A local fellow recently told me he was a WWII history buff. He assured me that the atomic bombs the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were needed to end the war and save millions of lives. When I asked if he knew who William Leahy was, he did know that Admiral Leahy was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the end of WWII. But this fellow had no idea what Leahy said about the use of the atom bombs.
Admiral Leahy wrote, "The use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. ... 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 wars in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children." [emphasis added]
I grew up in the U.S., went to public school, and I learned about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Whatever I read or heard, I am very sure that I never heard such opinions as those of Admiral Leahy, or the similar views of General Eisenhower.
Like many Americans, subtly I learned to deny and turn away from unpleasant realities. Perhaps every nation (and every person) tends to ignore unpleasant facts. We naturally incline toward comfortable explanations. But I wonder if we don't do this more than others -- to our serious detriment. As evidence grows which contradicts our beliefs, we're forced to choose: to consider it or else to deny more (first to ourselves, then to others).
For me, it was while learning about 13 years of U.S./UN economic sanctions on Iraq that I came to seriously question the morality and legality of U.S. policies.
Remarkably, the sanctions began on August 6, 1990, exactly 45 years to the day after Hiroshima. Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire said, "Sanctions are the economic nuclear bomb." August 6 of each year marks the start of the use of a weapon of mass destruction against civilians. And, although less noticed than a mushroom cloud, sanctions have killed many more.
In just the first eight months of 1991, 46,900 Iraqi children died excess, preventable deaths from water-borne diseases like cholera, dysentery, and diarrhea, doctors from Harvard and Johns Hopkins reported in The New England Journal of Medicine. The unsafe drinking water was due to U.S. bombing of Iraq's electrical plants, leaving no electricity to pump and process water or sewage.
This report came out several months before Bill Clinton became president. Like every politician, public figure, and news editor who might learn of these facts, Clinton had to confront them. In a major interview he hinted at lifting the sanctions, then, within 24 hours, reversed himself. He must have learned or been reminded that the U.S. wanted to cause enough suffering to precipitate regime change. The epidemics and famine the UN warned us about were, in fact, tools of our policy.
Why does this matter now?
First, it matters to our psychological and spiritual health that we had so little concern over causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. Second, we could have realized that such a policy removed any incentive for President Saddam Hussein to disarm, since Secretary of State James Baker had stated that we would keep sanctions until he was gone.
If our politicians, pundits, and news editors had been willing to confront the evidence, they could have said what I said two months before the invasion of Iraq: that U.S. policy has always been about regime change, never about weapons of mass destruction. And they could have known -- as did those of us who knew the reality of the sanctions