July 18th, 2005


American Hiroshima

Google News is a newspaper assembled by robots and spiders. They scuttle all over the web collecting articles. The results are diverse and uncurated, like the fascinatingly awful amateur art fair I saw with Nathan Michel out at Red Hook on Saturday. There's a sense of being liberated from familiar world views, liberated from taste, from curation, from policing. Anything goes, and everything is on an equal footing. But the randomness also liberates us from reliability.

This morning I happened to glance at French Google News, and read an article in today's Figaro marking the anniversary of the explosion of the first nuclear bomb, sixty years ago. "On the 15th of July 1945," says Le Figaro, "just after 5am, in the sky of Alamogordo in the New Mexico desert, the Manhattan Project, begun less than four years before, attained its goal: beating Nazi Germany to the construction of a nuclear bomb... This first experimental bomb would be followed by the murderous attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki."

"Confronted with this demonstration of power, certain scientists worried about the consequences of their act. Szilard and others opposed any military use of the bomb. "Let's not open the atomic era with a cruel explosion, let's just make a demonstration, that will be enough to persuade the Japanese to surrender," the scientists declared in a communal petition. But the results had already been decided. Truman and the American high command, supported by Oppenheimer, wanted to end the war and avoid further heavy American losses; either to invade Japan militarily, or use the atomic bomb. It was this second tragic option which was chosen. The two Japanese sites were selected in order to cause the maximum number of casualties. 250,000 people died in Hiroshima and 150,000 in Nagasaki."

Wondering whether the English-language media were marking the upcoming anniversary of these appalling events in the same tone, I searched US Google News on the term "Hiroshima" and came up with an alarming article in Joseph Farah's World Net Daily.

"Osama bin Laden is planning what he calls an "American Hiroshima," Farah himself warned his readers, "using nuclear weapons already smuggled into the country across the Mexican border along with thousands of sleeper agents. The series of attacks is designed to kill 4 million, destroy the economy and fundamentally alter the course of history. At least two fully assembled and operational nuclear weapons are believed to be hidden in the United States already."

The tone was somewhat sensational, and I had no idea whether World Net Daily was a "reputable news source" or the omegan trump of some loopy millenarian death cult. But I read on.

"Al-Qaida's prime targets for launching nuclear terrorist attacks are the nine U.S. cities with the highest Jewish populations, according to captured leaders and documents. The cities chosen as optimal targets are New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Boston and Washington, D.C. New York and Washington top the preferred target list for al-Qaida leadership. Bin Laden's goal, according to G2 Bulletin sources, is to launch one initial attack, followed by a second on another city to simulate the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The optimal dates for the attacks are Aug. 6, the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, Sept. 11 and May 14, the anniversary of the re-creation of the state of Israel in 1948. No specific year has been suggested, however, this Aug. 6 represents the 60th anniversary of the Hiroshima attack."

Now, Farah may well be an "unreliable narrator". But the thing is, so is Bin Laden. Actual events in the real world are planned according to somebody's loopy idea of a "happy ending" or "just desserts" or "the moral of the story". History is shaped as a narrative, and its shapers are worryingly irrational and hideously hubristic.

Truman was undoubtedly an appalling criminal for using nuclear weapons on civilian populations. I hope the commemorations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which will fill our screens and papers in the coming weeks note that fact. But the idea of a tit-for-tat "American Hiroshima" is no less appalling. It's also completely bizarre that a Saudi renegade would take it upon himself to embody historical karma. One could just about imagine a fanatical cell of Japanese terrorists, the Aum Sect, perhaps, taking revenge for Hiroshima sixty years later. But for Saudi millionaires to take it upon themselves is bizarre, like a clique of Venezuelan Freemasons recreating Auschwitz and filling it with modern Germans. I very much hope this whole story is "unreliable narration", a sort of nightmarish exaggeration. Then again, it may well be human history itself which exaggerates.