Hiroshima by John Hersey

“A hundred thousand people were killed by the atomic bomb, and these six were among the survivors. They still wonder why they lived when so many others died. Each of them counts many small items of chance or volition—a step taken in time, a decision to go indoors, catching one streetcar instead of the next—that spared him. And now each knows that in the act of survival he lived a dozen lives and saw more death than he ever thought he would see. At the time, none of them knew anything.”

—John Hersey, “Hiroshima.” The New Yorker. August 24, 1946.

August 6th is always a good time to reread John Hersey’s seminal essay, Hiroshima. Or, his book of the same name. Particularly when the United Nations leading official on nuclear disarmament has this to say in a recent interview on our current situation:

Nakamitsu: The Doomsday Clock is a very effective way of informing the public about how dangerous things have become. I share the concern. The risk of use of nuclear weapons, whether intentional or by accident, is higher than it has been since the darkest days of the Cold War. But the greatest danger is through miscalculation.”

—Izumi Nakamitsu in an interview with Dietmar Pieper, “The Nuclear Risk Is ‘Higher Than it has been since the Darkest Days of the Cold War’,” Der Spiegel. August 6, 2020.

Domestic War on Terror Is Not the Answer to White Supremacy

“At a time when the American system of government is already being sorely tested by a demagogue and would-be autocrat in the White House, it would be disastrous to grant more power to the Justice Department and the nation’s security services.”

—James Risen, ” To Fight White Supremacist Violence, Let’s Not Repeat the Mistakes of the War on Terror.” The Intercept. August 17, 2019.

Anytime you think the solution to a problem takes the form of “War on X” or “X War”, you probably need to think a little harder about it.

The War on Terror treats a symptom while acting as a catalyst for the underlying disease. Same goes for the “War on Drugs”. The moment marijuana was getting legalized, the criminal elements supplying it went to opiates. Further, one has to wonder how much longer “The Cold War” enabled communism to last by providing a facade the underlying structural problems could hide behind.

Also, this idea of, “At a time when…” is bogus. This kind of testing could happen at any time. If there is some capability you think the next Hitler shouldn’t have as head of government, then you have a good sense of what powers your government shouldn’t have, and you should use that line to have a principled discussion of the powers of state. Should one person be able to start a nuclear war? Should one person be able to start any war, via the War Powers Act? These are conversations that are overdue.

The Cost of the Club

I was reading Glenn Greenwald’s article in The Intercept today, and he makes an interesting point about how support for wars of adventure in the United States do not line up along any principled lines. The lines they tend to track are political party lines.

I have long thought that the fundamental disconnect in the worldview of the United States conservative is trying to square the circle of having both “small government” with “low taxes”, however defined, and a global war-fighting capability. You obviously cannot have both.

But, I realized today that this is also a criticism that could be levied against the United States liberal as well. If you believe that it is the responsibility of the state to provide education, healthcare and so forth, you have to prioritize those things above global war-fighting. The “Third Way”, “Blue Dog” and other, so called “centrists” of the Democratic Party don’t. It’s only on the fringe “far left” where conversation of limiting our military involvements around the world gets some play, and often very little there.

Spending trillions of dollars fighting wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and proxy wars around the globe means that you have to tax to pay for those conflicts. It also means you cannot use that money to provide services to your population.

Fighting wars abroad is a project with bi-partisan support in the United States. Obama started with the rhetoric of getting out and then reversed himself once he got into office. Trump’s declaration that he was going to pull troops from Syria is another example. He made this announcement, and now, it is being walked back by the establishment.

Without a doubt, pulling troops from the Middle East, Africa and Asia lessens the influence of the United States in these countries. It also has real consequences for people living there, such as the Kurds in Syria and Iraq. But, the question is rarely asked about whether the amounts we are spending on global security are appropriate to the goals we aim to achieve.

Often, there are no goals. When a rare stated objective is in the mix, it is never subject to rigorous, open debate factoring in competing values. Instead, it comes down to party affiliation. Democrats and Republicans support their party’s politicians. The only thing they can seem to agree on is war, and the wars, with their spending, continue. Reducing government/taxes or increasing services to the population be damned.

The Cost of Wars

“One of the striking aspects of American military power is how little serious attention is spent on examining the key elements of its total cost by war and mission, and the linkage between the use of resources and the presence of an effective strategy. For the last several decades, there has been little real effort to examine the costs of key missions and strategic commitments and the longer term trends in force planning and cost. Both the Executive Branch and the Congress have failed to reform any key aspect of the defense and foreign policy budgets to look beyond input budgeting by line item and by military service, and doing so on an annual basis.”

—Cordesman, Anthony. “The Cost of Wars.” CSIS. June 26, 2017.