Thomas Dick, a popular science writer who claimed in his bestselling books that the moon alone had 4.2 billion inhabitants.

However, Locke never publicly admitted to being the author of the hoax, and rumors have persisted that others were also involved in the production of the story. Two men in particular have been mentioned in connection with the hoax: Jean-Nicolas Nicollet, a French astronomer who was travelling through America at the time (though he was in Mississippi, not New York, when the moon hoax appeared), and Lewis Gaylord Clark, editor of the Knickerbocker Magazine. However, there is no real evidence to suggest that anyone but Locke was the author of the hoax.

“New Inhabitants of the Moon” from Delle Scoperte Fatte Nella Luna del Dottor Giovanni Herschel, Napoli, 1836 (Italian edition of the Moon Hoax).

Readers were completely taken in by the story, however, and failed to recognize it as satire. The craze over Herschel’s supposed discoveries even fooled a committee of Yale University scientists, who traveled to New York in search of the Edinburgh Journal articles. After Sun employees sent them back and forth between the printing and editorial offices, hoping to discourage them, the scientists returned to New Haven without realizing they had been tricked.

Despite the intense public speculation about the moon story, the Sun never publicly conceded that it was a hoax. On September 16, 1835 the Sun did publish a column in which it discussed the possibility that the story was a hoax, but it never confessed to anything. Quite the contrary. It wrote that, “Certain correspondents have been urging us to come out and confess the whole to be a hoax; but this we can by no means do, until we have the testimony of the English or Scotch papers to corroborate such a declaration.” This is the closest the Sun ever came to an admission of guilt.

People were generally amused by the whole thing, and sales of the paper didn’t suffer.

References:

  • Michael J. Crowe. The Extraterrestrial Life Debate, 1750-1900. (Cambridge University Press, 1986) pp. 202-15.
  • David S. Evans. “The Great Moon Hoax.” Sky and Telescope. September, 1981 (196-198); October, 1981 (308-311).
  • William N. Griggs (ed.). The Celebrated “Moon Story,” its origin and incidents; with a memoir of the author, and an appendix containing, I. An Authentic description of the moon; II. A New Theory of the Lunar Surface, in relation to that of the earth. (New York, 1852).
  • Frank M. O’Brien. The Story of The Sun. (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1928). Chapters 1-6.
  • Edgar Allan Poe. “Richard Adams Locke,” from “The Literati of New York City No.VI,” October 1846, Godey’s Lady’s Book, pp.159-162.
  • Gibson Reaves. “The Great Moon Hoax of 1835.” The Griffith Observer. November, 1954. Vol. XVII, No. 11, pp. 126-134.
  • Ormond Seavey (ed.). The Moon Hoax, Or, A Discovery That The Moon Has A Vast Population of Human Beings. (Boston: Gregg Press, 1975).

August 25, 1609 (a Tuesday)

Bell Tower in St. Mark’s Square

On this date, the Italian mathematician Galileo Galilei marched the Doge of Venice (Leonardo Donato), his counsellor, the Chiefs of the Council of Ten, and the Sages of the Order, who commanded the Venetian navy, up the Bell Tower (Campanile) in St. Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy. Once at the top, Galileo showed them views of distant cities, ships on the horizon, and parishioners entering a church on the island of Murano – all of which had been invisible to the eye alone – with the aid of his first telescope. The Doge was awestruck. The military had a powerful new secret weapon. Venice was confirmed again as a triumph. Galileo presented the Doge with the telescope on his knees and received a doubled salary, a lifetime appointment, and a bonus amounting to a year’s wages.

Throughout the the rest of 1609, particularly during the winter, Galileo made many astronomical studies. On January 7, 1610 Galileo observed with his telescope what he described at the time as “three fixed stars, totally invisible by their smallness,” all close to Jupiter, and lying on a straight line through it. Observations on subsequent nights showed that the positions of these “stars” relative to Jupiter were changing in a way that would have been inexplicable if they had really been fixed stars. On January 10 Galileo noted that one of them had disappeared, an observation which he attributed to its being hidden behind Jupiter. Within a few days he concluded that they were orbiting Jupiter. He had discovered three of Jupiter’s four largest satellites (moons): Io, Europa, and Callisto. He discovered the fourth, Ganymede, on January 13. Galileo named the four satellites he had discovered Medicean stars, in honor of his future patron, Cosimo II de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and Cosimo’s three brothers. [Later astronomers, however, renamed them the Galilean satellites in honor of Galileo himself.] On March 12, 1610 Galileo published the results of his studies in a brief treatise entitled Sidereus Nuncius (Starry Messenger).

These observations over a six night period, from January 7 through January 13, provided a view to Galileo that revealed that perhaps not everything orbited the Earth (geocentric model), as Ptolemy as well as the Catholic Church had adopted. And, if these small, but bright points of light went around Jupiter and not the Earth, perhaps there were other objects that did not orbit the Earth. His findings allowed him to confirm the Sun-centered theory of Copernicus. This short period of time from the summer of 1609 through to March of 1610, when Siderius Nuncius was published, had a revolutionary impact on astronomy almost overnight and it catapulted Galileo into the scientific spotlight and into the fire and wrath of the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church condemned Galileo for his theories on June 22, 1633. He was forced to disown them and to live on his own for the rest of his life. In the following century the Vatican began changing its attitude. A mausoleum was built in 1734 to honor him. In 1822 Pope Pius VII gave permission for Galileo’s theory to be taught in schools. In 1968 Pope Paul VI had the trial against Galileo reassessed, then Pope John Paul II took the final step in the Church’s rehabilitation of the scientist in 1984 when he formally acknowledged that the Catholic Church had erred when it condemned the Italian astronomer for maintaining that Earth revolved around the Sun.

August 24, 1953 (a Monday)

Alfred Kinsey appears on Time magazine (1953-08-24).

On this date, the American biologist and professor of entomology and zoology Alfred Kinsey appeared on the cover of Time magazine. The article in the issue stated that:

Kinsey . . . has done for sex what Columbus did for geography.

Kinsey had published Sexual Behavior in the Human Male on 5 January 1948. His report had found that 10 percent of all American males are largely homosexual, and that half of all men in the United States have experienced homosexual arousal to the point of orgasm at least once since puberty. On 14 September 1953, Kinsey published Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. Based on his research, Kinsey concluded that:

The only unnatural sex act is that which you cannot [physically] perform.

At a time when any kind of human sexuality was rarely mentioned in public, and homosexuality was especially hidden, repressed, and punished, the Kinsey Reports came as a shocking revelation, with their statistical, scientific findings that homosexual behavior is more widespread than most people had suspected, and appears to be within the normal range of human behavior.

Suggested Reading:

August 24, 410 C.E.

Sack of Rome by Visigoths, 410 C.E., painting by Joseph-Noël Sylvestre (1890). [Naturally, being naked makes you a barbarian. - ed.]

Sack of Rome by Visigoths, 410 C.E., painting by Joseph-Noël Sylvestre (1890). [Naturally, being naked makes you a barbarian. - ed.]

On this date, Rome was attacked by the Visigoths, led by Alaric I. At that time, Rome was no longer the capital of the Western Roman Empire, replaced in this position initially by Mediolanum and then later Ravenna. Nevertheless, the city of Rome retained a paramount position as “the eternal city” and a spiritual center of the Empire.

This was the first time in almost 800 years that Rome had fallen to an enemy. The previous sack of Rome had been accomplished by the Gauls under their leader Brennus in 387 B.C.E. The sacking of 410 is seen as a major landmark in the fall of the Western Roman Empire. St. Jerome, living in Bethlehem at the time, wrote that “The City which had taken the whole world was itself taken.”

This sack of Rome is generally considered to mark the end of classical history and the beginning of the Middle Ages, characterized by the rise of small feudal regions rather than one unitary empire and Christian chivalry as opposed to secular investigation. In truth, of course, the matter is more complicated, as scientific inquiry continued to some degree during the Middle Ages and the Byzantine Empire (or Eastern Roman Empire) continued for a further 1000 years.

August 23, 1975 (a Saturday)

Our own tyrants learned this lesson through bitter experience, when the love between Aristogiton and Harmodius grew so strong that it shattered their power. Wherever, therefore, it has been established that it is shameful to be involved in sexual relationships [of men] with men, this is due to evil on the part of legislators, to despotism on the part of the rulers, and to cowardice on the part of the governed.

— Plato, Symposium

Zen stones

Leonard Matlovich comes out.

History tells us that a man being able to admit to the other men in his unit that he is gay is not the antithesis of a successful war-fighting culture. On Saturday, 23 August 1975, U.S. Air Force Tech Sergeant Leonard Matlovich, a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, appeared in his Air Force uniform on the cover of Time magazine with the headline “I Am A Homosexual”. Nevertheless, on 22 October 1975 he was given a general discharge. Matlovich was in many ways the first prominent face of the unjust treatment of gays and lesbians in the U.S. military. He was awarded the bronze star and a purple heart for his valor in combat. When he decided to stand up and tell the truth he knew what he was doing. The story goes that when Matlovich gave his superior officer his coming-out letter, the African-American officer asked: “What the hell does this mean?” Matlovich told him “It means Brown v. the Board of Education.”

Matlovich's tombstone at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC.

In 1979, after winning a much-publicized case against the U.S. Air Force, his discharge was upgraded to “honorable.” In 1988, Matlovich died at the age of 44 of complications from AIDS. He was buried with full military honors at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.   His grave bears his famous statement:

When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.

Suggested Reading:

  • John Boswell, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, (New York, NY: Villard, 1994).
  • Plato, Symposium
  • Thucydides, Peloponnesian War, Book 6

August 23, 1769 (a Wednesday)

Georges Cuvier

On this date, Georges Cuvier was born at Montbéliard, France (then Mömpelgard in the duchy of Württemberg). Cuvier, who possessed one of the finest minds in history, was instrumental in establishing the fields of comparative anatomy and paleontology by comparing living animals with fossils.

At the opening of the National Institute of France in April in 1796, he read his first palaeontological paper. At the time, it was still widely believed that no species of animal had ever become extinct, because God’s creation had been perfect. In his paper, Cuvier analyzed skeletal remains of Indian and African elephants as well as mammoth fossils, demonstrating that African and Indian elephants were different species and that mammoths were not the same species as either African or Indian elephants and therefore must be extinct.

In the second paper he presented in 1796, Cuvier demonstrated that a large skeleton found in Paraguay, which he named “megatherium,” represented yet another extinct animal and, by comparing its skull with living species of tree dwelling sloths, that it was a kind of ground dwelling giant sloth. Together these two 1796 papers essentially ended what had been a long running debate about the reality of extinction.

Figure of the jaw of an Indian elephant and the fossil Jaw of a mammoth from Cuvier's 1798–99 paper on living and fossil elephants

Cuvier believed that organisms were functional wholes; their functional integration meant that each part of an organism, no matter how small, bore signs of the whole. In a 1798 paper on the fossil remains of an animal found in some plaster quarries near Paris, he wrote:

Today comparative anatomy has reached such a point of perfection that, after inspecting a single bone, one can often determine the class, and sometimes even the genus of the animal to which it belonged, above all if that bone belonged to the head or the limbs. … This is because the number, direction, and shape of the bones that compose each part of an animal’s body are always in a necessary relation to all the other parts, in such a way that – up to a point – one can infer the whole from any one of them and vice versa.

This idea is sometimes referred to as “Cuvier’s principle of correlation of parts.” Thus, Cuvier was able to use his deep knowledge of the comparative anatomy of living organisms to produce reconstructions of organisms from fragmentary fossils, many of which turned out to be strikingly accurate.

Ironically, Cuvier’s insistence on the functional integration of organisms prevented him from accepting biological evolution, for he believed that any change in an organism’s anatomy would have rendered it unable to survive. Since organisms were functional wholes, any change in one part would destroy their delicate balance. He also pointed out that Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt had retrieved animals mummified thousands of years previously that seemed no different from their modern counterparts.

To explain the discontinuities seen in the fossil record, Cuvier hypothesized that a vast number of species was originally created in the beginning and that, although the Earth was immensely old and for most of its history conditions had been more or less like those of the present, periodic “revolutions” had occurred, each causing the extinction of many species of animals. This view came to be known as “catastrophism.” Cuvier regarded these “revolutions” as events with natural causes, and considered their causes and natures to be an important geological problem. Although he was a lifelong Protestant, Cuvier did not explicitly identify any of these “revolutions” with Biblical or historical events. The species we see today, according to his hypothesis, are the species that were present at the beginning and whose unmodified descendants have survived all the later catastrophes. (Unfortunately for Cuvier, the lowest and oldest layers of sedimentary rock do not contain any fossils of present-day species that would be expected if his hypothesis was correct.)

The harshness of his criticism and the strength of his reputation continued to discourage naturalists from speculating about the transmutation of species, right up until Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species more than two decades after Cuvier’s death.

Location of the Mind Remains a Mystery

ResearchBlogging.orgWhere does the mind reside? It’s a question that has occupied the best brains for thousands of years, including the Buddha’s.

Recent advances in functional magnetic resonance neuroimaging, a technique that measures brain activity in the hope of finding correlations between mental functions and specific regions of the brain, have led to a wealth of studies that map particular functions onto regions. Self-awareness is defined as being aware of oneself, including one’s traits, feelings, and behaviors. Previous neuroimaging studies had suggested that self-awareness (SA), which is central to human consciousness, depends critically on specific brain regions, namely the insular cortex, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). This proposal predicts that damage to these regions should disrupt or even abolish SA — an afflicted individual should be like a zombie, according to David Rudrauf, a neurologist at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

University of Iowa researchers studied the brain of a patient with damage to three regions long considered integral to self-awareness — left to right, the insular cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, and medial prefrontal cortex. Image credit: UI Department of Neurology.

So when Rudrauf and his team heard about patient R, they immediately thought he could help set the record straight. Patient R is a 57-year-old man whose brain was damaged in 1980 following a severe episode of herpes simplex encephalitis. His brain damage is bilateral, more extensive on the right, and encompasses the target regions mentioned above: the insular cortex, the ACC, and the mPFC. Rudrauf et al reasoned that if any of the structures that are damaged in this patient are indeed critical for the different aspects of SA implicated by the hypothesis described above — i.e., insula, ACC, mPFC — the patient should show clear disruptions of the corresponding functions. Conversely, if these structures are not critical, R should show largely preserved SA.

In fact, R displays a strong concept of selfhood. Rudrauf’s team confirmed this by checking whether he could recognize himself in photographs and by performing the tickle test — based on the observation that you can’t tickle yourself. They concluded that many aspects of R‘s self-awareness remained unaffected. “Having interacted with him it was clear from the get go that there was no way that [the theories based on neuroimaging] could be true,” says Rudrauf. R also has an IQ within the normal range, although he does have severe amnesia, which prevents him from learning new information, and he struggles with social interaction.

The UI researchers estimate that R has ten percent of tissue remaining in his insula and one percent of tissue remaining in his anterior cingulate cortex. Some had seized upon the presence of tissue to question whether those regions were in fact being used for self-awareness. But neuroimaging results presented in the current study reveal that R’s remaining tissue is highly abnormal and largely disconnected from the rest of the brain.

The authors of the report conclude that:

R is a conscious, self-aware, and sentient human being despite the widespread destruction of cortical regions purported to play a critical role in SA, namely the insula, anterior cingulate cortex, and medial prefrontal cortex.

“Self-awareness corresponds to a brain process that cannot be localized to a single region of the brain,” says Rudrauf. “In all likelihood, self-awareness emerges from much more distributed interactions among networks of brain regions.”

Patient R demonstrates that the mind remains as elusive as ever.

References:

  • Philippi CL, Feinstein JS, Khalsa SS, Damasio A, Tranel D, & et al. (2012). Preserved Self-Awareness following Extensive Bilateral Brain Damage to the Insula, Anterior Cingulate, and Medial Prefrontal Cortices Plos ONE, 7 (8) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0038413

August 21, 1826 (a Monday)

Hand homology (1870)

On this date, Karl Gegenbaur was born in Wurzburg, Germany. As a professor of anatomy at the University of Jena (1855-1873) and at the University of Heidelberg (1873-1903), Karl Gegenbaur was a strong supporter of Charles Darwin’s theory of organic evolution, having taught and worked, beginning in 1858, with Ernst Haeckel, eight years his junior. Gegenbaur is best known for his work entitled Grundriss der vergleichenden Anatomie (Leipzig, 1874; 2nd edition, 1878), translated into English by W. F. Jeffrey Bell (as Elements of Comparative Anatomy, 1878), with additions by E. Ray Lankester. While recognizing the importance of comparative embryology in the study of descent, Gegenbaur stressed the greater value of comparative anatomy as the basis of the study of homologies, i.e., of the relations between corresponding parts in different animals, such as the bones in the arm of a human, the foreleg of a horse, and the wing of a bird.

August 19, 1920 and the Politics of the Mormon Church

Man is, or should be, woman’s protector and defender. The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life. . . . The paramount destiny and mission of women is to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother. This is the law of the Creator.

— Justice Joseph P. Bradley, Bradwell v. State of Illinois 83 US 130: 141 (1872)

Zen stones

Men and women are equal.

Following the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, which extended suffrage to women on this date (19 August 1920), some believed that the U.S. Constitution should be amended to guarantee full rights for women in all aspects of life, from employment to education to divorce to property ownership. The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the Constitution was originally written by Alice Paul in 1921 and first proposed in the United States Congress in December 1923. It was promoted by Paul and the National Women’s Party, but opposed by many of their colleagues who had worked to pass the Nineteenth Amendment. The ERA would have eliminated protective legislation which for years reformers had sought for female industrial workers. But Paul was determined that women should be treated as individuals under the law just as men were, not as a class subject to mass governmental regulation. The wording of the proposed ERA was simply:

Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Needless to say, the ERA was not ratified.

Many believed equality was already guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, a belief reinforced in 1963 by the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, which concluded that an equal rights amendment was redundant because of provisions of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. National polls, however, indicated that feminists believed in the necessity of an ERA.

In 1971, the ERA was reintroduced into Congress with the same language as Paul’s original document:

Sec. 1: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Sec. 2: The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Sec. 3: This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

It passed the U.S. Senate and then the House of Representatives, and on 22 March 1972, the proposed 27th Amendment to the Constitution was sent to the states for ratification, getting twenty-two of the necessary thirty-eight state ratifications in that first year. Most of these were states which had already resolved in favor of women’s rights by enacting equal protective labor legislation for men and women. But the pace slowed as opposition began to take its toll — only eight ratifications in 1973, three in 1974, one in 1975, and none in 1976. By 1976, 34 states had ratified the ERA; only four more were needed to make it part of the Constitution.

The attack against the ERA seemed, at times, alarmist and hysterical. Equation of the ERA with sexual permissiveness, abortion, child care, homosexuality, and unisexuality drew the debate away from the constitutional principal of equality to issues of “traditional family values.” But the attack did reflect the fears of many about the changing roles of women and men and about the changing form of the family. There seemed to be danger in equality for the ideological/cultural concept of the father as head and provider, mother as nurturer and manager, and children as replicas into the next generation. Many feared the equality would make women more vulnerable and exposed, that men would feel freer to abandon family responsibilities.

Then the Mormons got involved. The fears of anti-ERA opponents prompted the Mormon Church (male) leadership to join their financial resources, promotional skills, and broad network of members to the anti-ERA movement. In October 1976, the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) issued a statement against the ERA, concerned it “could indeed bring [women] far more restraints and repressions. We fear it will even stifle many God-given feminine instincts.” This denunciation had a nearly immediate impact in Idaho, home to a relatively large Mormon electorate. The Idaho legislature had previously given the ERA the requisite two-thirds approval, but this was undone by a January 1977 referendum in which a popular majority opposed the amendment. In December 1976, the Church leadership urged all stake and mission presidencies to “to join others in efforts to defeat the ERA”, leading to LDS-coordinated efforts against the ERA in twenty-one states.

The LDS Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Next, the Church mobilized Mormons to participate in the state-level International Women’s Year (IWY) conferences taking place around the country. Mormon women in numerous states worked to block pro-ERA resolutions at IWY conferences. The process was top-down, and controlled by the Church’s leadership. In Utah, for example, fourteen thousand Mormons attended the conference, voting down every proposal in the meeting including anti-pornography measures and calls for world peace. In Hawaii, Mormon women received these written instructions: “Report to Traditional Values Van, sign in, pick up dissent forms. Sit together. Stay together to vote. Ask Presidency for help if needed.” At other state conferences, male Mormon coordinators staked out various rooms and informed their compatriots when a particular vote was pending; the Mormon women in attendance then rushed in to participate. This kind of discipline and cohesion allowed Mormon women to dominate conferences in states where their total numbers were quite small. For example, Mormons represented about four percent of the total populations of Washington and Montana, but accounted for half or more of the women attending each state’s IWY gathering. And in both Washington and Montana, every proposed pro-ERA resolution was defeated.

In typical grassroots fashion, ward bishops solicited donations to support the anti-ERA effort, speeches against the amendment were deemed appropriate at all Church meetings, and Church buildings were used as anti-ERA literature distribution centers. Church-sponsored anti-ERA organizations operated in Florida, Nevada, North and South Carolina, Missouri, Illinois and Arizona.

As the official voice of the Church, the Ensign published articles clarifying the Church’s position, speeches about ratification given by Church leaders in different locations, and official policy statements that left no room for misinterpretation. Bishops, stake presidents, teachers, and women read them in classes, and official press packets were distributed widely to local newspapers, television personalities, and other individuals in the media. The First Presidency reaffirmed its opposition to the ERA in a statement dated 24 August 1978 in which it said, “Its deceptively simple language deals with practically every aspect of American life, without considering the possible train of unnatural consequences which could result because of its very vagueness — encouragement of those who seek a unisex society, an increase in the practice of homosexual and lesbian activities, and other concepts which could alter the natural, God-given relationship of men and women.” In March 1980, the Church went all out with the publication of The Church and the Proposed Equal Rights Amendment: A Moral Issue.

Lists of pro-ERA legislators were posted in the hallways of meetinghouses, and even sample letters of opposition one might send to their legislators were posted as well. At Relief Society or Sunday School, petitions were circulated and delivered to state legislators. One petition read in part: “We consider the Equal Rights Amendment a nonpartisan issue and will, in the 1979 elections, vote only for those candidates who oppose ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.” Here, too, the Mormons’ limited numbers belied their ultimate effect: by one estimate, they generated 85 percent of the anti-ERA mail sent in Virginia, where they made up only one percent of the population.

An article by Jessica Longaker entitled, “Mormon Family Values and the Role of Women in LDS,” might help explain why the Mormon Church entered politics to defeat the ERA:

Polygamous marriage is basically essential to Mormon theology. Mormon Doctrine states that God was once a human man, and “He is now a glorified, resurrected Personage having a tangible body of flesh and bones”. As a matter of fact, “all gods first existed as spirits, came to an earth to receive bodies, and then, after having passed through a period of probation on the aforesaid earth, were advanced to the exalted position they now enjoy”. After death, a good Mormon man who has followed a few certain rules is catapulted to this same status and receives his own planet to populate and rule over. To receive this honor, a man must be “married for eternity” in the Mormon temple. This special marriage is binding after death as well as until it.

“Celestial” marriage, as this eternal marriage is often called, is essential for Mormon women. Without being celestially married to a holder of the priesthood, a woman cannot be “saved”. Mary Ettie Smith, a Mormon woman who left the church and Utah in 1856, said that “women do not amount to much in themselves,” and that women in those times were often celestially married to men they had no intention of ever living with, so that they could have a man who would be able to get them into heaven.

(. . .)

Girls and boys are also told that a good and proper Mormon home is a patriarchal one. A handbook written for fourteen year old boys states that, “The patriarchal order is of divine origin and will continue throughout time and eternity”. Husbands conduct family prayers, bless their wives and children, and generally control the household. They also are in charge of “family home evening”, one night per week set aside for family prayer and togetherness. The Mormon belief is that Eve’s roles in life, those of help-meet and child-bearer, set the pattern for all of her daughters. Girls are told that God wants them at home, and boys are never taught to clean up after themselves, since when their mothers stop doing it for them, their wives will take over the job. These ideas, at least, have not changed at all since the nineteenth century.

(. . .)

The Mormon church of today is still clinging to the beliefs of the nineteenth century; ideas which are becoming more outmoded every day. A few women in the Mormon church are trying to make a difference, but they are usually swiftly excommunicated. . . . Feminists are described as “the Pied Pipers of sin who have led women away from the divine role of womanhood down the pathway of error”. Obviously, the Mormon church is not going to alter its views on women in the immediate future. It is questionable whether it is even possible for Mormonism to equalize the roles of men and women, because the oppression of women is so integral to the religion. Men and women cannot truly become equal in the church, for the basic tenets of Mormonism are so fraught with sexism that equality would change the religion beyond recognition.

Some Mormons favored the ERA. Most notably, Sonia Johnson emerged as a pro-ERA Mormon leader, co-founding Mormons for ERA in 1977. She testified in 1978 in support of the ERA before the Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, upsetting Mormon Senator Orrin Hatch. Testifying again in August 1979 before the Subcommittee, she asked Hatch how the Church’s statement against the ERA could discuss the “exalted role of woman in our society” while leaving women in a secondary status “where equality does not even pertain. . . . One wonders if the leaders of the church would gladly exchange their sex and become so exalted.” In September 1979, she further raised concerns of Church leaders when she spoke to the American Psychological Association on “Patriarchal Panic: Sexual Politics in the Mormon Church“. The key paragraph of the speech centered on her cause:

But women are not fools. The very violence with which the [Mormon] brethren attacked an amendment which would give women human status in the Constitution abruptly opened the eyes of thousands of us to the true source of our danger and our anger. This open patriarchal panic against our human rights raised consciousness miraculously all over the church as nothing else could have done. And revealing their raw panic at the idea that women might step forward as goddesses-in-the-making with power in a real — not a “sub” or “through men” — sense was the leaders’ critical and mortal error, producing as it did a deafening dissonance between their rhetoric of love and their oppressive, unloving, destructive behavior.

Sonia Johnson

It was in this speech that Johnson crossed the line between equal civil rights and the patriarchal system of the Mormon Church, a border also blurred by the Church by identifying the ERA as a moral issue upon which the Church could take political action (in harmony with the 29 June 1979 statement of the First Presidency which explained that moral issues, so identified by the First Presidency and Council of Twelve, may be “worthy of full institutional involvement”). Later in the “Patriarchal Panic” speech, Johnson said:

The Mormons, a tiny minority, are dedicated to imposing the Prophet’s moral directives upon all Americans, and they may succeed if Americans do not become aware of their methods and goals. Because the organization of the church is marvelously tight, and the obedience of the members marvelously thoroughgoing, potentially thousands of people can be mobilized in a very short time to do–conscientiously–whatever they are told, without more explanation than “the Prophet has spoken.”

But Mormon anti-ERA activity, though organized and directed through the hierarchy of the church from Salt Lake down through regional and local male leaders, is covert activity not openly done in the name of the church. Members are cautioned not to reveal that they are Mormons or organized by the church when they lobby, write letters, donate money, and pass out anti-ERA brochures door to door through whole states. Instead, they are directed to say they are concerned citizens following the dictates of their individual consciences. Since they are, in fact, following the very dictates of the Prophet’s conscience and would revise their own overnight if he were to revise his, nothing could be further from the truth.

The Mormon church began disciplinary proceedings against Sonia Johnson after she delivered the above speech. She was excommunicated from the LDS Church, after a perfunctory Church trial, a little over three months later. It was not her pro-ERA beliefs that caused her conflict with the LDS Church but her opposition to its political activities in relation to the ERA.

While it might be going too far to say that the Mormon Church killed the ERA, it certainly put the amendment on life support. True, Mormons made common cause with conservative Catholics and Protestant fundamentalists in their battle against the ERA, a collaboration that paved the way for the political sector now broadly known as the religious right. But without the Mormon Church’s timely intervention and efficient opposition, the amendment probably would have passed. In any case, it is clear that the network of LDS wards and stakes coalesced into a tax-subsidized political machine, energetically fund-raising and mobilizing campaign volunteers to influence public policy.

Suggested Reading:

  • Sonia Johnson, From Housewife to Heretic: One Woman’s Struggle for Equal Rights and Her Excommunication from the Mormon Church (Garden City, New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1983).
  • Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1992).
  • Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994).
  • Martha Sonntag Bradley, Pedestals and Podiums: Utah Women, Religious Authority, and Equal Rights (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 2005)

August 18, 1991 (a Sunday)

Yeltsin stands on a military tank to defy the August Coup in 1991.

On this date, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was placed under house arrest during an attempted coup d’état (known as the August Putsch or August Coup) by high-ranking members of his own government, military and police forces.

Since becoming secretary of the Communist Party in 1985 and president of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1988, Gorbachev had pursued comprehensive reforms of the Soviet system, greatly improving Soviet relations with Western democracies, particularly the United States. However, within the USSR, Gorbachev faced powerful critics. Conservative, hard-line politicians and military officials thought he was driving the Soviet Union toward its downfall and making it a second-rate power, while more radical reformers – particularly Boris Yeltsin, president of the most powerful socialist republic, Russia – complained that Gorbachev was just not working fast enough.

The August 1991 coup was carried out by the hard-line elements within Gorbachev’s own administration, as well as the heads of the Soviet army and the KGB, or secret police. Detained at his vacation villa in the Crimea, he was placed under house arrest and pressured to give his resignation, which he refused to do. Claiming Gorbachev was ill, the coup leaders, headed by former vice president Gennady Yanayev, declared a state of emergency and attempted to take control of the government.

Yeltsin and his backers from the Russian parliament then stepped in, calling on the Russian people to strike and protest the coup. When soldiers tried to arrest Yeltsin, they found the way to the parliamentary building blocked by armed and unarmed civilians. Yeltsin himself climbed aboard a tank and spoke through a megaphone, urging the troops not to turn against the people and condemning the coup as a “new reign of terror.” The soldiers backed off, some of them choosing to join the resistance. After thousands took the streets to demonstrate, the coup collapsed after only three days.

Gorbachev was released and flown to Moscow, but his regime had been dealt a deadly blow. Over the next few months, he dissolved the Communist Party, granted independence to the Baltic states, and proposed a looser, more economics-based federation among the remaining republics. In December 1991, Gorbachev resigned. Yeltsin capitalized on his defeat of the coup, emerging from the rubble of the former Soviet Union as the most powerful figure in Moscow and the leader of the newly formed Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Surprisingly, no one predicted the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Chas Freeman, a former diplomat who served as Richard Nixon​’s interpreter during his visit to mainland China in 1972, once recalled conversations he had had when living in Taiwan in the 1970s, before Chiang Kai-Shek’s Kuomintang party had moved from quasi-military rule to open elections:

People would say they are corrupt, they have no vision, they have a ridiculous ideology we have to kowtow to, but that no one believes in practice.

And I would say, ‘If they’re so bad, why don’t you get rid of them?’ That would be greeted with absolute incredulity.

Taiwanese of that era would tell him that, corrupt or not, the party was steadily bringing prosperity. Or that there was no point in complaining, since the party would eliminate anyone who challenged its rule. A generation later, Taiwan had become democratized.

People predicted the fall of the Chinese Communist Party in 1989, but it didn’t happen. The point of this post is, as the Danish physicist Neils Bohr (1885 – 1962) once said, “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.”

August 17, 1771 (a Saturday)

Alone in a sealed jar, a mouse would die from exhaled CO2. But as scientist Joseph Priestley observed in 1771, adding a mint plant allows the mouse to thrive. In this proof of photosynthesis, the mint absorbed CO2, retained carbon for growth, and released oxygen. Two centuries later humans tried—and failed—to survive in a sealed environment in Arizona's Biosphere 2.

On this date, Joseph Priestley began an experiment in which he discovered photosynthesis, although he did not give it that name. He described his experiment in 1772 in a paper entitled “Observations on Different Kinds of Air”:

…I flatter myself that I have accidentally hit upon a method of restoring air which has been injured by the burning of candles, and that I have discovered at least one of the restoratives which nature employs for this purpose. It is vegetation. In what manner this process in nature operates, to produce so remarkable an effect, I do not pretend to have discovered; but a number of facts declare in favour of this hypothesis…

One might have imagined that, since common air is necessary to vegetable, as well as to animal life, both plants and animal had affected it in the same manner, and I own that I had that expectation, when I first put a sprig of mint into a glass-jar, standing inverted in a vessel of water; but when it had continued growing there for some months, I found that the air would neither extinguish a candle, nor was it at all inconvenient to a mouse, which I put into it.

…Accordingly, on the 17th of August 1771, I put a sprig of mint into a quantity of air, in which a wax candle had burned out, and found that, on the 27th of the same month, another candle burned perfectly well in it. This experiment I repeated, without least variation in the event, not less than eight or ten times in the remainder of the summer.

Priestley’s experiment also demonstrated the key processes of the natural carbon cycle. Although Priestley could not name the gases responsible, the fire and respiration used up oxygen and gave off carbon dioxide. The mint reversed both processes. Photosynthesis took up the carbon dioxide, converted it into plant tissue, and gave off oxygen as a by-product.

Priestley’s experiment thus has ecological implications for today, since the world is just a bigger jar. Tens of billions of tons of carbon a year pass between land and the atmosphere: given off by living things as they breathe and decay and taken up by green plants, which produce oxygen. A similar traffic in carbon, between marine plants and animals, takes place within the waters of the ocean. And nearly a hundred billion tons of carbon diffuse back and forth between ocean and atmosphere.

1917 image of Athbasca Glacier, Jasper National Park, Canada, courtesy National Archives of Canada, from the Wheeler Survey; 2005 image by Gary Braasch. Receding glaciers are visible evidence of global warming.

Compared with these vast natural exchanges, the few billion tons of carbon that humans contribute to the atmosphere each year seem paltry. Yet like a finger on a balance, our steady contributions are throwing the natural cycle out of whack. The coal, oil, and natural gas that drive the industrial world’s economy all contain carbon inhaled by plants hundreds of millions of years ago — carbon that now is returning to the atmosphere through smokestacks and exhaust pipes, joining emissions from forests burned to clear land in poorer countries. The atmosphere’s carbon dioxide level has risen by some 30 percent since Priestley’s time. It may now be higher than it has been in at least 20 million years.

Carbon dioxide is foremost in an array of gases from human activity that increase the atmosphere’s ability to trap heat, resulting in ongoing global warming.

References:

  • Allen, J.F. and W. Martin, “Evolutionary biology: Out of thin air,” Nature 445: 610-612 (8 February 2007)
  • Appenzeller, Tim, “The case of the missing carbon”, National Geographic Magazine (Feb 2004) , vol 205, number 2, p 88.

August 15, 2001 (a Wednesday)

Education

On this date, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in Hardy v. Jefferson Community College, 260 F.3d 671 (6th Cir. 2001). Kenneth E. Hardy, a white adjunct professor at Jefferson Community College in Kentucky, had sued Richard Green, who was the college president, and Mary Pamela Besser, a dean, in their individual capacities in 1999 for violating his first-amendment rights after the college told him it was not renewing his appointment because “there were no courses available for him to teach.”  Interestingly, the administrators were represented by John G. Roberts, Jr., who became Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in September, 2005.

Scales of Justice

Background. The professor had regularly taught two communication courses at the college, receiving outstanding student evaluations and strong supervisory reviews. During the professor’s fourth year, a black student complained to him about class discussions examining words used to demean minorities. The professor apologized to her for any discomfort the language may have caused her, but she complained to a local minister active in civil rights, who subsequently raised the matter with the college president. Although the administration had informed Hardy before this controversy that he was scheduled to teach three courses in the fall, the administration later did not renew his appointment, claiming no classes were available.

Decision. When the college tried to get Hardy’s suit dismissed, an appeals court ruled in the professor’s favor, recognizing the importance of academic freedom at community colleges by stating:

In balancing the competing interests involved, we must take into account the robust tradition of academic freedom in our nation’s post-secondary schools…The 1st Amendment tolerates neither laws nor other means of intimidation that cast a pall of orthodoxy over the free exchange of ideas in the classroom.

Perhaps most significant was the court’s unwritten holding that the First Amendment right of academic freedom applies to faculty members at public institutions, whether those faculty members are tenured or not.

In April of 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court let the ruling stand by refusing to hear the case. Roberts, the lawyer representing Mr. Green and Ms. Besser, trivialized the justices’ action, claiming it doesn’t mean that they think the lower court’s decision is wrong. “It just means that they don’t want to get involved,” he said.

Although Hardy died of lung cancer on June 8, 2002, Adrienne Regnier, his widow and a Jefferson College philosophy professor, continued with her husband’s case. “Ken was teaching about language and about how it can be used to abuse, to alienate, to oppress others,” said Regnier. “That was Ken’s lesson: that this is the worst word you can ever call anybody, that it’s worse than any other word you can think of.” Ironically, she believes her late husband and the Louisville civil-rights leader who spoke against him actually shared enormous common ground. Describing her late husband as a “rabid anti-racist” who routinely attended anti-Klan rallies, Regnier added, “Ken and (the civil rights leader) were on the very same side. But because of a knee-jerk reaction, at least some people are left with the mistaken impression that Ken was a racist.”

August 12, 1990 (a Sunday)

Sue the Tyrannosaurus Rex at the Field Museum in Chicago

On this date, fossil hunter Susan Hendrickson discovered three huge bones jutting out of a cliff near Faith, South Dakota. They turned out to be part of the largest-ever Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever discovered, a 65 million-year-old specimen dubbed Sue, after its discoverer.

Amazingly, Sue’s skeleton was over 90 percent complete, and the bones were extremely well-preserved. Hendrickson’s employer, the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research, paid $5,000 to the land owner, Maurice Williams, for the right to excavate the dinosaur skeleton, which was cleaned and transported to the company headquarters in Hill City. The institute’s president, Peter Larson, announced plans to build a non-profit museum to display Sue along with other fossils of the Cretaceous period.

However, a dispute soon arose over who was the legal owner of the bones. Williams claimed that the $5,000 had not been for the sale of the fossil and that he had only allowed Larson to remove and clean the fossil for a later sale. Williams was a member of the Sioux tribe, and the tribe claimed the bones belonged to them. The property that the fossil had been found within was held in trust by the United States Department of the Interior. Thus, the land technically belonged to the government.

In 1992, the FBI and the National Guard raided the site where the Black Hills Institute had been cleaning the bones and seized the fossil. The government transferred the remains to the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, where it was stored until the legal dispute was settled. After a lengthy trial, the court decided that Maurice Williams retained ownership, and the remains were returned in 1995. Williams then decided to sell the remains, and contracted with Sotheby’s to auction the property. Many were then worried that the fossil would end up in a private collection where people would not be able to observe it.

3D View of Sue

The Field Museum in Chicago was also concerned about this possibility, and decided to attempt to purchase Sue. However, the organization realized that they might have difficulty securing funding and decided to request that companies and private citizens provide financial support. The California State University system, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, McDonald’s, Ronald McDonald House Charities, and individual donors agreed to assist in purchasing Sue for the Field Museum. On October 4, 1997, the auction began at $500,000; less than ten minutes later, the Field Museum had purchased the remains with the highest bid of $8,362,500. The winning bid was $7.6 million before Sotheby’s commission.

August 12, 1950 (a Saturday)

Church/State sign.

On this date, Pope Pius XII issued the encyclical Humani Generis (Concerning Some False Opinions Threatening to Undermine the Foundations of Catholic Doctrine), condemning ideologies which threatened Roman Catholic faith but allowing that evolution did not necessarily conflict with Christianity. The document made plain the Pope’s fervent hope that evolution would prove to be a passing scientific fad, and it attacked those persons who “imprudently and indiscreetly hold that evolution …explains the origin of all things.” Nevertheless, Pius XII stated that nothing in Catholic doctrine is contradicted by a theory that suggests one species might evolve into another – even if that species is man. According to the Pope:

The Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, insofar as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter…

The Pope asserted, however, that Catholics must believe that the human soul was created immediately by God and that all humans have descended from an individual, Adam, who has transmitted original sin to all humankind.

August 8, 1942 (a Saturday)

Rudolf Brazda, photo taken at Mulhouse, late 1940 (Private Collection)

On this date, following two convictions for violating section 175 of the former German Criminal Code, Rudolf Brazda was sent to the Nazi concentration camp of Buchenwald. The bureaucracy of the horror of the degradation is listed matter-of-factly in the original documents from the Buchenwald concentration camp:

Registered on 8 August 1942, Paragraph 175 homosexual, prisoner number 7952, pink triangle.

Brazda was probably the last surviving “Pink Triangle”, men who were rounded up by the Nazis and detained in concentration camps for being gay. The Nazis outlawed homosexuality in 1936 and it is estimated that they sent between 5,000 and 15,000 gays to concentration camps. After the end of World War II, Brazda setted in Alsace in northeastern France. He started visiting local gay cruising grounds, notably the Steinbach public garden where ironically Pierre Seel, another homosexual deportee who later came out, had been identified by the French police shortly before the outbreak of World War II. Brazda, like Seel and thousands of others, had to remain silent for decades after World War II ended because homosexuality remained a crime (it was decriminalized in France only in 1982). He spoke out in this interview:
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Rudolf Brazda died on August 3, 2011.

Suggested reading/watching:

  • Bent, the 1997 movie made from Martin Sherman’s 1979 play of the same name
  • Epstein and Friedman, Paragraph 175
  • Richard Plant, The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals (Holt, 1988)
  • Pierre Seel, Moi, Pierre Seel, déporté homosexuel [I, Pierre Seel, Deported Homosexual] (Paris: Calmann-Levy, 1994)

August 8, 1856 (a Friday)

The skullcap of type specimen, Neandertal 1.

On or about this date, quarry workmen in search of lime blasted out the entrance of the Feldhofer Cave in the Neander Valley near Düsseldorf, Germany. They found a skeleton, and guessed they had found the remains of a cave bear. Although they discarded many of the bones, they also set some of them aside, including the skullcap, for examination by a local schoolteacher and amateur naturalist, Johann Fuhlrott. When Fuhlrott looked at the long, narrow skullcap with prominent brow ridges, he realized its significance. Two weeks after the initial discovery, he returned to the quarry in hopes of finding the rest of the skeleton, but it was too late to retrieve any more bones. Fortunately, Fuhlrott had enough to identify the remains as those of an ancient human population, different from contemporary humans. This was the find that gave the species its name. It marked the beginning of paleoanthropology and initiated the longest-standing debate in the discipline: the role of Neandertals in human evolutionary history.

However, Fuhlrott’s view was not immediately accepted as it contradicted literal interpretations of the Bible and came before Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published. It took some years before the Neandertal man gained acceptance as a species of the genus Homo that inhabited Europe and parts of western Asia.

Because the area where these Neandertal bones were found was landscaped after the limestone quarry closed without a scientific geological analysis, and there were no associated finds, the site has been considered undatable. It is now the location of a museum of Neandertal life. The museum has also recreated the man’s appearance in a full-body model holding a spear.

However, the bones of over 400 Neandertals that have been found in different parts of Europe and the Middle East since (and even a few before) this discovery have permitted accurate dating. As a result, it is now known that the first proto-Neandertal traits appeared in Europe as early as 350,000 years ago, by 130,000 years ago full blown Neandertal characteristics had appeared, and by 50,000 years ago Neandertals had disappeared from Europe, although they continued in Asia until 30,000 years ago.

August 7, 1903 (a Friday)

Louis Leakey

On this date, Louis S(eymour) B(azett) Leakey, an archaeologist and anthropologist, was born in Kabete, Kenya, of English missionaries parents. Leakey was largely responsible for convincing scientists that Africa, rather than Java or China, was the most significant area to search for evidence of human origins.

A Christian evolutionary biologist, Leakey is remembered for saying, “Nothing I’ve ever found has contradicted the Bible. It’s people with their finite minds who misread the Bible” (quoted in chapter 3 of Virginia Morell, 1995, Ancestral Passions: The Leakey Family and the Quest for Humankind’s Beginnings).

A passage from the last page of the fourth edition (1955) of Adam’s Ancestors: The Evolution of Man and His Culture by Louis Leakey is especially noteworthy as we begin the twenty-first century:

We know from the study of evolution that, again and again, various branches of animal stock have become over-specialized, and that over-specialization has led to their extinction. Present-day Homo sapiens is in many physical respects still very unspecialized− … But in one thing man, as we know him today, is over-specialized. His brain power is very over-specialized compared to the rest of his physical make-up, and it may well be that this over-specialization will lead, just as surely, to his extinction. … if we are to control our future, we must first understand the past better.