Daily Grind
May 1, 2009 1:13 AM   Subscribe

On April 28, Clifford May, president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracy, was interviewed by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. It was about torture. The interview lasted three times longer than what was eventually aired, but the full-length video is online and quite fascinating, if a bit shouty. Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Mr. May noted at the end that this was the "best conversation" he has had about torture on any of the various news shows that have interviewed him in the past.

Interestingly, during the interview Jon Stewart opined that former President Truman was a war criminal for dropping the atomic bombs on Japan. This is not a new debate.
posted by Scattercat (74 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
By the way, On the daily show today Stewart apologized for calling Truman a war criminal and said he immediately thought "that was a dumb thing to say" as he was saying it.

I think it's debatable if Nuking Japan was really necessary. I think Japan had actually been willing to come to a negotiated surrender, but not the unconditional surrender the U.S. demanded.

On the other hand, we were still at war with japan, and bombing/nuking in a way that creates a lot of collateral damage isn't the same as torturing someone who has no way to fight back.

Finally, I love the fact that the guy from the "Foundation for defense of democracy" thinks the government should be able to indefinitely detain without charges and torture it's own citizens. It's not technically undemocratic, since democracy at it's most base is simply the dictatorship of the mob, but generally we associate modern democracy with other enlightenment values that were contemporary with it's emergence.
posted by delmoi at 1:23 AM on May 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


On the other hand, we were still at war with japan, and bombing/nuking in a way that creates a lot of collateral damage isn't the same as torturing someone who has no way to fight back.

The firebombing of Dresden, on the other hand . . .
posted by The World Famous at 1:46 AM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


unbelievable that stewart doesn't think anyone should be prosecuted. i wish someone with a more well-thought-out position (like, say, glenn greenwald) would have taken on the abhorrent cliff may.

it's becoming clear that this and other instances of torture occurred as a means of providing rationales to connect up 9/11 and iraq than to prevent any pending attacks -- there's still nothing anyone can point to that was prevented by torture (library tower nonsense has been thoroughly debunked by tim noah at slate). but we lose part of our humanity in even having to debate its efficacy because that should not matter.

if there is no investigation and/or prosecution of these clear violations of law, then i think it's safe to say that the rule of law is on its deathbed, especially as it applies to the politically powerful. unless it involves consensual sexual activity out-of-marriage.
posted by Hat Maui at 2:04 AM on May 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm disappointed in Stewart, but there isn't a twenty-second clip from that that doesn't make me want to slap May across the face and not stop until the men in the white coats show up. Just crazy angry.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:06 AM on May 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


delmoi: "By the way, On the daily show today Stewart apologized for calling Truman a war criminal and said he immediately thought "that was a dumb thing to say" as he was saying it."

Listening to the interview, I thought that was a ballsy thing for Jon to say. I'm a little dissapointed that he retracted, though. Truman was, is and always will be a war criminal because of what he did. Jon was spot on when he suggested there was a better way to do things.

That said, Jon is still my hero. He's an incredibly intelligent, articulate guy, who handles himself well in these sort of interviews, and his views align very closely with my own.

And that said, I'm getting a little bored of watching these interviews. Jon so easily dispatches anyone on the Right, it's a little like a blood sport these days. I still enjoy watching these wing nuts get taken down, don't get me wrong. But when you start watching one of these Stewart Vs. Loud Mouthed Right Winger interviews, having seen essentially the same interview (just with a different victim) several hundred times before, you know how its going to end, and that's where it gets, just a little, boring.

Still, gotta say, thanks for posting this.
posted by Effigy2000 at 2:08 AM on May 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


"But what about Hiroshima" is Clifford May acknowledging that torture is an indefensible war crime and trying to divert attention from that fact. It's the war crime apologist version of "but what about polygamy, or man-goat marriage?"
posted by dirigibleman at 2:11 AM on May 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


I think Cliff May had some iSnort before the show.
posted by zardoz at 2:27 AM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


STEWART: Our moral compass. Let me show you it.
posted by louche mustachio at 2:31 AM on May 1, 2009


The fact that high-profile, educated people on the right are willing to go on the Daily Show and try to argue with Jon Stewart and attempt to justify their most extreme positions is a real testament to just how much of the Kool-Aid has been drunk by the few educated people who remain in prominent positions in the right-wing establishment. They really, truly believe that they can score points and make a rational argument. They are not thinking all along that they are really pulling one over on the world -- they really believe they are right, so much that they are totally blind to the ridiculousness of their argument. They get clobbered one after the other on a comedy show, and yet they keep on coming.
posted by The World Famous at 2:33 AM on May 1, 2009 [7 favorites]


...there isn't a twenty-second clip from that that doesn't make me want to slap May across the face and not stop until the men in the white coats show up.

I would be willing to do everything in my power to delay the white coat men so that you can get more of this very important slapping done.
posted by louche mustachio at 2:36 AM on May 1, 2009 [7 favorites]


Thanks for the post. These things need to be said, and I'm glad someone like Jon Stewart is saying them.
posted by YouRebelScum at 2:37 AM on May 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Truman was, is and always will be a war criminal because of what he did.

And so would FDR with his approval of LeMay's shift to the mass firebombing of Japan's cities in early 1945. IMHO there's not a damn bit of difference between the two.

AFAIK the Allies didn't put the Luftwaffe officers responsible for the terror-bombing of the Warsaw, Rotterdam, the Blitz, the V-1 attacks, nor the V-2 attacks on Antwerp and London on trial because it was tacitly understood that the Hague Conventions on bombardment had been abandoned by 1941. This abandoning of the Hague Conventions was not a "war crime".

Just as the ethology of reciprocity strongly suggests to me that we should not treat enemy combatants any different from how we expect our combatants to be treated, neither the Germans nor the Japanese have any standing to complain about how the Allies wound up the war in 1944-45.

The Deutschen Volke unfortunately had a mass-murderer seize power and attempt to terror bomb the UK into surrender. I can't condemn Churchill, Harris, or the UK people for wanting to return the favor.

The Japanese people were similarly put into a difficult place. We ended up killing ~500,000 civilians and two million military, while they managed to kill around 20 million Chinese.

There was nothing to be gained by showing any humanity to the Japanese in 1945, not after their treatment of their conquered territories -- specifically British Burma, the Dutch East Indies and the Philippines became known to the Allies. The only way that war was going to end was their surrender to our terms.

Now, back on topic, we are not there yet with our ongoing conflict with militant islam, and, frankly, IMHO, the continued existence of the State of Israel as it is not is not worth us going there. We need more humility and humanity in our public diplomacy, and Abu Ghraib and the CIA torture gulag arguably set us back in this effort.

Unlike 1945, this is a generational struggle and we can still really bodge this up by fighting the wrong battles.
posted by mrt at 2:45 AM on May 1, 2009 [18 favorites]


I actually made my comment before watching the clips. I happened to see TDS tonight so I thought I would mention the bit about Stewart taking what he said about Truman back

unbelievable that stewart doesn't think anyone should be prosecuted. i wish someone with a more well-thought-out position (like, say, glenn greenwald) would have taken on the abhorrent cliff may.

That struck me too. I mean, I'm not really clear what Stewart thinks. I'm not really sure he's thought it through either. If there are no prosecutions, then there is no way to really prevent it in the future.

The other problem is that Stewart is not a details guy, and when you're debating someone disingenuous you really need 'em. He doesn't seem to realize there are two parts to the Geneva conventions, some of which govern captured prisoners who are not soldiers of conventions signing enemies.

Also Cliff May is all over the place with these false dilemmas. As if you have to be totally one thing or the other, he literally thinks you have to support "tough tactics" or be for not imprisoning anywhere for anything or else your being "logically" inconsistent. It's absurd.

These neocons, whenever you listen to them they have a peculiar way of arguing their points. They almost always argue their positions as if they are trying to win some kind of emotional/rhetorical game. To trap the other person into agreeing to some kind of rhetorically uncomfortable implication of their own arguments. Its so stupid.

Their argumentational style has nothing to do with whether or not their ideas are good, or whether the world would be a better place if they were implemented or tried, it's only about how whether or not they can make their sparring partners say something uncomfortable or whatever.
posted by delmoi at 2:49 AM on May 1, 2009 [5 favorites]


May must have read the redacted versions of the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, because he sure as hell wasn't talking about the ones that I read. That, and his constantly trying to minimize the severity of the tortures ("one night without sleep") had me saying rude things to my computer. That I've had similar arguments with similar douchebags online didn't really make it any less infuriating.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:16 AM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


we were still at war with japan, and bombing/nuking in a way that creates a lot of collateral damage isn't the same as torturing someone who has no way to fight back.

In what way could any of the Japanese civilians killed by nuclear and conventional bombing fight back? This seems like a strange disctinction to make.
posted by ninebelow at 3:54 AM on May 1, 2009


By the way, On the daily show today Stewart apologized for calling Truman a war criminal and said he immediately thought "that was a dumb thing to say" as he was saying it.

I heard that a couple of places, but since I watch TDS exclusively via the website (and only once a week on the long, slow hours on overnight shift), I haven't seen it yet. I could only find a couple of cranks' personal blogs that referenced it, so I didn't want to put it in the post without any sourcing at all.
posted by Scattercat at 4:20 AM on May 1, 2009


Stewart should have kept to some clear themes:
  • the guidance in the "torture memos" broke the law
  • the people doing the interrogations went beyond what was laid out in those memos anyway
  • if you're not torturing when you're waterboarding, you're doing it wrong
  • torture is less effective than rapport-building in getting real, usable information
May was all over the place. But Stewart was right to go on about core values, being open then they weren't adhered to, but totally wrong to say nobody should be prosecuted. Even George W. Bush said those committing torture must be prosecuted.
posted by xpermanentx at 4:40 AM on May 1, 2009


By the way, is there a formal way to request a repair to the links? Venadium is quite correct about the link being borked. (I got it right off the website, so I dunno what happened there.)
posted by Scattercat at 5:01 AM on May 1, 2009


For a comedian, he does a lot of heavy lifting. I don't fault his lack of grasp of details or even his own less-than-fully-articulated convictions. It matters little whether he thinks personally that we should prosecute everyone from Bush down to Lyndie England or prosecute just the big shots. It matters less whether he thinks personally that we need a Truth Commission or special prosecutor or both. It doesn't mean much to me if he thinks Truman a criminal in the "literal" or metaphorical sense. I have my own views on these things: I say prosecute them all, and Truman should have been in the dock, but that's me. (If you know the backstory on the dropping of the A-Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the final decision was really taken for unethical reasons at levels below Truman, but for which he is still responsible. Basically, it was "use it or lose it" thinking.)

But that Jon Stewart has been out there holding down an important patch of rational, ethical, American ground through the worst years of this country's history in my lifetime (and I include Vietnam at this point) counts for a lot. I have to pinch myself and remind myself he's a *comedian,* for fuck's sake. He was the funny kid in your class, the cut-up in your dorm. And yet here has been responsible for damn near keeping me (and many others on the rational and humane side of history), night in and night out, through the Dark Ages of Bush.

So at this point, for me, the guy can do no wrong. This isn't only about war criminals. It's about war heros. Stewart is one.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:10 AM on May 1, 2009 [17 favorites]


forgot a word: keeping me and others SANE through the Dark Ages . . etc.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:11 AM on May 1, 2009


Torture is less effective than reading the Tawny Scrawny Lion and the Pokey Little Puppy over and over again in getting real, usable information. That's really the problem in people like May's world view. Once you not telling me the answers I want to hear equals pain, you're going to get VERY GOOD at telling me what I want to hear.

Putting Mr. May in the world he wants to live in for about a week would reveal that he was to be the 20th hijacker on Sept. 11th 2001, that he has a dirty bomb in hidden in President Obama's underwear drawer and that his father was a space alien, provided he believed that telling us these things would be the equivalent of yelling, "Help Mister Wizard" and get him whisked away to someplace that was less like what he wanted.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:12 AM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's interesting to watch Robert McNamara (see Vietnam) in the documentary Fog of War say that they were all war criminals for what they did in Japan. They deliberately set fire to Tokyo, burning 100,000 civilians in a single night (among other things.)

If you can burn to death little babies in their cribs, what's waterboarding a few terrorists? The point being that the intellectual heirs of Curtis Lemay and friends are still running this country. They have always thought that the ends justify the means.
posted by geos at 5:18 AM on May 1, 2009 [6 favorites]


The firebombing of Dresden, on the other hand . . .

I just watched an HBO documentary about the Japanese invasion of Nanking at the weekend. That began with fairly relentless carpet bombings of a civilian city. And that was the nicer part of the documentary.

After I finished watching, I wanted to go back and drop a couple more Atom bombs on the place -- just to be *really* sure that they got the message.

And yes, I know that they aren't the same people today. So perhaps we should just make them enshrine the people who dropped the A bombs at Yasukuni shrine, so when the nationalists go to pay their respects to their own war criminals, they have to pay them to ours as well?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:19 AM on May 1, 2009 [5 favorites]


If you can burn to death little babies in their cribs

I don't want to get into trading atrocity stories, but one of the most moving stories in that Nanking documentary came from an old Chinese man, who had been a nine year old child at the time. He was with his mother and his infant son when the Japanese arrived.

A Japanese soldier was bayoneting his mother in the chest, and because her infant child was crying, the soldier bayonetted the baby in its buttocks, picked it up on its bayonet and flipped the baby into the pile of bodies in the middle of the street.

The nine year old boy was trying to console his inconsolable mother as she died, gasping for breath through the holes in her chest. She couldn't speak, but she made it clear that she wanted him to find his baby sister -- so he goes across the street and finds her, having lost her shoes, but miraculously still alive despite the bayonetting.

Kid takes the baby and puts her in her mothers arms, and mother immediately bares her breast and begins feeding. (The old man telling the story is wracked with sobs by this point.) The mother quietly expires as the child tries to feed on its mothers breast.

There were a bunch of US missionaries who had remained behind in Nanking at this time, and they had a movie camera and did what they could to document the many thousands upon thousands of atrocities committed by the Japanese. One of them managed to smuggle this footage out, and immediately managed to secure an appointment with the State Department where he was able to show the piles of footage that they'd shot. I'd be very surprised if they didn't use this material as propaganda for soldiers who were going out to fight in the Pacific theatre.

And I'm guessing that you wouldn't have to watch this for very long before any scruples that you had about how you treated Japanese civilians in the prosecution of this war quickly began to take a back seat to your primary objective of stopping the fuckers right here, right now.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:37 AM on May 1, 2009 [8 favorites]


Calling Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the firebombings of Tokyo or Dresden, war crimes really seems a-historical.

We were at war, in a war where victory depended on civilians working in munitions plants an d tank factories and supporting their aggressive war-criminal leaders as much or more than it depended on divisions at the fronts, and to win the war we had to bomb cities.

Anything else and wed have lost the war, ceded Europe to the Nazis, all of Southest Asia to the Japanese, and we'd have been indirectly responsible for the continuing raping and enslaving of more millions of Chinese, for another six million or so dead Jews, Gypsies and Slavs in Hitler's Vernichtungslager.

It's a-historical looking backward, without a sense of what the stakes were then in 1945 when we'd already sacrificed nearly half a million US soldiers, when our Soviet then-allies had lost ten million soldiers and eleven million civilians, when Britain was reduced to continuing war rationing into the 1950s.

It's a-historical looking backward at that and complaining that somehow a death from an atomic bomb or a firebomb is somehow worse than death by bayonet -- when those deaths were necessary to bring the war to an end in the face of enemies who refused to surrender, whose leader exhorted their soldiers to fight to the last civilian, who enlisted fourteen-year old Volstrummer to defend Berlin even after we bombed Dresden.

Without the atomic bombs, we'd have had to kill a damned lot more Japanese at a great cosrt in American fighting men. Truman made a principled decision that saved the lives of Americans and Japanese.

It's too glib and easy and facile to pretend that that decision didn't weigh on Truman -- or that any of us, had we been sitting in the White House in August of 1945, after six long years of war and millions of deaths, wouldn't also have felt honor bound to make the hard choices necessary to end it.
posted by orthogonality at 6:49 AM on May 1, 2009 [5 favorites]


After I finished watching, I wanted to go back and drop a couple more Atom bombs on the place -- just to be *really* sure that they got the message.

as far as i can tell the message you are conveying here is that: if you are going to commit war crimes make sure you win the war/develop nuclear weapons.

that was the same message we sent in 2003 in Iraq.

the only way 'war crime' is not just another word for victors justice is if the bush/cheney team has a reckoning with a court.
posted by geos at 6:52 AM on May 1, 2009


It's too glib and easy and facile to pretend that that decision didn't weigh on Truman -- or that any of us, had we been sitting in the White House in August of 1945, after six long years of war and millions of deaths, wouldn't also have felt honor bound to make the hard choices necessary to end it.

It's too glib and easy and facile to pretend that that decision didn't weigh on Bush -- or that any of us, had we been sitting in the White House in September 11th wouldn't also have felt honor bound to make the hard choices necessary...
posted by geos at 6:55 AM on May 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


I think we called it even-steven with Germany and Japan awhile ago.
posted by P.o.B. at 6:57 AM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


PeterMcDermott: Where exactly does the escalation of atrocities stop? Both sides in an armed conflict think they are in the right and both want to stop the other fuckers right here, right now.
posted by batou_ at 7:09 AM on May 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Without the atomic bombs, we'd have had to kill a damned lot more Japanese at a great cosrt in American fighting men. Truman made a principled decision that saved the lives of Americans and Japanese.

Yes, this is the later postwar American line. At the time, only folks like Eisenhower, MacArthur, Leahy and Nimitz disagreed with your assertion, and of course they were utter bleeding-heart peaceniks with no idea of how the war was really going.
posted by mobunited at 7:16 AM on May 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


It's a-historical looking backward, without a sense of what the stakes were then in 1945 when we'd already sacrificed nearly half a million US soldiers, when our Soviet then-allies had lost ten million soldiers and eleven million civilians, when Britain was reduced to continuing war rationing into the 1950s.

The whole concept of a war crime is that there are certain means that cannot be justified by any end. If you're willing to toss that away, then ok, let's put torture on the table, along with poison gas, killing noncombatants -- all of it. Because at that point you're just talking about sufficient justification. Then when we've got that figured out, let's ensure we're free of exceptionalism. The math applies equally.

Also, if we're really saying that civilians should pay the price for what their military does overseas in a non-democratic country, what do citizens of your country deserve?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:20 AM on May 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


And I'm guessing that you wouldn't have to watch this for very long before any scruples that you had about how you treated Japanese civilians in the prosecution of this war quickly began to take a back seat to your primary objective of stopping the fuckers right here, right now.

Exactly.

During that time period, newspapers did the heavy lifting with regard to reporting the news. Both countries used their media outlets to wage a propaganda war against each other. In US papers, including the NY Times, the Rape of Nanking was highlighted repeatedly. Across the country, the Japanese were painted in editorials and articles as warmongering murderers, who would stop at nothing to rape and bayonet their way through the US, if we didn't stop them. The so-called "yellow peril."

Newspapers weren't the only media to demonize the Japanese. Warner Bros., produced propaganda cartoons as well.

I often wonder what public opinion towards our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would have been, if such practices had remained in vogue.
posted by zarq at 7:33 AM on May 1, 2009


the only way 'war crime' is not just another word for victors justice is if the bush/cheney team has a reckoning with a court.

I agree, but remember, virtually none of the japanese war criminals faced a tribunal either. America has a very long tradition of ignoring international law whenever it suits them to do so.

as far as i can tell the message you are conveying here is that: if you are going to commit war crimes make sure you win the war/develop nuclear weapons.

I think it's a bit like a rorschach inkblot test, in which the message you see is the one that you're predisposed to see. The Nanking massacre happened in December 1937 -- several years before the USA entered the war. The message I took from the movie was that America has never been particularly bothered about the murder and torture of foreigners unless it happens to serve their interests to do so.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:48 AM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well...ok back on topic.

If you read this guys blog, his most recent post is about the fantasy interview that he conducted in his head, which surprisingly wasn't the interview JS conducted. What a surprise his fantasies bear no resemblance to actual reality. Someone should tell you him you go to blogwars with the interview you have, not the interview you wished you had...
posted by sfts2 at 7:51 AM on May 1, 2009


I'm tired of the straw men of "what about the ticking bomb???" and "what if it's successful?"

Sure! If there's a ticking bomb and we need its location, set Jack Bauer or some other unprincipled fucker on them to extract the information from them. However, since all the lines in the sand are clearly drawn about what we are allowed to do and not, if any of those lines are crossed, EVEN IF THE INFORMATION YIELDED WAS USEFUL, we need to prosecute Mr Bauer for breaking the law.

Period, end of story.

As Stewart says repeatedly in this interview, this isn't about whether torture is effective or necessary, it is about defining the principles with which we as a collective group known as These United States wish to live, and then sticking to those principles even when the going gets difficult.

Not to make this too simplistic, but I can't think of a single After School Special where the theme of the hour was "Johnny can't stick to the things he believes are Right, and that's okay!"
posted by hippybear at 8:05 AM on May 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Durn Bronzefist has pointed out why orthogonality is wrong but it is worth saying that even if you believe bombing civilians is immoral (as I do) that doesn't mean you neccessarily think you would have done anything different. There is nothing a-historical in believing in absolute morality but I can certainly imagine that if I was in Truman's position utilitarian arguments would weigh very heavily. I am certainly not glib about the difficulty of the decision.
posted by ninebelow at 8:08 AM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have yet to see any real evidence that Japan was going to or about to surrender unconditionally. If I have missed something, please let us know now. If they were not to surrender, then we would have had to invade Japan itself with thousands of troops. Sorry, but the bomb ended things and saved American lives.
posted by Postroad at 8:14 AM on May 1, 2009


Durn Bronzefist: "The whole concept of a war crime is that there are certain means that cannot be justified by any end. If you're willing to toss that away, then ok, let's put torture on the table, along with poison gas, killing noncombatants -- all of it. Because at that point you're just talking about sufficient justification. Then when we've got that figured out, let's ensure we're free of exceptionalism. The math applies equally.

Also, if we're really saying that civilians should pay the price for what their military does overseas in a non-democratic country, what do citizens of your country deserve?
"

You don't seem to understand what ahistorical means. Please realize that, as per orthogonality, these wars were not, as they are today, waged by soldiers with an absentee civilian population, but every little bit of society was purposed towards war. So, in that case, how is killing a factory worker molding a bullet any different than killing a front-line soldier firing it at you? In total war, there can be no noncombatants.

In this light, the only question that makes sense is: does the atomic bomb kill in an excessively inhumane manner? Well, yes and no: it kills its primary victims rather quickly and without a lot of warning, but its secondary victims suffer rather a lot. Frankly, when compared to firebombing, I think it's a wash, and firebombing was (unfortunately) a common technique in the war.
posted by TypographicalError at 8:51 AM on May 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


i hate that so many justifications for war on terror/iraq era tactics draw on WWII. Are there two more dissimilar modern wars? When the Taliban and Al Qaeda become two of the most developed nation states and conquer most of Europe and the Pacific then there might be useful comparisons to be drawn. Not before.

If comparisons must be drawn, why not to the violent wings of the union and anarchist movements of the late nineteenth century? Oh, wait probably because everyone would agree that torturing those guys would be wrong.
posted by nangua at 8:57 AM on May 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


These neocons, whenever you listen to them they have a peculiar way of arguing their points. They almost always argue their positions as if they are trying to win some kind of emotional/rhetorical game. To trap the other person into agreeing to some kind of rhetorically uncomfortable implication of their own arguments. Its so stupid.

Their argumentational style has nothing to do with whether or not their ideas are good, or whether the world would be a better place if they were implemented or tried, it's only about how whether or not they can make their sparring partners say something uncomfortable or whatever.


The point of their arguments is not "Our actions are virtuous", it's "You're just as evil as I am, and you're a hypocrite for not admitting it."
posted by vibrotronica at 9:09 AM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


these wars were not, as they are today, waged by soldiers with an absentee civilian population, but every little bit of society was purposed towards war. So, in that case, how is killing a factory worker molding a bullet any different than killing a front-line soldier firing it at you? In total war, there can be no noncombatants.

A "historical" view of the proceedings would take into account the international instruments that WWII directly gave rise to, which value, among other things, the distinction between civilians and combatants.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:13 AM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


TypographicalError, who gets to decide that a war is 'total war' and then start killing civilians? I think the total war concept is bs for the most part. What modern wars are not supported by the civilian population? Who grows the food for soldiers to eat? Who owns the factories that make munitions? Who works in those factories? Who are wars waged for (if you believe the propaganda)? Who (at least in a democracy) needs to support the wars? The answer to all of the above - civilians. Therefore, every modern war is total war, and we should just throw the Geneva conventions regarding civilians right out the door.
posted by batou_ at 9:16 AM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Anything else and wed have lost the war, ceded Europe to the Nazis, all of Southest Asia to the Japanese, and we'd have been indirectly responsible for the continuing raping and enslaving of more millions of Chinese, for another six million or so dead Jews, Gypsies and Slavs in Hitler's Vernichtungslager.

I disagree that the UK's "dehousing" campaign and the American mass murder of Japanese civilians from the air materially affected the end of the war, though you are correct that it would have been measurably more costly in terms of life, both to the Allies, the Axis, and to the populations under Axis control, to prosecute according to the book.

The answer that Stewart missed was that the Axis powers, by their inhuman brutal actions lowered the moral bar for that particular conflict. Quid pro quo may not be appealing to the outside observer but it is satisfying to the war fighters.

There is the utilitarian argument to be made that indiscriminately targetting civilians and the civilian economy -- something clearly verboten under the Hague conventions -- may have saved lives is a bunch of might-have-beens but at the end of the day the Axis powers totally and intentionally recused themselves from access to what legal machinery pertained to the international community. Hitler's Germany and Imperial Japan simply had no friends to stand up for them in 1945.

The central justification IMHO to use of area bombing to end the war was simply to bring the war to an end on our terms as quickly as possible. Patton said it best, the #1 rule of warfighting is to kill the other SOB before he kills you.

only folks like Eisenhower, MacArthur, Leahy and Nimitz disagreed with your assertion,

They were arguably, as we say, 'talking their book'. It is true the US Army could have won the war on its own, laying waste to the countryside from Kyushu to Kanto, and it's true that the Navy could have starved the Japanese nation over 1945, 46, and maybe 1947 into surrender.

Unlike the Army, however, it was Truman's #1 job to save American lives, and secondarily preserve the standing of the state. Tertiary was facilitating a Japanese surrender as humanely and morally as possible. It was possible for Truman to communicate better with his Japanese advisaries perhaps, but the Japanese people were not owed this and the whole surrender thing is horribly muddled given the very fanatical pattern of the Japanese military to NOT surrender in hopeless situations over the previous two years (plus of course the recent example of the Hitlerists fighting to the last block in Berlin).

America has a very long tradition of ignoring international law

AFAICT "International Law" doesn't really exist. What we have are international agreements. Policy leaders within a given nation-state can do what it wants but has to be prepared to live with the follow-on consequences, and the polity within the nation-state can't complain when being held personally responsible for the acts of their leaders.

Neither side in the brutal war in Russia went to WMD since neither wanted to go there.

The terrorists have put themselves outside international law. I have a problem with the creeping torture of fishing expeditions against suspected terrorists but actually am not totally opposed to the brutal treatment of known terrorist organizers on a case-by-case basis.

There are good arguments against going there but a lot of that is just talk-talk feel-good moralizing BS. Should Seattle, SF, and LA disappear one day in nuclear truckbombings I would think the moral bar would be lowered again.

Our warfighters are treated rather poorly by terrorists these days; the terrorists profit by lowering the bar and the general martyrization of their cause. It is a complicated subject and as Letterman demonstrated on his show talking with Bill O'Reilly when analyzing complicated subjects one must often think a lot before forming an opinion.
posted by mrt at 9:31 AM on May 1, 2009


Therefore, every modern war is total war, and we should just throw the Geneva conventions regarding civilians right out the door.

The best argument is to do unto others as you would have done unto you. That's what the Geneva conventions were all about going into WW2.

IMHO military people are human too and need not be sacrificed on the altar of holding the moral high ground in a war like WW2. (I'm thinking of eg. my grandfather sitting on Okinawa waiting to make his third assault landing of the war on the beaches of Chiba, the B-29 pilots getting shot down in daylight precision raids over Japan, and the thousands of allied servicemen wasting away and near death in the Japanese POW death camps).

We could have saved 300,000 US casualties in Vietnam by going in 1965 and exterminating the N Vietnamese population centers; some if not many in the USAF argued for doing just that but in the end that was ruled disproportionate. LBJ and McNamara's brutal bombing of NVN 1965-1968 was an attempt to find the minimal escalation point that would produce the desired policy changes in the NVN leadership. This failed.
posted by mrt at 9:43 AM on May 1, 2009


They were arguably, as we say, 'talking their book'. It is true the US Army could have won the war on its own, laying waste to the countryside from Kyushu to Kanto, and it's true that the Navy could have starved the Japanese nation over 1945, 46, and maybe 1947 into surrender.

Well no, Nimitz was quoted as saying that Japan has already tried to sue for peace, and Japan did in fact try to negotiate surrender several times. American sources knew that retention of the emperor in some form (which Japan got anyway) was the only real condition, and as a matter of fact even *after* surrendering Hirohito told associates to fight anyway if he was deposed.

The best online resource remains http://www.doug-long.com/ You can read a letter to the Smithsonian regarding the ongoing post hoc propaganda about the bomb at http://www.doug-long.com/letter.htm
posted by mobunited at 10:23 AM on May 1, 2009


The best argument is to do unto others as you would have done unto you.

mrt You seem to be interpreting this saying wrong. It is not "Do to others as they have done to you" which is what it appears you are saying based on your comments (I'm sorry if I have misinterpreted). It states that one should treat others how they wish themselves to be treated. There are no stipulations in there that say, if you were treated really poorly, just forget about this saying and burn those fuckers to the ground.

Also, you have totally lost me on your point about Vietnam.
posted by batou_ at 10:31 AM on May 1, 2009


it's becoming clear that this and other instances of torture occurred as a means of providing rationales to connect up 9/11 and iraq than to prevent any pending attacks

Where this thing touches Iraq you have a gigantic tinderbox. How that's going to be handled is the real question about all of this.

Cheney is gambling that Barack doesn't have the balls to show the rest of the memos which he alludes to. Because if they do come out, they will show Cheney was wrong. Cheney thinks this will rebound to his advantage becuase the release was political. Cheney underestimates how tired the country is of him and the War in Iraq.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:53 AM on May 1, 2009


They were arguably, as we say, 'talking their book'. It is true the US Army could have won the war on its own, laying waste to the countryside from Kyushu to Kanto, and it's true that the Navy could have starved the Japanese nation over 1945, 46, and maybe 1947 into surrender.

Unlike the Army, however, it was Truman's #1 job to save American lives, and secondarily preserve the standing of the state. Tertiary was facilitating a Japanese surrender as humanely and morally as possible. It was possible for Truman to communicate better with his Japanese advisaries perhaps, but the Japanese people were not owed this and the whole surrender thing is horribly muddled given the very fanatical pattern of the Japanese military to NOT surrender in hopeless situations over the previous two years (plus of course the recent example of the Hitlerists fighting to the last block in Berlin).


This is a powerful misconception. It simply is not true. First, to examine the morality of the decision, one has to look at what information Truman had in making the decision.

The fact is the "million casualties" story is a lie.

I recommend you read The Invasion of Japan by John Ray Skates. This book lays out the facts regarding the situation. Reviewing both American and Japanse sources, Skates, a Army reserve Colonel and long-time professor of history at The University of Southern Mississippi and the US Military Center of Military History, discovered that American generals had told Truman that they expected 125,000 U.S. casualties in an invasion of Japan.

Even more striking was the Japanese defense plan. Essentially, there never was a plan to send Japanese civillians to resist. A conventional defense was planned with the first island invaded to be all-out defended by the Japanese army with little reserves. There were no provisions for stay-behind parties or other guerilla operations.

Therefore, there is no basis in fact to believe that the scenario you paint would occur. More importantly, Truman did not tell the truth when he said that he was told there would be a "million" casualties.

Having said that, I believe the use of the bomb justified.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:19 AM on May 1, 2009


Truman could've paid more attention to detail. On April 9, 1945, he called Hiroshima "a military base" and said it was bombed because the US wanted to avoid killing civilians. He also warned Japanese civilians to leave industrial cities to avoid further bombs; Nagasaki had been destroyed earlier that day.

According to this CIA monograph on US invasion planning and the decision to drop the bomb, the Joint War Plans Committee estimates of American casualties* ranged from 132,500 to 220,000, depending on the invasion scenario. George C. Marshall and Douglas MacArthur endorsed similar estimates.
* "casualties" = total of killed, wounded, and missing

The Atomic Bomb and the End of World War II: A Collection of Primary Sources

Atomic Bomb: Decision "Documents on the decision to use atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki."
posted by kirkaracha at 12:05 PM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


If we're going to be dealing in unknown hypotheticals, it's also entirely possible that Truman saved the world accidentally.

That was the first and only use of atomic weapons on civilian populations. If he had not used the bomb, it's entirely possible for the USSR to develop it much later and use it on some random skirmish with the US, creating mutually assured destruction. There was no implication that this was serious stuff until after it was used in Japan.
posted by amuseDetachment at 12:21 PM on May 1, 2009


kirkaracha, from your source:

"At the meeting's end, Truman said he agreed that the plan presented by the Chiefs was the best choice under the circumstances, but he added that he 'had hoped there was a possibility of preventing an Okinawa from one end of Japan to the other.'"

On Okinawa, the US suffered 12,513 killed in action, 38,916 wounded, 33,096 non-combat losses

And the Japanese lost 94,136 to 131,303 killed, 7,400 to 10,755 captured, and 42,000–150,000 civilians killed.

By the 2nd of August the US had identified approximately 500,000 army defenders on Kyushu, at least 3X the defenders on Okinawa. Since they were fighting on their home soil, one would expect them to continue fighting to the death, or even moreso if that were possible, so a casualty estimate of 3X what was suffered on Okinawa would not be unsupported.

That would be around 200,000 US casualties, 400,000 Japanese military KIA, and 500,000 Japanese civilians killed.

This doesn't count USN losses in extended operations within range of Japan's surviving kamikaze aircraft. In the three-month battle for Okinawa, the Japanese flew 1,900 kamikaze missions, sinking dozens of Allied ships and killing more than 5,000 U.S. sailors at the cost of 1,465 expended kamikaze planes.

All that just to take Kyushu. Germany didn't quit when the lost the Rhineland so it was not irrational to believe that Japan wouldn't quit after losing Kyushu, which then would leave us with the Operation Coronet, which portended to be a bigger battle than Kyushu, pushing the casaulties up above 500,000 US and several million Japanese.

The US had already crossed the moral Rubicon with LeMay's firebombing campaign. I think it's fortunate for the Japanese that the novelty of the atomic bombs finally gave them a face-saving way to surrender to our terms.
posted by mrt at 12:32 PM on May 1, 2009


so a casualty estimate of 3X what was suffered on Okinawa would not be unsupported.

oops, this is somewhat incorrect. The operating space of the home islands meant that the US could use its operational mobility to better effect, compared to the toe-to-toe slugfest on Okinawa.

The US Army inflicted a 5:1 ratio in casualties against the Japanese in the Philippines, so such a ratio might have been repeated on Kyushu, for a total US ground casualty number of 100,000 or so.
posted by mrt at 12:45 PM on May 1, 2009


Well no, Nimitz was quoted as saying that Japan has already tried to sue for peace, and Japan did in fact try to negotiate surrender several times.

These efforts were half-assed efforts at an armistice and not worth our time.

American sources knew that retention of the emperor in some form (which Japan got anyway) was the only real condition, and as a matter of fact even *after* surrendering Hirohito told associates to fight anyway if he was deposed.

Sure, in retrospect it would have been better to clarify the exact terms of our surrender rather than just leave it up in the air.

But it was really incumbent on the Japanese to surrender. Being a military state fully invested in the war, they lacked the political machinery to do so.
posted by mrt at 12:49 PM on May 1, 2009


if you were treated really poorly, just forget about this saying and burn those fuckers to the ground.

International agreements about the conduct of war are two-way streets; by abandoning them early -- the repeated terror bombings of Shanghai and Chungking, the brutal mistreatment of thousands of allied prisoners in Burma and the Philippines, the Japanese started sowing the wind.

The right thing for Japan to do was surrender its militarists to our hangman's justice and allow the US occupy and restore civil rule. The US could have privately articulated that war aim better but that's basically what the Potsdam Declaration publicly enunciated.

Taking a limited utilitarian approach to ending the war in 1945 was arguably not unreasonable; the Japanese strategy involved the attempt of structuring the battle to inflict the maximum casualties while we brought the war to their home islands.
posted by mrt at 1:18 PM on May 1, 2009


These efforts were half-assed efforts at an armistice and not worth our time.

Brevity is not always the soul of wit.

Sure, in retrospect it would have been better to clarify the exact terms of our surrender rather than just leave it up in the air.

No, there are numerous accounts that Truman was fully informed of the situation at the time. This is not 20/20 hindsight. In fact, it's the opposite. Third party hindsight after the war was *worse*, and the principal actors during the war demonstrably knew everything they needed to know. Your position is actually based on the flattering myths that arose in the poster state of "blind hindsight," but as material has been comprehensively declassified we really do know that this is bullshit.

But it was really incumbent on the Japanese to surrender. Being a military state fully invested in the war, they lacked the political machinery to do so.

Except for those guys they kept sending to offer a surrender. You really can't get around the fact that they wanted to surrender, there was only one crucial condition that could have been accommodated and everyone important knew it at the time. There are multiple sources asking, "Heyo, what about those surrender offers?" There's Stimson and others say, "OH HAI THEY JUST WANT THE MONARCHY OK."

The American public was not made aware of these realities for several decades, but Truman's cabinet and the Allied command at large really, *really* knew this stuff. Just because USAians decided to manufacture some flattering history during the interim in which they knew nothing of this is no excuse to continue to proceed as if we still know nothing.
posted by mobunited at 1:36 PM on May 1, 2009


except for those guys they kept sending to offer a surrender.

Emanations of an armistice directed at Russia was not an offer of surrender.

An offer of surrender is: "We wish to surrender. Here our our terms. . . ."

You really can't get around the fact that they wanted to surrender

It's important to understand that there was no one "they" in 1945. There was the Emperor, then the Navy, which had failed to win the war, the Army which had gotten the nation into the war in the first place, there was the civilian power structure, and then there was the Japanese people.

Most of these power bases wanted to surrender, yes. The Army, which was still running the country in 1945, institutionally did not, since it was their necks and position in society that was on the line.

Nazi Germany held out almost until the Russian soldiers were storming the Fuhrerbunker. It was not unreasonable to expect the likelihood of a similar denouement with Japan.

This is not to say we can't learn from Truman's mistakes.
posted by mrt at 1:46 PM on May 1, 2009


Clifford May's troll worked.
posted by dirigibleman at 1:47 PM on May 1, 2009


The fact is the "million casualties" story is a lie....American generals had told Truman that they expected 125,000 U.S. casualties in an invasion of Japan.

The US suffered had 416,800 casualties in the entire Second World War. Another 125,000 would have been an additional 30%.

"Mr. President, you can drop two big bombs, or you can go back to the American people and tell them the war will last another six months to a year, at a cost equal to a third more than the cost of the war so far."

At a time when the American Treasury was squeezed dry and limping along on war bonds. And at the additional cost of Stalin gaining a foothold on the Japanese Home Islands, which would have meant fighting the Korean War in Japan, without the nearby staging area that Japan served as during the Korean War.

We nearly lost the Korean War, and indeed it's been a draw, and a tinder-keg, for sixty years. We wouldn't have done that well without being able to provision and resupply our forces from Japan; in a war with Stalin over Japan, the Soviets would have had the advantage of proximity, and we'd have lost unless we'd nuked Moscow.

We couldn't afford, in lives, in treasure, in realpolitik, to spend six months subduing Japan only to fight the Soviets there. And had we had the Korean War there, in Japan against Stalin, starting in 1948, Curtis LeMay would have flown his Strategic Air Command over Moscow -- we can only hope before August 29, 1949.

It was Hiroshima and Nagasaki so it wouldn't be Moscow and Leningrad. Not to scare the Soviets, not to demonstrate our A-Bombs, but to defeat Japan before 1946, before it could become the theater of the next war.

Thank God for the Atomic Bomb, and for Harry Truman's resolve.
posted by orthogonality at 1:54 PM on May 1, 2009



Emanations of an armistice directed at Russia was not an offer of surrender.


These were not the sum total of their overtures.

An offer of surrender is: "We wish to surrender. Here our our terms. . . ."

Actually, it isn't. There are many ways of moving to a surrender, but only one if, of course, you want to drop an atom bomb on a country anyway. Or even two.


It's important to understand that there was no one "they" in 1945. There was the Emperor, then the Navy, which had failed to win the war, the Army which had gotten the nation into the war in the first place, there was the civilian power structure, and then there was the Japanese people.


If I applied the specious reasoning of this argument the other way then there was no "they" to surrender to, because I could tout equally vague divisions amongst the Allies. Fortunately, as this *is* spacious reasoning we can ignore it in favour of looking at the actual situation, which was a split in the Big Six that was resolved when Hirohito told them to end the war. The "fight to the death!" thing, which is oft-touted since it appeals to stereotype (and was, incidentally, a reaction to the threat of dethroning the emperor), was a formal policy for about 16 days, from the point of adoption to Hirohito making his wishes know on June 22nd. The Allies knew about it by at least June 30th. By July 21st, thanks to the ability to break Japanese codes the Allies knew that Japan would surrender with no conditions save the preservation of the Imperial House. This was through reading into the subtle, ambiguous Japanese gesture of a guy saying they would surrender unconditionally except for keeping the Imperial House. Crafty.
posted by mobunited at 2:04 PM on May 1, 2009


"Mr. President, you can drop two big bombs, or you can go back to the American people and tell them the war will last another six months to a year, at a cost equal to a third more than the cost of the war so far."

See, the third option of doing nothing and telling them a Constitutional Monarchy would be OK, which they knew was there, was better than either of those two. But Truman would have had to go back to the American people and tell them that the plan for victory did not in fact involve continuing to burn, shoot or blast an entire ethnicity the American people had been told to treat as subhuman.
posted by mobunited at 2:10 PM on May 1, 2009


If it's true that playing by the book increases both our casualties & our enemies' casualties, then maybe that's another real good argument for playing by the book: to make wars costly enough & ugly enough that we won't be so god-damned eager to treat them some kind of Super Superbowl.

'Cause after all, it is sweet & proper to die for your country, right?
posted by Forrest Greene at 2:13 PM on May 1, 2009


I can't wait until 50 years from now, when people will thank God that George Bush stopped Saddam Hussein from acquiring African Yellowcake to add nukes to the arsenal of chemical weapons we was going to give Osama bin Laden. Because anything else would make Grandad look bad.
posted by mobunited at 2:15 PM on May 1, 2009


This was through reading into the subtle, ambiguous Japanese gesture of a guy saying they would surrender unconditionally except for keeping the Imperial House. Crafty.

You are apparently confusing Foreign Office traffic directed TO Tokyo. The warfighting party in power had other ideas, wikipedia's presentation aligning with my own understanding quite well.

On July 21, speaking in the name of the cabinet, Tōgō sent to the Foreign Office laison in Europe:

"it would also be disadvantageous and impossible, from the standpoint of foreign and domestic considerations, to make an immediate declaration of specific terms"

It wasn't incumbent on the US to lighten the terms of surrender. This, for lack of a better analogy, was high-stakes poker and we had the winning hand. We had already incinerated 100,000 or so Japanese civilians in Tokyo and laid waste to 80% or more of the urban cores of Japan's major cities. Yet the Japanese were still angling for their damn decisive battle.

In late July Prime Minister Suzuki met with the press, and stated:

"I consider the Joint Proclamation a rehash of the Declaration at the Cairo Conference. As for the Government, it does not attach any important value to it at all. The only thing to do is just kill it with silence (mokusatsu). We will do nothing but press on to the bitter end to bring about a successful completion of the war"

The Japanese made the fatal mistake of farting around with Stalin. If they wanted to surrender they knew our number.
posted by mrt at 2:25 PM on May 1, 2009


The "fight to the death!" thing, which is oft-touted since it appeals to stereotype (and was, incidentally, a reaction to the threat of dethroning the emperor), was a formal policy for about 16 days

Your lack of knowledge of the war is apparently unfathomable. Good day.
posted by mrt at 2:27 PM on May 1, 2009


I can't wait until 50 years from now, when people will thank God that George Bush stopped Saddam Hussein from acquiring African Yellowcake to add nukes to the arsenal of chemical weapons we was going to give Osama bin Laden. Because anything else would make Grandad look bad.

That only works if you think 9/11 was Pearl Harbor. It wasn't. Neither Osama or Saddam Hussain had the best and most modern navy sweeping through the Pacific from the Philippines to Singapore to Borneo to Hawaii, along with an army that had spent the last decade crushing China, and loked ready to march into India.

The attack on Pearl Harbor wasn't a mere rumor about yellowcake. To equate George Bush and Osama and Saddam with FDR, Tojo, and Hitler -- just to get a dig in at Truman -- is just the height of a-historical tom-foolery. It's simply not serious.
posted by orthogonality at 2:32 PM on May 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


"The terrorists have put themselves outside international law. I have a problem with the creeping torture of fishing expeditions against suspected terrorists but actually am not totally opposed to the brutal treatment of known terrorist organizers on a case-by-case basis."

Except it doesn't work. It can provoke confessions, but not good information. It does nothing for us in terms of winning a conflict. Why would you support that?
posted by krinklyfig at 3:54 PM on May 1, 2009


And by the way, there is no such thing as a covert and illegal torture policy which doesn't involve mission creep, because everyone is trained to follow the Geneva Conventions. If you throw that out the window, it opens up a big can of worms, and there's very little that can be done to contain the spread of brutal interrogations - torture - even where it's not "appropriate," according to whatever guidelines are in place, because you've thrown the primary guideline out. That's what happened very recently.
posted by krinklyfig at 3:57 PM on May 1, 2009


If I understand Clifford May's argument, he's saying that if Truman was justified in bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki, why wasn't Bush justified in torturing prisoners? What makes one violation of the laws of war okay, and the other not?

Of course one response is to say that Truman was not justified (as argued here by mobunited, for example).

A second line of argument, though, is to note that by 1945, after six years of total war, area bombing was accepted. The US later used carpet bombing during the Vietnam War. Area bombing was only outlawed under the 1977 Additional Protocol I to the 1949 Geneva Conventions. See the Crimes of War article on indiscriminate attack.

In contrast, torturing prisoners has been regarded as a war crime in the West, both morally and legally, for a long time. Legally, the US has signed and ratified treaties banning torture. Morally, the US condemns countries which practice torture, and Bush and his advisors lied about torturing prisoners precisely because they knew people would find it abhorrent.

A third line of argument would be practical. Defenders of Truman argue that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war more quickly and with less bloodshed than either an invasion of Japan or starvation through blockade. (See this summary by Eric Rauchway of the consensus among historians.) In contrast, Alberto Mora describes the damage done by Bush's decision to torture prisoners:
Cruelty harms our nation's legal, foreign policy, and national security interests. I can't put it any plainer than that. Domestically, cruelty is contrary to and damages our values and legal system, including our constitutional order. Internationally, the effects and consequences of cruelty are contrary to our long-term strategic foreign policy interests, including many of the principal institutions, alliances, and rules that we have nurtured and fought for over years, and even decades.

From the national security standpoint, the use of cruelty has been demonstrably counterproductive to the effort to wage the war on terror successfully. Cruelty has made us weaker, not stronger. It has blunted our moral authority, sabotaged our ability to build and maintain the broad alliances needed to prosecute the war effectively, and imposed a political penalty on those leaders, such as Tony Blair and José María Aznar, who would stand with us in this war. By compromising those ideals we fight for, cruelty has handicapped our ability to compete successfully in the struggle for those hearts and minds of foreign individuals whose support we need, and need to have, in order to shorten this war, limit its costs, and prevail. ...

Our use of the term "war" should not confuse us into thinking that this conflict will be won primarily by military means. The geographic dispersion of our enemies, the difficulty in locating them, and the underlying ideological nature of our adversaries' actions—all point to a conflict in which our military actions must necessarily be subordinated to our political strategy.

This political strategy should be geared to building and maintaining large, unified alliances capable of cooperating across this spectrum of conflict. We will not be able to build this alliance unless we are able to articulate a set of consistent political objectives, and prosecute the war using methods consistent with these objectives. ...

Almost every European politician who sought to ally himself and his country with the United States in the war on terror incurred a political penalty—or experienced political difficulties, as Blair and Aznar demonstrated—as a result of that allegiance. And, because cruel treatment of prisoners constituted a criminal act in every European jurisdiction, there must be few European government officials, including military intelligence or police officials, who do not ask themselves at some point whether cooperating with the United States in the war on terror might not make them accomplices or abettors in criminal activity or expose them to civil liability.

All of these factors contributed to the difficulties our nation has experienced in forging the strongest possible alliance in this war. Because this is so, we consequently weakened our defenses. Whatever intelligence we obtain through the use of harsh interrogation tactics, on the whole these policies and practices greatly damaged our overall effectiveness and impaired our military intelligence capabilities in the war on terror.
In addition, arguments that torturing al-Qaeda prisoners provided valuable information without a great deal of cruelty have been shown to be largely bogus. For example, see this Newsweek article on the initial interrogation of Abu Zubaydah by FBI agents: with traditional rapport building, rather than torture, he identified Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in "a couple of days". Subsequently he was waterboarded by the CIA 83 times.
posted by russilwvong at 4:03 PM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Very simply, I interpret the advocacy of torture and its ridiculously flimsy defense by the religious/political right as:

"We know these actions are torture and that it is wrong and against our ethics and convictions, but we think these people deserve it because we are mad, and because this position is unacceptable to the whole of society, we'll find every way to talk our way out of it, perhaps even convince ourselves."
posted by hellslinger at 4:30 PM on May 1, 2009


It does nothing for us in terms of winning a conflict. Why would you support that?

I am wary of categorical statements about the efficacy of torture.

I was talking about future hypotheticals and not necessarily what the Bush admin did this decade, which I feel was possibly counter-productive if not self-defeating.
posted by mrt at 5:02 PM on May 1, 2009


I am wary of categorical statements about the efficacy of torture.

For a dictatorship which rules through fear and terror, torture might well be an effective means of maintaining power. But I would argue that for a liberal democracy, deciding to use torture will always be self-defeating. A totalitarian dictatorship may be able to dispense with law and morality; a liberal democracy cannot.
posted by russilwvong at 10:23 PM on May 1, 2009


Your lack of knowledge of the war is apparently unfathomable. Good day.

I know the American narrative is that the Japanese were yellow barbarians until they were irradiated and turned into the upstanding car and anime producer stereotype we know and love today, but guess what? It's bullshit. The Big 6 *did* formally adopt an absolute no surrender posture for only a short period.

Yeah, they spouted rhetoric about never surrendering right up until they point at which they surrendered, unlike all those states that head into wars and tell the enemy "Well y'know, we might surrender if y'all really hit us hard."

Seriously though, nobody ever says that shit, ever, because if they talk about giving up in public before actually giving up, it makes even their surrender come off worse.
Your objection is silly. Everybody knows this. Everybody says We Will Fight Them On The Beaches. It does not make everybody Implacable Warriors With Alien Collectivist Mindsets, or whatever we're pretending is fundamentally different about Asians this week.

To equate George Bush and Osama and Saddam with FDR, Tojo, and Hitler -- just to get a dig in at Truman -- is just the height of a-historical tom-foolery. It's simply not serious.

You mean Saddam, a modernizer looking to militarize and expand using the Western model? That was the Japanese junta. A revised fascistic sense of reverence tied to the idea of an inviolable place? Could over bin Laden's Wahabism or State Shinto.

A president determined to bomb the living shit out of folks more than necessary because his constituents were ripe to despise them, despite his private knowledge that the pretext was bollocks? Yeah. that's pretty fuckin' familiar across periods, too. It may seem like a dig at Truman in particular, but of course he didn't make the decision alone.

Otherwise, my scenario about the judgment of what we will loosely call history is about as factual as We Had to Bomb the Japs. I mean Yanks, can it really be spelled out any clearer? Few people other than you believe this garbage of you having to nuke Japanese people to make them better any more. The argument that an invasion was a better alternative is not even in the running though, because that was also a ridiculous, largely unnecessary plan.

The truth was hidden from you, and you were told a flattering scam. We all were. Now it should be abandoned, because the information is out there. This was not even the last time it happened. Folks ate up crap about superior Soviet MiGs and tanks and things in the 80s even though that was all silly, too. And right now, I'm sure many of you believe Pakistan is fighting the Taliban, even though the Taliban is a buffer paramilitary created by Pakistani Interservices Intelligence. And like I said, old Yellowcake. And I bet you in a decade, when everybody who shouted at this is either dead or too busy fretting about their later adult life debt loads, the myths we have now will be treated with frightening reverence by those who have a motive to do so.
posted by mobunited at 11:19 PM on May 1, 2009


Even more striking was the Japanese defense plan. Essentially, there never was a plan to send Japanese civillians to resist. A conventional defense was planned with the first island invaded to be all-out defended by the Japanese army with little reserves.

Judging by what had happened on Okinawa, an all-out defense by the Japanese army of Kyushu would have been pretty horrific on its own. Regarding the planned use of civilians, Joseph Alsop refers to Toland's Rising Sun:
The official program of the war party was a fight to the last ditch by the entire Japanese nation, and then a fight in the last ditch with bamboo spears if need be. There are indications, to be sure, that War Minister Anami understood the need for peace. The principal indication was, quite simply, that he refrained from resigning and thereby bringing down the whole Suzuki Cabinet. But his minimum program was to satisfy the national honor with a gigantic final bloodbath, which would also force the US to accept retention of something resembling Japan's prewar political system when the time came to talk peace. The dimensions of the proposed slaughter can be judged from the forces that were being mustered to resist an American landing: 2,350,000 soldiers of the regular army backed up by 250,000 garrison troops; the entire remnants of the navy and all the airplanes in Japan, including training planes and numbering about seven thousand; 4 million civilian employees of the two services; and the whole civilian militia of 28 million men, women, and boys.
Alsop also notes that even after the emperor's decision to surrender, a number of militaristic army officers attempted a coup. Fortunately it failed.
,,, the opponents of surrender were still determined to circumvent and reverse the emperor's commands. What followed immediately in Tokyo was therefore an immense amount of argument, and much peril. The argument went on for several days, at several levels and in several places, the chief places being the still-divided Cabinet and the war ministry, which was all-important because it might again become all-powerful. It was fortunate that President Truman's reply to the Japanese government message came in promptly, for both Prime Minister Suzuki and Navy Minister Yonai were committed to join the war party if the proviso preserving the imperial throne should not be agreed to. Thus the whole machine would have gone into reverse if this agreement had not been forthcoming.

The same reversal would have happened, too, if War Minister Anami and the two chiefs of staff had got their way in the Cabinet arguments. At the war ministry, moreover, as well as at the main air force base at Atsugi, and in certain factions of the navy, plans were already in the making among hot-headed officers for a coup d'état that would drive the "traitorous" advisers from the sacred presence of the emperor.
This was all happening after the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

It's not "racist" to point out that Japan didn't have a historical tradition of surrender. (This was also a reason for their poor treatment of prisoners of war.)
posted by russilwvong at 12:17 AM on May 2, 2009


just a reminder of more recent events, the Vietnam War.!

many of us then 20 somethings made some very difficult choices .
posted by lemuel at 9:30 PM on May 2, 2009


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