Posts Tagged ‘terror from the air’

“Les Bombardements Se Poursuivent,” Le Soleil. October 13, 1938. Page 21.

Les femmes et les enfants forment encore l’élément de la population espagnole qui a le plus à souffrir des
horreurs de la guerre. L’affaire tchécoslovaque a pu détourner pendant quelque temps l’attention du monde,
mais il n’en est pas moins vrai que les avions de FRANCO continuent toujours leur oeuvre destructive derrière
les lignes et qu’ils sèment la mort, en même temps que leurs bombes, sur les villes gouvernementales. Cette
photo a été prise, il y a à peine quelques jours, dans une des rues de Barcelone après un bombardement de la
ville par les avions ennemis. Tous les yeux des assistants sont tournés vers le ciel d’où la mort peut tomber
d’un moment à l’autre.

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71 years ago today: the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Here, before-and-after shots of the Hiroshima Commercial Museum, today known as the “atomic bomb dome.”

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“Monster cloud rising over Hiroshima, over the world—monstrous, mushrooming thing, sign of our age, symbol of our sin: growth; bigness, speed: grow, grow, grow—grow in a cancer, enlarge a factory, swell a city, balloon our bellies, speed life, fly to the moon, burst a bomb, shatter a people—explode the world. So it rose and I shrank in my cot, I who had cringed before the body-squeezing blast of a five-hundred-pound bomb, hearing now this strange cold incomprehensible jargon of the megaton. Someone had sinned against life, and I felt it in my very person. But then I, too, sinned. Suddenly, secretly, covertly—I rejoiced. For as I lay in that hospital, I had faced the bleak prospect of returning to the Pacific and the war and the law of averages. But now, I knew, the Japanese would have to lay down their arms. The war was over. I had survived. Like a man wielding a submachine gun to defend himself against an unarmed boy, I had survived. So I rejoiced.”

Helmet For My Pillow, by Robert Leckie (via uss-edsall)

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“A Japanese soldier walks through a completely leveled area of Hiroshima in September of 1945.”

(National Archives)

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“A Japanese man stands next to a tiled fireplace where a house once stood in in the vast, charred ruin that was once Hiroshima following the dropping of the atomic bomb “Little Boy” on the city by the United States Army Air Forces on 6 August 1945. Some 70,000 to 80,000 people, or around 30% of the population of Hiroshima, were killed by the blast and resultant firestorm, and another 70,000 injured. Nagasaki would be the next target. On 9 August 1945, the atomic bomb “Fat Man” would be dropped over the city, killing  263,000. Hiroshima, Hiroshima Prefecture, Honshu, Japan. 7 September 1945.

Image taken by Stanley Troutman.”

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Rene Magritte, Black Flag. Oil on canvas, 1937. Oil on canvas.

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, UK.

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“Anti-Gas Demonstration,” Montreal Star. January 29, 1937. Page 05.

“An anti-gas squad trained by the London borough of Holborn to deal with poison-gas in the event of an air raid, gave a public demonstration of methods of dealing with liquid gas attacks. This Associated Press photo shows: The squad marching to the scene of operations, wearing their gas-masks and protective clothing.”

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“British Government Opens Mask Factory,” Montreal Gazette. January 22, 1937. Page 19.

“Gerald Palmer (left), Geoffrey Lloyd, Home Office Under-Secretary, and Wing Commander Hodsell in charge of the air raid precautions department (right), pictures as they attended the recent opening of the first British Government factory for the manufacture of gas masks. When the factory is going full blast it will turn out masks at the rate of 500,00 a week. The officials are wearing some of the masks, which are proof against any gas so far known for use in war.”

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“This is not a thesis. Because a thesis should be written not only with sang-froid and all the usual literary precautions, but also requires an accumulation of references and general statistical data to which I am loathe to sacrifice the reaction of disgust and fury that dictates this text to me. On top of which, the former audience for theses, now deserting all prolonged reflection, wallows in the reading of the many copies of “Digests” in circulation and the stories of intrigue, whether sentimental, diplomatic or criminal, that the press, worn-out by all sorts of ignominy, serves it each morning with breakfast.

This is not a thesis and will not be satisfied with being simply a protest. This is ambitious. This needs to provoke men asleep in lies; to give a sense, a target and a lasting impact to the disgust of an hour, the nausea of an instant. The values that presided over our idea of life and which looked after for us, here and there, those small islands of hope and intervals of dignity, are being methodically wrecked by events at which, to make matters worse, we are invited to watch our victory, to salute the eternal destruction of a dragon eternally reborn. But as the scene is repeated are you not struck by the change that is taking place in the features of our heroes? Even when it’s easy for you to see that, with each new tournament, St. George appears unceasingly more and more to look like the dragon? Soon St. George will be nothing more than a hideous variation of the dragon itself. And then, he will be a camouflaged dragon, an expert in making us believe, that – with a strike of his lance – he will strike the Evil Empire down! August 8, 1945, will remain for some an unbearable date. One of greatest dates of infamy established by History. Newspapers pass on with delight the effects of the atomic bomb – this future instrument of polemic – from people to people. Evening radio shows announce the entry of the Soviet Union into the war against the ashes and the ruins of Japan. Two events, probably of unequal scale, but which both participate in the same horror.

Ten years ago, world opinion was trained into a state of excitement to protest against the use of mustard gas, dropped on Ethiopia by fascist aviators. The bombing of the village of Guernica, razed to the ground by German squadrons in Spain, was enough to mobilize – in a world still proud of its freedom – millions of just consciences. When London was in turn mutilated by fascist bombs, we knew on which side of the fires the values to be defended were to be found. Then when Hamburg burned with the same fire as London, we were taught of the beneficial effects of a new bombing technique called “saturation bombing” under cover of which immense urban areas were destined to be inevitably levelled. These perfected practices, these supreme refinements in murder possessed nothing that could enhance the cause of freedom, the family of man. We were more than a few, here, in Great Britain, in America, to believe them as detestable as the diverse forms of torment perfected by the Nazis. One day, it was an entire city “cleaned” by a terror raid; the next day, a railway station, into which thousands of refugees were packed, was, thanks to a scientific supervisor, riddled to death. These inhuman games appear suddenly derisory now that the atomic bomb has entered service and democratic bombers have tested its benefits on the Japanese people! In effect, what does the premeditated assassination of ten thousand, a few hundred thousand Japanese civilians matter? Everyone knows that the Japanese are yellow, and with extra impudence, evil yellow people (the Chinese represent the “kind” yellow people). Did not a character who is far from being a “war criminal” but rather Admiral William Halsey declare: “We are drowning and burning the bestial apes all over the Pacific, and it is just as much pleasure to burn them as to drown them”? These words so exultant and reassuring about the idea that military chiefs would like to do to human dignity, these words were pronounced in front of a news reporter… St. George exaggerates. He is beginning to seem to us as more repugnant than the dragon.


The point to which we have been carried by the latest developments in politics and war means it is indispensable that the legitimacy of a cause be judged, essentially and before anything else, on the means that it puts into action. In aid of causes that still risk calling on the best of man, it is indispensable to establish an inventory of means that are unlikely to obfuscate the stated aim. The recourse to denunciation when faced with a passing need is quickly translated into a bureaucracy of denunciation. In one section of the population, this quickly forms into a habit of denunciation; in another section, a shame of denunciation. Direct the debate towards the ultimate aims for which people are calling, then we will stand up, check the pillars and appearance of the staircase, before double-locking the door and expressing ourselves only in measured terms and according to a suddenly academic type of thinking. The middle-of-the-road has become an institution – and it cuts the life of a nation, the life of each man, in two. And the same is true of other means that were stolen from the enemy to better dominate and destroy it, but which we discover – at the moment of victory – have been promoted to the rank of national deformities, intellectual defects carefully protected against possible revolts of reason. This is how the cult of the leader’s infallibility, the ecstatic reinforcement of false hierarchies, the seizure of all sources of information and all the instruments of distribution, the frenetic organization of lies by the State at all times of day, growing police terror towards citizens who still wish to remain relatively lucid, have become the generally accepted forms of political and social progress! And it is precisely against such a powerful show of aberrations that we must repeat, without respite, the following obvious truth:

That the proletariat would not consider rising up by recourse to the means by which its enemies debase themselves. That a type of socialism that owes its advent to the marvels of intrigue, denunciation, political blackmail and ideological fraud would be contaminated at its source by the very instruments of its victory and that man and peoples would sin through an excess of candour if they expected anything else from it but a change of the shadows.

August 8, 1945. While the gaping wound of Hiroshima still smokes – that martyr city chosen for the test of the first atomic bomb – Stalin’s Russia strikes a blow to Japan with the famous stab-in-the-back trademarked by Mussolini. Nevertheless he would be wrong to turn in his grave while dreaming of his copyright fees. Because we were not just happy to plagiarize his beaux gestes; we wanted to add to his historical contribution. Indeed, the text of the Soviet declaration of war informs us that the USSR’s entry into the war has no other aim than “to shorten the war” and “save human lives”! A ceasefire of small means – there it is, an end in itself, an end that, none will contest, is difficult to equal in nobility. And during the centuries to come, the troubadours of Outer Mongolia will have the time to provide the epilogue on the pacifist and humanist character of the Master’s decision. August 8, 1945, is one of the lowest dates in the career of humanity.

Many years before the world hurried into a war against fascism, bitter discussions were rife in the movements of the left between total pacifists and militants of the fight to the death against tyranny. One of the themes that returned again and again in this long exchange of ideas and arguments was that of “just wars.” With a still imperfect skill, total pacifists set about proving that no just wars existed; that to pretend to fight tyranny through war was to deliver oneself to the tyranny of a military machine without brakes, to pitiless exceptional laws, and politicians invested with the most arbitrary powers of which they were more or less freed of having to justify. War alone, in and of itself, constituted a tyranny that yielded nothing to the one you propose to defeat – or so said, without convincing us, the theoreticians of total pacifism. They were wrong. Just wars do exist. But the peculiar of just wars is not making them last long. 

Do not forget that “just” wars, if they produce a Hoche or a Marceau, also produce a Bonaparte, which is a particularly diabolical way for them to cease being just. On the other hand – and with the absence of any Bonapartes on the horizon – a “just” war differs from ordinary expeditions of theft in what it imposes on those who lead it, a rhythm and a set of demands that are difficult for them to tolerate. To keep alive an undertaking based on popular fervour, those responsible for running the war must have the clear-minded boldness to let the moving forces on which they draw their strength retain their character of masses on fire – the mass in full progress and conscious of the direction of its élan. But the persistent rule with the leaders of peoples – often even those who appear to have returned directly from the firing line or the factory-floor meeting – is to erode their hierarchical weight by driving the motivating forces entrusted to them into the traditional frameworks of a country at war. And when I say “traditional frameworks” I mean the rationing of truth, the rationing of enthusiasm, the rationing of the ideal. I mean the arbitrary tightening of the moving forces of a nation, on the order of those who fear, in the “movement” of today, the “upheaval” of tomorrow. These traditional frameworks – simple masks placed on the face of whichever war so as to erase the expression of its originality and render it similar to all the others – can sometimes be borrowed from the archives of the War Museum, sometimes from the enemy’s practice. For the former, this is called “being inspired by the lessons of the past”; for the latter, “profiting from what your enemy teaches you.” 

The drabness of the living values of the present that we always seem ready to envelop in old sacramental formulae like a shroud, the transfer of the enemy’s methods and mental routines into the camp of justice, the way this war against fascism has gone, all offer us too many examples. I clearly remember the first Soviet war communiqué that finished by mentioning a German soldier, quoted by name, who went towards a Russian post declaring that he did not wish to take up arms against a proletarian State. The simple sentence of this communiqué gave off, in the face of history, a sound more striking than the motorized exploits that preceded and succeeded it. It bore witness, above the roar of battle, to the fact that the brotherhood of workers takes – and must continue to take – precedence over the division of men into ethnic and national groups. The good to be kept between us all was there – the virtue likely to crack open the worm-eaten framework of war between nations. And yet, once again, the workers were driven towards these traditional frameworks, and led astray. Instead of glorifying the Russian or German popular heroes of the past who had reached out in the cause of similar struggles for freedom, the Soviet propaganda services quickly indulged in a dreadful pathos, from which emerged some of the most sinister figures in Russian history. Prince Alexander Nevsky once again knew all the pomposity of glory because in 1242 he had the good luck to rout the Order of Teutonic Knights. Yet the memory of a Pugachev or a Stenka Razin – legendary champions of the peasant cause – was put on the backburner because they were judged to have been too badly mistreated by the authorities at the time. On November 7, 1941, addressing fighters of the Red Army, Stalin offered up to their courage some strange precursors: “Could you be,” he told them, “inspired by the courageous figures of your ancestors: Alexander Nevsky, Dimitri Donskov, Kuzma Minin, Dimitri Pozharsky, Alexander Suvorov, Mikhail Kutuzov?” 

…That such names of the heroic imagination could be twisted into defenders of the USSR provides enough to render senile a war that some expected to improve the world. What followed was equal to its beginning. The exhumation of Alexander Nevsky brought about a revision of eight centuries of European history. Borrowing not only from the past but the enemy, Stalin placed the Hitlerian theory of Europe’s mobilisation in opposition to an Asian assault, a return – pure and simple – to the most narrow-minded form of pan-Slavism. The debates in the different Pan-Slav Congresses that have been organized on Moscow’s initiative during this war have put back the intellect in the same way as Radio Berlin. The long development of Europe is no longer seen as anything but a pretext for racial divisions, a development prone to an endlessly reborn conflict between Slavs and Germans. The most recent Pan-Slav Congress (Sofia, February 1945) was devoted to the existence of a Slav bloc, the inheritor of a union forged through centuries of battles that date back to the victory of united Slav armies against the Germanic peoples at Grünewald (1410). Thus we end up fighting bloc against bloc, race against race, insanity against insanity! 

And so it is that “just” wars do not resist for long the slanderous contagion of ideas that they were asked to crush. I say that we are currently witnessing a penetration of Hitlerian political behaviour into the ranks of democracy. This penetration scandalizes next to nobody; too many people find in it material convenience and moral comfort. This penetration sprawls across all the newspapers, in all the news that reaches us about the fate being prepared for the world. For example, the annexation of territories without the prior consent of their populations was generally considered as an outrage against the law, part of Hitler’s imperialistic frenzy. Yet, today, look how things are presented in a completely different way, with the only justification being national usefulness. This port is perfectly useful to me and I would like it accorded to me, declares one power – and if it is pointed out that it has always been part of another national unit, the power replies that while that may well be possible it really needs it and anyway victory gives it the right to petty theft. So, from now on, will it get not simply a port or an isolated city, but vast sets of territories that have become perfectly mobile and able to change owner in the space of a night? The transfer of populations also used to pass as a cruel process to which only the regimes of force allowed themselves recourse. These transfers are nevertheless today envisaged on a scale not smaller than that of Nazism’s darkest round-ups. Here, I will allow Louis Clair, one of the principal contributors to American magazine Politics, whose capacity for indignation continues to help us breathe, to speak: 

The people are displaced like cattle; if you give me 500,000 Sudeten-Germans, I will work something out to hand over a certain number of Tyroliens; perhaps we could exchange a few Germans against some machine tools? Hitler, once again, has started up a mechanism that is beginning to take on worrying proportions… The speed with which the victorious powers are haggling over the only merchandise that, in spite of technical improvements, remains more in demand than ever – slave labour – is something truly obscene.

– Georges Henein, The Prestige of Terror. c. 1945. Source.

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George Grosz, Punishment (Strafe). Watercolor and opaque watercolor on paper, 1934. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Erich Cohn. Object number: 169.1934. MOMA.

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“Les civils s’exercent a porter des masques a gaz,” Photo-Journal, November 11, 1937. Page 10. 

Article about gas drill amongst civilians in Great Britain.

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