On August 6, 1945, Hiroshima was destroyed by the first atomic bomb used in warfare. Three days later, President Truman began a pattern of lies that characterized the nuclear age.

But another lie also emerged from World War II, when the kind of bombing we see today–from the air, on urban centers and civilian populations–was first done regularly, on a large scale.  The lie is that bombing is an effective, reasonable and legitimate method of waging war, whereas there are other despicable and illegitimate acts committed by uncivilized and ruthless enemies, called terrorism.

The truth is that bombing is terrorism, and it always has been.    

As Norman Solomon recently reminds us, the immense explosion at Hiroshima was followed by an immense lie. On August 9th, President Truman told the Amercan people:

“The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, in so far as possible, the killing of civilians.”

Solomon continues:

Actually, the U.S. government went out of its way to select Japanese cities of sufficient size to showcase the extent of the A-bomb’s deadly power — in Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and in Nagasaki on Aug. 9. As a result of those two bombings, hundreds of thousands of civilians died, immediately or eventually. If Truman’s conscience had been clear, it’s doubtful he would have felt compelled to engage in such a basic distortion at the dawn of the nuclear era.

In fact, Hiroshima had no military bases, and had not been bombed before–one of the principal reasons it was chosen for the A-bomb, so its destructive power would be more obvious to the Japanese and clearer for Americans studying those effects. It was considered a “safe city” to the extent that some parents in California who were forced into internment camps, sent their children to the safety of Hiroshima. So the victims of the U.S. atomic bomb likely included American children.

Truman’s was the first of many lies of the nuclear era, including the initial lies about the effects of radiation. Some 75,000 people died in Hiroshima from the blast and fire of the Bomb. Five years later, radiation effects more than doubled the dead, to some 200,000. The vast majority of those who died from the Nagasaki bomb were from radiation, months and years later.

But the biggest lie is not about the atomic bomb, but the very practice of bombing. The facts show (as described in Sven Lindqvist’s A History of Bombing and Gerard DeGroot’s The Bomb: A Life, among other works) that the effect of bombing cities is not a strategy of war but a strategy of terror, and that it doesn’t work.

The idea of this kind of bombing is not to kill enemy combatants or destroy military bases, but to destroy the population’s will by terrorizing them with the threat of random death and destruction. Although the idea of this kind of bombing is now apparently acceptable, it is relatively new in the history of warfare.

 While many nations experimented with it, especially imperial powers who bombed restless colonies, it was first used as a policy by the British in World War II in Germany. It did not result in a revolt of the German people against its government. The U.S. followed in its bombing campaign against Japan, at first aimed at military and industrial support targets, but eventually using saturation bombing against cities. It was the failure of this campaign to terrorize the Japanese population into submission that led to the decision to use the atomic bomb.

As Gerard DeGroot points out, when We (whoever We are) drop bombs, it is to destroy the enemy’s capability to fight–the logic that says if you are going to destroy the enemy’s tanks, then destroy the factories that build the tanks, and kill the people who work in those factories. But when They bomb Us, using the same logic, it is brutal, indiscriminate killing. “The difference is contrived–a matter of perspective. Indiscriminate bombing means killing civilians for the sake of attrition–the killing is the object.”

But it isn’t only attrition, and in less than the kind of total war that World War II was, it is more obviously aimed at terrorizing the enemy population. Hezbollah fires bombs into Israel to terrorize the population, hoping to eventually win concessions or ultimately to destroy the state of Israel. Israel fires bombs into Lebanon to destroy rocket implacements but also to terrorize the population into not supporting Hezbollah, either by allowing them to operate out of their neighborhoods or by supporting them politically. The strategy in both cases is the attrition of terror.

Argument on the morality of targeting civilians in war go back hundreds of years. All too ironically, the first known code that forbade the killing of non-combatants was promulgated by Abu Hanifa, a legal scholar in Baghdad. Western powers adopted a double standard: war between “civilized” European nations would be conducted in this civilized manner. But war against lesser peoples was total war, against the population as well as combatants. Primitive people were not only lesser, but more easily frightened by western technology’s advances in explosives and methods of delivering them. World War II ended even these distinctions.

Now bombing is normal, and far from being the last resort, it is often the first option. Nations use it now because it is cheaper, and since no troops are endangered, there is no grumbling at home about the loss of life. Bombs of all kinds constitute a thriving business. In use, they have a very brief productive life before it’s time to buy more. And there’s plenty to chose from. Small groups can plant various kinds of bombs along roads or in parked vehicles, or use suicide bombers. Larger organizations can use bombs attached to small rockets. Nations can use bombs with sophisticated targetting capabilities, launched on rockets or fired from ships or dropped from airplanes. Long range missiles with thermonuclear weapons are still pointed at the U.S. and Russia.

From the smallest to the largest-yield weapons, bombs are instruments of terror. They sever the limbs of children, burn babies alive, destroy homes that send families into a tailspin of poverty, wreck the urban infrastructure that makes daily life possible, and send millions of traumatized people wandering into nightmare through the piles of broken homes and schools and hospitals, shards of bone, crushed bodies, smoldering flesh, hot twisted metal and clouds of toxic smoke, because they are supposed to. This is what bombs are for.

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