Hiroshima — war crime or not?

65 years on, with the United States having finally decided to commemorate the bombing, the historica

Lots of the papers today are filled with news stories about the 65th anniversary of the world's first atomic bomb attack, on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. There has been much discussion of how, for the first time, a representative of the United States -- Ambassador John Roos -- decided to attend. The United States is, of course, the nation that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima in 1945, making it the only country on earth to have used nuclear weapons against another nation.

Two pieces in particular caught my eye. First, the report by the Independent's acclaimed war correspondent Robert Fisk, on the front page of that paper, in which he writes:

On the surface, it's all very simple. Most of us seem to believe the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a war crime. I certainly do. The Japanese were already talking of surrender. That Caesar of British historians, A J P Taylor, quoted a senior US official. "The bomb simply had to be used -- so much money had been expended on it. Had it failed, how would we have explained the huge expenditure? Think of the public outcry there would have been . . . The relief to everyone concerned when the bomb was finished and dropped was enormous."

I agree with Fisk (and with A J P Taylor!). I still can't quite understand how defenders of the US decision to nuke those two Japanese cities can argue, in good conscience, that it wasn't a war crime. To use atomic bombs to literally incinerate hundreds of thousands of men, women and children? If that's not a war crime, then what is? And even if we were to accept that the nuclear strikes were somehow unavoidable, and the only way to end that horrific war and prevent further (largely American) casualties, would that then make them morally correct and permissible? Since when do the ends justify the means?

So I was interested also to read the leader in the (paywall-protected!) Times which was, I assume, written by Oliver Kamm, an ardent apologist for the US strike on Hiroshima. The Times leader says:

The bombings of Hiroshima and, three days later, Nagasaki were a terrible act of war. But they were no crime . . . It seems incredible, but even the destruction of Hiroshima was not enough to force the Japanese cabinet to accept that the war was lost. The xenophobic fanaticism of a powerful constituency within it believed that Japan should resist till the literal extinction of its people. Recent research by Sadao Asada, a historian at Doshisha University, demonstrates beyond reasonable dispute that only the use of the A-bomb -- at Nagasaki as well as Hiroshima -- enabled the "peace party" within the cabinet to prevail . . . President Truman, who ordered the bombings, insisted that his decision had shortened a war and prevented huge casualties. The historical evidence strongly suggests that he was right.

Despite the one-sided view ("beyond reasonable doubt") presented by the Times leader writer (Kamm?), the fact is that an intense historical debate continues to rage over whether or not the use of the A-bomb by the Americans was necessary to end the war in the Pacific. Revisionist historians such as Gar Alperovitz argue that the US political and military leadership knew the bombs were unnecessary, other than to make a geopolitical point about postwar American primacy, because, as the US Strategic Bombing Survey put it in 1946, "in all probability" Japan would have surrendered even without them.

I'm not going to get into the details of the complex, historical debate here. But I will leave you with these quotations, courtesy of Doug Long:

GENERAL DWIGHT EISENHOWER
(Supreme Commander of Allies Forces in Europe)

". . . the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing."

Ike on Ike, Newsweek, 11/11/63.

GENERAL DOUGLAS MacARTHUR
(Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers in Japan)

MacArthur biographer William Manchester has described MacArthur's reaction to the issuance by the Allies of the Potsdam Proclamation to Japan: ". . . the Potsdam declaration in July, demand[ed] that Japan surrender unconditionally or face 'prompt and utter destruction'. MacArthur was appalled. He knew that the Japanese would never renounce their emperor, and that without him an orderly transition to peace would be impossible anyhow, because his people would never submit to Allied occupation unless he ordered it. Ironically, when the surrender did come, it was conditional, and the condition was a continuation of the imperial reign. Had the general's advice been followed, the resort to atomic weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki might have been unnecessary."

William Manchester, "American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964", pg. 512.

ADMIRAL WILLIAM D LEAHY
(Chief of Staff to Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman)

"It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons.

"The lethal possibilities of atomic warfare in the future are frightening. My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children."

William Leahy, "I Was There", pg. 441.

JOHN McCLOY
(Assistant Secretary of War)

"I have always felt that if, in our ultimatum to the Japanese government issued from Potsdam [in July 1945], we had referred to the retention of the emperor as a constitutional monarch and had made some reference to the reasonable accessibility of raw materials to the future Japanese government, it would have been accepted. Indeed, I believe that even in the form it was delivered, there was some disposition on the part of the Japanese to give it favourable consideration. When the war was over I arrived at this conclusion after talking with a number of Japanese officials who had been closely associated with the decision of the then Japanese government, to reject the ultimatum, as it was presented. I believe we missed the opportunity of effecting a Japanese surrender, completely satisfactory to us, without the necessity of dropping the bombs."

McCloy quoted in James Reston, "Deadline", pg. 500.

HERBERT HOOVER
(former President)

". . . the Japanese were prepared to negotiate all the way from February 1945 . . . up to and before the time the atomic bombs were dropped . . . if such leads had been followed up, there would have been no occasion to drop the [atomic] bombs."

Quoted by Barton Bernstein in Philip Nobile, ed., "Judgment at the Smithsonian", pg. 142.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.