New Delhi, August 6, 2020: Let’s run an interesting psychological test. Suppose we’ll talk about the subject of terrorism. Which are the most prominent terror attacks that instantly come to mind?
Obviously, it’s the September 11, 2001 attacks.
What else comes to mind? 2019 Pulwama attack, right? What else? 2008 Mumbai attacks. 1993 Bombay blasts. 2019 suicide bombings in Sri Lanka. 1972 Munich massacre.
Also, there are the 2002 Bali bombings. 2004 Madrid train explosions. 2015 Paris attacks. 2006 Mumbai train blasts. 1985 Air India plane bombing…
These are among the most barbaric attacks that come to mind. They aptly qualify as the worst and most disgusting acts of terrorism that we’ve known in terms of the number of innocent people killed; the brutal and spectacular manner in which they were carried out; and the cultural impact they’ve had worldwide.
If a list of 100 were to be drawn up in which terror attacks were to be listed on the basis of the number of innocent civilians killed, then there’s a certain twin terror attack that will easily be No. 1 on that list.
In fact, the casualties from those twin attacks are way higher than the combined casualties from all the other 99 terror attacks put together on that hypothetical list of 100.
You would have already guessed it by now: it’s the 1945 Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombings. Rather, the Hiroshima-Nagasaki “terrorist attacks” – which they are not called for reasons we will explore here.
In 12,000 years of human civilisation, it’s the only ever instance of atom bombs being dropped on civilian populations.
BOMBINGS VS. TERRORISM
America’s decisions to drop a uranium bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and a plutonium bomb on Nagasaki three days later on August 9 easily qualify as the two biggest terrorist attacks of all time.
The two attacks together killed up to an estimated 200,000 innocent civilians in the two Japanese cities. The exact numbers are not known even today, such was the extent and depth of the damage from the two nuclear attacks.
Yet, despite the numbers saying so, popular opinion somehow never sees the Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombings were “terror attacks” or “terrorist strikes”. Instead, the global narrative remembers them only as “bombings”.
So, the million-dollar question is: why don’t the Hiroshima-Nagasaki attacks qualify as acts of “terrorism”?
Everybody slams America for being the only country to drop nukes on another country’s civilians. Yet, nobody puts the perpetrators in the same bracket as that of, say, Al-Qaeda, Islamic State, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Tamil Tigers, Boko Haram, Maoists, Taliban, Muslim Brotherhood, Babbar Khalsa, People’s War Group, Hamas, Hezbollah, Khmer Rouge, PLO, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Haqqani Network, and so on.
Why do the criminal acts on Hiroshima-Nagasaki get that special privilege of not being clubbed with other terror attacks? Why this special honour?
Is it because the “terrorists” in this case were – American nationals?
Is it because the “terrorist commander” who ordered the attacks was American President Harry Truman?
After all, these nuclear bombings were carried out by the US military, with the scientific and research support from the British and the Canadian governments.
Remember the Manhattan Project? Well, that was a clever and geeky name for what actually turned out to be a blatant “terrorism project”. A project in which the US, Britain and Canada worked together, to terrorise and wipe out the populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
SHAPING WHAT WE THINK
It is often said that what we think is actually what our environment makes us think. If we were to look around and search for answers, we will find that the ‘information environment or apparatus’ that shapes popular thinking and contemporary culture has consistently been referring to the 1945 attacks as “bombings” and never as “terror” attacks.
We ran a Google search with the terms “Hiroshima Nagasaki” to see what shows up. We also visited a number of highly popular information domains and checked out the exact words they use to describe the 1945 attacks.
The results showed a consistent pattern. Be it popular news media or well-known search engines and websites, the Hiroshima-Nagasaki attacks are always described as “bombings” and are never compared or bracketed with terror strikes.
Here’s taking a look at a few case studies: basically some screenshots.
Well, any argument that the Japan nuke bombings were not “terror attacks” but only wartime action doesn’t hold water. World War II had been drawing towards a much-awaited close by the time the Japan mission was launched. The US took the sheer audacious step to drop two nuclear bombs on a faraway civilisation, targeting mostly civilians in order to force Japan to hurriedly surrender.
Clearly, there’s nothing subjective about the Hiroshima-Nagasaki attacks. It was a one-sided guerilla attack. The innocent civilians of Hiroshima and Nagasaki hadn’t provoked America. And they didn’t deserve it when death fell from the skies in 1945.
WHO SETS THE AGENDA?
We now come to the crux of the problem. The perpetrators of the greatest “terror attacks” ever cannot be called “terrorists” because they are the ones who decide upon who to be called a “terrorist” and who to be called a “warrior”.
America is arguably the most powerful empire of our times. And the most powerful empire will obviously be the most influential one. Influential in terms of setting the world view; setting the global agenda; setting the narrative.
What and how you and I will think, what kind of world view we should have, who we identify as our allies and who we dread as our enemies – it’s the empire of our times that decides. And that empire is America. How dare we call them “terrorists”?
It’s not that the American empire is not critical of its illegal misdeed and misadventures. But it does so in a subtle way. Empire has a savvy fleet of spin doctors or (dis)information warriors who establish milder interpretations of America’s sheer acts of terror.
For example, the Hiroshima-Nagasaki terror attacks are described as “bombings”; the terror sweep in Iraq is called an “invasion”; a similar wave of terror in Afghanistan is dubbed “occupation”; the terror-laced toppling of elected governments in South America is called “covert operations”; the acts of financial terrorism against Iran and Russia are called “economic sanctions”, and so on.
It’s all about the jugglery of words. That’s the power of empire: shaping the narrative through the art and craft of wordplay to redefine criminal acts of the state.
An interesting example is worth a mention. There was a time when the American press used to project Osama bin Laden as a “warrior” when the Soviets had to be chased out of Afghanistan. Yet, many years later, the same US media targeted Laden as a “most wanted terrorist” following the disgusting 9/11 terror attacks in America.
CHOMSKY: CRIMINAL ACTS OF THE STATE
In this context of labelling state-backed crimes against humanity as terrorism, it is relevant to revisit a famous 1970s discussion between Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault – two of the greatest thinkers of our time and among the sharpest critics of state-driven hegemony.
The discussion held under the topic ‘Human Nature’ was a controversial debate that was hosted in the Netherlands in November 1971.
During that debate, Chomsky – a lifelong critic of America’s foreign policy – rakes up the sensitive subject of criticising the state over acts that should be deemed illegal by the public.
He argues that if the state commits an act that it itself considers legal but that the public considers illegal, then it becomes “obligatory behaviour” for the public to stop the state’s illegal act. The argument from Chomsky can be seen here.
The National Park Service in the US has a section of its official website that is dedicated to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Japan. In that section, there’s a gut-wrenching paragraph that gives a vivid account of what happened right after the first bomb was dropped:
“The temperature near the blast site reached 5,400 degrees Fahrenheit (2,980 degrees Celsius). The sky seemed to explode. Birds ignited in midair; asphalt boiled. People over two miles away burst into crumbling cinders. Others with raw skin hanging in flaps around their hips leaped shrieking into waterways to escape the heat. Men without feet stumbled about on the charred stumps of their ankles. Women without jaws screamed incoherently for help. Bodies described as boiled octopuses littered the destroyed streets. Children, tongues swollen with thirst, pushed floating corpses aside to soothe their scalded throats with bloody river water.”
That description of Hiroshima shortly after the explosion pretty much sums up the intensity of terror that the people have had to face.
It’s not that this issue is not debated at all. This New Statesman article from 2015, for example, explores this subject and raises direct questions. But such discourses are too infrequent or rare to shape public opinion.
How long will the world continue to call the dropping of ‘Little Boy’ on Hiroshima and ‘Fat Man’ on Nagasaki by US warplanes mere “bombings” and not the greatest “terrorist attacks” in the history of the human race?
How long will empire get away with this jugglery of words? How long? Will empire continue to fool all of us, all the time?
(The above article is an Empire Diaries opinion piece.)