Tag Archives: Genocide

September 3, 1945 (a Monday)

In the early hours on this date, Wilfred Graham Burchett entered Hiroshima alone, less than a month after the atomic bombing of the city. He was the first Western journalist — and almost certainly the first Westerner other than prisoners of war — to reach Hiroshima after the bomb and was the only person to get an uncensored story out of Japan. The story which he typed out on his battered Baby Hermes typewriter, sitting among the ruins, remains one of the most important Western eyewitness accounts, and the first attempt to come to terms with the full human and moral consequences of the United States’ initiation of nuclear war. It was published in the London Daily Express on September 5 and appears below in its entirety:

30th Day in Hiroshima: Those who escaped begin to die, victims of
THE ATOMIC PLAGUE
I write this as a Warning to the World
DOCTORS FALL AS THEY WORK
Poison gas fear: All wear masks

In Hiroshima, 30 days after the 1st atomic bomb destroyed the city and shook the world, people are still dying, mysteriously and horribly — people who were uninjured in the cataclysm from an unknown something which I can only describe as the atomic plague.

Hiroshima does not look like a bombed city. It looks as if a monster steamroller has passed over it and squashed it out of existence. I write these facts as dispassionately as I can in the hope that they will act as a warning to the world.

In this first testing ground of the atomic bomb I have seen the most terrible and frightening desolation in four years of war. It makes a blitzed Pacific island seem like an Eden. The damage is far greater than photographs can show.

When you arrive in Hiroshima you can look around for twenty-five and perhaps thirty square miles and you can see hardly a building. It gives you an empty feeling in the stomach to see such man-made destruction.

I picked my way to a shack used as a temporary police headquarters in the middle of the vanished city. Looking south from there I could see about three miles of reddish rubble. That is all the atomic bomb left of dozens of blocks of city streets, of buildings, homes, factories and human beings.

STILL THEY FAIL

There is just nothing standing except about twenty factory chimneys — chimneys with no factories. A group of half a dozen gutted buildings. And then again, nothing.

The police chief of Hiroshima welcomed me eagerly as the first Allied correspondent to reach the city. With the local manager of Domei, the leading Japanese news agency, he drove me through, or perhaps I should say over, the city. And he took me to hospitals where the victims of the bomb are still being treated.

In these hospitals I found people who, when the bomb fell suffered absolutely no injuries, but now are dying from the uncanny after-effects. For no apparent reason their health began to fail. They lost appetite. Their hair fell out. Bluish spots appeared on their bodies. And then bleeding began from the ears, nose, and mouth. At first, the doctors told me, they thought these were the symptoms of general debility. They gave their patients Vitamin A injections. The results were horrible. The flesh started rotting away from the hole caused by the injection of the needle. And in every case the victim died. That is one of the after-effects of the first atomic bomb man ever dropped and I do not want to see any more examples of it.

THE SULPHUR SMELL

My nose detected a peculiar odor unlike anything I have ever smelled before. It is something like sulphur, but not quite. I could smell it when I passed a fire that was still smoldering, or at a spot where they were still recovering bodies from the wreckage. But I could also smell it where everything was still deserted.

They believe it is given off by the poisonous gas still issuing from the earth soaked with radioactivity by the split uranium atom.

And so the people of Hiroshima today are walking through the forlorn desolation of their once proud city with gauze masks over their mouths and noses. It probably does not help them physically.

But it helps them mentally.

From the moment that this devastation was loosed upon Hiroshima, the people who survived have hated the white man. It is a hate, the intensity of which is almost as frightening as the bomb itself.

‘ALL CLEAR’ WENT

The counted dead number 53,000. Another 30,000 are missing, which means certainly dead. In the day I have stayed in Hiroshima — and this is nearly a month after the bombing — 100 people have died from its effects.

They were some of the 13,000 seriously injured by the explosion. They have been dying at the rate of 100 a day. And they will probably all die. Another 40,000 were slightly injured.

These casualties might not have been as high except for a tragic mistake. The authorities thought this was just another Super-Fort raid. The plane flew over the target and dropped the parachute which carried the bomb to its explosion point.

The American plane passed out of sight. The all-clear was sounded and the people of Hiroshima came out from their shelters. Almost a minute later the bomb reached the 2,000 foot altitude at which it was timed to explode — at the moment when nearly everyone in Hiroshima was in the streets.

Hundreds and hundreds of the dead were so badly burned by the terrific heat generated by the bomb that it was not even possible to tell whether they were men or women, old or young.

Of thousands of others, nearer the center of the explosion, there was no trace. The theory in Hiroshima is that the atomic heat was so great that they burned instantly to ashes — except that there were no ashes.

If you could see what is left of Hiroshima, you would think that London had not been touched by bombs.

HEAP OF RUBBLE

The Imperial Palace [Hiroshima Castle], once an imposing building, is a heap of rubble three feet high, and there is one piece of the wall. Roof, floors and everything else is dust.

Hiroshima has one intact building — the Bank of Japan. This in a city which at the start of the war had a population of 310,000.

Almost every Japanese scientist has visited Hiroshima in the past three weeks to try to find a way of relieving the people’s suffering. Now they themselves have become sufferers.

For the first fortnight after the bomb dropped they found they could not stay long in the fallen city. They had dizzy spells and headaches. Then minor insect bites developed into great swellings which would not heal. Their health steadily deteriorated.

Then they found another extraordinary effect of the new terror from the skies.

Many people had suffered only a slight cut from a falling splinter of brick or steel. They should have recovered quickly. But they did not.

They developed an acute sickness. Their gums began to bleed and then they vomited blood. And finally they died.

All these phenomena, they told me, were due to the radioactivity released by the atomic bomb’s explosion of the uranium atom.

WATER POISONED

They found that the water had been poisoned by chemical reaction. Even today every drop of water consumed in Hiroshima comes from other cities. The people of Hiroshima are still afraid.

The scientists told me they have noted a great difference between the effect of the bombs in Hiroshima and in Nagasaki.

Hiroshima is in perfectly flat delta country. Nagasaki is hilly. When the bomb dropped on Hiroshima the weather was bad, and a big rain-storm developed soon afterwards.

And so they believe that the uranium radiation was driven into the earth and that, because so many are still falling sick and dying, it is still the cause of this man-made plague.

At Nagasaki on the other hand the weather was perfect, and scientists believe that this allowed the radioactivity to dissipate into the atmosphere more rapidly. In addition, the force of the bomb explosion was, to a large extent, expended in the sea, where only fish were killed.

To support this theory, the scientists point to the fact that, in Nagasaki, death came swiftly and suddenly, and that there have been no after-effects such as those that Hiroshima is still suffering.

Burchett’s firsthand account was censored throughout the United States but had been wired around the world. On the morning of September 7th at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, senior U.S. officials called a press conference to refute his story, which Burchett attended. Brigadier General Thomas Farrell, deputy head of the super-secret Manhattan Project, explained that the atomic bomb had been exploded at a sufficient height over Hiroshima to avoid any risk of “residual radiation.” Burchett’s first question to the briefing officer was, “Have you been to Hiroshima?”

“No,” he replied, but then added, “Those I had seen in the hospital were victims of blast and burn, normal after any big explosion. Apparently the Japanese doctors were incompetent to handle them or lacked the right medication.” He discounted allegations that those who had not been in the city at the time of the blast were later affected.

Burchett asked, “Why were fish still dying a month after the blast?”

Giving a pained expression, the spokesman replied, “I’m afraid you’ve fallen victim to Japanese propaganda.”

Burchett later recounted that he was then “whisked to a U.S. Army hospital where doctors told me my low white-corpuscle count was caused by antibiotics I had been given for a knee infection.” Years later he found out this condition was related to radiation sickness.

Shortly before he died of cancer in 1983, Burchett’s book entitled Shadows of Hiroshima was published.

References:

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September 2, 1998 (a Wednesday)

The Contracting Parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and punish.

— Article I of the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

Zen stones

Bodies of murdered Tutsis from Rwanda, pulled from Lake Victoria by Ugandan fishermen. The bodies had traveled more than 200 miles by river from Rwanda.

On this date, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (a court established by United Nations Security Council Resolution 955 on 8 November 1994) found Jean-Paul Akayesu, the former mayor of the small Rwandan town of Taba, guilty of 9 counts of genocide and crimes against humanity (Prosecutor v. Jean-Paul Akayesu, ICTR-96-4), marking the first time that the 1948 law banning genocide was enforced. Because mass killings had occurred in several countries since the law went into effect, the UN received heavy criticism for waiting 50 years before finally enforcing it.

After the Rwandan genocide began on April 7, 1994, Akayesu initially kept his town out of the mass killing, refusing to let militia operate there and protecting the local Tutsi population. But following an April 18 meeting of mayors with interim government leaders (those who planned and orchestrated the genocide), a fundamental change took place in the town and apparently within Akayesu. He seems to have calculated that his political and social future depended on joining the forces carrying out the genocide. Akayesu exchanged his business suit for a military jacket, literally donning violence as his modus operandi: witnesses saw him incite townspeople to join in the killing and turn former safe havens into places of torture, rape, and murder.

Sentencing occurred on October 2, 1998, when Jean-Paul Akayesu was given life imprisonment for his role in the deaths of 2,000 Tutsis who had sought his protection, as well as 80 years in prison for other violations, including rape. Although Akayesu claimed that he was powerless to stop the killings, Judge Laity Kama ruled that the mayor was “individually and criminally responsible for the deaths.” The ruling not only marked the first time a guilty verdict was handed down on the basis of the 1948 Genocide Convention, but also the first time in international law that mass rape was considered an “act of genocide.” This judgement was upheld on appeal.

References:

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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July 21, 1645

The non-Chinese Manchurian queue.

The non-Chinese Manchurian queue.

On 7 June 1644, a day after entering Peking, the Manchu (Qing) prince Dorgon, regent for the Manchu child emperor Shunzhi, issued a decree stating that, henceforth, all Chinese (Han) men should shave their foreheads and have their hair braided in back in the Manchu-style queue.

A storm of protest forced Dorgon to cancel his decree, but the following June another order was issued that Chinese military men must adopt the queue; this was to make it easier for the Manchus to identify their enemies in battle, and assure them that those who had surrendered would remain loyal to them in the future. But senior advisers of Dorgon felt that this did not go far enough, and so on today’s date, Dorgon reissued the decree that every Chinese man must shave his forehead and begin to grow the queue within ten days or face execution. This order was popularly summarized as “Keep your hair and lose your head, or lose your hair and keep your head.”

For Han officials and literati, the new hairstyle was a humiliating act of degradation because it breached a common Confucian directive to preserve one’s body intact, whereas for common folk cutting their hair was tantamount to the loss of their manhood. Because it united Chinese of all social backgrounds into resistance against Qing rule, the haircutting command broke the momentum of the Qing conquest. The defiant population of Jiading and Songjiang was massacred by former Ming general Li Chengdong, respectively on August 24 and September 22. Jiangyin also held out against about 10,000 Qing troops for 83 days. When the city wall was finally breached on 9 October 1645, the Qing army led by Ming defector Liu Liangzuo, who had been ordered to “fill the city with corpses before you sheathe your swords,” massacred the entire population, killing between 74,000 and 100,000 people. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed before all of China was brought into compliance.

Almost 270 years later, after the Xinhai Revolution in 1911, Sun Yat-sen in the capacity of Provisional President of the newly founded Republic of China promulgated an order requiring all soldiers and civilian men to cut their queues. “Queue cutting rallies” were held where men had their hair cut together with thousands of compatriots. In the early Republican period, queue cutting became an expression of support for the revolution.

References:

  • Frederic Wakeman, “Localism and Loyalism During the Ch’ing Conquest of Kiangnan: The Tragedy of Chiang-yin”, in Frederic Wakeman, Jr., and Carolyn Grant (eds.), Conflict and Control in Late Imperial China (Berkeley: Center of Chinese Studies, University of California, Berkeley, 1975), pp. 43–85
  • Frederic Wakeman, The Great Enterprise: The Manchu Reconstruction of Imperial Order in Seventeenth-Century China (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1985). In two volumes.

July 17, 2011 (a Sunday)

The International Criminal Court in The Hague (ICC/CPI), Netherlands.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague (ICC/CPI), Netherlands.

On 17 July 2011, the world celebrated the first International Criminal Justice Day. This date is the anniversary of the day in July 1998 when the international community made a pledge in Rome to never again allow impunity to reign supreme in the contemporary world by creating the International Criminal Court (ICC). The observance was adopted by the Assembly of the States Parties during the Review Conference of the Rome Statute held in Kampala (Uganda) in June 2010.

The ICC is the first permanent international judicial body in history capable of trying individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes when national courts are unable or unwilling to do so. To date, 139 states have signed and 121 states have ratified the Rome Statute, the international treaty that gave birth to the Court.

Unfortunately, the United States has a recent history of opposition to the ICC. Since Nuremberg, the United States had historically supported international mechanisms to enhance accountability. United States’ President Bill Clinton signed the Rome Statute on 31 December 2000, the last day that it was open for signature. Shortly after the Bush Administration entered office and just before the 1 July 2002 entry into force of the Rome Statute, US President George W. Bush “nullified” the Clinton signature on 6 May 2002, alleging that the United States would no longer be involved in the ICC process and that it did not consider itself as having any legal obligations under the treaty. The legality of such a “nullification” is unclear and the subject of debate by international legal scholars. Since 2002, the Bush Administration undertook a policy of active opposition to the Court through a global campaign to obtain immunity from ICC jurisdiction through a multi-pronged approach.

Under the Obama administration, the United States has shifted its stance. As of November 2009, it has begun attending the Rome Statute’s Assembly of States Parties (ASP) meetings as an observer, signaling a new policy of engagement with the ICC. At the 2010 Review Conference of the ASP, the United States participated fully as an observer.

A Democratic Spring Ends: June 27, 1954 (a Sunday)

The Price of Bananas:

The Chiquita brand logo was commissioned in 1943 by United Fruit.

The Chiquita brand logo was commissioned in 1943 by United Fruit.

On this date, the democratically-elected Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán was overthrown by CIA-paid and -trained mercenaries, making way for the United States to install a series of military dictatorships that waged a genocidal war against the indigenous Mayan Indians and against political opponents into the ‘90s. Human rights groups estimate that, between 1954 and 1990, the repressive operatives of successive military regimes murdered at least 100,000 and probably more than 200,000 civilians.

In a radio broadcast in July 1954, Arbenz said:

They have used the pretext of anti-communism. The truth is very different. The truth is to be found in the financial interests of the fruit company [United Fruit] and the other U.S. monopolies which have invested great amounts of money in Latin America and fear that the example of Guatemala would be followed by other Latin countries… I was elected by a majority of the people of Guatemala, but I have had to fight under difficult conditions. The truth is that the sovereignty of a people cannot be maintained without the material elements to defend it…. I took over the presidency with great faith in the democratic system, in liberty and the possibility of achieving economic independence for Guatemala. I continue to believe that this program is just. I have not violated my faith in democratic liberties, in the independence of Guatemala and in all the good which is the future of humanity.

United Fruit, one of America’s richest companies, functioned in Guatemala as a state within a state. It owned the country’s telephone and telegraph facilities, administered its only important Atlantic harbor and monopolized its banana exports. A subsidiary of the company owned nearly every mile of railroad track in the country.

The fruit company’s influence amongst Washington’s power elite was equally impressive. On a business and/or personal level, it had close ties to the Dulles brothers, various State Department officials and congressmen, the American Ambassador to the United Nations, and others. Anne Whitman, the wife of the company’s public relations director, was President Eisenhower’s personal secretary. Under-secretary of State (and formerly Director of the CIA) Walter Bedell Smith was seeking an executive position with United Fruit at the same time he was helping to plan the coup. He was later named to the company’s board of directors.

Furthermore, in the early 1940s, United Fruit had brought on as its public relations counsel Edward Bernays, a diminutive man who had proven his ability to act big by convincing a generation of American women to smoke the cigarettes made by his client American Tobacco Co., luring a generation of children into carving sculptures from Ivory Soap bars made by client Proctor and Gamble, and generally tapping the ideas of his uncle, Sigmund Freud, on why people behave the way they do, only to reshape those behaviors for the benefit of his paying customers.
 Bernays helped mastermind the propaganda campaign for his fruit company client to convince Americans that Arbenz was a Communist threat to the U.S., drawing on every public relations tactic and strategy he had refined since helping to convince Americans that Germany was a threat to the U.S. during World War I.
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A singing, dancing Chiquita banana, modeled after Carmen Miranda, became the symbol for the United Fruit Company. Through this sexy banana symbol, Latin America was feminized, creating images in Americans’ minds of a colonial Latin America with an indigenous population of topless women, which was of course not the case.

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The Eisenhower Administration painted the coup as an uprising that rid the hemisphere of a Communist government backed by Moscow. But Arbenz’s real offense was to confiscate unused land owned by the United Fruit Company to redistribute under a land reform plan and to pay compensation based on the vastly understated valuation the company had claimed for its tax payments. Arbenz “was not a dictator, he was not a crypto-communist,” said Stephen Schlesinger, an adjunct fellow at the Century Foundation and co-author of Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala (1999). “He was simply trying to create a middle class in a country riven by extremes of wealth and poverty and racism,” Schlesinger said. Both Arbenz and his immediate predecessor, Juan Jose Arevalo, who was the first democratically-elected Guatemalan president, were motivated by the policies and practices of the New Deal; their support for labor and their actions towards American businesses must be viewed in this light and were never any worse than those of the Roosevelt Administration during the Depression in the United States.

In 1970, the United Fruit Company merged with AMK Corporation; the new corporation was called the United Brands Company. This company became Chiquita Brands International in 1990.

On 10 March 1999 during remarks made in the Reception Hall in the National Palace of Culture in Guatemala City, President Bill Clinton apologized for U.S. support of the Guatemalan military (but not for the 1954 coup), saying U.S. “support for military forces or intelligence units which engage in violent and widespread repression of the kind described in the report was wrong”. He was forced into this “damn-near” apology after the U.N.’s independent Historical Clarification Commission (Spanish: Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico, or CEH) issued a nine-volume report called Guatemala: Memory of Silence [Conclusions and Recommendations archived here] on 25 February 1999.

Created as part of the 1996 peace accord that ended Guatemala’s civil war, the CEH and its 272 staff members interviewed combatants on both sides of the conflict, gathered news reports and eyewitness accounts from across the country, and extensively examined declassified U.S. government documents. The CEH concluded that for decades, the U.S. knowingly gave money, training, and other vital support to Guatemalan military regimes that committed atrocities as a matter of policy, and even “acts of genocide” against the Mayan people.

However, the Commission’s findings weren’t really news at all. That the Guatemalan military committed genocide and widespread atrocities had been widely known for many years. That the U.S. supported and trained the Guatemalan military had been a matter of public record. What was new here was the depth of documentation, and that the information was coming from an official source.

The CEH attributed 93% of the atrocities and 626 massacres to government forces, while only 3% of the atrocities were attributable to the guerrillas. (Responsibility for the remaining 4% could not be assigned with certainty.) Out of 200,000 documented victims, the CEH report found that 83% were indigenous. And worse, the vast majority of victims were non-combatant civilians. Merely trying to form an opposition political party was reason enough to be killed. So was being a trade unionist, a student or professor, a journalist, a church official, a child or elderly person from the same village as a suspected rebel, a doctor who merely treated another victim, or even a widow of one of the disappeared simply asking for the body.

Civil patrol members in northern Guatemala in March 1982. Civil patrols were established using local men forcibly conscripted by the government. This patrol had recently been supplied with U.S.-made M-1 rifles,  replacing their former shotguns and machetes.

Civil patrol members in northern Guatemala in March 1982. Civil patrols were established using local men forcibly conscripted by the government. This patrol had recently been supplied with U.S.-made M-1 rifles, replacing their former shotguns and machetes.

In fact, the same day that Clinton issued his damn-near apology, new documents obtained by the National Security Archive — a non-profit group of truth-seekers who do tremendous work obtaining and analyzing the internal records of things we aren’t supposed to know — were released that indicate that the U.S. was more intimately involved with the Guatemalan paramilitary than even the CEH report indicated.

These new documents proved irrefutably that as early as 1966, officials from the U.S. State Department, far from opposing the torturers, set up a “safe house” for security forces in Guatemala’s presidential palace, which eventually became the headquarters for “kidnapping, torture… bombings, street assassinations, and executions of real or alleged communists.” CIA documents also proved that from the very beginning, U.S. intelligence was fully aware that “disappearances” were actually kidnappings followed by summary executions. Rather than act to stop the slaughter, however, the U.S. State Department continued to provide tens of millions of dollars in aid. Once Ronald Reagan was elected president, covert money and support for the Guatemalan dictatorship soared, as did the atrocities. In fact, Reagan was the U.S. official most culpable for aiding and abetting the Guatemalan genocide.

In a muted ceremony at the National Palace in Guatemala City on 20 October  2011, Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom turned to Arbenz’s son Juan Jacobo and asked for forgiveness on behalf of the state for the overthrow of his father in 1954. “That day changed Guatemala and we have not recuperated from it yet,” he said. “It was a crime to Guatemalan society and it was an act of aggression to a government starting its democratic spring.”

On 21 October 2011, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the organization Rights Action issued an open letter to President Obama [archived here] asking the administration to follow the example of the Guatemalan government and issue an apology on behalf of the U.S. government for its role in the coup d’état and subsequent human rights violations perpetrated by the Guatemalan state. It stated:

The willingness of the United States to support illegitimate governments in Latin America did not begin and unfortunately did not end with Guatemala. In fact, Guatemala was one of the most atrocious but still just one of the bloody, repressive and destabilizing interventions in Latin America and the Caribbean that the U.S. government supported over the last century. Unfortunately, this interventionism continues today. Your October 5, 2011 White House meeting with and pledged support for President Porfirio Lobo of Honduras in the aftermath of the June 2009 coup d’état and the subsequent illegitimate elections there is a cogent example of the United States’ continued wrongheaded policy approach to Latin America. Honduras is engulfed in a wave of politically motivated violence where scores of opposition activists and journalists have been murdered since the coup. Support for the repressive Lobo government is in direct contradiction to the nationwide peoples’ movement of Honduras which is demanding an end to impunity for the repression against their movement and accountability for the 2009 coup d’etat.

CCR and Rights Action concluded the letter by urging President Obama to change the course of his administration’s foreign policy in Latin America and to put his words into action by ceasing to actively undermine Latin American peoples’ right to peacefully choose their leaders democratically and have these decisions be respected by the United States.

Bodies of some of the 20 villagers killed near Salacuin, in northern Guatemala, in May 1982. The Guatemalan army blamed leftist guerrillas for this massacre; survivors of other attacks carried out in the same region during this period blamed the army.

Bodies of some of the 20 villagers killed near Salacuin, in northern Guatemala, in May 1982. The Guatemalan army blamed leftist guerrillas for this massacre; survivors of other attacks carried out in the same region during this period blamed the army.

On 12 January 2012, Efrain Rios Montt, former head of state of Guatemala from March 1982 to August 1983, the bloodiest period in its history, appeared in a Guatemalan court on charges of genocide. During the trial, the government presented evidence of over 100 incidents involving at least 1,771 deaths, 1,445 rapes, and the displacement of nearly 30,000 Guatemalans during his 17-month rule. The evidence clearly showed that Ríos Montt had ordered soldiers to burn indigenous villages and kill Mayans.

On 10 May 2013, Rios Montt was found guilty and sentenced to 80 years in prison. The verdict was the first time in history in which a former head of state had been found guilty of genocide by a national tribunal in his or her own country. However, the victory was short-lived. On May 20, Guatemala’s highest court, the Constitutional Court, vacated the verdict against Ríos Montt and annulled all the legal proceedings that had taken place after April 19; a retrial may possibly occur in January 2015. During the week following Montt’s conviction, there had been forceful and repeated calls from CACIF, Guatemala’s powerful business association, for the verdict to be overturned, explicit threats made by Rios Montt’s lawyer of national paralysis if the Constitutional Court did not rule in Rios Montt’s favor, and bomb threats at the Constitutional Court and other government offices. Guatemala has to now decide if it wants to be known throughout the world as “The Land of Eternal Spring” or as “The Land of Eternal Impunity.”

As for Chiquita Brands International, it is just as corrupt as its predecessor.

In the late 1990s, in one of many chapters in the Colombian government’s decades-old dirty war with leftist guerrillas, more than 15,000 people in the northern region of Curvaradó were forced from their land. Those that followed were las mocha cabezas, meaning “the beheaders” — paramilitary death squads fighting as the military’s proxies. Thousands fled their massacres, bombardments, and executions. Behind the beheaders came the agribusinesses, which converted the territory into African palm plantations and cattle ranches under paramilitary protection. Thus began the cozy relationship between the corporations and the paramilitaries.

Chiquita had been operating in Colombia since the early 1960s through a wholly-owned subsidiary called “Banadex”. Between 1997 and 2004, officers of Banadex paid approximately $1.7 million to the right-wing United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Spanish: Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, or AUC) in exchange for local employee protection in Urabá, a region north of Curvaradó. The AUC has been responsible for some of the worst massacres in Colombia’s civil conflict and for a sizable percentage of the country’s cocaine exports, although they are fighting the guerrilla insurgency in order to preserve the political and economic status quo in Colombia. No later than September 2000, Chiquita’s senior executives knew that the corporation was paying the AUC and that the AUC was a violent, paramilitary organization. Similar payments were also made to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) as well as the National Liberation Army (ELN) from 1989 to 1997, both leftist guerrilla organizations, as control of the company’s banana-growing area shifted. Not only were the FARC and ELN targeting U.S. personnel, they were also fighting against U.S. political and economic interests in Colombia.

The FARC and the ELN were placed on the U.S. State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations in 1997, while the AUC was added in 2001; on 14 March 2007, Chiquita Brands said it had agreed to a $25 million fine as part of a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department for having ties to them. The plea agreement [archived here] claimed that the company had never received “any actual security services or actual security equipment in exchange for the payments” (see paragraph 23). Chiquita instead characterized itself as a victim of “extortion”.

But court documents subsequently obtained by the National Security Archive from the Justice Department and released as “The Chiquita Papers” in April 2011 show conclusively that Chiquita Brands International had, in fact, benefited from its payments — extorted or otherwise — to Colombian paramilitary and guerrilla groups. According to a 1994 legal memo, the general manager of Chiquita operations in Turbó admits that guerrillas were “used to supply security personnel at the various farms.” In a March 2000 memo, Chiquita lawyers describe a conversation with a company manager who said that it was absolutely necessary to make payments to right-wing paramilitary groups, not because of intimidation, but rather because they “can’t get the same level of support from the military.” It is still not known why U.S. prosecutors overlooked this clear evidence of culpability that they had in their possession while they were pursuing the case against Chiquita.

Even before “The Chiquita Papers”, there were other indications that the 2007 plea agreement was dishonest. On a broadcast of the U.S. news program 60 Minutes of 11 May 2008 [transcript archived here], correspondent Steve Kroft interviewed Salvatore Mancuso, former supreme leader of the AUC, in a Colombian maximum-security prison. Mancuso said the multinational Chiquita Brands agreed to pay the paramilitaries for their safety without threats:

Kroft: Chiquita says the reason they paid the money was because your people would kill them if they didn’t. Is that true?

Mancuso: No it is not true. They paid taxes because we were like a state in the area, and because we were providing them with protection which enabled them to continue making investments and a financial profit.

Kroft: What would have happened to Chiquita and its employees if they had not paid you?

Mancuso: The truth is, we never thought about what would happen because they did so willingly.

Kroft: Did [the company] have a choice?

Mancuso: Yes, they had a choice. They could go to the local police or army for protection from the guerrillas, but the army and police at that time were barely able to protect themselves.

Kroft: Was Chiquita the only American company that paid you?

Mancuso: All companies in the banana region paid. For instance, there was Dole and Del Monte, which I believe are U.S. companies.

Kroft: Dole and Del Monte say they never paid you any money.

Mancuso: Chiquita has been honest by acknowledging the reality of the conflict and the payments that it made; the others also made payments, not only international companies, but also the national companies in the region.

Kroft: So you’re saying Dole and Del Monte are lying?

Mancuso: I’m saying they all paid.

Kroft: Has anyone come down here from the United States, from the U.S. Justice Department, to talk to you about Dole, or to talk to you about Del Monte or any other companies?

Mancuso: No one has come from the Department of Justice of the United States to talk to us. I am taking the opportunity to invite the Department of State and the Department of Justice, so that they can come and so I can tell them all that they want to know from us.

Kroft: And you would name names?

Mancuso: Certainly, I would do so.

Mancuso had helped negotiate a deal with the Colombian government in 2003 that allowed more than 30,000 paramilitaries to give up their arms and demobilize in return for reduced prison sentences. As part of the deal, the paramilitaries must truthfully confess to all crimes, or face much harsher penalties. Since the interview aired, other jailed paramilitary leaders have corroborated Mancuso’s claims that they received protection money from Chiquita. At the time of the interview, Mancuso had been indicted in the U.S. for smuggling 17 tons of cocaine into the country. On 13 May 2008, Mancuso, along with 13 other paramilitary warlords, was unexpectedly extradited to the United States allegedly for failing to comply with the peace pact.

To distance itself from the scandal, Chiquita in June 2004 sold off its Colombian subsidiary, Banadex, which had provided the company with approximately 11 million crates of bananas every year. The company also partnered with Rainforest Alliance, which certified that all of Chiquita’s farms had fair health, labor, and environmental practices. However, Banadex was bought by Invesmar, the British Virgin Islands-registered conglomerate that is the holding company of a Colombian banana producer and exporter called “Banacol”. The $51.5 million deal included an agreement that Banacol would supply Chiquita with 11 million crates of bananas every year through 2012. And low and behold, Banacol in 2011 was Chiquita’s largest global supplier, accounting for 10 percent of Chiquita’s banana purchases, according to Chiquita’s annual statement to shareholders.

Banacol plantains in a Whole Foods in Charlotte, NC

Banacol plantains in a Whole Foods store in Charlotte, NC

When the displaced communities first began to return to Curvaradó in 2002, they found a desert of African-palm plantations and cattle ranches in place of the small farms that once dotted their land. Most of the palm crops are now dead — killed by a mysterious fungal plague — and a number of the businessmen involved in colluding with the paramilitaries are in prison, under investigation, or on the run. However, as the palm trees have withered, the banana companies have advanced. In 2009, Banacol announced plans for a government-backed $6.4 million project planting 2,470 acres of plantain in Curvaradó for sale on international markets.

A legal complaint [archived here] against Chiquita filed before a U.S. federal court in Washington on 22 March 2011 on behalf of victims of the AUC claims that the former Banadex management now runs Banacol, that workers continued under Banadex contracts as late as 2009, and that the farms sold to Banacol — which make up over 70 percent of Banacol’s Colombian land — continue to supply Chiquita. “Banacol has acted as [Chiquita’s] alter ego since 2004,” the complaint concludes (see paragraph 870). The new accusations have arisen in the Curvaradó region of Colombia, where the Rainforest Alliance says it does not certify Banacol farms as environmentally and socially responsible.

While Chiquita’s payments to the AUC ended by 2004, Banacol continued paying security companies that were used to launder payments to the paramilitaries until at least 2007, according to details from a Colombia Prosecutors Office investigation of Chiquita, Banadex, and Banacol, which was leaked to the press in 2009.

In Colombia, it is apparently business as usual for Chiquita Brands International.

References:

May 22, 1609

Ruins of Fort Nassau on Banda Naira, built by the Dutch East India Company in 1609.

Ruins of Fort Nassau on Banda Naira, built by the Dutch East India Company in 1609.

On this date, fed up with their treatment at the hands of the Dutch, the people of Banda in the “East Indies” ambushed some Dutch soldiers, killing their leader, Admiral Pieter Verhoeven (Peter Verhoef). This was witnessed by a certain Jan Pieterzoon Coen, then a young lieutenant, who escaped.

By 1621, Coen had been appointed the Governor General of the United Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or VOC), and he set out to destroy resistance in the islands of Banda. On 8 May 1621, he ordered the brutal murder of 44 local leaders, called Orang Kaya.

VOC lieutenant Nicolas van Waert — whose own men could not fight the order and some of whom were killed when refusing to comply — expressed the general revulsion towards Coen’s methods:

Six Japanese soldiers were also ordered inside, and with their sharp swords they beheaded and quartered the eight chief orang kaya and then beheaded and quartered the thirty-six others. This execution was awful to see. The orang kaya died silently without uttering any sound except that one of them, speaking in the Dutch tongue, said, ‘Sirs, have you no mercy?’ But indeed nothing availed.

(…)

All that happened was so dreadful as to leave us stunned. The heads and quarters of those who had been executed were impaled upon bamboos and so displayed. Thus did it happen: God knows who is right. All of us, as professing Christians, were filled with dismay at the way this affair was brought to a conclusion, and we took no pleasure in such dealings.

Another VOC officer wrote that “things are carried on in such a criminal and murderous way that the blood of the poor people cries to heaven for revenge.”

The Palace inhabited by Governor J.P.Coen was built in 1611 by the Dutch East India Company.

The Palace inhabited by Governor J.P.Coen was built in 1611 by the Dutch East India Company.

Then, Coen orchestrated the massacre of virtually every single member of Banda’s male population over 18 years of age, reducing the total population of 15,000 to less than 1,000, the remainder consisting of mostly young girls and older women. The year 1621 is therefore etched into the minds of the Bandanese people to this day.

The Banda Archipelago is a small cluster of six idyllic emerald islets and scattered rocky outcrops, covering about 40 square miles and located in the middle of the Banda Sea of Indonesia. The Banda group consists of the islands of Banda Naira, Pulau Lonthor, Pulau Ai, Pulau Run, Gunung Api, Pulau Rozengrain, as well as tiny Pulau Hatta. The islands are the native home of the stately Myristica fragrans tree from which two spices, nutmeg and mace, are gathered. It was because of this that Banda became known as the original Spice Islands.

Banda’s nutmegs have been traded to Europe as far back as the second century B.C.E. by land and sea routes to China and were among the precious cargoes carried by camels along the Silk Road to the West. Nutmeg and other East Indian spices were brought to Europe by the crusaders. In medieval times, it was believed nutmeg could ward off the plague, so nutmeg became very popular and its price skyrocketed.

In 1453, Constantinople fell to the Turks, thus blocking the overland trade route for Christian Europe, and necessitating a sea route to the source of these spices. This launched the European Age of Exploration and Discovery. Vasco da Gama, Magellan, and other famous early explorers rounded the Cape of Good Hope in search of a sea route to the spiceries and greatly expanded European knowledge of the known world.

The Dutch massacre of forty-four Orang Kaya at Fort Nassau on 8 May 1621.

The Dutch massacre of forty-four Orang Kaya at Fort Nassau on 8 May 1621.

The Portuguese were among the earliest European arrivals in Southeast Asia. Alfonso de Albuquerque conquered Mallaca and immediately dispatched a squadron of three small ships to the fabled spiceries with the help and guidance of a local Malay pilot. Their search for the original source of the spices led them to the Banda Islands by early 1512. After friendly trading, the ships returned to Lisbon having realized more than one thousand percent profit. The Dutch arrived in 1599, almost 100 years after the Portuguese, who would then be displaced.

The nutmeg trade was a highly profitable one with spices selling for 300 times the purchase price in Banda. This amply justified the expense and risk in shipping them to Europe. The allure of such profits saw an increasing number of Dutch expeditions; investors soon saw that in trade with the East Indies, competition would eat into all their profits. Thus they united to form the VOC, which received a charter from the Netherlands on 31 December 1602 granting it a 21-year monopoly over the Asian trade.

The United Dutch East India Company is often considered to have been the first multinational corporation in the world and it was the first company to issue stock. It was also arguably the first megacorporation, possessing quasi-governmental powers, including the ability to build forts, maintain armies, wage war, imprison and execute convicts, negotiate treaties with indigenous rulers, coin money, and establish colonies.

On May 23, 1602, Dutch captain Wolfert Harmenszoon persuaded some of Banda Naira’s chiefs to sign a treaty (known as “The Eternal Compact“), in Dutch — a language they couldn’t read — granting the Dutch East India Company a monopoly in the nutmeg trade. Some, but not all, of the Orang Kaya signed the agreement, fearing to offend the merchants and invite violent reprisals if they refused. But since there was no real benefit in reserving all their spice for the Dutch, they did not abide by the agreement — if, indeed, they had ever considered doing so. The Dutch would later use this document to justify Dutch troops being brought in to defend their monopoly and to apply it to all of the nutmeg trade on all the Banda Islands, not just to the region controlled by the signatories.

References:

  • Stephen R. Brown. Merchant Kings: When Companies Ruled the World, 1600-1900 (Canada: Douglas & McIntyre, 2009).
  • Giles Milton. Nathaniel’s Nutmeg (Sceptre, 1999).

April 17, 1975 (a Thursday)

Khmer Rouge fighters celebrate as they enter Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975.

On this date, Phnom Penh in Cambodia fell under the control of the Khmer Rouge, the guerrilla group led by Pol Pot that was funded and fueled by Chinese Communists.  Pol Pot immediately directed a ruthless program to “purify” Cambodian society of capitalism, Western culture, religion, and all foreign influences.  He wanted to turn Cambodia into an isolated and totally self-sufficient Maoist agrarian state.  Foreigners were expelled, embassies closed, and the currency abolished.  Markets, schools, newspapers, religious practices, and private property were forbidden.   Members of the Lon Nol government, public servants, police, military officers, teachers, ethnic Vietnamese, Christian clergy, Muslim leaders, members of the Cham Muslim minority, members of the middle-class, intellectuals, and the educated were identified and executed.  Anyone who opposed was killed.

An undated photograph shows forced laborers digging canals in Kampong Cham province, part of the massive agrarian infrastructure the Khmer Rouge planned for the country.

The Khmer Rouge forced all city residents into the countryside and to labor camps. During the three years, eight months, and 20 days of Pol Pot’s rule, Cambodia faced its darkest days; an estimated 2 million Cambodians or 30% of the country’s population died by starvation, torture, or execution. Almost every Cambodian family lost at least one relative during this most gruesome holocaust.

Skulls of victims of the Khmer Rouge at the Killing Fields.

Perhaps the most notorious of the atrocities that occurred under the rule of Pol Pot occurred at Security Prison 21 (S-21), formerly the Tuol Svay Prey High School (named after a royal ancestor of King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia) in Phnom Penh.  The five buildings of the complex were converted in August 1975 into a prison and interrogation center by the Khmer Rouge regime.  All the classrooms were converted into cells. The windows were enclosed in iron bars and covered in barbed wire. The classrooms on the ground floor were divided into tiny cells, 0.8 x 2 meters each, for one prisoner. Female prisoners were housed on the middle floors and the upper-story classrooms were converted into mass cells.

S-21 Tuol Sleng Prison was formerly a school.

One of the administration offices belonged to Comrade Duch, a former teacher and the infamous commandant of S-21 who recently stood trial and eventually apologized for his crimes. Alongside Duch was a workforce of 1,720 staff, comprising prison warders, office personnel, interrogators, and general workers. Many of the sub-units of the prison were staffed by children between the ages of 10 and 15 who were specially selected and trained for their role. They became increasingly dissocialized and evil, and were exceptionally cruel and disrespectful towards the adult prisoners and staff. Children also formed the majority of the medical staff and were untrained.

From 1975 to 1979, an estimated 17,000 people were imprisoned at S-21 (some estimates suggest a number as high as 20,000, though the real number is unknown); there were only twelve known survivors.  At any one time, the prison held between 1,000 to 1,500 inmates.  They were repeatedly tortured and coerced into naming family members and close associates, who were in turn arrested, tortured, and killed.

Thousands of children died in S-21 Tuol Sleng.

The Khmer Rouge required that the prison staff make a detailed dossier for each prisoner.  Included in the documentation was a photograph.  Since the original negatives and photographs were separated from the dossiers in the 1979-1980 period, most of the photographs remain anonymous today.  The photographs are currently exhibited at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, located at the former site of S-21 in Phnom Penh. (Tuol Sleng in Khmer [tuəl slaeŋ] means “Hill of the Poisonous Trees” or “Strychnine Hill”.)

Prisoner Pon Ny, in leg chain (undated).

Every morning, all prisoners were ordered to pull their shorts down to the ankles so they could be inspected. Despite remaining shackled, they were then ordered to exercise by moving their legs and arms up and down. Prisoners were inspected four times a day to check their shackles weren’t loose.

Toilets consisted of small iron and plastic buckets and prisoners had to ask permission of the guards before relieving themselves. If they didn’t, they were beaten or whipped with electrical wire as punishment. They had to stay silent at all times unless being interrogated and risked electrocution if they disobeyed any of the many regulations.

Bathing consisted of a tube of running water poked through a window to splash water on them for a short time. This happened only every two or three days at most, sometimes as rarely as fortnightly. Unhygienic living conditions caused many prisoners to become infected with skin rashes and other diseases and no medicine was given for treatment.

On January 7, 1979, Vietnam invaded and freed the Cambodian people from Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror. Six hundred thousand Cambodians fled to Thai border refugee camps. Fearful to return back to Cambodia, many Cambodians had no choice but to emigrate to the United States, France, or Australia.

Today, many people and organizations are educating the world about the Cambodian Killing Fields. Only through awareness will the world remember the lessons of the genocide, honor the memories of the 2 million killed, and promote peace and tolerance so as to not to relive the same dark days.

Suggested reading:

  • Haing Ngor and Roger Warner, Survival in the Killing Fields (New York, NY: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2003). [First published in 1987 as A Cambodian Odyssey by Macmillan Publishing Company.]

March 28, 2009 (a Saturday)

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On this date, the Chinese Communist Party bosses marked 50 years of direct control over Tibet by raising their national flag in the regional capital and commemorating a new political holiday honoring what they call the “liberation of slaves from brutal feudal rule”. Testimonials about the “misery of life” in old Tibet kicked off the short ceremony – televised live from in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa – to mark the end of the Dalai Lama’s rule in Tibet. March 28 marks the date when Beijing ended the 1959 Tibetan uprising, sending the Dalai Lama over the Himalayas into exile and placing Tibet under its direct rule for the first time.

In contrast, the Tibetan government-in-exile said on its Web site that the new holiday, crowned “Serfs Liberation Day”, would be a day of mourning for Tibetans around the world. “Tibetans consider this observance offensive and provocative,” it said.

Press Statement: China’s Serf Emancipation Day Hides Repression in Tibet
The Kashag
27 March 2009

China’s decision to observe tomorrow as the so-called Serf Emancipation Day is aggravating problems in Tibet. Tibetans consider this observance offensive and provocative. We believe the observance of the “Serf Emancipation Day” on 28 March is aimed at destabilizing and creating chaos in Tibet by a few individuals with overriding self-interest. If the Tibetans, losing their patience, took to the streets in protest, the Chinese leaders will have the excuse to use even more brutal force to crackdown.

Already the whole of Tibet is under heavy security clampdown, with additional troops deployed. Despite these measures, Tibetans, considering conditions in Tibet unbearable, collectively and individually, are taking to the streets, distributing pamphlets calling for freedom, bringing down the Chinese flag and replacing it with the Tibetan flag. This year, Tibetans did not celebrate the Tibetan New Year to mourn those killed in last year’s crackdown on the widespread protests that erupted throughout Tibet. In a development unprecedented in the history of Tibet, Tibetans in Kanze in eastern Tibet have decided not to farm their fields in a unique form of civil disobedience to protest China’s heavy-handed rule. One monk, Tashi Sangpo of Ragya monastery in Golok in north-eastern Tibet was arrested on 10 March 2009, for allegedly hoisting a Tibetan flag. He escaped his captors and drowned himself in the nearby Yellow River. These acts and many more are the true Tibetan attitude to “emancipation” by China.

This day will be observed by Tibetans throughout the world and especially those in Tibet as a day of mourning. No less a figure than Hu Yaobang, the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, who visited Lhasa in 1980, apologized to the Tibetan people and said the conditions in Tibet were worse than pre-1959 Tibet.

The late Panchen Lama said in 1989, a few days before his untimely death, that on the whole China’s rule in Tibet brought greater suffering than benefit for the Tibetan people.

Since 1949/50 when China invaded Tibet, over 1.2 million Tibetans died as a direct result of Chinese communist rule and more than 6,000 monasteries were razed to the ground. Today, it is hard to come across a Tibetan family that has not had at least one member imprisoned or killed by the Chinese regime. This day will be observed as the day when the Tibetans as a people lost all vestiges of their basic individual and collective freedoms.

One justification for China’s “liberation” of Tibet is that old Tibet was feudal and repressive. This is a blatant distortion of the nature of Tibet’s old society. In the early mid-20th century, there was no big gap between the peasants in Tibet and China. Moreover, the Tibetan peasants enjoyed more freedom and better living conditions.

To prove that the old Tibetan society was repressive, the Chinese authorities are currently organising an exhibition of Tibetan prisons and the punishments meted out. However, the reality is that the size of Nangze Shar Prison in Lhasa, heavily used in Chinese propaganda, could accommodate not more than a score of prisoners. In fact, the total number of prisoners in the whole of Tibet before 1959 hardly crossed hundred. After the so-called liberation and emancipation of the Tibetan “serfs”, prisons have come up in every part of Tibet. In Lhasa alone, there are 5 major prisons with a total prison population between 3,500 – 4,000.

The best judge of whether they have been “liberated” is the Tibetan people. They vote with their feet and lives by crossing the Himalayas to seek freedom and happiness outside of their “liberated” Tibet. They also sacrifice their lives to inform the world of the terrible conditions prevailing in Tibet. This was massively demonstrated last year when a series of sustained and widespread protests erupted throughout Tibet. If the “serfs” are happy with their “emancipation”, why are they risking lives and limbs to protest Chinese rule in Tibet.

“Just as Europe can’t return to the medieval era and the United States can’t go back to the times before the Civil War, Tibet can never restore the old serf society era,” Zhang Qingli, the Communist Party boss of the region, told the crowd of more than 13,000. But his statement reflects how the Chinese government continues its deceit and propaganda: the people of Tibet, including the Dalai Lama, do NOT seek to institute a “serf” society. In 1963 the Dalai Lama promulgated a constitution for a democratic Tibet. It has been successfully implemented, to the extent possible, by the Government-in-exile.

Furthermore, at the risk of stating the obvious, the fact that a country is backward cannot justify invading it. Backwardness was often advanced as a justification for 19th century colonialism, what Rudyard Kipling called “The White Man’s burden” when he encouraged the United States to colonize the Philippines. The fact that China relies on the “backwardness” argument to support its occupation of Tibet is a further indication of a classic colonial occupation.

Thus, the Chinese invaded and annexed Tibet to exploit its untapped natural resources, pure and simple. “Tibet belongs to China, not a few separatists or the international forces against China. Any conspiracy attempting to separate the region from China is doomed to fail,” Zhang said.

Also, how could China have “liberated” Tibet in 1949 if it claims prior sovereignty? It is odd that China, on the one hand, claims that Tibet has been part of China since the 13th century, and then, on the other, claims that it “liberated” Tibet in 1949 from an unfortunate past. But, liberated it from what? You can only liberate a country from a situation that your country does not control. Therefore, the Chinese government’s use of the term “liberate” seems to be an admission that China has not governed Tibet contiguously since the Mongol invasions. Either this, or it would have to argue that it was liberating Tibet from circumstances that China created while Tibet was under its control.

It should be noted that numerous countries made statements in the course of UN General Assembly debates following the invasion of Tibet that reflected their recognition of Tibet’s independent status. Thus, for example, the delegate from the Philippines declared: “It is clear that on the eve of the Chinese invasion in 1950, Tibet was not under the rule of any foreign country”. He described China’s occupation as “the worst type of imperialism and colonialism past or present”. The delegate from Thailand reminded the assembly that the majority of states “refute the contention that Tibet is a part of China.” The US joined most other UN members in condemning the Chinese “aggression” and “invasion” of Tibet.

In the course of Tibet’s 2,000-year history, the country came under a degree of foreign influence only for short periods of time in the 13th and 18th centuries. Few independent countries today can claim as impressive a record. As the ambassador to Ireland at the UN remarked during the General Assembly debates on the question of Tibet, “[f]or thousands of years, or for a couple of thousand of years at any rate, [Tibet] was as free and as fully in control of its own affairs as any nation in this Assembly, and a thousand times more free to look after its own affairs than many of the nations here.”

In May 1991, the Senate of the United States of America passed a resolution declaring Tibet an occupied country whose true representatives are the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. Over the years many more resolutions have been passed by various international bodies.

And what has “liberation” meant to the Tibetan people? The International Commission of Jurists (1959 and 1960) judged the Chinese guilty of genocide in Tibet, “the gravest crime of which any person or nation can be accused … the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group” and detailed atrocities to which Tibetans were subjected. These included public execution by shooting, crucifixion, burning alive, drowning, vivisection, starvation, strangulation, hanging, scalding, being buried alive, disemboweling and beheading; imprisonment without trial; torture; forced labour; and forcible sterilization. Many people, including children under 15 years, disappeared without trace.

The United Nations passed a resolution in 1959 calling for respect for the fundamental human rights of the Tibetan people and for their distinctive cultural and religious life based on the principles of fundamental human rights in the Charter of the United Nations and on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Communist China ignored this resolution and 1961 saw another resolution stating that the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights be followed and Tibetans be granted their rights, including the right to self determination. The same was repeated in 1965 by the United Nations General Assembly.

In the 2000s, many view the Chinese genocide in Tibet as the result of the territorial ambitions of the Chinese Communist Party bosses. It is seen as stemming from their systematic attempt to expand the traditional territory of China by annexing permanently the vast, approximately 900,000-square-mile territory of traditional Tibet. Tibet represents about 30 percent of China’s land surface, while the Tibetans represent .004 percent of China’s population. Tibetans were not a minority but an absolute majority in their own historical environment. Chinese government efforts can be seen as aiming at securing permanent control of the Tibetans’ land. For this reason, some observers see genocide in Tibet as not merely referring to the matter of religion, that is, of destroying Tibetan Buddhism. Chinese policies have involved the extermination of more than 1 million Tibetans, the forced relocation of millions of Tibetan villagers and nomads, the population transfer of millions of Chinese settlers, and systematic assimilation.

References:

February 12, 1912 (a Monday)

Nanjing Road in Shanghai after the 1911 Xinhai Revolution, full of the Five-Races-Under-One-Union flags then used by the revolutionaries.

Nanjing Road in Shanghai after the Xinhai Revolution, full of the Five-Races-Under-One-Union flags then used by the revolutionaries.

On this date, the Xinhai Revolution, or the Hsin-hai Revolution, also known as the Revolution of 1911 or the Chinese Revolution, culminated with the overthrow of the Empress Dowager Longyu and the infant Emperor Puyi that marked the end of over 2,000 years of imperial rule and the beginning of China’s so-called republican era.

The goal of the Xinhai Revolution, for its leaders, was to establish a democratic republic in China. In a speech given at a Tokyo gathering on 2 December 1906 (“The Three People’s Principles and the Future of the Chinese People”), Sun Yat-sen said:

As for the Principle of Democracy, it is the foundation of the political revolution…The aim of the political revolution is to create a constitutional, democratic political system…After the revolution in China, this will be the most appropriate political system. This, too, everyone knows.

However, the notion that the government should consist of representatives of the people rather than a tiny oligarchy and its closest families was a republican ideal no Chinese state since 1911, excepting Taiwan, has been willing to embrace. Is the absence of an emperor proof of the existence of a republic? It is arguable, therefore, that China’s current Communist regime, in power since 1949, is yet another dynasty in China’s long imperial era.

The Xinhai Revolution arose mainly in response to the decline of the Qing (or Manchu) dynasty, which had proven ineffective in its efforts to modernize China and confront new challenges presented by foreign powers, and was exacerbated by ethnic resentment against the ruling Manchu minority (see “The Revolutionary Army” published in 1903 by Zou Rong). The turning point of the revolution was the Wuchang Uprising in October 1911.

Dozens of uprisings against the Qing Dynasty had failed between 1895 and 1911, most the work of small secret societies. What distinguished the Wuchang Uprising was that it originated from inside the Empire’s “New Army.” The New Army had been created by the Emperor and his Manchu cabinet with the intention of putting down the many rebellions across China and protecting the country from foreign powers after the Boxer Rebellion.

The Army’s 8th Division, stationed in Hubei Province, differed from other divisions throughout the country for several reasons:

  • First, the 8th Division was perhaps the most highly organized and cohesive.
  • Second, it was stationed in a port city and major transportation hub, Wuhan, on the Yangtze River. Wuhan had been a cosmopolitan port. Thus, its members had access to foreign ideas and influence.
  • Third, its officers were highly literate. Many had studied abroad or graduated from military university.
The three flags of the early Republic of China

The three flags of the early Republic of China

Many in the New Army’s 8th Division were also members of secret societies, the two biggest being the Literary Society and the Society for Common Advancement. The two underground organizations merged in September 1911, united by their opposition to the Manchu government. (Most of the Hubei army and the members of the secret societies were Han Chinese, who considered the Manchu as foreign as if they’d been European.)

Ultimately, the military that was supposed to strengthen the Empire against foreign powers and subversive ideas was the cause of its downfall. The uprising itself broke out largely by accident. Revolutionaries intent on overthrowing the Qing dynasty had built bombs and one accidentally exploded. This led police to investigate, and they discovered lists of Literary Society members within the New Army. At this point, the military revolted rather than face arrest and certain execution. The governor fled Hubei, and within two days the Division occupied the neighboring cities of Hanyang and Hankou. (Years later, Wuchang, Hanyang, and Hankou merged to form the modern city of Wuhan.) As word of the rebellion spread, other provinces followed suit.

Future President Sun Yat-Sen has often been called instrumental in the Wuchang Uprising, but he was in fact in the United States at the time, garnering support for the underground movements. He returned to China on 29 December 1911. By 1 January 1912, the revolutionaries had declared the new Republic of China. After the Qing court transferred power to the newly founded republic in February 1912, a provisional coalition government was created along with the National Assembly.

Major Events in the Xinhai Revolution

Major Events in the Xinhai Revolution

Today, both the Republic of China in Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China on the mainland consider themselves to be successors to the Xinhai Revolution and continue to pay homage to the ideals of the revolution including nationalism, republicanism, modernization of China, and national unity. October 10 is commemorated in Taiwan as Double Ten Day, the National Day of the Republic of China. In mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau, the same day is usually celebrated as the Anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution.

Unfortunately, the overthrow of the Qing dynasty in China in 1911 ushered in 38 years of Civil War and warlordism, and provided an opportunity for a Japanese invasion. In 1949, the bloodbath of the interregnum gave way to a greater bloodbath as the Communists consolidated power under Mao Zedong, who died in 1976. When seen as a continuum, this phase of Chinese history was a 65 year nightmare which took some 75 million lives.

References:

February 2, 1512 (Julian calendar/old style: a Monday)

Hatuey burned at the stake in Cuba.

Hatuey burned at the stake in Cuba.

On this date, the native American Taíno chief Hatuey (or Hathney) from the island of Hispaniola (now the Dominican Republic) was burned alive by the Spanish on the island of Caobana (now Cuba) — arguably the first martyr of heroic resistance against the centuries of colonial onslaught to come. Ironically, the Taínos were the people who had offered a peaceful welcome to Columbus in 1493. Although Cuba was not his birthplace, Hatuey is today remembered and exalted there as a national hero.

The Taíno leader’s death was instrumental in shaping the seminal beliefs of one man: Bartolomé de las Casas. He was a slave owner-turned-Bishop-turned-chronicler who raged a life-long battle against the murderous injustices meted out to South American indigenous peoples by the European colonists. As “protector of Indians”, de las Casas was one of the first missionaries to uphold the rights of the oppressed and protect the lives of indigenous peoples.

In 1511, Diego Velázquez had set out from Hispaniola to conquer the island of Caobana. He had been preceded, however, by Hatuey, who fled Hispaniola with a party of four hundred in canoes and warned the inhabitants of Caobana about what to expect from the Spaniards.

De las Casas later recounted a speech Hatuey had made after showing the Taíno of Caobana a basket of gold and jewels:

Here is the God the Spaniards worship. For these they fight and kill; for these they persecute us and that is why we have to throw them into the sea… They tell us, these tyrants, that they adore a God of peace and equality, and yet they usurp our land and make us their slaves. They speak to us of an immortal soul and of their eternal rewards and punishments, and yet they rob our belongings, seduce our women, violate our daughters. Incapable of matching us in valor, these cowards cover themselves with iron that our weapons cannot break…

The Taíno people of Caobana could not believe Hatuey’s horrendous message, and few joined him to fight. Hatuey resorted to guerrilla tactics against the Spaniards, and was able to confine them to their fort at Baracoa. Eventually the Spaniards succeeded in capturing and executing him.

Before his execution, a Roman Catholic monk asked Hatuey if he would accept Jesus and go to heaven. De las Casas reported the incident:

[A] Franciscan monk, a holy man, who was there, spoke as much as he could to [Hatuey], in the little time that the executioner granted them, about God and some of the teachings of our faith, of which he had never before heard; he told him that if he would believe what was told him, he would go to heaven where there was glory and eternal rest; and if not, that he would go to hell, to suffer perpetual torments and punishment. After thinking a little, Hatuey asked the monk whether the Christians went to heaven; the monk answered that those who were good went there. The prince at once said, without any more thought, that he did not wish to go there, but rather to hell so as not to be where Spaniards were, nor to see such cruel people. This is the renown and honour, that God and our faith have acquired by means of the Christians who have gone to the Indies.

De las Casas saw, with rare insight, the ulterior motive of many conquistadors. Though the Spanish carried the Requerimiento – a royal document that outlined Spain’s divinely ordained right to sovereignty – into every battle, de las Casas believed that spreading the word of God was largely a ruse: an expedient mask. Ambition, not altruism, was the driving force; gold, not God, was their goal.

He believed that the conquistadors slashed and slaughtered their way like “ravening wild beasts” across the so-called New World not solely in homage to Christ, but to “swell themselves with riches”. He suspected they had crossed the Atlantic not only to spread the word of the Lord, but to find the gold that washed through the rivers of Amazonia and the minerals that lay beneath their rampaging feet. “Our work,” de las Casas said, “was to exasperate, ravage, kill, mangle and destroy.” The conquistadors destroyed lives and lands, and they told the Indians that to save their souls, they would need to become Christians.

"They made gallows just high enough for the feet to nearly touch the ground ... and they burned the Indians alive." Illustration by Theodor de Bry in "A Short Account of the destruction of the Indies."

“They made gallows just high enough for the feet to nearly touch the ground … and they burned the Indians alive.” Illustration by Theodor de Bry in “A Short Account of the destruction of the Indies.”

If the greed of the conquistadors knew no bounds, neither did the integrity and outraged courage of de las Casas. Revolted by the hypocrisy of men who proclaimed pious inspiration while distributing the horrors of hell, he was also influenced by a group of Dominican preachers who asked the conquistadors, “Tell me, by what right do you hold these Indians in such a cruel and horrible servitude? Are they not men?”

“So as not to keep criminal silence concerning the ruin of numberless souls and bodies that these persons cause,” de las Casas wrote, “I have decided to print some of the innumerable instances I have collected in the past and can relate with truth.” These truths, which became extensive writings about the mistreatment of the Indians – one of the most famous being A Short Account of The Destruction of the Indies he wrote in 1542 (published in 1552) – were instrumental in prompting King Charles V to issue his “New Laws” in 1542, which abolished slavery and the encomienda system, and resulted in the liberation of thousands of slaves.

Arguably the first white human rights’ activist in the Americas, de las Casas was driven not by a self-regarding agenda but by a deeply-rooted sense of justice. He knew the Indians were not inferior to their oppressors. He knew that “all the peoples of the world are men” – rational human beings, part of a single common humanity. “For all people of these our Indies are human… and to none are they inferior,” he said. However, the plight of the Indians did not lead even de las Casas to question the right to the land or the mission to Christianize.

References:

January 27, 1945 (a Saturday)

Soon after liberation, surviving children of the Auschwitz camp walk out of the children's barracks. Poland, after January 27, 1945.

Soon after liberation, surviving children of the Auschwitz camp walk out of the children’s barracks. Poland, after January 27, 1945.

In mid-January 1945, as Soviet forces approached the Auschwitz camp complex, the Nazi SS began evacuating Auschwitz and its satellite camps. Thousands had been killed in the camps in the days before these death marches began. Nearly 60,000 prisoners, mostly Jews, were forced to march west from the Auschwitz camp system to the city of Wodzislaw in the western part of Upper Silesia. SS guards shot anyone who fell behind or could not continue. Prisoners also suffered from the cold weather, starvation, and exposure on these marches. More than 15,000 died during the death marches from Auschwitz.

On today’s date, the Soviet army entered Auschwitz and liberated more than 7,000 remaining prisoners, who were mostly ill and dying. It is estimated that at minimum 1.3 million people were deported to Auschwitz between 1940 and 1945; of these, at least 1.1 million were murdered.

Today Auschwitz is considered a World Heritage Site, and its grounds and structures, still mostly intact, serve as a living holocaust museum. In 2005, the UN General Assembly designated January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On this annual day of commemoration, every member state of the UN has an obligation to honor the victims of the Nazi era and to develop educational programs to help prevent future genocides.

No-Touch Torture: January 24, 1997 (a Friday)

On this date, in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by The Baltimore Sun on 26 May 1994, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) declassified and released a heavily redacted version of its Vietnam-era training manual called “KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation — July 1963,” a comprehensive guide for teaching interrogators how to effectively create “a world of fear, terror, anxiety, [and] dread.” (Note: The word KUBARK was the CIA’s cryptonym for itself.)

The 1963 KUBARK manual was the result of years of research that began after the United States learned that American prisoners of war in Korea had been subjected to “mind-control” techniques by their captors. That history was immortalized in John Frankenheimer’s political thriller, The Manchurian Candidate (1962), which features a character who is “brainwashed” to become an assassin for an international communist conspiracy.

27 Apr 1966, Thanh Quit, South Vietnam -- A Vietnamese soldier threatens a Viet Cong prisoner with a knife during an interrogation.

27 Apr 1966, Thanh Quit, South Vietnam — A Vietnamese soldier threatens a Viet Cong prisoner with a knife during an interrogation.

Not to be outdone by a communist regime in the art of brainwashing, on 13 April 1953 CIA director Allen Dulles authorized the MK-ULTRA project, launching a decade of mind-control research. After years of conducting covert experiments, at times on unsuspecting Americans, using hallucinogenic drugs, electric shocks, and sensory deprivation, the agency apparently decided that the best methods for extracting information from detainees come through psychological torture. These methods were incorporated into the 1963 KUBARK manual. Joseph Margulies, a law professor at Northwestern University Law School in Chicago and author of Guantanamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power (2006), in an interview on 24 October 2007 said, “The CIA had funneled millions and millions of dollars into research after the Korean War culminating in this KUBARK Manual. And it has been correctly called the Bible of coercive interrogations.” The CIA then field-tested psychological torture on South Vietnamese civilians suspected of being Viet Cong sympathizers during the Vietnam War.

The CIA’s discovery of psychological torture was a counter-intuitive breakthrough — indeed, the first real revolution in this cruel science since the 17th century. Although seemingly less brutal, “no-touch” torture leaves deep psychological scars. The victims often need long treatment to recover from trauma far more crippling than physical pain, and the perpetrators can suffer a dangerous expansion of ego, leading to cruelty and lasting emotional problems.

President Kennedy and President Joao Goulart on a state visit to Washington April 4, 1962, a year before the US supported a coup to overthrow him and began spreading the KUBARK manual across Latin America.

President Kennedy and President Joao Goulart on a state visit to Washington April 4, 1962, a year before the US supported a coup to overthrow him and began spreading the KUBARK manual across Latin America.

The fear of Communist expansion into the Western Hemisphere grew rapidly after Fidel Castro’s 1959 victory in the Cuban Revolution. His victory not only prompted the 1964 U.S.-supported overthrow of democratically-elected Brazilian President Joao Goulart; it also encouraged the CIA to spread KUBARK across the continent to help prop up pro-U.S. governments. After the Brazilian coup, right-wing military leaders across Latin America began seizing control from democratically-elected governments with U.S. encouragement, School of the Americas degrees, and a copy of the CIA’s 1963 KUBARK manual.

Of course, CIA-supported subversive activities in Latin America actually began before the 1959 Cuban Revolution. On 27 June 1954, the democratically-elected Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán was overthrown by CIA-paid and -trained mercenaries, making way for the U.S. to install a series of military dictatorships that waged a genocidal war against the indigenous Mayan Indians and against political opponents into the 1990s. Arbenz’s offense was to confiscate unused land owned by the United Fruit Company to redistribute under a land reform plan and to pay compensation based on the vastly understated valuation the company had claimed for its tax payments. Arbenz “was not a dictator, he was not a crypto-communist,” said Stephen Schlesinger, an adjunct fellow at the Century Foundation and co-author of Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala (1999). “He was simply trying to create a middle class in a country riven by extremes of wealth and poverty and racism,” Schlesinger said.

Thanks to a mandatory declassification review request filed by MuckRock user Jeffrey Kaye, a less-redacted version of the KUBARK manual was made available by the CIA on 25 February 2014. Revelations from the new release include the CIA’s admission to doctoring detainees’ interrogations tapes, a practice it considered “effective” in making it seem as though the detainee had confessed, and using foreign intelligence services for detention and interrogation purposes. The references to foreign intelligence services mean that rendition is not a product of the post-9/11 world; it is a practice at least 50 years old. Supporting this, CIA ex-Deputy Counsel John Rizzo said in a recent Democracy Now interview that “[r]enditions were not a product of the post-9/11 era…renditions, in and of themselves, are actually a fairly well-established fact in American and world, actually, intelligence organizations.”

Also released on 24 January 1997 to The Baltimore Sun in response to the same FOIA request was the “Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual — 1983.” This CIA training manual details torture methods used against suspected subversives in Central America during the 1980s, refuting claims by the agency that no such methods were taught there.

The “Human Resource Exploitation” manual, which drew heavily on the language of the 1963 KUBARK manual, was altered between 1984 and early 1985 to discourage torture after a furor was raised in Congress and the press about CIA training techniques being used in Central America. Those alterations and new instructions appeared in the documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun, supporting the conclusion that authorities were well aware these abusive practices were illegal and immoral, even as they were being used then and after. A cover sheet placed in the manual in March 1985 cautions: “The use of force, mental torture, threats, insults or exposure to inhumane treatment of any kind as an aid to interrogation is prohibited by law, both international and domestic; it is neither authorized nor condoned,” but with the caveat that forms of torture and coercive techniques “always require prior [headquarters] approval” first.

Despite the revisions to the CIA’s “Human Resource Exploitation” manual in 1985, the practice of torture by that agency continued and, in fact, was expanded after 11 September 2001. The torture of detainees at the U.S. Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba has been well documented and is common knowledge. Even Susan Crawford, the former Bush Administration’s top official for reviewing practices at Guantanamo, publicly admitted in January 2009 that torture happened there. “We tortured [Mohammed al-] Qahtani,” she said. “His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case [for prosecution].” In his memoir Decision Points (2010), George W. Bush states unequivocally that he authorized the torture, including waterboarding, of individuals held in U.S. custody. And on 24 July 2014, the European Court of Human Rights finally officially confirmed the fact, which the U.S. and European governments have sought to deny for more than a decade, that the CIA operated a secret torture center on Polish soil in the aftermath of the attacks on the U.S. on 9/11. In a historic ruling, the court concluded beyond reasonable doubt that Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah were held in secret and tortured by the CIA at a military base called Stare Kiejkuty in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. This is the first time that any court anywhere has ruled on the CIA’s secret prisons. Most of the abuses we’ve become far too familiar with through the above revelations — hooding detainees, stress positions, sexual humiliation, exposure to extremes of hot and cold, light and dark, sound and silence — are part of the comprehensive arsenal of techniques first institutionalized in the CIA’s 1963 KUBARK manual.

On 22 January 2009, a newly inaugurated President Obama promised to “return the U.S. to the moral high ground” by signing a series of executive orders. One ordered the closing of Guantanamo and secret CIA prisons; another prohibited torture and “enhanced interrogation techniques” by the CIA. Nevertheless, Obama’s own Justice Department has continued to subject people facing terrorism-related charges in this country to prolonged pretrial solitary confinement and sensory deprivation — conditions that have been condemned by the international community as torture. Waterboarding may have ended, but the U.S. continues to torture terrorism suspects in American prisons.

Alarmingly, a 2011 FBI “primer” on overseas interrogations, which became public on 2 August 2012 as a result of a FOIA action taken by the American Civil Liberties Union, repeatedly and favorably cites and encourages FBI interrogators to read the CIA’s 1963 KUBARK manual. The primer’s title, “Cross Cultural, Rapport-Based Interrogation,” is ironic because it encourages FBI agents to request that detainees in foreign or military custody be put in isolation to prolong the detainee’s fear for interrogation purposes. The encouragement of fear-production through isolation is a disquieting sign that some elements of the CIA’s psychological torture model continue to have currency in the government, despite the scandalous record of U.S. prisoner abuse in the “war on terror” and the Obama administration’s pledge to end torture.

References:

January 7, 1979 (a Sunday)

Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation soldiers advance in front of the Royal Palace in January 1979.

On this date, the Cambodian People’s Party – then called the National United Front for the Salvation of Kampuchea – deposed the brutal Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge (the ultra-communist party) in Phnom Penh with the backing of Vietnamese troops, beginning a decade-long occupation of Cambodia by Vietnamese armed forces. The People’s Republic of Kampuchea was established three days later on January 10, and Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge retreated back into the jungle.

The Cambodian government refers to this day as “Victory Over Genocide Day.” Colloquially, the day is referred to as either “Liberation Day” or “Occupation Day”, de­pending on political standpoints on Vietnam, which some, especially the main opposition Sam Rainsy Party, see as having “invaded Cambodia” on that day. Thousands of people participate in this national holiday to remember those who perished in the genocide under the Pol Pot regime.

Phnom Penh in 1979 just after the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge regime.

In 1985, Pol Pot officially retired but remained the effective head of the Khmer Rouge, which continued its guerrilla actions against the government in Phnom Penh. In 1997, however, he was put on trial by the Khmer Rouge after an internal power struggle ousted him from his leadership position. Sentenced to life in prison by a “people’s tribunal,” which critics derided as a show trial, Pol Pot later declared in an interview, “My conscience is clear.” Much of the international community hoped that his Khmer Rouge “captors” would extradite him to stand trial for his crimes against humanity, but he died of apparently natural causes while under house arrest in 1998.

On 7 August 2014, a special tribunal in Cambodia handed down life sentences to two former Khmer Rouge leaders. Nuon Chea, the right-hand man of Pol Pot, and Khieu Samphan, the regime’s head of state, were sentenced to life for forced evacuation of people and other crimes against humanity. In handing down the heaviest possible penalty, the court said it is evident that they were deeply involved in the decision-making of the Pol Pot regime.

The special tribunal was set up in 2006 by the United Nations and the Cambodian government to bring those responsible to justice. Nuon Chea, aged 88, and Khieu Samphan, aged 83, are the first top Khmer Rouge officials to be convicted by the tribunal.

December 29, 1890 (a Monday)

View of the slain body of Chief Big Foot propped up in the snow at Wounded Knee.  U.S. soldiers, civilian burial party members, and a “Chunk" or "Stick" Stove of the type used to heat the Conical or Sibley army tent are shown in the background. (The Stick Stove almost certainly marks the location of Big Foot's tent, which was very close to the council circle. Major Samuel Whitside of the 7th Cavalry ordered a stove placed in Big Foot's tent on the night before the massacre.)

View of the slain body of Chief Big Foot propped up in the snow at Wounded Knee. U.S. soldiers, civilian burial party members, and a “Chunk” or “Stick” Stove of the type used to heat the Conical or Sibley army tent are shown in the background. (The Stick Stove almost certainly marks the location of Big Foot’s tent, which was very close to the council circle. Major Samuel Whitside of the 7th Cavalry ordered a stove placed in Big Foot’s tent on the night before the massacre.)

On this date, nearly 300 men, women, and children of Big Foot’s Minneconjou band of Sioux (Lakota) were murdered by the U.S. Army with four Hotchkiss guns near Wounded Knee Creek on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. This massacre is now recognized as one of the most significant and tragic episodes in the history of white and Native American relations. As the band fell dead that winter morning, so too would a people’s dream.

Zen stones

Indian agents in 1890 were not too concerned about the Ghost Dance until Charles L. Hyde, a citizen of Pierre, South Dakota, wrote a letter on May 29 to the Secretary of the Interior stating that he had reliable information from a Pine Ridge Lakota at the Pierre Indian School that the Lakota were planning an outbreak.

View of the twisted, frozen slain body of Chief Big Foot, Miniconjou Lakota, propped up after the Wounded Knee massacre.

View of the twisted, frozen slain body of Chief Big Foot, Miniconjou Lakota, propped up after the Wounded Knee massacre.

Wovoka (aka Jack Wilson) was the Paiute mystic whose religious pronouncements spread the Ghost Dance among many tribes across the American West. In the late 1880’s, Wovoka began to predict the dawning of a new age in which whites would vanish, leaving Indians to live in a land of material abundance, spiritual renewal, and immortal life. Like many millenarian visions, Wovoka’s prophecies stressed the link between righteous behavior and imminent salvation. Salvation was not to be passively awaited but welcomed by a regime of ritual dancing and upright moral conduct. Despite the later association of the Ghost Dance with the Wounded Knee Massacre and unrest on the Lakota reservations, Wovoka charged his followers to “not hurt anybody or do harm to anyone. You must not fight. Do right always… Do not refuse to work for the whites and do not make any trouble with them.”

While the Ghost Dance is sometimes seen today as an expression of Indian militancy and the desire to preserve traditional ways, Wovoka’s pronouncements ironically bore the heavy mark of popular Christianity. His invocation of a “Supreme Being,” immortality, pacifism, and explicit mentions of Jesus (often referred to with such phrases as “the messiah who came once to live on earth with the white man but was killed by them”) all speak of an infusion of Christian beliefs into Paiute mysticism.

The Ghost Dance spread especially among the more recently defeated Indians of the Great Plains. Local bands would adopt the core of the message to their own circumstances, writing their their own songs and dancing their own dances. In 1889 the Lakota sent a delegation to visit Wovoka. This group brought the Ghost Dance back to their reservations, where believers made sacred shirts – said to be bullet-proof – especially for the Dance. In the summer of 1890, white people living south and west of the Lakota reservations became alarmed and believed an Indian uprising would occur.

In October 1890, Daniel F. Royer was appointed Indian Agent at the Pine Ridge Reservation. He was a victim of a political plum system that handed incapable people precarious jobs after they had failed at everything else. He had no business meddling in Indian Affairs. On November 18, Royer dispatched a panicky telegram to the commissioner of Indian Affairs, demanding military intervention and the arrest of the Lakota leaders to prevent an outbreak:

Indians are dancing in the snow and are wild and crazy. I have fully informed you that employees and government property at this agency have no protection and are at the mercy of these dancers. Why delay by further investigation? We need protection, and we need it now. The leaders should be arrested and confined in some military post until the matter is quieted, and this should be done at once.

Special Edition Buffalo Echo, 22 November 1890.

Special Edition Buffalo Echo, 22 November 1890.

Sensationalistic accounts of purported Indian plots clotted the air and darkened the pages of newspapers across the country. For example, on November 22, 1890, the Buffalo Echo in Buffalo, Wyoming, put out a extra edition reporting under the headline, “THE MASSACRE BEGUN”, that “religion crazed Redskins” had broken out of the Pine Ridge Agency. The paper reported that 20,000 troops were being called up and that Fort Robinson had been left unprotected. It further reported that ranchmen and their families were “fleeing in terror”. The entire issue was based on conversations with a lady who was passing through by stage and who had no first hand knowledge, but was merely repeating what she had heard.

In December 1890, white officials banned the Ghost Dance on Lakota reservations. When the rites continued, officials called in troops to Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations in South Dakota. The military, led by veteran General Nelson Miles, geared itself for another campaign.

View from the center of the Lakota camp to the northeast, across the council circle, after the massacre at Wounded Knee Creek; shows scattered frozen bodies (women in foreground) in the snow, tepee poles; one with a soldier standing under them, a broken down wagon and U.S. soldiers with horse in the distance.

View from the center of the Lakota camp to the northeast, across the council circle, after the massacre at Wounded Knee Creek; shows scattered frozen bodies (women in foreground) in the snow, tepee poles; one with a soldier standing under them, a broken down wagon and U.S. soldiers with horse in the distance.

The presence of the troops exacerbated the situation. Short Bull and Kicking Bear led their followers to the northwest corner of the Pine Ridge reservation, to a sheltered escarpment the Lakota called “Oonakizin,” or the Stronghold. The dancers sent word to Sitting Bull of the Hunkpapas to join them. However, on 15 December, before he could set out from the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota, Sitting Bull was arrested by federal Indian police, who mistakenly believed he was a Ghost Dancer. A scuffle ensued in which Sitting Bull and seven of his warriors were slain, as well as six of the Indian policemen; tensions increased at Pine Ridge.

On December 16, the South Dakota Home Guard, a militia which had been created by Governor Arthur C. Mellete less than a month earlier, ambushed and massacred and scalped about 75 Lakota Ghost Dancers on the Pine Ridge reservation. Pete Lemley, later known as “the Badlands Fox”, was a twenty-year old daredevil, a renowned horseman who wasn’t afraid of anything or anyone, so naturally he was just the kind of fearless rider needed to lead the Home Guard Ambush. Pete became a millionaire rancher and lived to be ninety-one years old. In 1959, at the request of his son (Dr. Ray Lemley), Pete tape recorded details of his participation in the attacks against Ghost Dancers during the month of December 1890. His account of the Home Guard Ambush on December 16, 1890, is a cowboy’s unashamed narrative of the day he considered one of the most exciting in his life:

There was a bunch of men there. We went over [Cheyenne River] and stirred them [Lakota] up and a lot of our fellows laid in at the head of a gulch. We went over to the Stronghold and got ’em after us and they chased us down Corral Draw. Riley Miller was at the head of it and layin’ up there behind the trees and rocks. This Riley Miller was a dead shot, and he just killed them Indians as fast as he could shoot. Francis Roush, Roy Coates, George Cosgrove, Paul McClellan was up with us. We killed about seventy-five of them. Riley Miller and Frank Lockhart went back there and got some pack horses and brought out seven loads of guns, shirts, war bonnets, ghost shirts, and things. Riley took ’em to Chicago and started a museum. He made a barrel of money out of it.

“Stirred them up” means Lemley and others galloped in upon a band of Ghost Dancers and fired directly into them. The Lakota ran to their tents for weapons. They mounted and chased the cowboys, falling directly into a well-planned ambush at the head of the Corral Draw, three miles south of Heutmacher Table. It is possible that some of the cowboys believed they were helping to protect white “settlers”, but most members of the Home Guard were out for the sport of killing Indians and nothing more.

The Home Guard also killed a small band of Lakota in early December near French Creek. The band had gone to Buffalo Gap to hunt at the ranch of a friendly whiteman they knew. They were greeted with a gun. They were unaware of the events that were transpiring around them. They sensed something wrong and attempted to leave. Because their horses were tired, they had to make camp between French Creek and Battle Creek. They were massacred in a surprise attack the next morning, December 10. The Lakota refer to the ambush as Buffalo Gap, which points to the origin of the hostility, not the location of the ambush. One young woman managed to escape to tell the story.

A group portrait of Big Foot's Miniconjou Lakota band at a Grass Dance on the Cheyenne River, South Dakota,  in August 1890. Nearly all these people were killed at Wounded Knee just a few months later.

A group portrait of Big Foot’s Miniconjou Lakota band at a Grass Dance on the Cheyenne River, South Dakota, in August 1890. Nearly all these people were killed at Wounded Knee just a few months later.

In early December 1890, Troops A & B of the 8th Cavalry under Capt. Almond B. Wells was stationed at Olrichs, South Dakota. Wells allowed Lt. Joseph C. Byron to enter the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and massacre a small band of Indians under Chief Two Strike on Cuny Table with cannon fire. All the Indians were killed. This incident appears to have been covered up by the United States Army for about 100 years. The property of the Indians was buried and the soldiers of the 8th Cavalry were sworn to secrecy, so that even General Miles, the overall commander at Wounded Knee in 1890, may not have been aware of it. This and the Home Guard massacres are documented in the Renee Sansom Flood Collection at Vermillion, South Dakota.

While serving as the editor and publisher of The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, a weekly newspaper published in Aberdeen, South Dakota, L. Frank Baum, the future author of The Wizard of Oz, wrote an editorial that was published on December 20:

Sitting Bull, most renowned Sioux of modern history, is dead. He was not a Chief, but without Kingly lineage he arose from a lowly position to the greatest Medicine Man of his time, by virtue of his shrewdness and daring. He was an Indian with a white man’s spirit of hatred and revenge for those who had wronged him and his [tribe].

(…)

With his fall the nobility of the Redskin is extinguished and what few are left are a pack of whining curs who lick the hand that smites them. The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians. Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are…

Today, the U.S. Army’s 7th cavalry — the reconstructed regiment lost by George Armstrong Custer in 1876 at the Battle of the Little Big Horn (“Custer’s last stand”) — surrounded a band of Ghost Dancers under Chief Spotted Elk (“Big Foot” was the name soldiers gave him) near Wounded Knee Creek and demanded they surrender their weapons. As that was happening, an altercation occurred between a Lakota man and a U.S. soldier and a shot was fired, although it’s unclear from which side. The massacre and precipitating events were described by the Commanding General, Nelson A. Miles, in his letter dated 13 March 1917 to the federal Commissioner of Indian Affairs:

I was in command of that Department in 1889, 1890 and 1891, when what is known as the Messiah Craze and threatened uprising of the Indians occurred. It was created by misrepresentations of white men then living in Nevada who sent secret messages to the different tribes in the great Northwest calling upon them to send representatives to meet Him near Walker Lake, Nevada.

This was done, and returning to their different tribes in the Northwest and West, and even in the Southwest, they repeated the false statement to the different tribes that the Messiah had returned to earth and would the next year move East, driving large herds of wild horses, buffalo, elk, deer and antelope, and was going to convert this into an Indian heaven – in other words, the Happy Hunting Grounds.

This, together with the fact that the Indians had been in almost a starving condition in South Dakota, owing to the scarcity of rations and the nonfulfillment of treaties and sacred obligations under which the Government had been placed to the Indians, caused great dissatisfaction, dissension and almost hostility. Believing this superstition, they resolved to gather and go West to meet the Messiah, as they believed it was the fulfillment of their dreams and prayer and the prophecies as had been taught them by the missionaries.

Several thousand warriors assembled in the Bad Lands of South Dakota. During this time the tribe, under Big Foot, moved from their reservation to near the Red Cloud Agency in South Dakota under a flag of truce. They numbered over four hundred souls. They were intercepted by a command under Lt. Col. Whitside, who demanded their surrender, which they complied with, and moved that afternoon some two or three miles and camped where they were directed to do, near the camp of the troops.

While this was being done a detachment of soldiers was sent into the camp to search for any arms remaining there, and it was reported that their rudeness frightened the women and children. It is also reported that a remark was made by some one of the soldiers that “when we get the arms away from them we can do as we please with them,” indicating that they were to be destroyed. Some of the Indians could understand English. This and other things alarmed the Indians and a scuffle occurred between one warrior who had a rifle in his hand and two soldiers. The rifle was discharged and a massacre occurred, not only the warriors but the sick Chief Big Foot, and a large number of women and children who tried to escape by running and scattering over the parry were hunted down and killed. The official reports make the number killed 90 warriors and approximately 200 women and children.

The action of the Commanding Officer, in my judgment at the time, and I so reported, was most reprehensible. The disposition of his troops was such that in firing upon the warriors they fired directly towards their own lines and also into the camp of the women and children. and I have regarded the whole affair as most unjustifiable and worthy of the severest condemnation.

View of the snow-covered ravine where many Lakota sought shelter during the massacre near Wounded Knee Creek; shows frozen bodies where soldiers fired and killed from both sides of the ravine, a few men with horses, and a broken wagon.

View of the snow-covered ravine where many Lakota sought shelter during the massacre near Wounded Knee Creek; shows frozen bodies where soldiers fired and killed from both sides of the ravine, a few men with horses, and a broken wagon.

As a matter of fact, soldiers chased and killed Lakota women and children as far as two miles from the camp site. One of the survivors, a Lakota woman, was treated by the Indian physician Dr. Charles Eastman at a make-shift hospital set up in a church in the village of Pine Ridge. Before she died of her wounds she told about how she had concealed herself in a clump of bushes. As she hid there she saw two terrified little girls running past. She grabbed them and pulled them into the bushes. She put her hands over their mouths to keep them quiet but a mounted soldier spotted them. He fired a bullet into the head of one girl and then calmly reloaded his rifle and fired into the head of the other girl. He then fired into the body of the Lakota woman. She feigned death and although badly wounded, lived long enough to relate her terrible ordeal to Dr. Eastman.

It does not take a genius to conclude from the above facts that the incident at Wounded Knee on 29 December 1890 was nothing less than a massacre. The fact that 23 Congressional Medals of Honor were awarded to soldiers of the 7th Cavalry who carried out the mass murders there still boggles the mind. Despite the current view that the battle was a massacre of innocents, the Medals still stand. Some Native American and other groups and individuals continue to lobby Congress to rescind these “Medals of dis-Honor“. ___________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________
Conflict came to Wounded Knee again in February 1973 when it was the site of a 71-day occupation by the activist group AIM (American Indian Movement) and its supporters, who were protesting the U.S. government’s mistreatment of Native Americans. During the standoff, two Indians were killed, one federal marshal was seriously wounded, and numerous people were arrested.

Finally, every year on December 15th people gather at Sitting Bull Camp, near Bullhead, South Dakota, to ride horseback nearly three hundred miles to the site of the Wounded Knee massacre. The ride is called the Omaka Tokatakiya (Future Generations) Ride and the majority of the riders come from three Lakota reservations: Standing Rock, Cheyenne River, and Pine Ridge. Others come from as far as Germany and the Czech Republic. In two weeks they travel across rivers and farms, cross a major interstate, and arrive at Wounded Knee on the anniversary of the massacre. While the ride is in many ways in homage to Sitting Bull, Big Foot, and those who lost their lives at Wounded Knee, this ride is also meant to foster leadership qualities in the youth. Along the way, the riders experience some of what their ancestors endured by embodying an intellectual, spiritual, and physical remembrance. Braving the cold — down to −20°F — these kids, some of them barely into puberty, ride as many as 35 miles in a day.
___________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________

Post Script:
I have heard some conservative extremists recently use the Wounded Knee Massacre in an argument against any restriction on the Second Amendment right to bear arms, such as a prohibition on the sale of modern assault weapons. An example is an article entitled “A Little Bit Of History To Think About” that may have first appeared on the “Common Sense Junction Political Blog” on 14 January 2013 and has been re-blogged several times on right-wing extremist websites. It reads in part:

Wounded Knee was among the first federally backed gun confiscation attempts in United States history. It ended in the senseless murder of 297 people… The Second Amendment was written by people who fled oppressive and tyrannical regimes in Europe, and it refers to the right of American citizens to be armed for defensive purposes, should such tyranny arise in the United States… Ask any Native American, and they will tell you it was inferior technology and lack of arms that contributed to their demise… Wounded Knee is the prime example of why the Second Amendment exists, and why we should vehemently resist any attempts to infringe on our Rights to Bear Arms. Without the Second Amendment we will be totally stripped of any ability to defend ourselves and our families. [emphasis in original]

Interestingly, the owner of the above website commented following the article: “This was posted as received in its entirety even though I don’t know who wrote it. If its yours and you want credit and a link let me know.”  So, no one knows who originally wrote it — Native American or immigrant, first generation or tenth generation.

To begin with, the Lakota were not citizens of the United States at the time — they were members of their own nation, by treaty and therefore according to the U.S. Constitution. As a result, the Second Amendment did not apply to them. The Lakota were entitled to arm themselves because they were in their own country.

There can be no doubt that Big Foot had surrendered himself and his people. On the morning of 29 December 1890, they were prisoners of war. General Miles recognized this. But the author of the above article neglects to point out that they were prisoners of war. As POWs, the army was prohibited from summarily executing them, even in those days. This is why killing the Lakota at Wounded Knee was murder and the incident was a massacre. The disarmed prisoners of war at Wounded Knee were killed in cold blood.

Wounded Knee was not “among the first federally backed gun confiscation attempts in United States history”, because the Lakota were not U.S. citizens. I don’t think even conservatives would blame the U.S. military for disarming foreign nationals that are perceived to be enemies — the army has been doing this since 1776. Nor were the Lakota being “totally stripped of any ability to defend [them]selves and [their] families” by their own leaders.

The sophomoric author of the above article has taken the Wounded Knee Massacre, which was a horrible tragedy, out of its historical context to use it to justify the sale of assault weapons today. This is unjustified and reprehensible.

References:

December 13, 1937 (a Monday)

Chinese civilians being buried alive by Japanese Imperial Army.

In July 1937 the Japanese Imperial Army, which already controlled a large section of northeastern China, launched an undeclared war against the Republic of China (Nationalist China). Five months later, on this date, the capital city of Nanking fell to the Japanese.

The Japanese army swept into the ancient city and within weeks not only looted and burned the defenseless city but also systematically raped at least 20,000 women, tortured both men and women, and murdered probably at least 150,000 and perhaps as many as 300,000 Chinese civilians.  Rev. John G. Magee, an American Anglican pastor of the Deshen Church in Nanking and one of many eyewitnesses, wrote in a letter dated 11 January 1938:

Thousands of men, women and children have been murdered in addition to all the disarmed soldiers who have been discovered.  There were dead bodies in every street and alley in the city, so far as I could tell, and I went around quite extensively including Hsiakwan…

(…)

The raping of women has been beyond description or imagination.

(…)

Here and there among the solders there have been decent men, but it seems like most of them went mad after entrance into the city.  Such a ferocious body of men I have never seen and I have seen the worst type of Chinese bandits looting this city, too.  The marvel is that none of us foreigners have been killed.  This looks to me as though the officers could have controlled their men if they had wanted to…

What is still stunning is that this massacre was a public rampage, evidently designed to terrorize the Chinese. It was carried out in full view of international observers and largely irrespective of their efforts to stop it. And it was not a temporary lapse of military discipline, for it lasted seven weeks.   The international response to the Nanking atrocities was eerily similar to the more recent response to the atrocities in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda: while thousands have died almost unbelievably cruel deaths, the entire world has watched CNN and simply wrung its hands.  The Nanking atrocities were splashed prominently across the pages of newspapers like the New York Times, while the Bosnia outrages were played out daily on television in virtually every living room.  To the larger world, the “rape” of Nanking — as it was immediately called — turned public opinion against Japan in a way that little else could have.

  • “Wholesale looting, the violation of women, the murder of civilians, the eviction of Chinese from their homes, mass executions of war prisoners and the impressing of able-bodied men turned Nanking into a city of terror,” wrote Frank Tillman Durdin of the New York Times on 17 December 1937, two days after he escaped from the “reign of terror” aboard the USS Oahu.
  • Archibald Steele of the Chicago Daily News called the siege and capture of Nanking “Four Days of Hell” in his dispatch on Dec. 15.
  • C. Yates McDaniel of the Associated Press jotted down the following sentence in his diary on Dec. 16, which was wired to the United States the following day, “My last remembrance of Nanking: Dead Chinese, dead Chinese, dead Chinese.”

The Rape of Nanking should be perceived as a cautionary tale.  Those who have studied the patterns of mass killings throughout history have noted that the sheer concentration of power in government is lethal — that only a sense of absolute unchecked power can make atrocities like the Rape of Nanking possible.  In the 1990s historian R. J. Rummel, who coined the term “democide” to include both genocide and government mass murder, completed a systematic and quantitative study of atrocities in both the twentieth century and ancient times, an impressive body of research that he summed up with a paraphrase of the famous Lord Acton line:  “Power kills, and absolute power kills absolutely.”

Rummel found that the less restraint on power within a government, the more likely that that government will act on the whims or psychologically generated darker impulses of its leaders to wage war on foreign governments.  Atrocities such as the Rape of Nanking can be seen as a predictable if not inevitable outgrowth of ceding to an authoritarian regime, dominated by a military and imperial elite, the unchallenged power to commit an entire people to realizing the sick goals of the few with the unbridled power to establish them.

In view of countries like modern communist China and North Korea, this is a lesson that we cannot afford to forget.

Suggested reading/watching:

  • Iris Chang, The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II (New York, NY: Basic Books, 1997).
  • In the Name of the Emperor: The Rape of Nanking, a documentary (1997) with many of the horrifyingly intense images taken from home movies made by an American missionary, John Magee, who was there in 1937.  It has won:  Special Jury Award, San Francisco International Film Festival, 1995;  Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, 1995;  Asian American International Film Festival, 1995;  and Hong Kong International Film Festival, 1995.
  • R.J. Rummel, Death by Government: Genocide and Mass Murder (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1994).

December 6, 1862 (a Saturday)

Ordered that of the Indians and Half-breeds sentenced to be hanged by the military commission, composed of Colonel Crooks, Lt. Colonel Marshall, Captain Grant, Captain Bailey, and Lieutenant Olin, and lately sitting in Minnesota, you cause to be executed on Friday the nineteenth day of December, instant, the following names, to wit [39 names listed by case number of record: cases 2, 4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 19, 22, 24, 35, 67, 68, 69, 70, 96, 115, 121, 138, 155, 170, 175, 178, 210, 225, 254, 264, 279, 318, 327, 333, 342, 359, 373, 377, 382, 383].

The other condemned prisoners you will hold subject to further orders, taking care that they neither escape, nor are subjected to any unlawful violence.

Abraham Lincoln,
President of the United States

Zen stones

Mass hanging of 38 Dakota Sioux on 26 December 1862

Mass hanging of 38 Dakota Sioux on 26 December 1862

The above quote is the full text of Lincoln’s Order to General Henry Sibley, St. Paul Minnesota on this date authorizing the execution of thirty-eight Dakota Sioux (the sentence of one of the individuals named in the Order was commuted to imprisonment on 23 December). The hanging, following trials which condemned to death over three hundred participants in the 1862 Dakota Conflict (or Dakota War or Sioux Uprising), stands as the largest mass execution in American history. There wasn’t enough rope to make all the nooses, so the hangings were actually delayed until the day after Christmas, occurring on Friday the 26th at about 10:00 AM.

Only the intervention of President Lincoln saved 265 other Dakota from the fate met by the less fortunate thirty-eight. The decision was wildly unpopular among Minnesota’s white settlers. The mass hanging was the concluding scene in the opening chapter of a story of American-Sioux conflict that would not end until the Seventh Cavalry completed its massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on December 29, 1890.

A decade before the Dakota Conflict, the Minnesota Territory, stretching from the upper Mississippi to the Missouri River, was still mostly Indian country. In 1851, the United States signed two treaties with the Dakota that resulted in the Indians’ ceding huge portions of the Minnesota Territory. In exchange, they were promised annuity payments totaling $1.4 million dollars over a fifty-year period, and directed to live on two twenty-mile wide by seventy-mile long reservations along the Minnesota River. The thoroughly corrupt Bureau of Indian Affairs was responsible for overseeing the terms of the treaties. Not surprisingly, many of the trade goods were substandard and overvalued by several hundred percent, and the promised annuity payments were often not forthcoming – stolen by Washington functionaries, or simply channeled directly to the crooked traders and Indian agents.

This situation continued for years. Finally, in 1858 – the year Minnesota entered the Union – a party of Dakota led by Chief Little Crow visited Washington to see about proper enforcement of the treaties. It did not go the way they’d hoped; instead of acknowledging the Dakota grievances, the government took back half their reservation, and opened it up to white settlement – and promised increased annuity payments. The land was cleared, and the hunting and fishing that had in large measure sustained the Dakota virtually ended.

Forced to Negotiate

Forced to Negotiate

The treaties of 1851 and 1858 set the stage for the Dakota Conflict by undermining the Dakota culture and the power of chieftains and leading to a corrupt system of Indian agents and traders. Annuity payments reduced the once proud Dakota to the status of dependents. They reduced the power of chiefs because annuity payments were made directly to individuals rather than through tribal structures. They created bitterness because licensed traders cheated the Indians. No effective means of legal recourse was available to wronged Dakota. The fact that the Dakota people were squeezed into a small fraction of their former lands made it easy, according to Minnesota historian William Folwell, “for malcontents to assemble frequently to growl and fret together over grievances.”

Hunger was widespread throughout Dakota lands in Minnesota Territory. Since crops had been poor in 1861, the Dakota had little food stored for the “starving winter” of 1861-62. Their reservation supported no game and increasing settlement off the reservation meant growing competition with white settlers hunting for meat. “These poor creatures subsisted on a tall grass which they find in the marshes, chewing the roots and eating the wild turnip,” wrote Sarah Wakefield, wife of the Upper Sioux Agency’s doctor. “Many died from starvation or disease caused by eating improper food. It made my heart ache. I remember distinctly of the agent giving them dry corn, and these poor creatures were so near starvation that they ate it raw like cattle.”

Reports about government agents’ corrupt treatment of the Dakota were ignored. Factionalism continued to grow amongst the Dakota, as those who maintained traditional ways saw that only those who had acculturated were reaping government support. Though Dakota farmers shared food with their relatives throughout the summer of 1862, it wasn’t enough.

To make matters worse, annuity payments for the Dakota were late in the summer of 1862. An August 4, 1862 confrontation between soldiers and braves at the Upper Agency at Yellow Medicine led to a decision to distribute provisions on credit to avoid violence.

At the Lower Agency at Redwood, however, things were handled differently. At an August 15, 1862 meeting attended by Dakota representatives, Indian Agent Thomas Galbraith, and representatives of the traders, the traders resisted pleas to distribute provisions held in agency warehouses to starving Dakota until the annuity payments finally arrived. Trader Andrew J. Myrick summarized his position in the bluntest possible manner:  “So far as I am concerned, if they are hungry, let them eat grass or their own dung.” Unbeknownst to those gathered at the Lower Agency, the long delayed 1862 annuity payments were already on their way to the Minnesota frontier. On August 16, a keg with $71,000 worth of gold coins reached St. Paul. The next day the keg was sent to Fort Ridgely for distribution to the Dakota. It arrived a few hours too late to prevent an unprecedented outbreak of violence.

 “So far as I am concerned, if they are hungry, let them eat grass or their own dung.” -Andrew Myrick, 1862

“So far as I am concerned, if they are hungry, let them eat grass or their own dung.” -Andrew Myrick, 1862

On Sunday, August 17, four Dakota from a breakaway band of young malcontents were on a hunting trip when they came across some eggs in a hen’s nest along the fence line of a settler’s homestead. When one of the four took the eggs, another of the group warned him that the eggs belonged to a white man. The first young man became angry, dashed the eggs to the ground, and accused the other of being afraid of white men, even though half-starved. Apparently to disprove the accusation of cowardice, the other Dakota said that to show he was not afraid of white men he would go the house and shoot the owner. He challenged the others to join him. Minutes later three white men, a white woman, and a fifteen-year old white girl lay dead.

The issue of whether to wage war against white citizens was debated by a multi-band council on August 17, the night following the massacre of five white settlers (murders, beyond question) at Acton. As stated by Chief Big Eagle, “A council was held and war was declared… I was still of the belief that it was not best, but I thought I must go with my band and my nation, and I said to my men that I would lead them into the war, and we would all act like brave Dakotas and do the best we could.” It appears that the decision to wage war was made over the opposition of some tribal leaders.

On 18 August 1862, after the Battle of Lower Sioux Agency, post trader Andrew Myrick was found dead, with his mouth stuffed full of grass.

All told, the Conflict lasted about five weeks. It claimed the lives of some 500 white settlers and U.S. soldiers, caused a general evacuation of settlers from the whole of southwestern Minnesota, and witnessed the wholesale destruction of settlers’ houses, barns, and property. About sixty Dakota died in the fighting.

The Dakota had every right to believe that they would be treated as enemy soldiers–many were told, in fact, that in exchange for their surrender under a flag of truce, they’d be treated as prisoners of war. They were not. White Minnesotans were in no mood for conciliation or reconciliation; retribution–vengeance–stormed through the Minnesota River valley and throughout the state.

General John Pope, Sibley’s superior, wrote to him in a letter dated 28 September 1862:

The horrible massacres of women and children and the outrageous abuse of female prisoners, still alive, call for punishment beyond human power to inflict. There will be no peace in this region by virtue of treaties and Indian faith. It is my purpose utterly to exterminate the Sioux if I have the power to do so and even if it requires a campaign lasting the whole of next year. Destroy everything belonging to them and force them out to the plains, unless, as I suggest, you can capture them. They are to be treated as maniacs or wild beasts, and by no means as people with whom treaties or compromises can be made.  [emphasis added]

"It is my purpose utterly to exterminate the Sioux if I have the power to do so..."  John Pope, 1862

“It is my purpose utterly to exterminate the Sioux if I have the power to do so…” John Pope, 1862

On 28 September 1862, Sibley appointed a five-member military commission to “try summarily” Dakota and mixed-bloods for “murder and other outrages” committed against Americans, although he had no authority to do so. The commission believed that mere participation in a battle justified a death sentence, so in the many cases, perhaps two-thirds of the total, where the prisoner admitted to firing shots, it proceeded to a guilty verdict in a matter of a few minutes. Somewhat more deliberation was required for trials in which the charge was the murder or rape of settlers, because admissions were much rarer in these cases. After the defendant gave whatever response he cared to make to the charge, prosecution witnesses were called, whose damaging statements went unchallenged. Where prosecution witnesses contradicted the testimony of the defendant, the commission almost invariably found the prisoner to be guilty.

Not only was there a lack of substantial evidence against the defendants and a lack of due process at trial, but commission members harbored prejudice (not surprisingly) against the defendants. One of the Commission’s members, William Marshall, frankly admitted his own difficulty in viewing the evidence impartially:  “[my] mind was not in a condition to give the men a fair trial.Reverend Riggs, an observer at many of the trials, wrote to a St. Paul paper of the attitudes he witnessed: “I have a very high regard for all the gentlemen who composed the military commission. I count them individually among my personal friends. But they were trying Indians; and my sense of right would lead me to give Indians as fair and full a trial as white men. This was the difference between us.”

Furthermore, the commission was wrong to treat the defendants as common criminals rather than as the legitimate belligerents of a sovereign power. The history of the United States reflects, according to Carol Chomsky, Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, “a de facto recognition that members of an Indian tribe should be treated as legitimate belligerents.” The Supreme Court in 1831 referred to Indian tribes as “domestic dependent nations”, and treaties between the United States and the Dakota recognized the sovereign status of the Dakota. The use of force by individuals in a declared war between sovereign nations is generally not subject to the same treatment as would similar acts of assault or murder committed by individuals under different circumstances. Captured enemy soldiers are treated as legitimate belligerents and held as prisoners of war until hostilities cease and they are released. (This special treatment does not, of course, cover all acts of violence committed by the enemy. Torture, rape, and the killing of unarmed civilians, for example, are considered violations of the laws of war and subject to punishment.)  If the defendants were not prisoners of war, the trials should have been conducted in state courts using normal rules of criminal procedure rather than by military commission.

As Chomsky summarizes:

The trials of the Dakota were conducted unfairly in a variety of ways. The evidence was sparse, the tribunal was biased, the defendants were unrepresented in unfamiliar proceedings conducted in a foreign language, and authority for convening the tribunal was lacking. More fundamentally, neither the Military Commission nor the reviewing authorities recognized that they were dealing with the aftermath of a war fought with a sovereign nation and that the men who surrendered were entitled to treatment in accordance with that status.

At President Lincoln’s cabinet meeting on 14 October 1862, the ongoing Dakota trials were discussed. Lincoln and several cabinet members were disturbed by General Pope’s report on the trials and planned executions, and moved to prevent precipitous action. On 17 October, General Pope informed Sibley that “the President directs that no executions be made without his sanction.”

On November 8, after completing the harried trials of Dakota prisoners, Sibley presented the list of 303 condemned Dakota men to the U.S. government. Two days later, President Lincoln wired General Pope: “Please forward, as soon as possible, the full and complete record of these convictions” and “a careful statement” indicating “the more guilty and influential of the culprits.” On 15 November, Pope forwarded records of the trials to President Lincoln, together with a letter urging Lincoln to authorize execution of all of the condemned and warning of mob violence if the executions did not go forward.

Henry Whipple, the Episcopal Bishop of Minnesota, was one of the very few Minnesota whites opposed to the executions. In late November, he met with Lincoln in Washington and discussed the causes of the Dakota Conflict. The President remarked not long after: “He [Whipple] came here the other day and talked with me about the rascality of this Indian business until I felt it down to my boots. If we get through this [civil] war, and I live, this Indian system shall be reformed!” In December, Whipple even published his views in the St. Paul newspapers. So far as is known, he was the only public man who had the courage to face the whirlwind of popular denunciation of all Indians and of the Dakota in particular.

Lincoln knew well that the lust for Dakota blood could not be ignored; to prevent any executions from going forward might well have condemned all 303 to death at mob hands. Alexander Ramsey, the governor of Minnesota – who had made a fortune cheating the Dakota — threatened that if the President didn’t hang all the condemned, the citizens of his state would. On 9 September 1862, Ramsey was furious over the killing of roughly 600 settlers and soldiers when he had addressed the State Legislature and said: “The Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the state.

"The Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the state...."  -Gov. Alexander Ramsey, 1862

“The Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the state….” -Gov. Alexander Ramsey, 1862

Lincoln believed it important to try to sort out the more guilty from the less guilty. He asked two clerks to go through the commission’s trial records and identify those prisoners convicted of raping women or children. They found only two [cases 2 and 4]. Lincoln then asked his clerks to search the records a second time and add those convicted of participating in the massacres of settlers to the list. This time the clerks came up with the thirty-nine names included in Lincoln’s handwritten order of execution written on 6 December 1862. Because of the Commission’s haste and rather sketchy records, he was unable to determine degrees of guilt as well as he might have had the Commission allowed more time for trials and prepared more complete trial records.

Two Minnesota Republicans in Congress and friends of Lincoln’s – Sen. Morton Wilkinson of Mankato and Rep. William Windom of Winona – were upset about Lincoln commuting the 264 Dakota death sentences.  They were the first to push for removal of all Dakota from Minnesota.  Windom and Wilkinson sponsored bills to remove the two tribes from Minnesota. The measures passed Congress with little opposition in early 1863, with $50,000 attached to move 3,000 Dakota beyond any states, to unoccupied land “well adapted for agricultural purposes.”  The new law dissolved the reservations in Minnesota and canceled the treaties.

On 22 March 1866 President Andrew Johnson ordered the release of the 177 surviving prisoners. They were moved to the Santee Reservation near Niobrara, Nebraska.

DAKOTA 38 from Smooth Feather on Vimeo.

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