14 12 2014

music:  Christy Moore, “Hiroshima Nagasaki Russian Roulette“(lyrics)

From time to time, I find myself telling somebody that the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not necessary, and often as not I am met with the rejoinder that the attacks “saved American lives.”  I’ve been meaning to explore that reasoning for a while, but recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, New York City, and Cleveland and Dayton Ohio, to name just four examples, have brought the subject to the fore, and I think that going into this meme in some depth, and tracing its history both backwards and forwards from 1945, might just raise somebody’s consciousness besides mine–which, as those who know me well will attest, needs all the elevation it can get.

The historical record seems to indicate that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks were, in fact, entirely superfluous.  The Japanese had been begging for peace terms for months.  But let’s assume  that when the United States nuked those two Japanese cities in August of 1945, American lives were saved by sacrificing Japanese lives.  Which Japanese lives were lost?  And which American lives were saved?

The Japanese who died were, by and large, non-combatants–women, children, and older men.  These people may or may not have been supportive of the Japanese war effort.  They were civilians, subjects of a government that had long ago insulated itself from the influence of its citizens’ opinions. By contrast, the Americans whose lives were allegedly spared by the use of atomic weapons were soldiers, individuals who had indicated a willingness to die for their country, if need be.  And, by the way, they were mostly white guys.  The equation that resulted in the only wartime use of atomic weapons was an equation that valued the lives of white warriors over the lives of dark-skinned civilians.  At least 225,000 non-combatants were killed in these attacks, in order to save an estimated 450,000 American lives, the military’s guess at the human cost of invading Japan–a country that was largely out of food, fuel, raw materials, and weapons, and whose government was actively seeking an end to the war.  Smells like U.S. propaganda to me, but there you have it–one Japanese civilian’s life (either sex, any age) was calculated to be worth the lives of two (male, probably white) American soldiers.

This is right in line with the assumptions our culture has been running on right from the start, and right in line with the assumptions it still runs on.  The lives ofunnamed white males are most important, and most worth protecting.  At the time the Constitution was written, “We, The People of the United States,” when it came to voting and running for office, referred to white, male property owners. I have to wonder–when Republicans advocate “returning to the original meaning of the Constitution,” is this what they’re really talking about? Some things have changed since the 1790’s, but white males are still widely considered to have a right to do as we see fit in order to feel safe.  We are more likely to get away with abusing our wives and children.  We can attack uppity people of color and, more often than not, do so with impunity. Let’s not forget that the Second Amendment–the one about militias and the right to keep and bear arms–was included so that those “militias” would be available to put down slave rebellions–i.e., summarily execute African-Americans who objected to being enslaved.

In 1850, there were 3.2 million slaves in America, about half male and half female.  That’s 1.6 million male slaves. According to one source, about 40% of the male slaves were adults, giving a total of approximately 840,000 adult African-American male slaves.  In 2006, there were 846,000 African-American men in jail, on probation, or on parole.  Yes, Virginia, the number of African-American men enmeshed in our criminal justice system today is greater than the number of African-American men who were slaves in 1850. The difference is that, in 1850, those 840,000 represented about 88% of the African-American male population, while today that percentage is much smaller–more like 4%.  The percentage of white males under supervision of the criminal justice system is….about 0 .6%.

“Gee, why are white guys so much more law-abiding than African-Americans?” We’re not.  It’s about who’s enforcing the laws, and which laws they’re choosing to enforce.  More on that a little later.  But the ones who only go to jail are the lucky ones.  That flamingly radical newspaper, USA Today, reports that police killed an average of 96 African-Americans a year between 2007 and 2012, and that doesn’t take into account independent operators like George Zimmerman.  By contrast, in the twenty-year period between 1882 (apparently the first year such statistics were gathered) and 1902, there were an average of 92 African-Americans lynched per year.  More African-Americans killed by police, usually, for low-level crimes or none at all, than were lynched by mobs in an average year in the late 19th century.  What progress!  And sure, there are ten times more African-Americans now than there were then, but the similar numbers do have an odd ring, don’t they?

music: Billie Holiday–Strange Fruit

And what kinds of crimes prompted these killings, in which the mob, in the 19th century, or a policeman, in the 21st, decided that someone had done something so heinous, or presented such a clear and present danger, that they needed to be executed on the spot, without benefit of a judge and jury?  Just a few of the reasons for lynching in the 19th century:  acting suspiciously, quarrelling, insulting a white man/woman, throwing stones, demanding respect.  In the 21st century, “acting suspiciously” seems to be the big winner.  In Ferguson, Michael Brown scared a policeman.  In Dayton, Ohio, John Crawford was killed in a chain store when he picked up a BB gun from the shelf and started walking to the checkout counter with it, apparently with intention to buy.  In Cleveland, 12-year old Tamir Rice had a BB pistol in his hand, and the policeman who answered the 911 call shot him dead without asking questions.

That one strikes close to home for me.  When I was twelve, in 1960, one of my favorite things to do was “play World War II.”  I would take my toy rifle and go out in the park near our home, where I would duck behind logs, slither through the underbrush, and shoot imaginary “Japs” or “Germans” just like the GI heroes of the comic books I read. Sometimes I played with other kids in my neighborhood, sometimes I played alone. I was white and wandered the back part of some pretty big, wild parks, but if I had been African-American, and a policeman had spotted me, I might not be here today.

And then, of course, there’s the recent case in New York, where the police killed Eric Garner for the heinous crime of selling cigarettes.  The grand jury didn’t indict any of the cops who overreacted to Garner, but did indict the guy who filmed the murder.  Look, I know cigarettes are  dangerous, but if you wanna take somebody down for cigarettes, go after Philip Morris, OK?  That corporate person is the real villain here!

Just three years ago, the big example of the New York police killing somebody and getting away with it was Kenneth Chamberlain, a former Marine and prison guard, retired, who accidentally set off his life-aid pendant.  Somehow the 911 ambulance call turned into the police storming his apartment and shooting him dead.  There have been no indictments in that case, either.  So, being a senior citizen and accidentally setting off your 911 call button is a reasonable cause for summary execution.  Hey, all my fellow senior citizens–better toe the line, especially if you’re black!

TMW2014-12-03colorPerhaps I’m jumping around a bit too much here.  What happened between the lynchings of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the bombing of Hiroshima, and summary police executions of African-American men in the late 20th and early 21st centuries that links them?

For one thing, racial separation was built into the law of the land.  The Supreme Court’s Plessy vs. Ferguson decision, upholding “separate but equal” treatment of the races was handed down in 1896, as a 7-1 decision.  One of the judges who upheld racial segregation was Edward Douglass White (!), who was a member of the…

Crescent City White League,… a paramilitary organization that had supported white supremacy with violence through the 1870s to suppress black voting and regain political power by white Democrats.

Cities all across the country  used zoning to maintain racial segregation and allowed racial covenants to be written into real estate contracts, and the federal government did essentially the same thing.  When Roosevelt formed the Federal Housing Administration in the 1930’s, as a concession to get the bill passed, racial segregation was written into FHA rules and loan policies.  In the long term, this helped lead to the huge difference between white and black wealth in America, as whites’ net worth increased as their homes’ value ballooned, while African-Americans just had to pay more rent, and were thus less able to save money to buy homes or send their children to college. Those “separate but equal” neighborhoods were separate, all right, but not equal.  Cities provided fewer services, from trash collection to parks and school funding, to African-American areas.  It was we white folks who used our political power to put blacks at a disadvantage every way we could, and who then spread the memes of “lazy black folks” and “welfare queens,” but the truth was that it took all the running an African-American could do just to not fall behind quite so fast.

Orientals fared no better.  According to one source,

Discriminatory laws passed during the early l900s denied the Japanese the right to become citizens, to own land, and to marry outside of their race. In addition, they could not buy homes in certain areas and were barred from jobs in certain industries. Some could only send their children to segregated schools, and in 1924, immigration from Japan was halted altogether.

In fact, America as a whole in the 1930s was a place of little tolerance toward people of color. Institutional racism prevented many of them from living in places of their choice or moving about in society at will. Many unions prohibited them from membership. Employers routinely barred Asians and African-Americans from choice jobs. Native Americans lived on reservations in poverty, ignored.

Chinese immigration had already been stopped by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, but the 1924 immigration act went further.  Not only did it end Japanese immigration to the United States, it essentially turned off Lady Liberty’s lamp and closed her golden door, largely prohibiting anybody who was not from north-western Europe from immigrating to the U.S.  In 1952, revisiting these policies after World War II, Congress enacted some largely symbolic changes, but essentially left the “whites only” immigration policy of 1924 intact.

During World War II, Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast were forced to liquidate their assets, often for pennies on the dollar, and moved to detention camps.   While some Germans in America had to deal with internment, our fellow white folks were not treated with the same disdain as the Orientals.  A 1948 reparations law was largely symbolic, featuring such zingers as this:

… failure to produce any documentary records demanded by the government was punishable by a $10,000 fine and five years imprisonment. Victims who had already lost thousands of dollars and several years of liberty to the federal government did not rush to take advantage of the offer. Those who did make claims often received compensation far below actual loss.

A less draconian reparations program did not come until the late eighties, when Congress granted the princely sum of $20,000 to each person who had been interned.

How can we be sure the motivation for the removal of all Japanese from the U.S. Pacific coast was motivated by race prejudice, and not by genuine security considerations?  Here’s a quote from Lieutenant General John L. Dewitt, who headed the U.S. Western command at the time:

I don’t want any of them [persons of Japanese ancestry] here. They are a dangerous element. There is no way to determine their loyalty… It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen, he is still a Japanese. American citizenship does not necessarily determine loyalty… But we must worry about the Japanese all the time until he is wiped off the map.

Given the prevalence of attitudes like that (President Roosevelt signed off on Japanese removal after reading Dewitt’s memo, which was labelled “top secret.”), it’s easy to see why nobody in the U.S. military had any serious qualms about wiping Hiroshima and Nagasaki off the map.

I think that I have given a pretty good overview of how pervasively racist American society really is, although I haven’t even touched the way in which the wealthy classes encouraged racism as a way to divide the poor and set them fighting each other instead of uniting against the wealthy, nor have I looked at the spectrum of “isms” that racism is part of–such “isms” as sexism, nationalism, and speciesism.  That will have to wait..  The discrimination that African-Americans are protesting in Ferguson, and elsewhere, is not some figment of their imaginations, nor is it something they have brought on themselves.  A society is racist by dint of many individuals in that society having a racist mindset, and these individuals will be widely distributed, turning up in the schools, the political institutions, and the police departments, among other places.  It is the police bias, and the consequent mistreatment of African-Americans that bias engenders, that has sparked the current round of protests.  The question, then, is:  what can be done to transform racist thinking, which is all too often subconscious, to the point that even people who think they are not racists exhibit prejudice?

How pervasive is racism?  I took a test designed to measure subconscious racial bias, and, much to my surprise, I am strongly biased.  I live in a mostly African-American part of town, and the only people who have ever given me trouble here have been white.  Food for thought.  One student of this phenomenon, Keith Payne of the University of North Caroline at Chapel Hill, suggests

you can do something very simple to fight prejudice: Trick your brain….By deliberately thinking a thought that is directly counter to widespread stereotypes, you can break normal patterns of association. What counts as counterstereotypical? Well, Payne’s study found that when research subjects were instructed to think the word “safe” whenever they saw a black face—undermining the stereotypical association between black people and danger—they were 10 percent less likely than those in a control group to misidentify a gun in the Weapons Identification Task.

I’m going to try that next time I go to my local grocery store.  Changing the world, one mind at a time, beginning with my own…..14

music: Gregory Porter–1960 What?

meanwhile, back to the big picture.

At a “deep green” level, the orientation of the police needs to change.  While they are paid by us, the people, they are hired by governments that are, all too often, subservient to corporate interests, and used to enforce laws that protect corporate interests, rather than being cast as peace officers and public servants whose job it is to help keep things peaceful by resolving problems, and who should view arrest, let alone violence, as the last and least desirable option, not the first.  From a “deep green” perspective, peace officers should be members of the communities they serve, people who know their neighbors and their neighborhood, who regularly participate in community activities as community members, not just as enforcers and authority figures.

Absent such a revolution, there are active programs to help police recognize and overcome their subconscious biases.  One such program is called “Fair and Impartial Policing.” It addresses not overt, conscious racism, but subconscious racism–not what we think, but the matrix that forms our thinking.  Part of what makes it effective is that it presumes the good will of those it addresses.  It has gotten good marks from most of the people who have taken the “course,” and is endorsed–and being implemented–by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Another DOJ-supported effort is The Center for Policing Equity, which addresses policing techniques rather than attitudes, changing the way police operate so that, for example, adrenaline-charged officers are not making life-and-death decisions about the person they have been chasing.

Changing some policemens’ attitudes about the people they deal with won’t change the way police are used to protect corporate interests, but there’s an interesting corollary to the research that’s been done on subconscious bias:  reducing subconscious bias increases creativity, and if there’s anything we as a species need to meet the challenge of our deepening crisis, it is creative thinking.  Peace officers who think creatively are more likely to question their roles as upholders of corporate hegemony, and the only thing that might end corporate hegemony before it results in total societal collapse iswhat happened in the Soviet Union/Eastern Bloc collapse in 1991, when those whose duty it was to enforce the will of their superiors lost faith in those superiors and the wisdom of their orders, and just walked away from upholding an old order that no longer functioned.  One mind at a time changes, but nothing seems to change, until a certain critical mass accumulates, and then everything changes, and nobody saw it coming.

There’s no point in being pessimistic.  The future hasn’t happened yet.

music: Mothers of Invention Trouble Comin‘ Every Day



9 responses

14 12 2014

This is an excellent commentary, Martin. Thanks.

15 12 2014

Great essay. Thanks. There seems to be a prevalent, underlying issue of separation from one’s fellow man. Hopefully, it will become harder to do in the future with more pangs of consciousness that cries out, “We’re all in this together.”
Personally, I don’t like the moniker of “African American.” It’s again a way of creating separation form the rest of the plain old “Americans” and if they’re African-American, I’m Euro American or, more precisely, Irish/German American. Let’s just be Americans ans leave it at that.
Race should never be mentioned accept in some straightforward description of someone. It has no bearing on anything but the power it’s been given; the power to separate. Once again, Leadership 101, divide and conquer; create a decoy enemy.

15 12 2014

Thank you, Elizabeth!

15 12 2014

Thank you, Elizabeth!

15 12 2014

Thanks, Caz. I agree, race is a semantic fiction, not a meaningful genetic distinction. That’s another I just didn’t have time to squeeze into this–also the way prejudice is based in a preference for “people who look like me” and how easy it is to have a narrow mindset about that–only people who look and sound like they’re from NW Europe, in my case. I need to broaden my concept and recognize that everybody looks like me, dammit!

2 01 2015
Ben Ennen-Falsch


Interesting and factually informative article. There is no doubt that though all men (and women) may be created equal in America equality does not extend past creation (and that includes even in the womb).

I agree with you and Caz that race is a “semantic fiction”.

If race is fiction then how can racism be fact? Isn’t that flawed logic?

By calling someone who believes in race a racist rather than simply ignorant aren’t we lending credibility to fiction? We don’t call people in foil hats “space-invaderists” do we? By calling someone who acts on another a racist shouldn’t we better be calling that person ignorant followed by arsonist, murderer, the t word, child abuser, serial brute, opportunist, and a host of others that might apply to individual behavior?

I’m somewhat surprised not by the facts in this article but by the conclusions reached and the omission of some facts that might create a more holistic picture and point towards other conclusions.

Western civilization as arranged and practiced by the ruling class since classical times is dependent on opportunistic exploitation of the weak in service of the dominant. You can not be “rich” (at least in the twisted sense of the pervasive understanding of what “rich” means) without exploiting others.

The “racist” history of America is simply ruthless opportunism on the parts of the powers at be and ignorance on the part of their collaborators . Yes darker skinned native Americans were eradicated by lighter skinned Europeans. Yes darker skinned Africans were enslaved by lighter skinned Europeans. The question is why?

I think it should be noted that from Britain to India those practicing grain agriculture eradicated native populations as they made their way out of the Caucasus. Very few cultures were assimilated. Genetics and linguistics both support these facts.

Native Americans like Native Europeans did not welcome the idea of giving up their traditional livings nor access to the intact land that provided these livings in favor of accepting positions of servitude.

The reason why the American south and the Caribbean was populated by African slaves (as opposed to white “criminals”) has largely to do with the climate and the immense value sugar played in keeping alive the white slaves of industrial England. It was Cornish, Germans and other northern Europeans who worked in the mines.

The Saxons were exploited by the Normans. The Irish in turn by these Norman/Saxon British. The “rebellious” white farmers of the American revolution were crushed by the new American government.

We must remember that the entire World War II was as likely a contrived false necessity as the nuclear bombing. In light of that it should be clear then that all of the suffering, death and destruction emanated from a single source. This means that viewing the war through the common nationalistic narrative or now racism couldn’t be more wrong. The dead Americans and Japanese are causalities of the same side don’t let the fact that they killed each other in the moment of death obscure that.

A few more key facts for a clearer understanding:

Pearl Harbor was not a surprise.

The immediate destruction and suffering caused by the nuclear bombs on Japanese cities was a drop in the bucket compared to the firebombings which preceded.

The “white warriors” of World War 2 America were about 10 percent black and less than 40% voluntary (and they didn’t draft the Generals..).

Many democratic minded European resistors were systematically murdered by the United States or its proxies after the war.

Nuclear technology has harmed many and will harm many more. The nuclear technology body count did not begin or end in World War 2 Japan.

I can’t agree that the use of nuclear weapons on Japan was racist. I think your own facts suggest that ignorance both to the reality of the conflict at that point and to reality in general (in what is called nationalism) justified these horrible acts in the minds of the American people. I don’t know what the justification of the ultimate decision makers was nor who those decision makers were. I don’t believe those decision makers acted out of racism nor do I see any evidence to suggest that.

More on nationalism needs to follow I think if we want to honestly probe the meaning, existence, legitimacy, value and/or purpose of artificially imposed means of creating exclusivity, justifying the unjust, and dividing our inter-being of which nationalism (Caz: is saying we are all Americans that different than saying we are all whites as it applies to excluding and setting the stage for the devaluing of the excluded?) and racism are both obscuring.

It should be said that humans like our closest relations in the animal kingdom seem to be clannish by nature. Our scientific survival is dependent, it would seem, largely if not totally on the family unit (which is people organized by loyalty to those who look, communicate and act like themselves) on one extreme and by a great diversity of peoples (because we are not all the same we are not rendered extinct or permanently enslaved). I believe a peaceful, just and honest balance can be struck although I admit I am still very much in the fog.

4 01 2015

Great rant, Ben! Here’s the answer to your question

If race is fiction then how can racism be fact? Isn’t that flawed logic?

Here’s how it looks to me:
One of the chief functions of the human brain is to note differences and make decisions based on those differences and the experiences associated with them. One set of differences to notice is the color of other humans’ skin. That’s why, even though race is a concept, not a reality, racism is a fact. Make sense?

5 01 2015
Ben Ennen-Falsch


I understand what you are saying. I have to maintain that technically speaking if race does not exist then neither can racism exist.

I left out a couple of points I meant to include on WW2:

Many white civilians starved in Europe after World War 2. The food they needed was readily available in North America but was instead used to feed animals for the profitable U.S. meat market.

Civilian deaths in Europe seem to have far exceeded those in Japan. Numbers vary but low estimates of only ethnic German dead between 1946-50 are placed at 3 million and high estimates exceed 10 million.

Over a million rank and file German prisoner’s of war were deliberately starved (by American orders and oversight) in concentration camp style conditions after the war was over.

Perhaps it is just me but it seems like if you take racism out of the picture you start to see a pattern.

The pattern is extermination of the common people – japanese, chinese, american, german, russian, etc – north american, asian, african, european – yellow, black, white, brown, red – athiest, christian, jew, shintoist, taoist, etc.

One could argue that by believing that evil visited on “Japanese” people in World War 2 or “blacks” on America’s streets is the result of racism would not only technically make someone a racist (in the sense of believing in race) but also would make a person a racist because they live their life certain in the belief that these types of things don’t happen to white people when they clearly do. When these things happen to white people we call it something different than racism.

As a man of the ’60’s era you saw plenty of abuse of black Americans. That was racism right?

You also saw Kent State and the like abuses on mostly white Americans. What was that? If Kent State happened at Grambling and the students were black what would you call it?

In my lifetime there was the Move house in Philadelphia. Racism right?

There was also the raid in Waco, Tx. What was that? If those people were black what would you call it?

6 01 2015

Good questions, Ben.
I hadn’t heard of the starvation of German POW’s, mostly heard of them being semi-released over here to do farm work, since so many of our farm laborers were over there, and hey, they couldn’t exactly escape and get back behind German lines from this side of the Atlantic, could they?

My response to your point about the saturation bombing of German cities by the Allies, as well as German bombing of civilian populations and slaughter of Jews is that it was due to another “ism” that’s just as pernicious as racism–nationalism–although the Nazis regarded the Jews as a separate, inferior “race.” Those people may be our fellow palefaces, but they’re not “us.” Tribal exclusivity plus high tech equals mass genocide.

Many white civilians starved in Europe after World War 2. The food they needed was readily available in North America but was instead used to feed animals for the profitable U.S. meat market.

This, I think, had as much to do with cultural norms as anything–Europeans and Americans alike expect a meat-based diet. The folks involved in this are guilty of ignorance, I think, as much as anything.

Kent State, et al, were about the exploitive corporatist culture defending what it perceived as its right to exist. Corporatism–another one of those pernicious isms, along with racism, nationalism, sexism, and speciesism…Similarly, the WACO raid was about making an example of the Branch Davidians–wholesale armed secession from the mainstream culture will not be tolerated, any more than The Farm’s attempt at peaceful, unarmed secession was tolerated. And, by the way, I thought what David Koresh and friends were doing was pretty creepy, but it didn’t justify killing them all.

Ken Wilber has some excellent writing on the relationship between societal/individual levels of consciousness and the likelihood of exclusionary attitudes such as racism, etc. It’s been a while since I read him, but if you dig around, it’s a compelling explanation, at least for me!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: