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A strange kind of normality; Observations on media by David Edwards

The psychiatrist R D Laing once wrote: 'The condition of alienation, of being asleep, of being unconscious, of being out of one's mind, is the condition of the normal man. Society highly values its normal man. It educates children to lose themselves and to be-come absurd, and thus to be normal.' The media are undoubtedly the prime means by which society trains us for absurdity.

On 5 January, the BBC, in its 12-part documentary series Days That Shook the World, aired a programme on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Just 35 seconds were spent on the justification for an attack that incinerated 100,000 civilians. The claim that the attack was required in order to avoid a million US casualties during an invasion of the Japanese mainland went unchallenged.

I wrote to the writer and director, Stephen Walker, providing evidence that no serious effort had ever been made to estimate the likely costs of invasion. I asked him if he knew that the US Strategic Bombing Survey had interviewed 700 Japanese officials after the war and concluded that 'certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated'.

Reviewing all the available evidence, the American historian Howard Zinn concluded that the atomic bombings had nothing to do with avoiding casualties or forcing surrender. They were about 'the aggrandisement of American national power'. The US was letting the world - and the Soviet Union, in particular - know who was in charge.

At our prompting, more than 100 people sent e-mails asking the BBC about the 35 seconds and the lack of balance. The BBC replied with the usual robotic blather: 'I understand that you felt that this programme was biased and did not accurately reflect events surrounding the bombing of Hiroshima. I should explain that BBC programme-makers are well aware of our commitment to impartial reporting.' The questions were simply ignored.

In similar vein, on 8 January, the Guardian responded to the publication of research in Nature which concluded that the effect of global warming could drive a quarter of land animals and plants into extinction by 2050. The paper suggested lamely that we need to switch to technologies that produce few or no greenhouse gases. Not a word about the need to challenge, and fast, the corporate maniacs who are still opposing action on climate change in defence of a fast buck. Instead, the editors recommended 'putting a 'hog' in the lavatory cistern . . . encouraging wildlife in the garden and composting vegetable cuttings'.

A day later, the Guardian composters had a full-page ad for American Airlines offering '2 for 1 flights to the Americas'. Flying is one of the big causes of climate change. The paper's environment correspondent, Paul Brown, declared himself 'snowed under' by complaints from our readers - people who care enough to go to the trouble in this indolent age.

Yet, on succeeding days, the paper published not one of the dozens of letters challenging its hypocrisy. The Guardian editors did, however, find space for ads for Citroen cars, Chrysler cars, Fiat cars, Toyota cars,, the easyJet sale - 'everyone must go' - and another full-page advert for '2 for 1 flights'.

David Edwards is co-editor of MediaLens (
Thu Jan 15, 2004 7:26 pm
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Post Post subject: The justification for the use of the A-bomb in 1945 Reply with quote

Dear David

On the question of whether Japan was ready to come to terms before the use of the A-bombs, I wonder if the historical context fully supports your argument.

The Allies had recent experience of a similar scenario in relation to the Nazis. In April 1945 Himmler, who had recently been promoted by Hitler to be supreme commander of the Volkssturm, and could therefore be seen as the second most powerful man in the 3rd Reich, approached the Allies through the Swedish, in particular Count Folke Bernadette de Wisborg, proposing surrender. Hitler subsequently called for his arrest. Obviously, the proposal came to nothing.

So, a very high level call for capitulation had proved, at best, unreliable, only a few months before the decision to use the two bombs to ensure surrender. The Japanese approaches to the Allies in 1945 must at least be viewed within that context. It may well be that Japan would indeed have surrendered without the use of the bombs, but I'd suggest that the Allies' reasons for proceeding in any event were somewhat more complex than your article suggests. We should remember to judge, as opposed to assess, history by reference to the contemporary evidence, rather than to sources that became available later.

I don't for a moment seek to condone the use of the A-bombs, or to argue that further attempts to secure Japan's surrender before their use should not have been made. In the spirit of your determination that the most accurate historical picture possible should be presented, however, I offer this as a further, potentially significant, factor to be taken into account. Remember that historians always have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.

Of course, none of this detracts from your admirable critique of the programme. As you point out, it pretty much ignored the entire issue.

By the way, previous posts on the old message board raised questions about why the US used 2 different types of bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I'm given to understand that they actually had only 2 bombs - one of each type. So they used them both.


Sat Jan 17, 2004 8:24 pm
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Post Post subject: Re: The justification for the use of the A-bomb in 1945 Reply with quote

wolfywits wrote:
It may well be that Japan would indeed have surrendered without the use of the bombs, but I'd suggest that the Allies' reasons for proceeding in any event were somewhat more complex than your article suggests.

Wolfy, let me help you out here.

This is from an article by Walter A. Davis which can be found at:

...we have learned to recite, by rote, what has now become a national article of faith: that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were justified, almost idealistic acts, undertaken with reluctance, as "the least abhorrent choice" but finally the only way to end the war thereby saving perhaps a million lives. This explanation was first articulated in an article ghost-written for Secretary of State Henry Stimson by his aide McGeorge Bundy (Stimson and Bundy, 1947). It is a pretty story, the only problem being Bundy's admission in a book published shortly before his death (Bundy, 1990), that the entire thing was a fabrication, a deliberate myth, carefully constructed after the fact [3] to disguise the actual reasons why we dropped the bomb: (1)to avenge Pearl Harbor, (2) to justify the amount of money spent developing the bomb, (3) to create laboratories so that our scientific, medical, and military personnel could study the affects of the bomb, and (4) to impress the Russians and the rest of the world with this opening salvo in the Cold War.

And the notation for [3] in the above:

3. McGeorge Bundy's Danger and Survival: Choices About the Bomb in the First Fifty Years (New York: Knopf, 1992) is pivotal in the scholarship on Hiroshima because the very architect of one side of the debate that has lasted for over fifty years admits the falsehood of his position. People will, of course, continue to believe that Hiroshima was justified-because they want to believe it-- and to think that grounds still exist for a genuine difference of opinion on the topic. Thanks to Bundy's admission the truth is now known beyond a reasonable doubt for all who have done the requisite reading on the topic.

If you're not XXXX, you're a guinness.
Sun Jan 18, 2004 10:49 am
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Post Post subject: Historiography, really Reply with quote

Thanks Tomarse.

As a result of these articles etc I've been doing a bit of casual research on the question. The following takes you to what would appear to be a fairly even-handed treatment:

The consensus seems to be that there are at least some very strong arguments against any necessity for the use of the bombs, which is really DE's point about the BBC programme.

Then again, it's not my period, and I don't pretend to be familiar enough with the arguments and the evidence to come to a judgment with which I can be entirely confident.

That's my point really: the period with which I am familiar is 5th century BCE Greece. Now, there are several respectable theories on whether the Spartans were justified in declaring war on Athens (resulting in the Peloponnesian War). Each has its adherents, and I could construct credible arguments to support any or all of them. There is no single 'right' answer. Therefore I am sceptical about apparently definite answers to the question of the military justification for the use of the A-bomb in 1945 (the question of moral justification is perhaps less vexed).

All one can do, it seems to me, is to ensure that one is familiar with all of the evidence, read all of the arguments, and come to a view. In that spirit, I'd like to read what is said on the other side of the fence, and if you know of any Web articles arguing that there was justification, I'd be grateful if you posted the links.

I fear that this thread is becoming more appropriate to a history website than to ML, but its certainly interesting, and unquestionably important. Historians today are still arguing about what happened in Greece 2,500 years ago: it is perhaps our responsibility to inform ourselves about similarly significant events of our own era.

Sun Jan 18, 2004 11:53 am
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Post Post subject: Reply with quote

This url was posted under this discussion on the old forum. I haven't read it yet so I can't comment on it. It is apparently a debate on the decision to use the bomb. Hope it helps.
If you're not XXXX, you're a guinness.
Sun Jan 18, 2004 12:35 pm
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Thanks for the Davis article tomarse. Yes wolfywits, it's important to delineate the current thinking of the time and view with care subsequent condemnations of the bombings. On the other hand i think it naive to assume that the US army would have neglected the importance of weapon-testing under real "war" circumstances (hence the two different bombs under different conditions on previously not-targetted cities), or that the US policy makers would have neglected the message the bombings would be for the rest of the world.

Bruce Kent (CND) quoted the US Strategic Bombing Survey in a 22Aug02 letter to the London Review of Books and in a subsequent letter on the 17Oct02 he quotes:

'Japan was at that very moment seeking some way to surrender with minimum
loss of face. It was not necessary to hit them with that awful thing.'
- General Eisenhower on the atomic bombs dropped in Japan in 1945

'In my view it was unnecessary to drop the two atomic bombs on Japan in
August 1945 and I cannot think that it was right to do so . . . The
dropping of the bombs was a major political blunder and is a prime
example of the declining moral standards of modern war.'
- Field Marshal Montgomery, 'The History of Warfare'.

'Mr McNamara claimed that if the US had lost the war he and Gen LeMay would
have been prosecuted for war crimes. "Why was it necessary to bomb Japan
with atom bombs when we were burning the place down? Killing 50% to 90% of
the population of 67 Japanese cities and then dropping atom bombs is not
About Vietnam, where he noted "two or three times as many bombs were
dropped during [Operation] Rolling Thunder than on western Europe during
the second world war," he was less clear. "Never answer the question that
is asked of you, but the question you wished was asked of you," he said. "I
think that's a pretty good rule."
And in another hark back to the McNamara bogeyman of old, he said: "In
order to be good you have to engage in evil sometimes." '
- Robert McNamara, US defence secretary during the Cuban missile crisis
and the first phases of the Vietnam war; quotations taken from Errol
Morris's documentary on the 2003 war against Iraq "The Fog of War"; General
Curtis LeMay was his commanding officer in the second world war and Mr
McNamara helped him devise "more efficient" means of saturation incendiary
- Fiachra Gibbons, "Warning to Bush from contrite cold war veteran",
Guardian 23May03,2763,962034,00.html ]
Mon Jan 19, 2004 1:38 pm
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