More on OPR, Hiroshima, and Dick Cheney

In response to this post, arguing that the Office of Professional Responsibility report on the "torture memos" is comparable to John Hersey's Hiroshima in making the public confront what was done in its name, a reader who is an academic historian writes:

"One can only hope that the OPR report makes the same splash that Hersey's Hiroshima did,  and that like Hiroshima (which wasn't published in Japan until 1949, but sold very well once the U.S. authorities permitted its release) it eventually gets read in places which were the targets of U.S. policy.   That said,  it might also be worth noting that Hiroshima's reception in the U.S.  has a complicated legacy. Yes, the book confronted the U.S. public with unforgettable imagery of the devastation and human suffering caused by the atomic bombs, and perhaps for the first time forced readers in the U.S. to consider the Japanese victims as people not unlike themselves.  Hersey's choice of middle-class, well-educated Japanese as representatives of the larger public helped in this regard; that so many of the victims in his book were Christian was also a factor.  In other words, Hiroshima's effectiveness at provoking sympathy for the Japanese victims of the bombs was in part a function of its ability to also make Americans think of themselves as potential victims.  I wonder if readers of the OPR report will be able to make that leap from the suffering inflicted on the victims of Bybee and Yoo to their own circumstances.

"Second, Hersey's piece almost certainly helped provoke Stimson's February 1947 Harper's article, "The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb." Concerned about the growing public sentiment in opposition to atomic weapons in general, if not to their use against the inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,  Stimson was persuaded to help construct what would appear to be a definitive, insider's account of the decision-making process leading up to the bombings.   His description of the decision to use the weapons as having been weighed against the estimated cost of an invasion, and his portrayal of the decision-making process itself as deliberate,  careful and morally upright, had the desired effect. It would be more than a decade before that narrative was effectively challenged, and historians continue to struggle against the the argument that the bombs saved a "million American lives."

"While I don't see Margolis as comparable to Stimson - who knew that the decision-making process he described was a fiction - I do wonder which narrative will emerge out of these early histories of the dark Bush years.  Will it be one which closes the door on continued engagement with the costs of torture, or one which treats such engagement as without merit?"
On a related point about the torture memos, but also with a Hiroshima angle, reader Zach Hansel writes:
"You wrote about "the Dick Cheney view, the 24 view, which equates the torture memos with Abraham Lincoln's imposition of martial law."

"Dick Cheney is not merely arguing to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, but is also arguing to torture people held under that standard, and he's advocating it whether or not there's an imminent threat of attack. Lincoln was shot down by the Court when he held would-be saboteurs in Indiana in 1864 because Indiana was not facing an immediate threat. The Court found martial law illegal in Hawaii in 1944 because the state was not under an immediate threat of attack.

"I think both of those examples are fairly analogous to the threat posed by terrorism today. There was certainly the chance of a surprise attack against Hawaii at that time or sabotage in either Indiana or Hawaii at either time. There's a chance that a terrorist affiliated with a terrorist suspect in our custody can attack at any time, anywhere.

"So, Cheney's matching Lincoln and going further than Lincoln in two ways... Cheney's position is equivalent to saying that, since Hiroshima was necessary, the atom bomb should be our first resort in any international conflict." [My emphasis]
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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