Hiroshima Part III: The bomb, racism, and the 'Global War on Terror'
The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a racist atrocity in concert with past U.S. military conflicts, beginning in 1776 with 115 consecutive years of conquest and dispossession of Native Americans.
Many Americans cheered, scholar Elaine Scarry writes, when the Japanese were “vaporized in less time than it takes for the heart to beat” (Boston Review, August 2020). Filipino scholar-activist Walden Bello claims that the bombing was the “most radical expression” of America’s racist way of war. African Americans such as poet Langston Hughes and novelist-anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston were far more critical of the bomb than whites, claiming that racism was involved in “the depravity of executing” untold thousands of civilians.
Prominent Blacks spoke out against nuclear weapons after 1945 — including musician Duke Ellington, civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, writer James Baldwin, playwright Lorraine Hansberry, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., scholar W.E.B. Du Bois, and actor Paul Robeson. Because he opposed the nuclear arms race and U.S. foreign policies, Washington accused Du Bois of being an unregistered foreign agent and denied him a passport. It also harassed Robeson and Hansberry and took away the former’s passport for years.
Historian Robbie Lieberman tells us that African Americans continued to work for nuclear disarmament, though others withdrew because of the anticommunist repression in the 1950s. Black leftists linked that issue to the fight for racial equality and anti-colonial struggles in the former Third World. The Cold War repression of the 1950s, with its loyalty oaths and political purges associated with Republican Sen. Joe McCarthy, was actually put in place in 1946 under Democratic president Truman. It largely destroyed the Black freedom movement’s ties to peace and anti-colonialism, and caused Black and white critics of U.S. foreign policy to withdraw because of fear, intimidation and repression.
The Red Scare 1950s arose again in April 1967 after Dr. King’s historic “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” oration that condemned the U.S. government as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” Arguably his greatest speech, it is virtually unknown to most Americans. His courageous critique of that war elicited a storm of bitter Cold War attacks by the political establishment, corporate media, and black leaders. Overall, 50% of Blacks opposed his dissent on the war.
Geography, Scarry states, reveals the racist nature of U.S. nuclear policies since 1945. For example, where did Washington threaten a first strike? During the Eisenhower administration against Vietnam in 1954; under Johnson to stop China from acquiring a nuclear bomb; when Nixon thought about a first strike against North Korea and North Vietnam; and during the Persian Gulf War (1991), when George H.W. Bush threatened a nuclear attack on Iraq if Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons — developed with U.S. assistance and defended when used against Iran.
Historian John Dower (“The Violent American Century”) asserts that the terror bombing of Korea and Indochina was also fueled by racism, then erased from our memory. In both wars, targeting “everything that moved” led to indiscriminate slaughter. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who commanded allied forces in Korea, stated that he had “never seen such devastation.”
In 1970, Nixon ordered massive bombings in Cambodia with “Anything that flies on anything that moves.” Between 1964 and 1973 in Laos, the U.S. conducted the heaviest bombing per person in history, one planeload every eight minutes for 10 years. Perhaps a million Laotians were killed. The death toll from the American War in Southeast Asia included 3.8 million Vietnamese and 800,000 Cambodians. That war may appear to be over, but it is not. Since 1975, some 105,000 Vietnamese and 20,000 Laotians have been killed and injured from unexploded U.S. ordnance.
In this century, the U.S. has waged a “Global War on Terror” under George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. The Brown University Costs of War Project reports that this conflict, which appears to have no end, has forced between 37 million and 59 million people to flee their homes. Nearly all these victims are people of color, Arab and/or Muslim. Liberals in Ashland and other cities who claim to be anti-racist and challenge their “white fragility” have been remarkably silent in the face of this endless conflict that has killed, maimed, and displaced tens of millions of blacks and other people of color — increasingly Africans. The war continues a 244-year year record of conquest and dispossession. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 was not an exception to this horrific violence, but an inherent part of it.
John Marciano lives in Talent.