The Bomb and the Drone: Hiroshima/Nagasaki and Iraq/Afghanistan/Pakistan

Even though August 6 and 9 are past, the lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki belong always before us. The agony of those two cities must remain our dark beacon.

Hiroshima/Nagasaki wasn’t so much about targets as about audiences. We sacrificed a couple hundred thousand harmless, unarmed, undefended human beings to make a point. That spectacle wasn’t so much for Japan as for the Soviet Union and the world at large.

Thanks to the US head start on nuclear technology – vividly showcased at Hiroshima/Nagasaki – for 65 years, the US has been able to hold the planet hostage. It’s been able to deploy nuclear blackmail to further its hegemonic design.

But the bomb didn’t long remain the lone superpower’s monopoly. Hiroshima/Nagasaki was the spark of nuclear proliferation. Our God-challenging weapon made us no safer.

Every August 6, letters to editors perpetuate the 20th century’s most pernicious myth: thanks to Hiroshima/Nagasaki, World War II ended. The fanatic, loathsome Japs were forced to surrender and would not have to be invaded. Thousands of G.I. lives were thereby saved. Thank God for the bomb!

Never mind that, by summer 1945, the US Air Force ruled Japanese skies. Never mind that Japan’s major cities lay in ashes. Never mind that the US Navy ruled the sea; nothing could get through its blockade. Never mind that Japan was totally depleted. Never mind that Japan had already been seeking surrender.

The US might have simply let Japan dangle for as long as it took and then swept in to feed the emaciated and bury the dead. It could have let Japan surrender with a remnant of honor intact and without the atomic terrorism.

There are parallels between Hiroshima/Nagasaki and Iraq/Afghanistan/Pakistan. Once again, we are embarking on a menacing new era – that of robotic warfare. (Note to self: reread P.W. Singer, “Wired for War: the Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century,” Penguin, 2009.)

Atomic bomb as life saver was a Big Lie. Now, in the 21st century, the Pentagon is pedaling the exact same myth: that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) like the MQ9 Reaper drone – maintained at our local Hancock Air Base – are all about “saving our boys.”

For several years now, the Pentagon has used high-tech robots like the Reaper built by General Atomics, Inc., not only for surveillance, but to kill and blow up things in Iraq and Afghanistan. Defying international law, the CIA uses the Reaper to assassinate and blow up things in Pakistan.

The “beauty” of it is that technicians, wielding joysticks at satellite-linked computers thousands of miles from any battleground, can “pilot” these drones. They can deliver – with laser accuracy – their hellfire missiles and 500-pound bombs. And they can do so with no physical risk.

The Reaper has become the Pentagon’s and the CIA’s darling. With no on-board pilot or crew, no one dies or is captured when the Reaper crashes or is shot down. That means no embarrassing body bags being shipped back home. So, few ask: What are we doing over there anyway?

Such distancing and such unaccountability almost guarantee mission creep. Mission creep means an easy slide into perpetual warfare. How juicy for General Atomics and the other corporate war profiteers!

Just as the Hiroshima/Nagasaki civilian casualties failed to matter, so, too, the drone’s Iraq/Afghanistan/Pakistan civilian casualties – numbering in the thousands. We forget that many victims will have survivors nursing enduring hatred for the US.

Who knows? One day drone missiles may be aimed at us. Thanks to the Pentagon’s love affair with death – and despite the trillions we squander on “defense” – the Pentagon is only making the world safe … for corporate profit.

Already 40 nations are said to be either importing or manufacturing their own drones. Like nuclear proliferation, drone proliferation could haunt us till the end of our days.

But only if we fail to act.