Thursday, October 2, 2008

Was Hiroshima terrorism?

My new comment on Ta-Nehisi Coates' blog:
re: " I've never understood why Hiroshima (necessary as it may well have been) wasn't an act of terrorism." and "There's no civilized way to make war." and "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter."
This is a subject I had to confront as Marine. I served in Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2005-6), as well as Haiti (2004) and more than sixty other countries across the globe. I am writing this from Japan, where the US military has been since we conquered the place. Think of the word, conquer. We didn't conquer this country by being nice or civil, we brutalized them terrorized them, caused the most severe hardship and pain, before they surrendered. That is simply what war is. The subject of war and how to wage it is more than a preoccupation with me, it is my profession.

First, I have learned that is always easy in hindsight to second guess the actions of those who served in combat years before. So some perspective is necessary.
My grandfather was in the battle of Okinawa along with his brother (who left his right leg on the island). Afterward, he was set to invade mainland Japan where he would most certainly die, when the bomb was dropped. He credited the bomb with saving his life. My mother vividly remembers, as a six year old, saying goodbye to her Dad with the certain knowledge that he would never return. That was the world as they knew it.

I have walked the battlefields of Okinawa, Iwo Jima, and Saipan and studied the events there closely. We should all remember the ever escalating brutality with which the war was waged. Certainly Americans had racist vews of the Japanese, but the opposite was also true. Almost certainly, the need to dehumanize the other side is neceassary to generate the will to kill in the human animal. Believe it or not, there is generally found in humans a natural reluctance to commit violence on other human beings. That's why it is very often done in a ritualized or a severe social context.

In WW II specifically, as one side committed atrocities against the other, the viciousness increased all around. On Tarawa, U.S. platoon positions were marked by stakes with Japanese heads stuck on them. But also, Americans captured by the Japanese were mutilated and tortured all night before they died. Just thirty or forty feet away, their fellow Marines had to listen as the captives' genitals were cut off, and they were skinned, and disemboweled, slowly. There is no mercy after enduring such a thing. This is the nature of war. As the famed military historian and theorist, John Keegan, notes, whatever the initial reasons for war, once begun they take on a logic and momentum of their own that often become completely disconnected from the original reasons for the war. This is why they should be entered to with great trepidation.

So, having said that, let's remember what war is, one side seeks to bend the other to its will. There are alot of fancy definitions but they all come down to simply that - a battle of wills. In a total war, such as World War II, where entire civilizations are battling for supremacy and even survival, one can expect the battle of wills to extend to every aspect of life.

Of course Hiroshima was an act of terrorism, because it was intended to cause terror in the other side's population, causing them to lose the will to fight. That is what war is all about, producing terror and causing the other side to exhaust themselves, to give up, to decide that the horror can be endured no longer. So, that is a long post to say that all those quotes are true. War is terror. Freedom fighters are terrorists. It only depends on your perspective.

Think of the examples from history, our founding fathers were terrorists to the British King. People like Yizhak Rabin and the other founders of Israel were hunted as terrorists by the British before they were ever accepted as diplomats. Leaders of the IRA now sit in chambers of democracy in Europe. And, yes, Ahmadinejad, who stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979, is now the President of Iran. It is all a matter of perspective.
Semper Fi,PTR
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