Tag Archives: War Crimes

October 24, 1901 (a Thursday)

On this date, when U.S. Marines landed in Samar during the Philippine-American War (referred to by Filipinos as the Philippine War of Independence and sometimes patronizingly referred to as the Philippine Insurrection by the U.S.), Brigadier General Jacob Hurd Smith (“Hell-Roaring Jake”) issued his murderous orders:

I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn. The more you kill and burn the better it will please me.

Zen stones
This bloody Philippine-American War, which began in 1899 and officially ended in 1902 (although sporadic fighting continued until 1913), resulted from the foreign policy of a group of imperialists within the Republican Party of President William McKinley. After their quick victory in the Spanish-American War in 1898, the United States military found themselves playing the part of an occupying army on the Philippine Islands. A Filipino independence movement had been working to overthrow their Spanish colonizers for years. Emilio Aguinaldo, the charismatic leader of the movement, provided critical aid to the Americans during their war with Spain. However, when U.S. armed forces did not withdraw from the islands and the U.S. government did not recognize Philippine independence, Aguinaldo and his compatriots rose up against the United States. Although General Aguinaldo was captured on March 25, 1901, there followed no mass surrender of other Filipino revolutionary generals. Fighting went on.

“I am not afraid, and am always ready to do my duty, but I would like someone to tell me what we are fighting for.”–Arthur H. Vickers, Sergeant in the First Nebraska Regiment

According to Luzviminda Francisco, the Philippine-American War was a forgotten war in the U.S. annals. American textbooks contain several pages on the Spanish-American War but only devote a paragraph on the Philippine-American War despite the fact that the latter was more pronounced in terms of duration, scale, and number of casualties. The war was ugly, ruthless, and brutal, prompting Stanley Karnow to describe it as “among the cruelest conflicts in the annals of Western imperialism.” Other scholars refer to the conflict as the United States’ “first Vietnam.” Luzviminda estimates that as many as 126,000 American soldiers, or 3/4 of the U.S. army, were shipped to the Philippines, and at least 600,000 Filipinos died during the war. American anti-imperialist Mark Twain claimed that the number of Filipino casualties was close to one million or the equivalent of 1/6 of the country’s total population at the turn of the century. He famously wrote:

. . .There is the case of the Philippines. I have tried hard, and yet I cannot for the life of me comprehend how we got into that mess. Perhaps we could not have avoided it — perhaps it was inevitable that we should come to be fighting the natives of those islands — but I cannot understand it, and have never been able to get at the bottom of the origin of our antagonism to the natives. I thought we should act as their protector — not try to get them under our heel. We were to relieve them from Spanish tyranny to enable them to set up a government of their own, and we were to stand by and see that it got a fair trial. It was not to be a government according to our ideas, but a government that represented the feeling of the majority of the Filipinos, a government according to Filipino ideas. That would have been a worthy mission for the United States. But now — why, we have got into a mess, a QUAGMIRE from which each fresh step renders the difficulty of extrication immensely greater. I’m sure I wish I could see what we were getting out of it, and all it means to us as a nation. . . 

Some American infantrymen were equally mystified by what was taking place:

“Talk about dead Indians! Why, they are lying everywhere. The trenches are full of them…There is not a feature of the whole miserable business that a patriotic American citizen, one who loves to read of the brave deeds of the American colonists in the splendid struggle for American independence, can look upon with complacency, much less with pride. This war is reversing history. It places the American people and the government of the United States in the position occupied by Great Britain in 1776. It is an utterly causeless and defenseless war, and it should be abandoned by this government without delay. The longer it is continued, the greater crime it becomes – a crime against human liberty as well as against Christianity and civilization…” –Theodore Conley, 20th Kansas Regiment

Aguinaldo in white with sword

During the war, torture was resorted to by American troops to obtain information and confessions. The “water cure” was given to those merely suspected of being rebels. Some were hanged by the thumbs, others were dragged by galloping horses, or fires lit beneath others while they were hanging. Another form of torture was tying to a tree and then shooting the suspect through the legs. If a confession was not obtained, he was again shot, the day after. This went on until he confessed or eventually died. On the other hand, Filipino guerrillas chopped off the noses and ears of captured Americans in violation of Aguinaldo’s orders. There were reports that some Americans were buried alive by angry Filipino guerrillas. In other words, brutalities were perpetrated by both sides.

Freedom fighter killed by Americans for being pro-democracy (stereoview).

In 1901, the U.S. commander at Balangiga on the Island of Samar had sent troops out to destroy crops and grain reserves, to keep such food from flowing into the hands of the insurgents; he had also ordered all males over the age of thirteen, at gun-point, to work at clearing brush and repairing the streets of the town. The people of Balangiga revolted in reaction to their abuse at the hands of the Americans — an American garrison in the town of Balangiga was attacked between 6:20 and 6:45 in the morning of 28 September 1901 by the local population, with the support of the local police chief and members of the insurgency. Fifty-four of the seventy-eight American troops stationed at Balangiga were killed; only four escaped uninjured. The massacre shocked the U.S. public and many newspaper editors noted that it was the worst disaster suffered by the U.S. Army since George Armstrong Custer’s “last stand” at the Little Big Horn in 1876. Brigadier General Jacob Smith was given the task of crushing the resistance on Samar and exacting revenge for the deaths of the American soldiers at Balangiga.

At the beginning of the campaign when officers had gathered at the site of the Balangiga Massacre, Smith told Marine Major Littleton W. T. Waller:

I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn, the more you kill and burn the better it will please me. I want all persons killed who are capable of bearing arms in actual hostilities against the United States.

Since it was a popular belief among the Americans serving in the Philippines that native males were born with bolos in their hands, Waller asked, “I would like to know the limit of age to respect, sir?”

Ten years,” Smith said.

“Persons of ten years and older are those designated as being capable of bearing arms?”

“Yes.” Smith confirmed his instructions a second time.

Smith's infamous order - Kill Everyone Over Ten - was the caption in the New York Journal cartoon on May 5, 1902.

Smith would later send Waller a written order “that the interior of Samar must be made a howling wilderness.” However, aware of Smith’s penchant for making outrageous oaths and the extravagance of his language, Waller therefore did not execute Smith’s orders. Instead, Waller applied the rules of civilized warfare and the rules provided under General Orders No. 100 of 1863 dealing with irregular warfare (involving non-uniformed combatants), which stated that if enemy units gave no quarter and became treacherous upon capture, it was lawful to shoot anyone belonging to that captured unit.

Nevertheless, a sustained and widespread massacre of Filipino civilians followed. As a result of Smith’s policies during the four and half month-long campaign, an estimated 15,000 Filipinos died on Samar.

References:

  • Teodoro A. Agoncillo, A Short History of the Philippines, New American Library, 1969.
  • Bob Couttie, Hang the Dogs: The True and Tragic History of the Balangiga Massacre, New Day Publishers, 2004.

October 1, 1944 (a Sunday)

On this date, the first of two sets of medical experiments involving castration were performed on homosexuals at the Buchenwald concentration camp, near Weimar, Germany.

Buchenwald was one of the first concentration camps established by the Nazi regime. Although not technically a death camp, in that it had no gas chambers, nevertheless hundreds of prisoners died monthly, from malnutrition, beatings, disease, and executions.

The camp boasted a sophisticated-sounding facility on its grounds called the “Division for Typhus and Virus Research of the Hygiene Institute of the Waffen SS”. In truth, it was a chamber of horrors where medical experiments of the cruelest kind were carried out on prisoners against their will. Victims were often intentionally infused with various infections to test out vaccines. Euthanasia was also performed regularly on Jews, Gypsies, and mentally ill prisoners.

Dr. Carl Peter Værnet, serving as a doctor at Buchenwald concentration camp, performed medical experiments on inmates who were convicted under Germany’s notorious Paragraph 175 — the statute against male homosexuality. According to Richard Plant’s The Pink Triangle:

Since surviving entries are spotty, if not nearly illegible, one can only conclude that on October 1, 1944, a group of seven homosexuals was operated on, and a second group, consisting of eleven more, on October 10. Additional tests may have been administered because Værnet visited Buchenwald again in December. … Some subjects became ill; some, so it seems, must have died, because new names appear on the rosters of those actually castrated. Værnet carefully filled out order forms for chloroform, bandages, and new medical instruments, and handed out instruction sheets explaining how Buchenwald physicians should continue the castration-hormone tests without him. No final report has survived that notes the results of the experiments on the castrated men.

Buchenwald was liberated by the Allies on April 11, 1945. Ironically, it was later used by the Soviet Union as a concentration camp for the “enemies” of East Germany.

After World War II, Værnet was captured by the British and handed over to Danish authorities. At some point, he was transferred to a hospital after claiming to suffer from a heart ailment. He told doctors there that his problem could only be treated in Sweden. Despite being accused of war crimes, he was allowed to go to Sweden, where he contacted a Nazi escape network and fled to Argentina where he worked in the Ministry of Health. He was never tried for his crimes. He died on November 25, 1965. His grave was located in Argentina’s Britanico Cemetery in April, 1998.

References:

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:

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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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.

_____________________________________________________
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:

March 5, 1940 (a Tuesday)

The accepted proposal of Lavrentin Beria to murder all Polish officers who were war prisoners in the Soviet Union.

On this date, pursuant to a note to Joseph Stalin from Lavrentiy Beria proposing to execute all members of the Polish Officer Corps, the members of the Soviet Politburo — Stalin, Vyacheslav Molotov, Kliment Voroshilov, Anastas Mikoyan, Mikhail Kalinin, and Lazar Kaganovich — signed an order to execute 25,700 Polish “nationalists and counterrevolutionaries” kept at camps and prisons in occupied western Ukraine and Belarus. About 8,000 were officers taken prisoner during the 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland, the rest being Poles arrested for allegedly being “intelligence agents, gendarmes, saboteurs, landowners, factory owners, lawyers, priests, and officials.” The reason for the Katyn Forest massacre, according to historian Gerhard Weinberg, is that Stalin wanted to deprive a potential future Polish military of a large portion of its military talent:

It has been suggested that the motive for this terrible step [the Katyn massacre] was to reassure the Germans as to the reality of Soviet anti-Polish policy. This explanation is completely unconvincing in view of the care with which the Soviet regime kept the massacre secret from the very German government it was supposed to impress… A more likely explanation is that… [the massacre] should be seen as looking forward to a future in which there might again be a Poland on the Soviet Union’s western border. Since he intended to keep the eastern portion of the country in any case, Stalin could be certain that any revived Poland would be unfriendly. Under those circumstances, depriving it of a large proportion of its military and technical elite would make it weaker.

Since Poland’s conscription system required every unexempted university graduate to become a reserve officer, the internees included much of the Polish intelligentsia, and the Jewish, Ukrainian, Georgian and Belarusian intelligentsia of Polish citizenship. Thus, the Katyn massacre is one of the deadliest anti-intellectual atrocities in history.

References:

  • Gerhard L. Weinberg, A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994) p. 107.

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).