I believe Daniel Ellsberg to be one of the half-dozen most useful public Americans of my lifetime, which covers almost the same period as his. He was 14 and I was 13 that August in 1945 when Harry Truman murdered Hiroshima. I was elated and proud, just another fool among millions. But Ellsberg even then saw the future clearly. He still does. And he is still trying to wake us up.
I cannot recommend his 2002 book, Secrets, too strongly. Read it, and read Sven Lindqvist’s A History of Bombing. The truth is that civilians, mostly old men, women and children, are not collateral damage in air warfare. They are the intended targets.
Now read the essay from which these excerpts come:
I remember that I was uneasy, on that first day and in the days ahead, about the tone in President Harry Truman’s voice on the radio as he exulted over our success in the race for the Bomb and its effectiveness against Japan. I generally admired Truman, then and later, but in hearing his announcements I was put off by the lack of concern in his voice, the absence of a sense of tragedy, of desperation or fear for the future. It seemed to me that this was a decision best made in anguish; and both Truman’s manner and the tone of the official communiques made unmistakably clear that this hadn’t been the case.
Which meant for me that our leaders didn’t have the picture, didn’t grasp the significance of the precedent they had set and the sinister implications for the future. And that evident unawareness was itself scary. I believed that something ominous had happened; that it was bad for humanity that the Bomb was feasible, and that its use would have bad long-term consequences, whether or not those negatives were balanced or even outweighed by short-run benefits…
Most Americans ever since have seen the destruction of the populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as necessary and effective — as constituting just means, in effect just terrorism, under the supposed circumstances — thus legitimating, in their eyes, the second and third largest single-day massacres in history. (The largest, also by the U.S. Army Air Corps, was the firebombing of Tokyo five months before on the night of March 9, which burned alive or suffocated 80,000 to 120,000 civilians. Most of the very few Americans who are aware of this event at all accept it, too, as appropriate in wartime.)
To regard those acts as definitely other than criminal and immoral — as most Americans do — is to believe that anything — anything — can be legitimate means: at worst, a necessary, lesser, evil. At least, if done by Americans, on the order of a president, during wartime. Indeed, we are the only country in the world that believes it won a war by bombing — specifically by bombing cities with weapons of mass destruction — and believes that it was fully rightful in doing so. It is a dangerous state of mind…