Posts Tagged 'nuclear weapons'

When the leaders speak of peace … Co-opting the Anti-Nuclear Movement

As Brecht wrote:

When the leaders speak of peace
The common folk know
That war is coming.
When the leaders curse war
The mobilization order is already written out.

Monthly Review MRzine July 22, 2010

Co-opting the Anti-Nuclear Movement

By Darwin BondGraham

No medium of propaganda is as powerful and effective as film.  Think of the classics, the most notorious efforts to sway the public with the electrifying and collective passion of cinema: racial apartheid was justified in the US with Birth of a Nation.  The Soviets glorified their revolution with The Battleship Potemkin.  Then there was Triumph of the Will.

A typical propaganda film tugs at emotions and invokes fears.  It invokes dark threats to “the people,” and it offers up solutions extolling state and corporate power.  Unlike a political documentary it will not criticize the state or corporations.  Instead it will celebrate great men as our leaders and saviors.  Distinct from a run-of-the-mill political documentary, a propaganda film butchers the complexity and contradictions that permeate politics and real life, presenting things in simplistic moral terms.  Functionally, propaganda is mobilized to secure popular support for a primary, often hidden agenda that is not apparent in the film’s narrative.  Propaganda is a tool used by elites to secure the consent of the masses, channeling their anxieties.

Now hitting theaters is one of the most dangerous propaganda films produced in decades.  Countdown to Zero “traces the history of the atomic bomb from its origins to the present state of global affairs.”  A promotional blurb on the film’s web site claims that it “makes a compelling case for worldwide nuclear disarmament, an issue more topical than ever with the Obama administration working to revive this goal today.”

Before I go any further in explaining Countdown as a propaganda film I should note that not all propaganda need be the product of a secretive and manipulative council of elites behind some curtain.  Instead, the many contributors to Countdown and its promotional efforts have different motivations and intentions.  What makes this film a coherent piece of propaganda is its medium, style, and likely effects on the US political climate.  There are powerful actors who will use it for nefarious ends.

On its surface Countdown to Zero is about nuclear disarmament, but deeper down the film is making a very specific case that isn’t about disarmament at all.  Its political function will prove to be quite different.  Countdown is joining a suite of political campaigns and other propagandistic efforts, the point of which is to build support for increased US spending on nuclear weapons, as well as a more belligerent foreign policy, based around Islamophobic depictions of “terrorists” and “rogue states.”  Countdown is likely to be used by hawks to drum up support for military action against Iran, North Korea, and other states that would dare to transgress the current near-monopoly that a handful of states have on the bomb.

To understand how this is possible, one has to break through the simplistic and moralizing presentation of issues in the film and its promotional materials, and explore the complex political situation into which it is being launched.

The first and most important thing to understand is that the Obama administration does not have a disarmament agenda.  Because the entire moral thrust of the film rests on this notion, it’s important to dispel it right off the bat.  Obama and his military advisers have made their nuclear ambitions abundantly clear on multiple occasions.

The administration’s Nuclear Posture Review in no significant way changed the nuclear force structure or use doctrines.  The NPR makes it abundantly clear that US national security is founded on the nuclear “deterrent” and that no one in government will seek to reduce the role of nukes in the foreseeable future.

The recently negotiated New START treaty does not significantly cut the US and Russian arsenals.  In fact the treaty language secures an allowance for US “missile defense” programs as well as the “prompt global strike” weapons system while consolidating the US stockpile and reaffirming existing strategic agreements with Russia that are about balance.  As noted by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the irony here is that the Senate’s possible ratification of New START is premised on the Obama administration’s pledge to fund US nuclear weapons programs upwards of $180 billion over the next ten years, something even George W. Bush could not accomplish.  The down payment for the next fiscal year includes a $624 million surge in nuke spending, for a total of $7.01 billion.  The administration foresees spending more than $1 billion each year to refurbish and upgrade existing warheads and bombs.  To support New START requires accepting these huge infrastructural and programmatic investments in nuclear weapons, far into the future.

To put it more simply, the debate in Washington revolves around two camps fighting over how large an increase in nuclear weapons spending there will be.  At this point in time all agree on expending billions more.  All agree on building a new plutonium pit factory, a new uranium processing facility, a new components factory, and five other major capital projects in the nuclear weapons complex to extend the US nuclear enterprise half a decade or more into the future.  Most agree on procuring a new class of nuclear equipped submarines.  Most agree on new ballistic missiles.  Everyone seems to be fine with upgrading warheads and bombs.

Some conservatives are uncomfortable with the cosmetic cuts to the stockpile that will be made under the auspices of New START.  Senate Republicans have circled their wagons to demand greater funding increases in consideration of ratification, and given all of the agreements they have with the Democrats and the Obama administration over expanding the weapons complex, they are actually correct.  In order to carry out this bi-partisan nuclear arms buildup, quite a bit more than a $1 billion per year boost (at its peak) will be needed for the NNSA‘s budget, especially as inflation eats into the real value of future year budgets.

Determining the future of the US nuclear weapons complex is a tricky balancing act for the foreign policy elite because it is embedded in a larger set of much more important goals.  The overriding goal of foreign policy for the United States, with respect to nuclear weapons, is to maintain control of nuclear weapons and materials.  Forget lofty ideas like disarmament.  Lofty moral oughts only matter with respect to the realpolitik of geo-strategy (and this is where Countdown comes in, as we shall see).

To elite strategists who will decide at the end of the day, the power of nuclear weapons only matter within, and comprise a small part of, a much greater geopolitical game.  Henry Kissinger made this very point in 1957 with his first book, the subject being the role of nuclear weapons in US foreign policy.  Controlling resources, energy supplies, and access to geo-strategic regions for US corporations and allies is the primary goal of US foreign policy, and this requires a stable imbalance of powers, with the US the weightier.

Nuclear weapons are problematic today because they remain a necessary means of overpowering other nations and intimidating foes, but they have also become a liability as other states threaten to go nuclear in order to restore balance to a unipolar world.  A blatant display of American hypocrisy is seen as a major weakness for the maintenance of American power by liberal imperialists like Obama.  Conservatives like Senator Jon Kyl would rather just avoid soft power altogether and stick to a hard-nosed defense policy.

This is why US policy with respect to Iran seems so disjointed and paralyzed.  Iran possesses immense energy resources, it straddles a region of geo-strategic importance, and its influence and power is growing.  For US elites, Iran must be controlled at all cost.  A nuclear Iran would make this much, much more difficult.  Regime change is the goal, just like in Iraq.  Nonproliferation as an end in itself seems to offer the most justifiable reason for using force and “rebuilding” nations (remember that it was the reason given for the 2003 invasion and ongoing occupation of Iraq).  But with its Bush-era reputation of seeking new nukes, liberals fear, the United States can hardly coerce or attack Iran in the name of nonproliferation.  The US being the world’s preeminent nuclear power with no interest in disarming, that would be bald hypocrisy.  But then again the US will not disarm, for this would be anathema to the needs and goals of the foreign policy elite.  What to do?

Into this mix arrives Countdown to Zero and similarly crafted propaganda pieces.  Countdown‘s major achievement is repackaging the strategy of anti-nuclear nuclearism into a sexy and thrilling propaganda film full of special effects and heart-pulsing music.  It will invoke fear of nuclear weapons to justify aggression, war, and the extension of US control over much of the rest of the world.

While the film’s title and a lot of the fanfare surrounding it emphasizes the “zero” message of disarmament, Countdown is actually an alarmist portrayal of dark-skinned men, Muslims, “terrorists,” and other racial or ethnic bogeymen who we are told, over the span of 90 minutes, are seeking nuclear weapons to use against the American people.  A related theme in the film is the demonization of Iran and North Korea which are portrayed as dangerous rogue states with ties to terrorist organizations, and who must be controlled, against whom military action may be warranted — or else.  Or else what?

One of the main “experts” in Countdown to Zero, Joseph Cirincione frames the take home message at the outset by invoking a very post-9-11 Bush administration theme:

“That day changed our sense of security and how we view the world.  We learned how vulnerable we are to the destructive acts of a determined few.  Just think how worse it would have been if the terrorist had nuclear weapons.”

Cirincione is not just any expert.  He is the doyen of the Democratic Party’s NGO apparatus that shapes nuclear weapons policy through foundation funding of grassroots groups and elite policy shops.  Cirincione is president of the Ploughshares Fund.  In spite of its name, Ploughshares’ mission these days actually involves beating ploughs into swords.

Throughout the 1990s, but especially during the George W. Bush years, Ploughshares and its circle of foundations called the Peace and Security Funders Group increasingly narrowed the range of acceptable anti-nuclear activism, while simultaneously ghettoizing the field so that the work of various NGOs became less and less applicable to social justice and economic development issues, and increasingly focused on abstract global problems and hypotheticals, such as the possible use of nuclear weapons.  In the process, discussions of the injustices of the global political economy and how nuclear weapons fit into it were silenced.  Anti-nuclear activism became increasingly specialized, boring, and disconnected from issues that affect people’s everyday lives.  Arms control eclipsed abolition as the rallying cry.  Those NGOs that obeyed the consolidation period survived with funding and access to media, so long as they kissed the ring.

Ploughshares was at the center of it all.  Today the Fund’s priorities are shaped by its board of directors made up of Democratic Party donors, other foundation executives, and liberal academics.  The Fund’s advisers include men like George Shultz, the former Bechtel president who served as Reagan’s Secretary of State, and former Defense Secretaries William Cohen and William Perry.  The last is actually a board member of the for-profit corporations that manage the nation’s two nuclear weapons labs, Los Alamos and Livermore.  You figure it out.

Ploughshares’ adviser and propagandist Jeff Skoll is president of Participant Media, one of the production companies behind Countdown to Zero. The film’s co-producer, the World Security Institute (a major recipient of Ploughshares Fund dollars), tapped its Global Zero project membership to narrate the film through dozens of interviews with the likes of elder statesmen and NGO executives like Cirincione who are very friendly to the Obama administration’s nuclear buildup.

Participant Media is a full service propaganda shop for liberal campaigns, producing both documentaries and dramas.  In addition to the benchmark documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, Participant is responsible for some very excellent and thoughtful films like Syriana, Food, Inc., and The Cove.  And this is where complexity comes in.  Some of the producers and voices featured in Countdown to Zero have wonderful intentions, and all of them are probably genuinely concerned with, and fear, the possible day that nuclear weapons might be used, whether by a state or by a criminal group.  Herein also is the propagandistic danger of Countdown to Zero.

Albert Camus once wrote that “the evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.”  Backed with a lot of foundation money, the producers of Countdown to Zero have paid organizers across the US to do considerable outreach for the film, whipping up interest on Facebook and other social media and generally co-opting the energies and intentions of many anti-nuclear activists.  Countdown premiers July 23 and will be shown in theaters across the US.  Many screenings are being organized by activists whose intentions are unimpeachable, if naive.

What audiences are going to learn from Countdown to Zero is that nuclear weapons are a threat today because the bad guys might get a hold of them.  They’ll learn that al-Qaeda is seeking nuclear weapons, which is their sworn duty; that highly enriched uranium is easy to smuggle; that “we are on the verge of a nuclear 9-11″; that tens of thousands of pounds of uranium are stored under virtually no security around the globe.  In other words they’ll learn that dark scary men, Muslims, “terrorists,” and anarchists are trying to kill them with nuclear weapons, and that nations like Iran and North Korea will gladly assist them.  Their feelings of revulsion for nuclear weapons will be stimulated and channeled against these dark enemies of civilization.

What they’ll learn about US nuclear weapons and policy, if it is discussed in any real and honest depth at all, is that better control and management is needed, a slightly smaller arsenal is desirable.  But mostly they’ll learn to just trust our leaders: everything will turn out alright so long as the proper authorities are in power.  Joseph Cirincione will eagerly explain to audiences that George Shulz, Henry Kissinger, William Perry, and Sam Nunn are hard at work to “secure” our nuclear weapons.  It all sounds great, but the “four horsemen,” as they have come to be known, are actually among the biggest lobbyists for the surge in nuclear weapons spending and the construction of a new US nuclear weapons complex.

In a promotional video attached to the START ratification effort Cirincione urges viewers to “join this patriotic consensus” toward zero.  In a recent op-ed, he has urged Senate ratification of New START, writing, “The statesmanship demonstrated by the Consensus members today could help break the partisan blockade in the Senate and restore America’s leadership on this urgent security challenge.”  The capital C Consensus he’s referring to is a newly formed NGO, created to translate the groundswell of public response they expect from propaganda efforts like Countdown to Zero, into sharp policy programs for government, including aggressive military action against would-be nuclear states, much of it in the name of nonproliferation.  The Consensus for American Security is one manifestation of the platform that many foreign policy elites hope will solve the contradiction in current US nuclear policy.  The mission statement of the Consensus includes, “strengthening and modernizing America’s nuclear security,” because it “is a vital element of protecting the United States and its allies.”

Ploughshares put up the money for The Consensus for American Security . . . an organization dedicated to strengthening and modernizing America’s nuclear security.  Modernizing is not an arbitrary word.  In the current policy debate over the future of the US nuclear weapons complex and stockpile, modernization means a very specific thing.  It means approving the Obama administration’s program to build a pit factory, a uranium processing facility, a components plant, and other billion-dollar capital projects for the weapons complex.  It also means modernizing warheads and bombs by rebuilding them and designing new features.  And it means acquiring new, very expensive platforms like subs, bombers, and missiles.

Members of the Ploughshares Consensus include a predictable list of centrist retired military brass and statesmen, most of whom occupy revolving door positions on other foundation and NGO boards like Ploughshares, and more than a few of whom have links to the military industrial complex: George Shulz, Samuel Berger, Vice Admiral Lee Gunn, and physicist Sidney Drell, all of them strong supporters of US nuclear weapons programs and American empire.

The Consensus’s second mission appears to involve stoking Islamophobia.  A special project of the Consensus, the American Security Project, is a well-funded think tank churning out reports about “al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” and “Are We Winning?  Measuring Progress in the Struggle Against al Qaeda and Associate Movements.”  ASP’s homepage features a photograph of “terrorists” in black masks hauling an American nuclear warhead (a W-76 or W-88 it appears) on a bamboo rickshaw over a wooden bridge toward a waiting van in some distant jungle.

Countdown to Zero is one component of a larger and coherent foundation campaign to stoke up public fears about nuclear weapons for the purpose of extending a near-monopoly on nuclear weapons, and legitimating a more aggressive foreign policy aimed at regime change in Iran and elsewhere.  The consensus behind those who funded and produced the film has little to do with disarmament, and a lot to do with stabilizing the American empire.


Darwin BondGraham is a board member of the Los Alamos Study Group, a disarmament, energy, and economic development organization based in Albuquerque, N.M.  See, also, “The US-Russia START Treaty: Just What Does ‘Arms Control’ Really Mean?” (MRZine, 20 May 2010).

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The Great Hiroshima Cover-Up

Huffington Post

The Great Hiroshima Cover-Up

In the weeks following the atomic attacks on Japan 64 years ago, and then for decades afterward, the United States engaged in airtight suppression of all film shot in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the bombings. This included footage shot by U.S. military crews and Japanese newsreel teams. In addition, for many years, all but a handful of newspaper photographs were seized or prohibited.

The public did not see any of the newsreel footage for 25 years, and the U.S. military film remained hidden for nearly four decades. I first probed the coverup back in 1983 in Nuclear Times magazine (where I was editor), and developed it further in later articles and in my 1995 book with Robert Jay Lifton, Hiroshima in America and in a 2005 documentary Original Child Bomb.

As editor of Nuclear Times in the early 1980s, I met Herbert Sussan, one of the members of the U.S. military film crew, and Erik Barnouw, the famed documentarian who first showed some of the Japanese footage on American TV in 1970. In fact, that newsreel footage might have disappeared forever if the Japanese filmmakers had not hidden one print from the Americans in a ceiling.

The color U.S. military footage would remain hidden until the early 1980s, and has never been fully aired. It rests today at the National Archives in College Park, Md., in the form of 90,000 feet of raw footage labeled #342 USAF. I have a VHS copy of all of it today.

When that footage finally emerged, I spoke with and corresponded with the man at the center of this drama: Lt. Col. (Ret.) Daniel A. McGovern, who directed the U.S. military film-makers in 1945-1946, managed the Japanese footage, and then kept watch on all of the top-secret material for decades.

“I always had the sense,” McGovern told me, “that people in the Atomic Energy Commission were sorry we had dropped the bomb. The Air Force — it was also sorry. I was told by people in the Pentagon that they didn’t want those [film] images out because they showed effects on man, woman and child….They didn’t want the general public to know what their weapons had done — at a time they were planning on more bomb tests. We didn’t want the material out because…we were sorry for our sins.”

Sussan, meanwhile, struggled for years to get some of the American footage aired on national TV, taking his request as high as President Truman, Robert F. Kennedy and Edward R. Murrow, to no avail.

More recently, McGovern declared that Americans should have seen the damage wrought by the bomb. “The main reason it was classified was…because of the horror, the devastation,” he said. Because the footage shot in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was hidden for so long, the atomic bombings quickly sank, unconfronted and unresolved, into the deeper recesses of American awareness, as a costly nuclear arms race, and nuclear proliferation, accelerated.

In 2005, Editor & Publisher (where I am editor) broke the news that articles written by famed Chicago Daily News war correspondent George Weller about the effects of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki were finally published, in Japan, almost six decades after they had been spiked by U.S. officials. But suppressing film footage shot in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was even more significant, as this country rushed into the nuclear age with its citizens having neither a true understanding of the effects of the bomb on human beings, nor why the atomic attacks drew condemnation around the world. The common view abroad, and among many U.S. historians, is that Russia’s entry into the war (long scheduled and carried out on August 8) would have forced a Japanese surrender long before any U.S. invasion took place. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower himself later said it was not necessary to hit Japan “with that awful thing.”

The atomic cover-up also reveals what can happen in any country that carries out deadly attacks on civilians in any war (such as Japan’s policy in China in World War II) and then keeps images of what occurred from its own people.

The Japanese Newsreel Footage

On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb over the center of Hiroshima, killing at least 70,000 civilians instantly and perhaps 50,000 more in the days and months to follow. Three days later, it exploded another atomic bomb over Nagasaki, slightly off target, killing 40,000 immediately and dooming tens of thousands of others. Within days, Japan had surrendered, and the U.S. readied plans for occupying the defeated country — and documenting the first atomic catastrophe.

But the Japanese also wanted to study it. Within days of the second atomic attack, officials at the Tokyo-based newsreel company Nippon Eigasha discussed shooting film in the two stricken cities. In early September, just after the Japanese surrender, and as the American occupation began, director Sueo Ito set off for Nagasaki. There his crew filmed the utter destruction near ground zero and scenes in hospitals of the badly burned and those suffering from the lingering effects of radiation.

On Sept. 15, another crew headed for Hiroshima. When the first rushes came back to Toyko, Akira Iwasaki, the chief producer, felt “every frame burned into my brain,” he later said.

At this point, the American public knew little about conditions in the atomic cities beyond Japanese assertions that a mysterious affliction was attacking many of those who survived the initial blasts (claims that were largely taken to be propaganda). Newspaper photographs of victims were non-existent, or censored. Life magazine would later observe that for years “the world…knew only the physical facts of atomic destruction.”

Tens of thousands of American GIs occupied the two cities. Because of the alleged absence of residual radiation, no one was urged to take precautions.

Then, on October 24, 1945, a Japanese cameraman in Nagasaki was ordered to stop shooting by an American military policeman. His film, and then the rest of the 26,000 feet of Nippon Eisasha footage, was confiscated by the U.S. General Headquarters (GHQ). An order soon arrived banning all further filming. It was at this point that Lt. Daniel McGovern took charge.

Shooting the U.S. Military Footage

In early September, 1945, less than a month after the two bombs fell, Lt. McGovern — who as a member of Hollywood’s famed First Motion Picture Unit shot some of the footage for William Wyler’s “Memphis Belle” — had become one of the first Americans to arrive in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He was a director with the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, organized by the Army the previous November to study the effects of the air campaign against Germany, and now Japan.

As he made plans to shoot the official American record, McGovern learned about the seizure of the Japanese footage. He felt it would be a waste to not take advantage of the newsreel footage, noting in a letter to his superiors that “the conditions under which it was taken will not be duplicated, until another atomic bomb is released under combat conditions.”

McGovern proposed hiring some of the Japanese crew to edit and “caption” the material, so it would have “scientific value.” He took charge of this effort in early January 1946, even as the Japanese feared that, when they were done, they would never see even a scrap of their film again.

At the same time, McGovern was ordered by General Douglas MacArthur on January 1, 1946 to document the results of the U.S. air campaign in more than 20 Japanese cities. His crew would shoot exclusively on color film, Kodachrome and Technicolor, rarely used at the time even in Hollywood. McGovern assembled a crew of eleven, including two civilians. Third in command was a young lieutenant from New York named Herbert Sussan.

The unit left Tokyo in a specially outfitted train, and made it to Nagasaki. “Nothing and no one had prepared me for the devastation I met there,” Sussan later told me. “We were the only people with adequate ability and equipment to make a record of this holocaust…I felt that if we did not capture this horror on film, no one would ever really understand the dimensions of what had happened. At that time people back home had not seen anything but black and white pictures of blasted buildings or a mushroom cloud.”

Along with the rest of McGovern’s crew, Sussan documented the physical effects of the bomb, including the ghostly shadows of vaporized civilians burned into walls; and, most chillingly, dozens of people in hospitals who had survived (at least momentarily) and were asked to display their burns, scars, and other lingering effects for the camera as a warning to the world.

At the Red Cross Hospital in Hiroshima, a Japanese physician traced the hideous, bright red scars that covered several of the patients — and then took off his white doctor’s shirt and displayed his own burns and cuts.

After sticking a camera on a rail car and building their own tracks through the ruins, the Americans filmed hair-raising tracking shots that could have been lifted right from a Hollywood movie. Their chief cameramen was a Japanese man, Harry Mimura, who in 1943 had shot Sanshiro Sugata, the first feature film by a then-unknown Japanese director named Akira Kurosawa.

The Suppression Begins

While all this was going on, the Japanese newsreel team was completing its work of editing and labeling all their black and white footage into a rough cut of just under three hours. At this point, several members of Japanese team took the courageous step of ordering from the lab a duplicate of the footage they had shot before the Americans took over the project.

Director Ito later said: “The four of us agreed to be ready for 10 years of hard labor in the case of being discovered.” One incomplete, silent print would reside in a ceiling until the Occupation ended.

The negative of the finished Japanese film, nearly 15,000 feet of footage on 19 reels, was sent off to the U.S. in early May 1946. The Japanese were also ordered to include in this shipment all photographs and related material. The footage would be labeled SECRET and not emerge from the shadows for more than 20 years.

The following month, McGovern was abruptly ordered to return to the U.S. He hauled the 90,000 feet of color footage, on dozens of reels in huge footlockers, to the Pentagon and turned it over to General Orvil Anderson. Locked up and declared top secret, it did not see the light of day for more than 30 years.

McGovern would be charged with watching over it. Sussan would become obsessed with finding it and getting it aired.

Fearful that his film might get “buried,” McGovern stayed on at the Pentagon as an aide to Gen. Anderson, who was fascinated by the footage and had no qualms about showing it to the American people. “He was that kind of man, he didn’t give a damn what people thought,” McGovern told me. “He just wanted the story told.”

In an article in his hometown Buffalo Evening News, McGovern said that he hoped that “this epic will be made available to the American public.” He planned to call the edited movie Japan in Defeat.

Once they eyeballed the footage, however, most of the top brass didn’t want it widely shown and the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was also opposed, according to McGovern. It nixed a Warner Brothers feature film project based on the footage that Anderson had negotiated, while paying another studio about $80,000 to help make four training films.

In a March 3, 1947 memo, Francis E. Rundell, a major in the Air Corps, explained that the film would be classified “secret.” This was determined “after study of subject material, especially concerning footage taken at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is believed that the information contained in the films should be safeguarded until cleared by the Atomic Energy Commission.” After the training films were completed, the status would be raised to “Top Secret” pending final classification by the AEC.

The color footage was shipped to the Wright-Patterson base in Ohio. McGovern went along after being told to put an I.D. number on the film “and not let anyone touch it — and that’s the way it stayed,” as he put it. After cataloging it, he placed it in a vault in the top secret area.

“Dan McGovern stayed with the film all the time,” Sussan later said. “He told me they could not release the film [because] what it showed was too horrible.”

Sussan wrote a letter to President Truman, suggesting that a film based on the footage “would vividly and clearly reveal the implications and effects of the weapons that confront us at this serious moment in our history.” A reply from a Truman aide threw cold water on that idea, saying such a film would lack “wide public appeal.”

McGovern, meanwhile, continued to “babysit” the film, now at Norton Air Force base in California. “It was never out of my control,” he said later, but he couldn’t make a film out of it any more than Sussan could (but unlike Herb, he at least knew where it was).

The Japanese Footage Emerges

At the same time, McGovern was looking after the Japanese footage. Fearful that it might get lost forever in the military/government bureaucracy, he secretly made a 16 mm print and deposited it in the U.S. Air Force Central Film Depository at Wright-Patterson. There it remained out of sight, and generally out of mind. (The original negative and production materials remain missing, according to Abe Mark Nornes, who teaches at the University of Michigan and has researched the Japanese footage more than anyone.)

The Japanese government repeatedly asked the U.S. for the full footage of what was known in that country as “the film of illusion,” to no avail. A rare article about what it called this “sensitive” dispute appeared in the New York Times on May 18, 1967, declaring right in its headline that the film had been “Suppressed by U.S. for 22 Years.” Surprisingly, it revealed that while some of the footage was already in Japan (likely a reference to the film hidden in the ceiling), the U.S. had put a “hold” on the Japanese using it — even though the American control of that country had ceased many years earlier.

Despite rising nuclear fears in the 1960s, before and after the Cuban Missile Crisis, few in the U.S. challenged the consensus view that dropping the bomb on two Japanese cities was necessary. The United States maintained its “first-use” nuclear policy: Under certain circumstances it would strike first with the bomb and ask questions later. In other words, there was no real taboo against using the bomb. This notion of acceptability had started with Hiroshima. A firm line against using nuclear weapons had been drawn — in the sand. The U.S., in fact, had threatened to use nuclear weapons during the Cuban Missile Crisis and on other occasions.

On Sept. 12, 1967, the Air Force transferred the Japanese footage to the National Archives Audio Visual Branch in Washington, with the film “not to be released without approval of DOD (Department of Defense).”

Then, one morning in the summer of 1968, Erik Barnouw, author of landmark histories of film and broadcasting, opened his mail to discover a clipping from a Tokyo newspaper sent by a friend. It indicated that the U.S. had finally shipped to Japan a copy of black and white newsreel footage shot in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Japanese had negotiated with the State Department for its return.

From the Pentagon, Barnouw learned in 1968 that the original nitrate film had been quietly turned over to the National Archives, so he went to take a look. Soon Barnouw realized that, despite its marginal film quality, “enough of the footage was unforgettable in its implications, and historic in its importance, to warrant duplicating all of it,” he later wrote.

Attempting to create a subtle, quiet, even poetic, black and white film, he and his associates cut it from 160 to 16 minutes, with a montage of human effects clustered near the end for impact. Barnouw arranged a screening at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and invited the press. A throng turned out and sat in respectful silence at its finish. (One can only imagine what impact the color footage with many more human effects would have had.) “Hiroshima-Nagasaki 1945″ proved to be a sketchy but quite moving document of the aftermath of the bombing, captured in grainy but often startling black and white images: shadows of objects or people burned into walls, ruins of schools, miles of razed landscape viewed from the roof of a building.

In the weeks ahead, however, none of the (then) three TV networks expressed interest in airing it. “Only NBC thought it might use the film,” Barnouw later wrote, “if it could find a ‘news hook.’ We dared not speculate what kind of event this might call for.” But then an article appeared in Parade magazine, and an editorial in the Boston Globe blasted the networks, saying that everyone in the country should see this film: “Television has brought the sight of war into America’s sitting rooms from Vietnam. Surely it can find 16 minutes of prime time to show Americans what the first A-bombs, puny by today’s weapons, did to people and property 25 years ago.”

This at last pushed public television into the void. What was then called National Educational Television (NET) agreed to show the documentary on August 3, 1970, to coincide with the 25th anniversary of dropping the bomb.

“I feel that classifying all of this filmed material was a misuse of the secrecy system since none of it had any military or national security aspect at all,” Barnouw told me. “The reason must have been — that if the public had seen it and Congressmen had seen it — it would have been much harder to appropriate money for more bombs.”

The American Footage Comes Out

About a decade later, by pure chance, Herb Sussan would spark the emergence of the American footage, ending its decades in the dark.

In the mid-1970s, Japanese antinuclear activists, led by a Tokyo teacher named Tsutomu Iwakura, discovered that few pictures of the aftermath of the atomic bombings existed in their country. Many had been seized by the U.S. military after the war, they learned, and taken out of Japan. The Japanese had as little visual exposure to the true effects of the bomb as most Americans. Activists managed to track down hundreds of pictures in archives and private collections and published them in a popular book. In 1979 they mounted an exhibit at the United Nations in New York.

There, by chance, Iwakura met Sussan, who told him about the U.S. military footage.

Iwakura made a few calls and found that the color footage, recently declassified, might be at the National Archives. A trip to Washington, D.C. verified this. He found eighty reels of film, labeled #342 USAF, with the reels numbered 11000 to 11079. About one-fifth of the footage covered the atomic cities. According to a shot list, reel #11010 included, for example: “School, deaf and dumb, blast effect, damaged Commercial school demolished School, engineering, demolished.School, Shirayama elementary, demolished, blast effect Tenements, demolished.”

The film had been quietly declassified a few years earlier, but no one in the outside world knew it. An archivist there told me at the time, “If no one knows about the film to ask for it, it’s as closed as when it was classified.”

Eventually 200,000 Japanese citizens contributed half a million dollars and Iwakura was able to buy the film. He then traveled around Japan filming survivors who had posed for Sussan and McGovern in 1946. Iwakura quickly completed a documentary called Prophecy and in late spring 1982 arranged for a New York premiere.

That fall a small part of the McGovern/Sussan footage turned up for the first time in an American film, one of the sensations of the New York Film Festival, called Dark Circle. It’s co-director, Chris Beaver, told me, “No wonder the government didn’t want us to see it. I think they didn’t want Americans to see themselves in that picture. It’s one thing to know about that and another thing to see it.”

Despite this exposure, not a single story had yet appeared in an American newspaper about the shooting of the footage, its suppression or release. And Sussan was now ill with a form of lymphoma doctors had found in soldiers exposed to radiation in atomic tests during the 1950s — or in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In late 1982, I met Sussan and Erik Barnouw — and talked on several occasions with Daniel McGovern, out in Northridge, California. “It would make a fine documentary even today,” McGovern said of the color footage. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a movie of the burning of Atlanta?”

After he hauled the footage back to the Pentagon, McGovern said, he was told that under no circumstances would the footage be released for outside use. “They were fearful of it being circulated,” McGovern said. He confirmed that the color footage, like the black and white, had been declassified over time, taking it from top secret to “for public release” (but only if the public knew about it and asked for it).

Still, the question of precisely why the footage remained secret for so long lingered. Here McGovern added his considerable voice. “The main reason it was classified was because of the horror, the devastation,” he said. “The medical effects were pretty gory. The attitude was: do not show any medical effects. Don’t make people sick.”

But who was behind this? “I always had the sense,” McGovern answered, “that people in the AEC were sorry they had dropped the bomb. The Air Force — it was also sorry. I was told by people in the Pentagon that they didn’t want those images out because they showed effects on man, woman and child. But the AEC, they were the ones that stopped it from coming out. They had power of God over everybody,” he declared. “If it had anything to do with nukes, they had to see it. They were the ones who destroyed a lot of film and pictures of the first U.S. nuclear tests after the war.”

Even so, McGovern believed, his footage might have surfaced “if someone had grabbed the ball and run with it but the AEC did not want it released.”

As Dark Circle director Chris Beaver had said, “With the government trying to sell the public on a new civil defense program and Reagan arguing that a nuclear war is survivable, this footage could be awfully bad publicity.”

Today

In the summer of 1984, I made my own pilgrimage to the atomic cities, to walk in the footsteps of Dan McGovern and Herb Sussan, and meet some of the people they filmed in 1946. (The month-long grant was arranged by the current mayor of Hiroshima, Tad Akiba.) By then, the McGovern/ Sussan footage had turned up in several new documentaries. On September 2, 1985, however, Herb Sussan passed away. His final request to his children: Would they scatter his ashes at ground zero in Hiroshima?

In the mid-1990s, researching Hiroshima in America, a book I would write with Robert Jay Lifton, I discovered the deeper context for suppression of the U.S. Army film: it was part of a broad effort to suppress a wide range of material related to the atomic bombings, including photographs, newspaper reports on radiation effects, information about the decision to drop the bomb, even a Hollywood movie.

The 50th anniversary of the bombing drew extensive print and television coverage — and wide use of excerpts from the McGovern/Sussan footage — but no strong shift in American attitudes on the use of the bomb.

Then, in 2003, as adviser to a documentary film, Original Child Bomb, I urged director Carey Schonegevel to draw on the atomic footage as much as possible. She not only did so but also obtained from McGovern’s son copies of home movies he had shot in Japan while shooting the official film.

Original Child Bomb went on to debut at the 2004 Tribeca Film Festival, win a major documentary award, and debut on the Sundance cable channel. After 60 years at least a small portion of that footage reached part of the American public in the unflinching and powerful form its creators intended. Americans who saw were finally able to fully judge for themselves what McGovern and Sussan were trying to accomplish in shooting the film, why the authorities felt they had to suppress it, and what impact their footage, if widely aired, might have had on the nuclear arms race — and the nuclear proliferation that plagues, and endangers, us today.

Greg Mitchell is the editor of E&P and co-author of “Hiroshima in America.” His latest book is “Why Obama Won.” His email is: gmitchell@editorandpublisher.com

The Biden and Clinton Mutinies

CounterPunch, July 31, 2009

The Biden and Clinton Mutinies

By Alexander Cockburn

Time bombs tossed seemingly casually in the past month by his vice president and his secretary of state disclose president Obama, in the dawn of his first term, already the target of carefully meditated onslaughts by senior members of his own cabinet.

At the superficial level Obama is presiding over an undisciplined administration; on a more realistic and sinister construction, he is facing mutiny, publicly conducted by two people who only a year ago were claiming that their qualifications to be in the Oval Office were far superior to those of the junior senator from Illinois .

The great danger to Obama posed by Biden’s and Clinton’s “time bombs” (a precisely correct description if we call them political, not diplomatic time bombs) is not international confusion and ridicule over what precisely are the US government’s policies, but a direct onslaught on his presidency by a domestic Israeli lobby that is so out of control that it renders ridiculous Obama’s puny attempt to stop settlements–or to curb Israeli aggression in any other way.

Take Joe Biden. Three weeks ago he gave Israel the green light to bomb Iran, only to be swiftly corrected by his boss. At the time it seemed yet another,somewhat comical mile marker in a lifetime of gaffes, perpetrated in the cause of self-promotion and personal political advantage.

But Biden’s subsequent activities invite a darker construction. In the immediate aftermath of Obama’s Moscow visit, the air still soft with honeyed words about a new era of trust and cooperation, Biden headed for Ukraine and Georgia, harshly ridiculing Russia as an economic basket case with no future. In Tbilisi he told the Georgian parliament that the U.S. would continue helping Georgia “to modernize” its military and that Washington “fully supports” Georgia’s aspiration to join NATO and would help Tbilisi meet the alliance’s standards. This elicited a furious reaction from Moscow, pledging sanctions against any power rearming Georgia.

Georgia could play a vital, enabling role, in the event that Israel decides to attack Iran’s nuclear complex. The flight path from Israel to Iran is diplomatically and geographically challenging. On the other hand, Georgia is perfectly situated as the take-off point for any such raid. Israel has been heavily involved in supplying and training Georgia’s armed forces. President Saakashvili has boasted that his Defense Minister, Davit Kezerashvili and also Temur Yakobashvili , the minister responsible for negotiations over South Ossetia, lived in Israel before moving to Georgia, adding “Both war and peace are in the hands of Israeli Jews.”

On the heels of Biden’s shameless pandering in Tbilisi, Secretary of State Clinton took herself off to Thailand for an international confab with Asian leaders and let drop to a tv chat show that “a nuclear Iran could be contained by a U.S. ‘defense umbrella,’” actually a nuclear defense umbrella for Israel and for Egypt and Saudi Arabia too.

The Israel lobby has been promoting the idea of a US “nuclear umbrella” for some years, with one of its leading exponents being Dennis Ross, now in charge of Middle Eastern policy at Obama’s National Security Council. In her campaign last year Clinton flourished the notion as an example of the sort of policy initiative that set her apart from that novice in foreign affairs, Barack Obama.

From any rational point of view the “nuclear umbrella” is an awful idea, redolent with all the gimcrack theology of the high cold war era, about “first strike”, “second strike”, “stable deterrence” ,“controlled escalation” and “mutual assured destruction”, used to sell US escalations in nuclear arms production, from Kennedy and the late Robert McNamara(“the Missile Gap”) to Reagan (“Star Wars”).

Indeed, as one Pentagon veteran remarked to me earlier this week, “the Administration’s whole nuclear stance is turning into a cheesy rerun of the Cold War and Mutually Assured Destruction, all based on a horrible exaggeration of one or two Iranian nuclear bombs that the Persians may be too incompetent to build and most certainly are too incompetent to deliver.”

The Biden and Clinton “foreign” policy is: 1) to recreate the same old Cold War (with a new appendage, the US versus Iran nuclear confrontation) for the same old reasons: to pump up domestic defense spending; and 2) to continue sixty years of supporting Israeli imperialism for the same reasons that every president from Harry to Dubya (perhaps barring Ike) did so: to corner Israel lobby money and votes. Regarding the latter, Obama did the same by grabbing the Chicago-based Crown and Pritzker family money very early in his campaign and by making Rahm Emanuel his very first appointment (the two are hardly unrelated).

So right from the start Obama was already an Israel lobby fellow traveler. The Mitchell appointment and the toothless blather about settlements were simply cosmetic, bones tossed to the increasing proportion of the American electorate that’s grossed out by the ethnic cleansing of the Arabs from the Holy Land. Obama does have a coherent strategy: keep the defense money flowing and increasing, but without making so much noise as the older generation did about ancient Cold War enemies (e.g. Russia and Cuba). The F-22 — to date, the one and only presidential issue on which he’s shown any toughness at all — is in no sense a departure from keeping the money flowing, since he is indeed increasing the defense budget, in part by using the F-22 cancellation to push spending on the even worse F-35 and to hide his acquiescence to all the other pork in the Congressional defense budget.

The window for any new president to impose a decisive change in foreign policy comes in the first three months, before opposition has time to solidify. Obama squandered that opportunity, stocking his foreign policy team with tarnished players such as Ross. As the calculated indiscretions of Biden and Clinton suggest, not to mention the arrogance of Netanyahu and his political associates, the window of opportunity has closed.

Would it have been that hard to signal a change in course? Not really. Obama could have excited the world by renouncing the Bush administration’s assertion, in the “National Defense Strategy of the United States” of 2002 — preserved in its essence in ensuing years — of the right and intention of the United States to preëmptively attack any country “at the time, place, and in the manner of our choosing.” As William Polk, the State Department’s middle east advisor in the Kennedy era, wrote last year: “As long as this remains a valid statement of American policy, the Iranian government would be foolish not to seek a nuclear weapon.”

But Obama, surrounded with Clinton-era veterans of NATO expansionism and, as his Accra speech indicated, hobbled with an impeccably conventional view of how the world works, is rapidly being overwhelmed by the press of events. He’s bailed out the banks. He’s transferred war from Iraq to Afghanistan. The big lobbies know they have him on the run.

Hence Biden and Clinton’s mutinies, conducted on behalf of the Israel lobby and designed to seize administration policy as Obama’s popularity weakens. When the results of the latest Rasmussen presidential poll were published, showing Obama’s declining numbers, there were news reports of cheering in Tel Aviv. And remember two useful guiding principles: first, it is impossible to overestimate the vanity of politicians, particularly of Joe Biden. Maybe he secretly entertains some mad notion of challenging Obama in 2012, propelled by Israel Lobby money withheld from Obama. Maybe Bill is reminding HRC that he reached the White House in 1992 partly because the Israel lobby turned against George Bush Sr. Second principle: there is no such thing as foreign policy, neither in democratic governments nor in dictatorships. As Thalheimer’s Law* decrees. All policy is domestic.

t’s time to talk about Israel’s nukes, and ours, too

San Francisco Chronicle, November 30, 2007

t’s time to talk about Israel’s nukes, and ours, too

Lew Butler

Many months ago Israel’s Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, let slip a reference to Israel’s nuclear weapons. While it embarrassed him, it was no surprise to the rest of the world. It has been known for decades that Israel has nukes. Estimates are that there are probably as many as 200 in the Israeli arsenal, including thermonuclear (hydrogen) ones.

What is surprising is that there is almost never any public discussion in the United States, and certainly none in the White House or the Congress, about these weapons. Is there any understanding between Israel and the United States, its principal source of military aid, about their use? If so, does the understanding cover “no first use,” similar to the policy advocated in the United States at the height of the Cold War? What would the United States do if Israel were ever under an attack that might lead it to a nuclear response? Has the United States ever talked with Israel about its refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty? For Israel, are the weapons more of a danger to its security than a defense?

These have always been critical issues but are doubly important now that the United Nations, with strong U.S. support, is putting intense pressure on Iran not to develop the capacity to produce nuclear weapons. Iran is responding that under the nonproliferation treaty, to which it is a party, it has the right to develop nuclear power, and that is all that it is doing. But, as was the case with India and Pakistan, eventually Iran will probably justify having nuclear weapons on the grounds that its sworn enemy, Israel, has them. Now an already tense situation has become worse with Israel’s unacknowledged Sept. 6 air attack on a supposed Syria nuclear installation, and the call by some hawks in this country for U.S. raids on Iranian nuclear facilities.

There is, of course, a long history of nuclear tensions in the Middle East. In 1981, Israel bombed Iraq’s nuclear reactors to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. After the Persian Gulf War, in the 1990s, U.N. inspectors spent nearly seven years in Iraq inspecting its nuclear facilities. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s decision to expel those inspectors began the series of events that led to the United States invading Iraq on the premise that it had weapons of mass destruction. Now, if Iran continues to develop its nuclear capacity, a whole new crisis would develop if Israel tried to destroy Iran’s reactors as it did the Iraqi ones and, presumably, the Syrian installation.

The unspoken basis for U.S. policy about Israel’s nukes seems to be that we don’t want our enemies to have such weapons but we don’t worry as much if our friends, like Israel, Pakistan and India, have them. As for our enemies, the negotiations in North Korea and Libya show that even a “hard line” U.S. administration is willing to offer significant financial and other benefits to persuade them to give up their nuclear ambitions. When, as in the case of Iran, such bribes are not apt to work, then we are willing, more so than our European allies, to exert pressure and even contemplate military action.

Moreover, the U.S. stance toward the nuclear ambitions of others is inconsistent with and discredited by our own refusal to live up to our obligations under the nonproliferation treaty. Under that treaty, signatory nations with nuclear weapons agreed to reduce their arsenals to a minimum, and ultimately eliminate them entirely, in exchange for other signatory nations not acquiring such weapons. Even that strangest of nations, North Korea, had enough respect for the nuclear nonproliferation treaty to announce publicly it was withdrawing from the treaty in order to develop its nuclear capacity. But the United States has never come close to getting down to the minimum level contemplated when we signed the treaty. The U.S. arsenal is estimated at some 5,700 active nuclear weapons with nearly 4,000 in “reserve.”

Clearly, the Bush administration is not going to talk publicly about our understanding, if any, with Israel about its nuclear weapons. And no member of Congress is rushing to get into a subject as politically delicate as this one. That leaves it to those of us in private life to begin the debate, for the sake of the United States and Israel.

We can start with the danger posed by nuclear weapons in an increasingly destabilized Middle East. We can acknowledge that any nuclear arsenal might be the target of terrorists. We can look back to how close we came to a catastrophic nuclear exchange at the time of the Cuban missile crisis. And we can remind ourselves that no subject is too sensitive for public debate when the risk is the horror that use of even one nuclear weapon would trigger.

Lew Butler is chairman emeritus of the Ploughshares Fund.


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