Hiroshima & Nagasaki: Seven Decades & Counting

"Evening Glow over Hiroshima," woodcut by atom bomb survivor, Asai Kiyoshi
“Evening Glow over Hiroshima,” woodcut by atom bomb survivor, Asai Kiyoshi

Either Countdown to Armageddon, Or Countenancing Humanity’s Rise From Capital Intensive Empire

I’ve written about Hiroshima in general for forty odd years, and I’ve composed something tangible for every annual commemoration of the bombing for plus or minus a decade-and-a-half. Thus, again, I proffer ideas about this event and the even more egregious slaughter that followed three days hence at Nagasaki.

I can offer evidence for all that follows. That data, and those citations and links and sources, make a persuasive, perhaps a dispositive, case for all that follows below. However, I’m not bothering this year to provide citations or links or other connections to that material, except to refer anyone interested to items that I have been composing for lo these many years about all of this.

Instead, here I am—as old as the hills, a veritable representation of Father Time, who appears again, Cassandra-like, asking for attention on which human survival depends—with a relatively brief listing of conclusions about what Hiroshima means for, what it implies about, and what it portends for the human condition. The hundreds of thousands—overwhelmingly, women and children and elderly non-combatants—whom United States action incinerated in 1945, and the plus or minus tens-of-millions—a much more varied demographic—who have subsequently expired as a result of the subsequent iterations of the Uranium economy and the Modern Nuclear Project might if nothing else appreciate our considering such anniversaries as this one as an opportunity to reflect both on making human survival more likely rather than less likely, and on facilitating rather than precluding human thriving.

detail from the Hiroshima Panels by Iri and Toshi Maruki

The dead call us to account. They beg for our attention. The words of a translation that I’ve done of Sadako Kirihara‘s poem, “New Life,” articulates this point:

Her promise is the one we live by still.
Even in the fires of hell, as life’s blood seeps away,
We will bring forth new life, even unto death.
A birth to tie ourselves to Earth even as we go,
Life is our vow; life is our will.
My advice is that folks pay attention, but I’m not attached to advising such. People can do whatever they like.

The following five conclusions are merely a tiny sample of critical or at minimum useful deductions about Hiroshima’s impact or significance. However, they do represent far-reaching or even central judgments in regard to Hiroshima’s influence on Homo Sapiens’ problems and prospects.

First, the innovation and enterprise and work of nuclear research and development have always been near the top of the agenda of monopoly capital. This extends from well before the ‘discovery’ of radioactivity and the actual structure of the atom.

Whether one examines Germany or England or Japan, the elevation of scientific inquiry and expertise, and the delving of electromagnetism in particular, have sought to turn the nature of nature to the purposes of profit. The names of the principle-investigators in different cases end up reading like a who’s who of nuclear history—from Farraday to Teller, from Einstein to Thompson, from Curie to Soddy, from Becquerel to Szilard, from Fermi to Heisenberg.

Moreover, these people themselves, as in the case of ‘Lord Kelvin’ or Frederick Soddy, or their backers and funders, were central actors in the monopolization and financialization of capital’s ruling dynamic. Those who picked up the tab for the increasingly expensive devices that the likes of Lawrence Livermore and Ernest Rutherford and others dreamed of building always represented vast wealth and even plutocracy: the Rockefeller interests’ ubiquitous presence on the subatomic research scene, Ernest Solvay’s family’s ongoing imprimatur in these matters, and the presence of other multi-billionaire financiers such as Alfred Loomis and Alexander Sachs among the ‘hobbyists’ who effected the Modern Nuclear Project altogether demonstrate this conjunction between the bourgeois stratosphere and the revelation of colossal ‘energy-potential’ from the atom and its components.

Second, the Manhattan Project, which in and of itself is another irrefutable agglomeration of evidence in support of the first point, had as its primary purpose the creation of mass-murder devices to serve the geopolitical and imperial agendas of the monopoly capital puppeteers who ‘paid the piper’ all along the path to apprehending these fundamental energies of existence. This is not some ‘conspiracy theory,’ but is an unmistakable “conspiracy fact” as the redoubtable if not completely ‘respectable’ Michael Rupert put the case.
Moreover, the connection between an interest in nature’s energy stores, the electromagnetic spectrum, and a bomb ‘destructive enough to make war unthinkable’ rests at the root of the entire process of investigation. Thompson’s work makes this clear in general. Both Frederic Soddy’s Interpretation of Radium and the Nobelist’s famed early twentieth century lecture circuit made this point crystal clear. No particle physicist was unaware of the implication of e = mc-Squared.
Not only did scientists and businessmen apprise themselves explicitly of this connection between the EMS and weapons of unimaginable lethality, but writers and other artists all along narrated this scenario, decades in advance of the creation of the aptly named Manhattan Engineering District. Frank Stockton’s The Great War Syndicate, H.G. Wells’ The World Set Free, Eric Ambler’s The Dark Frontier, and Robert Heinlein’s Solution Unsatisfactory are just a sampling of the yarns—that none of them are literary gems is beside the point—that ‘scoop’ the ‘great secret’ of nuclear weapons by periods of a few years to nearly a century.

Palomares_H-Bomb_IncidentReturning to the Manhattan Project itself, the decision to use the weapons twice against civilians had three essential rationale.  The first was to make sure that both enriched Uranium and Plutonium actually worked as ‘fuel’ for mass murder.  The second was to conduct an experiment in how much damage the given ‘yield’ of these weapons would do to relatively undamaged urban environments.  The third was to intimidate the Soviet Union and threaten annihilation to Reds with the temerity to resist U.S. hegemony in Europe and elsewhere.  Neither did the deployment of these engines of annihilation end the war, nor was that their purpose.

Third, from the tellingly named Atomic Energy Commission to the more prosaic and propagandistic appellation of the Department of Energy, the Modern Nuclear Project’s primary purpose has been both the same as number two and the more political economic end of providing hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money to exclusively monopoly-level enterprises that exist to create weapons of mass destruction. This phenomenon is now worldwide, despite the U.S.’s retaining its position as ‘first among equals’ in its particular embodiments of Departments of Hydrogen Bombs. To this day, plus-or-minus fifty percent of DOE funding is for one aspect or another of matters nuclear.
An inevitable offshoot of this now ten-to-fifteen trillion dollar ‘project,’ which does not even include the massive ‘investments’ in energy production from fission and fusion, is that literally everything else in the nature of social development falls by the wayside, except for other developments with similar promise to financial monopoly and imperial predominance. Thus, despite almost half a century of predictions that the MNP would inevitably collapse under its own weight—of inefficiency, genocide, and police state guardianship, it has instead gained strength and continues to be the fantasy child of the likes of Bill Gates, Paul Allen, George Soros, and others of the erstwhile ‘progressive’ billionaires, about whom Ralph Nader only half jokingly quipped, Only the Super Rich Can Save Us.

Sequoyah Nuclear Power Plant
Sequoyah Nuclear Power Plant

Fourth, in the final analysis, ‘civilian’ nuclear power and ‘military’ nuclear weapons—a la the early Atomic Energy Commission—are indistinguishable: nuclear power guarantees nuclear weapons, and nuclear weapons make inevitable forays into power production. France may be the best example of this assertion, or the United States, but not only is Israel—at once a protégé of both France and the Yanks—absolute proof of the case, but also the entire imbroglio around Iran’s ‘nuclear plans’ further demonstrates the contention.
Wherever one looks in the nuclear sphere, this conjunction is immutable. For decades, Japan seemed an exception to the rule, along perhaps with Korea, but both are angling for their own arsenals of megadeath now, as is Brazil, and of course, India, Pakistan, Britain, China, and Russia long ago verified that this notion is, at a minimum, hard to rebut.
History, if one is willing to examine its annals, provides still further substantiation of this case. Atoms for Peace was, as J. Robert Oppenheimer pointed out and Jimmy Carter’s managerial legerdemain at DOE illustrated further, a public relations stunt in support of nuclear weapons. From the Tennessee Valley Authority to utility and technology monopolies’ restless insistence on more and bigger reactor projects, as well as more and ‘smaller’ reactor projects, the entire ‘Nuclear Fool Cycle stream is replete with militarized applications, from mining surveys that explore for Uranium or Thorium deposits to Depleted Uranium’s now ubiquitous and insidious presence in Army ordnance around the planet.

nuke weirdoFifth, capitalism’s continuation guarantees continued nuclear weapons protocols; therefore, remaining committed to capitalism guarantees either extinguishing anything like human society’s viability or an extinction of humankind altogether. The increasing impoverishment of social justice and economic democracy are ‘unfortunate byproducts’ of the Uranium Economy’s continued pride of place in plutocratic fantasy. The destruction of the human condition is, given time and tide, an absolute certainty if the UE and the MNP continue to hold sway.
To an extent paradoxically, and in another way of thinking quite naturally, the only antidote to this stranglehold on our mutual future is the rise of worker power. Capital—whatever strains or splits have riven different sectors or nations or cliques—has ultimately always deferred to the ‘necessity’ of an ongoing extension of fission and fusion research and the primacy of such investment strategies.
A clear implication of this line of reasoning concerns the issue of power, of social heft and capacity. Obviously, poverty, prisons, chauvinistic ethnocentrism, eviscerated education, and half a hundred other problems absolutely demand attention and focus. However, if survival matters, what contextualizes and conjoins all of these single issues, including this hideous morass of death in the nuclear sphere, is how working people can come to exercise power in the world. Otherwise, whether we live long enough to snuff ourselves out in one heated rush or expire from one version or other of a ‘death from a thousand cuts,’ none of our specific concerns will ever amount to more than ‘academic interest’ or ‘passionate desire.’

In the event, this essay deals with Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and their ongoing relevance. The trigger for the decimation or even the annihilation of human society and its seven billion current cousins could come from India and Pakistan; from Israel and Iran; from North and South Korea; from Europe, the U.S., and Russia via Ukrainian or multiple other flashpoints; or from the U.S. and China as a result of various bones of contention. The ecocidal events that could follow from such engagement is not, moment by moment, very likely, nor are the sorts of alternate routes to human extinction high-probability scenarios.

However, as any gambler or statistician or wise observer of events knows, given enough throws of the dice, every possible outcome—even those that are at any given point exceedingly implausible—will occur: without exception. Therefore, if the conjunction of nuclear-armed nations continues, eventually our kind of creatures will simply no longer exist on this planet, at least under any set of circumstances that we would assess as humane.

A summary of all this rumination could fit a shtick such as the following. It could serve as a stand-up routine in the right hands.

“So everybody, howdy!
Man do we live in interesting times, or what? I mean, no doubt about it, we could live like Solomonic kings. There’s plenty of stuff to provide every person with that level of food and income and housing and so on.
Or we could keep on keeping on the way that we are. In that case, eventually, again beyond the shadow of any doubt whatsoever, either we will kill almost all people, or we will instead murder everyone, down to the last child, woman, or man who currently draws breath.
That’s the choice that we now face. We will continue to confront this pair of alternatives until one of two things happen: either we get rid of the nuclear death sentence, or we or our offspring will bear witness to carrying out this population-wide execution.
The way that things now stand, the obvious assessment of our mutual selection is clear. ‘Hmmm! Live like royalty or commit mass collective suicide? I mean, what a no brainer! Let’s kill each other and party, party, party!’”

Life has imitated art. We are embodying the words of Tom Lehrer’s songs, “So Long Mom, I’m Off to Drop the Bomb!” and “We’ll All Go Together When We Go.” At least, this will prove so unless we wake up, all too likely very soon.

As John Hershey wrote at the end of Hiroshima, “What has kept the world safe from the bomb since 1945 has not been deterrence, in the sense of fear of specific weapons, so much as it’s been memory. The memory of what happened at Hiroshima. …(And now, as the years unfold), the (survivor’s) memory, like the world’s, (i)s getting spotty.”

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