Harry and Bess’s Road Trip


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Before World War II, we used to follow the Geneva Convention Rules of War when possible or expedient. We tried not to harm civilians. Sometime during World War II that changed, and we began to deliberately target civilians in both Germany and Japan. Dresden and Tokyo were firebombed with the newly-developed napalm. The canisters had been designed to break through the roof of an average home and detonate in the living room. The fire storms caused by napalm killed hundreds of thousands, many more people than died from atomic weapons. Regarding the Rules of War, seems like the gloves came off and they never went back on.

 

We chose Hiroshima and Nagasaki for the new A bombs because they were the only cities of size that had not already been repeatedly firebombed. In his radio announcement of the dropping of “Big Boy” on Hiroshima, Truman calls it a “military target.” Sure Harry, whatever gets you through the night.

 

Amazingly, after the Trumans left the White House they drove cross-country unaccompanied by any Secret Service protection. They drove from Kansas City to New York City, took in a show, stayed in hotels, ate in restaurants, and then drove home. You would have thought maybe they might have bumped into a person of Japanese, Korean or German ancestry who might have held a grudge, but apparently they didn’t and the prospect never crossed Harry’s mind.

 

In Korea we used napalm extensively on the inhabitants of what is now North Korea. The Koreans and the Chinese fatalities amounted to about three million people versus 33,000 American dead. Then in Vietnam and Laos, we repeated our fascination with dousing non-compliant civilians with burning rain. Again, they lost many more people than we did.

 

You don’t hear much about napalm anymore. Now we have drone-launched missiles that can be target to fly through an open window.

 

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BOMBING AS AN INEFFECTIVE FORM OF PERSUASION


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I was born in 1950, five years after the end of the Second World War. My country has been at war somewhere in the world for as long as I’ve been alive, with brief time off in the mid to late fifties in order to re-group. Even then, we were engaged in a “cold war,” stockpiling nuclear weapons as fast as we could make them, and the rockets to carry them across the world at many times the speed of sound.

When I was a child, we were told that our country observed certain “rules of war,” because we were the good guys and always took the moral high ground. We didn’t target civilians and we took prisoners of war and treated them humanely. By the way, I’ve heard of German prisoners of war, but never Japanese. Did they all commit hari kari?

Maybe we observed the Geneva Convention sometime before World War II, but it certainly wasn’t our experience or intention after we invented napalm and firebombed many Japanese cities and a few German ones. They weren’t military targets. We were trying to kill as many civilians as possible, in order to demoralize our enemies so they’d surrender.

It worked, we won. Then we took the same strategy to Vietnam and it didn’t work. In case anyone still believes the bullshit that we spun and resulted in Kissinger being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the North Vietnamese finally won the right to live in a Communist country. After twenty years of fighting foreign invaders, they unified their nation. It cost them millions of lives but they won.

So we learned our lesson. No more boots on the ground. Air attacks are the way we prosecute war now, and we no longer pretend that civilian deaths are “collateral damage.”

We no longer carpet bomb countries from 30,000 feet, we engage in “precision bombing,” often using unmanned drones. The accuracy rate has improved dramatically. Sure, we still take out a funeral procession or wedding party by mistake, but in general it’s no longer a mass slaughter. But we’re still bombing people. We’re still telling other people what they can and cannot do with their own countries. This hasn’t changed.

Bombing is a lousy way to persuade other countries to change their ways. Even though there’s a good chance we bombed ourselves in 9/11, we certainly didn’t learn any lessons from the experience of being bombed. One delusional Muslim teenager fashioned a shoe bomb for himself on an airplane and the rest of us are still taking off our shoes in airports ten years later.

We have fashioned a police state so large it may be impossible to dismantle it. That seems to be the main lesson we learned from being bombed.

When General MacArthur was in charge of our forces in North Korea, he suggested we drop fifty nuclear weapons along the border of North Korea and China. Truman fired him, but the next year General Curtis LeMay was ready to drop even more nuclear weapons. Truman never gave the order to do so.

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To this day the North Koreans hate us with an almost unimaginable intensity.

I spent some time in Nicaragua, which is a socialist verging on Communist country. They endured a civil war that lasted from the late seventies to the eighties, finally overthrowing the Somoza dictatorship. The Sandanistas who emerged victorious were not to Reagan’s liking, so he and his cronies cooked up a scheme to sell arms to Iran in order to finance an illegal backing of contra-revolutionaires, or “Contras,” mostly the remnants of Somoza’s highly corrupt national guard. This prolonged the Nicaraguan civil war by several years, but the Contras were eventually defeated as well. When I traveled the country I half-expected the common folk to hate Americans, but most of them had no memory or experience of that time.

Their struggle for independence was fought by citizen soldiers, some women, committed to freedom from Somoza and the U.S. Here’s a picture of one of them nursing her baby while dutifully carrying her carbine.

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