Nathan Hoturoa Gray: Ground Zero
By Nathan Hoturoa Gray
Saipan, a small Island in the Mariana Islands ruled by the United States. Controlled throughout history by a variety of invading colonies, sometimes like a parasite, sometimes not, just two hours from the coast of Asia this is one of the planet’s most strategic military sites. I am on internship, where the tax haven is being used to help channel foreign investment to help build up the local economy. Yet it is the neighbouring Island of Tinian that captures my interest most of all…
Spanning ten miles by five, infested with waist high mangrove scrub, there is nothing but a few old buildings, some beach side dwellings and a casino to explore. Yet head by bike into the interior and one finds the turning point in the history of man. All there is, is an old airport – hardly that, just a lane of coral lined concrete surrounded by a field of green mangrove scrub. Two empty pits lie alongside the runway as well
3 metres deep and 5 metres long, the concrete holes don’t look like abandoned graves utilised by ethnic cleansers as was the case in Bosnia or Rwanda . What lay in there was far more deadly, ten times more catastrophic, in fact the most extreme portrayal of human aggression against one another.
I’m not sure what Pilot Paul Tibbets was thinking on August 6th as he carried the deadly cargo in his load. Whether he was really aware of what it is to wipe out over 100,000 lives. Perhaps he was simply acting on orders without any real forethought to what he was about to do. Yet if he knew what he was doing, and the history books state that he did, then his pure willingness to wipe out an entire city vibe can only assimilate his thoughts to what the Islamic hijackers felt, sitting in their seats awaiting take off on the September 11 Flights.
However the comparison finishes there. With just over fifteen minutes between collisions, there was never a chance to call the twin tower tragedy off. What horrifies people most about Nagasaki – is that the American leaders had three days to ponder what they had done to Hiroshima before sending the second atomic bomb out.
The US Administration under Truman knew that the Japanese were willing to surrender - three months before the bombs were dispatched – so long as it could be negotiated that the Emperor would remain in power and not be subjected to a War Crimes Tribunal after the war. Being a divinely perceived form of ruler-ship instituted in 606 BC, (and constitutionally enshrined), it was believed that the 124th descendant in line would be the only way to maintain discipline and order amongst the devastating news of a surrender when it became known to the Japanese people.
Although advised by all his military chiefs including Winston Churchill that the unconditional surrender policy would provide a serious obstacle towards peace – Truman continued on with the policy that practically ensured nuclear attack. As advised by his trusted Foreign Policy Advisor James Byrnes, he wanted to display their strength to Stalin once the bomb had been tested on real lives. With America possessing a devastating weapon so physically catastrophic - it would ensure that the Russians ‘backed off’ from any excessive demands after the war, and help curb military activity during the post war era (known as the Cold War). By secretly issuing the order to bomb on July 25th, 1945 and leaving in place the ‘unconditional surrender’ policy, with the Japanese unwilling to comply it would show to the rest of the world that America had become the most powerful military force in the world.
So what is it to annihilate 100,000 lives? Is it purely a mathematical equation for those who form the policy behind pushing the so called red button, not actually having to rip out their victims throats? Or is the act so consciously aggressive, so politically expedient, or purposefully terrifying that to annihilate another species without a fair one-on-one fight, simply no jilt to the moral barometer?
I kind of hope it is the later. Then at least we’d know what we’re up against.
For those trapped within the 20km incinerator, instantly disintegrated by the wave of heat, dust and darkness; the impression of having your entire family line - thousands of years of hard fought lineage wiped out in a split-second is simply unfathomable, let alone politically justifiable. And those are the lucky ones.
Blackened and burned, faces charred in agony as flesh dripped off their limbs, those that lasted just outside the bombs devastating radius couldn’t even drink the water they cried out for, their organs having been cooked alive. Tsutomo Yamaguchi, (one of the rare survivors from Horoshima who retreated to Nagasaki to be bombed on again and hence survived twice) stated that the victims were ‘eyeless and faceless and their blackened alligator hides could not scream – because their formless mouths could only manage a hideous and continual murmur…’
Yet it is those emotionally and mentally affected by the loss of their parents, friends and siblings and the perpetual genetic effects of the contamination that places this long lasting US legacy into its most horrific context. How would you feel a hundred years down the line that your genetic deformity was the result of a leader’s ultimate lust for power? That you never got to meet your dad because he died of cancer 6 months after you were born, and the same or worse is going to occur to you later down the track as well?
The decision to bomb was made publicly palatable because it would ultimately spare thousands of US soldiers’ lives, not to mention the millions of military dollars that a full scale ground invasion would have cost, (especially given Japan’s testing terrain.) Yet what about the lives of the enemy children and the sub-classes of Japan that US Intelligence knew were not even interested in the war? Why didn’t the American War Cabinet choose a purely military target such as the Japanese naval base at Truk? As the bomb came down several hundred metres above a hospital, a primary school and a T shaped bridge – (killing up to as many as 300,000 by the end of the year) - is instantaneous mass genocide the solution especially when educating our younger generations with regard to the decisions they will need to make to keep their future generations civil?
With billions of dollars poured into defence budgets, the latest technology changing almost annually in this big business industry, many governments, it seems, literally need to test out their weapons before they become outdated and defunct. Israel keeps a very close eye on the Muslim nations building up their own nuclear arsenals, two Israeli jets spotted over Pakistan when they made their first test in 1997. With Israel possessing enough missiles to wipe out both the Islamic and Western worlds, it makes one wonder what really goes on in the deep recesses of these peoples’ minds.
Such strategic paranoia places Pakistan at the centre of the nuclear weapon spotlight especially since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, and continuing violence that spreads from the Swat Valley as the Taliban attempt to infiltrate Pakistan’s stores. Although refuted by Pakistan officials; Shaun Gregory, Professor of Pakistan’s Security Research Unit at Bradford University states that there have already been three attacks by the Taliban on suspected nuclear sites since November 2007. With thousands of Madrassas, (often referred to as Universities of Jihad), stationed through all the cities and villages of Pakistan teaching uneducated children about Islam often with contrived brainwashing techniques to churn out crop after crop of Taliban recruits, when does someone insane actually get their hands on the bomb?
All nuclear armed Governments, such as Russia , France , UK , China , India and possibly one day North Korea and Iran have built up their arsenals as part of the same limited warfare ideal that if we have them, you won’t dare attack. Hence the stoppers being placed on Iraq , North Korea and Iran , the latter two always a possibility for US invasion should their increasing future capacity become a risk. Would Iraq or Kuwait have been invaded had they a nuclear weapon with which to retaliate or attack?
It seems on one level that our personal fates are left to the whims of political and military decision-makers, (and their ability to deal with their aggression.) Yet how are they going to curb their carnal lust for retaliation over perceived injustice when tragedy strikes? Especially a country like the USA that are not emotionally accustomed to having the battle fought on their own soil?
And this doesn’t even account for human error. One of five nuclear false alarms that have occurred in the past 50 years was caused by the sun’s reflection upon the horizontal view of a Russian Satellite which showed several missiles heading over from the USA in 1983. Lt. Colonel Stanislav decided not to inform his superiors at the Politburo and when interviewed afterwards simply said that he didn’t feel the need to because, ‘when people start a war, they don’t start it with only five missiles. You can do very little damage with five missiles...’
The other less well known false alarm incidents involve computer chip faults and human errors with the nuclear early warning system. One case involved an inadvertently inserted training tape into the main system forcing military leaders to determine a response within minutes. Pressure to react must be intense when a radar-screen full of nuclear missiles are coming out to disable yours. Do you retaliate or not? Fortunately there are other ways for these decision makers to check whether the missiles fading in and out of the screen are actually coming at your missiles, or not. Let’s just hope those guys haven’t taken the day off work.
Another hushed up affair was the collision of a B-47 Stratojet bomber with a F-86 Saberjet fighter on February 5th 1958. The B-47 Stratojet was carrying a hydrogen bomb one hundred times the power of Hiroshima, and with the collision destroying the fighter and seriously injuring the wing of the bomber, the bomber’s pilot Major Howard Richardson was instructed to drop the bomb in the shallow waters of Warsaw Sound near the mouth of the Savannah River. Despite search parties scouring the area for 6 weeks, the bomb was never recovered, and still lies out there polluting the water, and could one day go off.
Indeed, whether the bombers and governments are motivated by the lust for power, or simply fear: to understand this psychology is to take our first steps towards confronting the madness of war. It is the mind behind the weapon wherein lies the real enemy, and if we are able to understand the Beast, then we can at least try to tame its ways. Either that or place enormous restrictions upon these somewhat excessive toys lest another lunatic slip through the bureaucratic cracks.
One such crack was General MacArthur, head of the US ground troops against the Chinese and North Koreans in the Korean War. Having already achieved the enviable feat of overcoming 310, 165 Japanese troops at the loss of only 13,000 US men in 1944-5; (a ratio of 22:1), MacArthur was fully supportive of nuking China when the Korean War wasn’t going his way, even beginning to tarnish his otherwise impeccable military career. It is quite scary to think that he could have gotten his way, (if it weren't for President Truman forcing him to back down with the threat of court martial), not to mention the antics of the US Administration during the Cuban Missile Crisis - only hours away from making a decision unleashing irreversible havoc upon the earth. Chernobyl and the beaches of Northern Scotland are still unable to be visited by tourists since the fall out of nuclear power stations in recent decades.
Doesn’t it make you irate, that these highly educated, excessively privileged and often hereditarily appointed ‘upstanding citizens’ have the power to destroy your life? That we are their slaves? Is the need to safeguard society from the inevitable advent of ungovernable savagery that sweeps the planet from time to time enough to justify the nuclear risk?
Anti-terrorist legislation thus far seems to have empowered self-serving governments, such as hunting out resources and supply routes in the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan . Its use has also extended to encroaching upon the ordinary citizenry as was demonstrated in the 300 manned police surveillance in New Zealand in 2007 upon 17 Maori activists so as to spread their own wrath of fear upon those not willing to conform to their colonised system. Also in London, when terrorists harboured in the capital city from the countries of Albania and Algeria were all sent home after their home governments provided their names – London officials only realising later that all were ruthlessly assassinated by the corrupt leadership present in power at the time.
When leaders take counsel of their fears and start shooting wildly, as they did in Iraq, it’s legitimate to question whether they possess the maturity to handle the kinds of weapons they warn others about. Whether it be Bush, Hu Jintao or the President of Iran – what really is the difference about who makes that decision upon your destiny at the end of the day? If Iran must relent in accordance with International laws, then why shouldn’t the US and the other permanent members of the UN Security Council as well? Indeed, we are so far off global democracy it is not funny. There is no second amendment right against the bomb either.
The true reason is power. Pure, unadulterated, money oriented domination over one another. Possessing 12,000 nuclear weapons, all with pin point accuracy rockets, does the US really need to take the plunge and despite the Iraqi debacle go into a nuclear non-proliferation war with Iran ?
Israel never claimed to have possession of any bombs until word of their arsenal of over 150 weapons was leaked by a former nuclear worker back in 1981. With Russia holding similar numbers to America , and the UK and French several hundred each, Japan is the only Security Council Member that has fully renounced the possibility of developing its own nuclear arsenal because they are the only ones to know its full effects! Will it take a similar lesson for the other nations to follow suit? When will our world’s leaders shelve their stratagems towards everyone’s mutually assured devastation?
Fortunately Barack Obama recently invited almost 50 nations to discuss nuclear non-proliferation at a meeting in Washington D.C. It will be interesting to see what transpires, especially since US General David Petraeus has already prepared ‘contingency plans’ regarding Iran’s refusal to accept a deal offered by the UN Security Council to keep tabs on their uranium enrichment program. (Such technology for the development and running of a nuclear power station are very similar to nuclear weapon making – so it doesn’t take very long for an actual bomb to be forged.) Let’s hope that Obama’s foreign policy of diplomatic discourse can sort out some sort of consensus with the the rest of the world's leaders not to metion the representatives of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran ’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: Lest we find ourselves with another Iraqi debarcle in our midst…
These world leaders need to realise their responsibility extends not just to our present and future generations whose very survival they hold in their hands, but to the countless generations that came beforehand and all the sacrifices they made to give us this chance today...
Because, well, these gloriously paradisical islands still known as Tinian and Saipan are far more fun being used as snorkling, gambling and tax havens, and a day out exploring the island by bike than strategic military sites with the power to completely annihilate every ecological system known to man...
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