Category Archives: politics

70th anniversary of first use of atomic weapon against civilians

Image credit: The Human Survival Project

Today is the 70th anniversary of the first ever use of an atomic weapon against humans – civilians at that.  The US dropped the bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Two days later they dropped another atomic bomb on Nagasaki.

There will be a lot of information circulating about this incident and its military and political significance. However, the Russian Historical Society has published an historical document which could be of interest. It is the just declassified report from Soviet ambassador to Japan on the aftermath of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is from the Archive of Foreign Policy of Russia. The report was recorded a month after the attacks.

The original report is available on-line at Report of the Soviet ambassador to Japan about the state of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb. For those who do not read Russian here are the highlights (thanks to Fort Russ – Russia declassifies the report on the aftermath of the US nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki):


hirosima

The train terminal and the city of Hiroshima were destroyed so much that there was no shelter to hide from the rain.
The city was a scorched plain with 15-20 cement buildings left standing.
Several dozen thousand people huddled in the dugouts on the outskirts of the city.
People who came to help the victims during the first 5-10 days died.
A month after the bombing grass began to grow and new leaves appeared on the burned trees.
Glass windows in the cement building of police department, which was left standing, blew out inward. The ceiling was bulging upwards.
The zone of impact was 6-8 kilometers, where all the buildings were damaged.
At 5-6 kilometers mostly roofs were damaged.
Some areas were not affected by the rays, suggesting that the energy was expelled unequally by bursts. Some people who were close to the injured did not receive any burns. This pertains to sections significantly removed from the impact.
Everything alive was destroyed in the radius of one kilometer.
The sound and the flash were heard and seen 50 kilometers away.
On person reported seeing a flash and feeling a touch of a warm stream on his cheek and a needle pinch.
Many people only had injuries from shattered glass.
Burns were mainly on the face, arms and legs.
A doctor reported seeing three bombs dropped on parachutes, two of which did not explode and were collected by the military. The doctor experienced diarrhea after drinking the water. Other rescuers got sick after 36 hours. The doctor said that in those affected the white blood cell count reduced from 8000 per cubic centimeter to 3,000, 1,000 and even 300, which causes bleeding from nose, throat, eyes, and from the uterus in females. The injured die after 3-4 days.
The injured, who are evacuated heal faster. Those who drank or rinsed with water in the impact area died thereafter.
After a month it was considered safe to stay in the impact zone, however it was still not conclusive.
According to the doctor, rubber clothing offered protection against uranium, as well as any material which is a conductor of electricity.
A girl who visited the area a few days after the blast got sick in 1-2 weeks and died 3 days after.
Nagasaki is divided into two sections by a mountain. The section sheltered from the blast by a mountain had much less destruction.
Japanese driver in Nagasaki said no rescue work was done on the day of the bombing, because the city was engulfed in fire.
Nagasaki bomb was dropped over a university hospital in Urakami district (near a Mitsubishi plant), all the patients and the staff of the hospital died.
The driver said, some children who were up on the trees [playing?] survived, but those on the ground died.Most people in Hiroshima said the bomb was dropped on a parachute and detonated 500-600 feet above the ground.
The head of the sanitary service of the 5th American fleet, commander Willkatts said that no parachutes were used in the dropping of the bombs. He also said no bomb could fall without detonating.
He said after the bombing the zone of impact is safe and the Japanese are exaggerating the effects of a nuclear bomb.


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MH17 tragedy: 1 year on

Emergencies Ministry members walk at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash, MH17, near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. The Malaysian airliner Flight MH-17 was brought down over eastern Ukraine on Thursday, killing all 295 people aboard and sharply raising the stakes in a conflict between Kiev and pro-Moscow rebels in which Russia and the West back opposing sides.    REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev (UKRAINE - Tags: TRANSPORT DISASTER POLITICS CIVIL UNREST) - RTR3Z3QS

Ukrainian Emergencies Ministry members walk at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash, MH17, near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. Credit: REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

At the first anniversary of the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines MH17 the international community is none the wiser about who shot it down and the weapon used. But the one thing we do know is the blame game continues.

The only official report we have from investigators to date was released last September (see MH17 – Preliminary report leaves most conspiracy theories intact). The final report will probably be released in October (see Investigations into MH17 crash expected to go on until year-end, says Najib).

But a draft of this final report is now in the hands of interested governments. This has resulted in speculation about its contents and stories which claim to be based on leaks. However, the Dutch investigators, have denied – or at least refused to confirm – the circulating stories.

As expected in the current geopolitical climate, the “blame Putin” propagandists are very active, although the stories seem to blame the “separatists” in eastern Ukraine, rather than the Russian Federation itself. For example, this from CNN:

“Dutch accident investigators say that evidence points to pro-Russian rebels as being responsible for shooting down MH-17, according to a source who has seen the report.

“According to the source”, the report says it was a Buk missile — a Russian surface-to-air missile — that was used, launched from a village in Russian rebel controlled territory.”

I am always suspicious of “according to a source” stories – they have so often proved to be no more than the reporter’s imagination.

Other reports do not point the finger but say the investigators now have a clear idea of what missile was used. A recent presentation from technical experts in the firm Almaz-Antey which manufactures missiles of the sort which may have been used shows what can be gleaned from the shrapnel fragments in the wreckage and the pattern of damage on the fuselage. Both in identifying the specific missile used (and, therefore, its possible owners) and its trajectory and launch site. This presentation is very technical and quite long but very interesting.

Although this presentation was aimed mainly at getting European sanctions on the company lifted by legal action, the material was also supplied to the Dutch Safety Board which is the official investigator of the causes of this tragedy.

Almaz-Antey’s conclusion is that, if a BUK missile was used, it was an older model no longer manufactured in the Russian Federation. The Ukrainian armed forces does have these  missile systems (see MH17 crash: ‘Old Buk missile used’ – Russian firm). Mind you, that does not prove who fired the missile because the armed forces in the Donbass region may have possessed one or more such systems captured from the Ukrainian armed forces. And may have trained Ukrainian operators who had defected to the rebels.

So, at this stage the real causes of this tragedy are still unknown. It looks like we will know something more definite in October. But the geopolitical propaganda struggle continues.

I suspect the rumours and unconfirmed stories attributing blame to the eastern Ukrainian rebels are nothing more than propaganda – precipitated by the fact of the anniversary of the tragedy.

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News media – telling us how to think

OK – this is satire and as with all satire the parallels are not completely equal. But it does illustrate what I feel about the widespread pathetic reporting of the Ukrainian events. It’s as if we are bing told how to think – without any exposure to real facts. And it disrespects the innocent victims of such events by effectively covering up their tragic situation.
Thanks to Fort Russ: Edward R. Murrow, reporting from London, has no idea who’s dropping the bombs.


LNyRakb

Child with doll after V-2 explosion. Uncertain which side launched the V-2

Satire written — or compiled (!) by Tom Winter

London has been suffering bombs and incendiaries now for over a year. CNN finally published a newsreel of the shelling in London, but put a crawling text across it saying “Uncertain the source of the bombardments.” NPR sent Corey Flintoff to London, who confirmed that London was under the bombs, but could not tell us who was dropping them. Later he telephoned from Kiev, and spoke with a woman in London who didn’t know where the bombardment was coming from either.

Amnesty International said over the weekend that both British and German forces have been responsible for war crimes, and also accused Britain of “fuelling” the crimes.

As for the continuing blasts, it was unclear who had opened fire, though the explosions happened well inside territory controlled by British army and its home forces. “Over the last 24 hours, there was also shelling – the shelling of a cultural center in London. We condemn that shelling that cost at least six lives, and we express our condolences to the families of the victims. It’s, again, too early to determine responsibility for the shelling, but we call for a full and transparent investigation.”  said Cordell Hull’s spokeswoman.

A war correspondent Sasha Upchuk has been hospitalized with a wound from one of the explosions. When asked which side he thought the bombs came from, he said it was impossible to tell.

The Wall Street Journal reported some of the carnage in London “But they told us they wouldn’t bomb London, they told us!” one woman said, in reference to Germany’s pledge to avoid using heavy weaponry on residential areas. “It’s a total nightmare,” said another neighbor as she emerged from the mangled entryway to the apartment blocks. Many of its windows had been shattered in the blast.

The whistling of shells around noon local time pierced the summer silence that has descended on the city, which tens of thousands of people have fled in recent weeks.

There was no immediate confirmation of who had fired the shells, but neighbors and other Londoners blamed German forces, speculating that their intended target was the regional airbase right next door.

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Something to consider

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Don’t put all the blame on the Germans – a lesson from World War II

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Sculpture of the “Unbowed man” at the Khatyn Memorial site. The sculpture depicts Yuzif Kaminsky, the only adult to survive the massacre, holding his dead son Adam. Credit: John Oldale.Click to enlarge

The recent commemorations of Victory Day in Europe – the 70th anniversary of the end of the second world war in Europe – got me thinking about how we refer to Germany as the perpetrator of the horrors in that war. Often we more correctly use the term “Nazi Germany” – but still it must place a burden of guilt on many Germans who were, and are innocent.

On the other hand, it seems to me, it almost ignores the very real responsibility of people from other nations for these atrocities. (Although, granted some speakers will also refer to involvement of collaborators).

The Khatyn Massacre

Many years ago I visited the war memorial at Khatyn, in Belarus. This was a very moving experience because it symbolised how that nation had lost a quarter of its population during the war. All the residents of this village had been herded into barns which were then set alight – anyone attempting to escape was shot. The photo above shows part of the memorial depicting the man who was thought to be the sole survivor.

Very moving.

I certainly got the impression that this horror was perpetrated by German soldiers. But my reading in recent days convinces me I was wrong, and had been wrongly informed. The perpetrators were a nazi battalion – but one established in Kiev and made up mainly of Ukrainian nationalists. Here are some details from the Wikipedia entry on the Khatyn massacre:

Khatyn or Chatyń (Belarusian and Russian: Хаты́нь, pronounced [xɐˈtɨnʲ]) was a village of 26 houses and 156 inhabitants in Belarus, in Lahoysk Raion, Minsk Region, 50 km away from Minsk. On 22 March 1943, the entire population of the village was massacred by the 118th Schutzmannschaft Nazi battalion. The battalion was formed in July 1942 in Kiev and was made up mostly of Ukrainian nationalist collaborators from Western Ukraine, Hiwis[1][2][3] and the DirlewangerWaffen-SS special battalion.

The massacre was not an unusual incident in Belarus during World War II. At least 5,295 Belarusian settlements were burned and destroyed by the Nazis, and often all their inhabitants were killed (some amounting up to 1,500 victims) as a punishment for collaboration with partisans. Khatyn became a symbol of all those villages. In the Vitebsk region, 243 villages were burned down twice, 83 villages three times, and 22 villages were burned down four or more times. In the Minsk region, 92 villages were burned down twice, 40 villages three times, nine villages four times, and six villages five or more times.[4] Altogether, over 2,000,000 people were killed in Belarus during the three years of Nazi occupation, almost a quarter of the country’s population.[5][6]

It’s worth following up some of the links for more details.

The Ukrainian Auxiliary Police, which included the Schutzmannschaft Nazis involved in this and many other massacres, carried out anti-Jewish and anti-partisan operations in most areas of Ukraine. While these units were formed directly after the German invasion of the USSR in 1941 Ukrainian nationalist organisations existed before that invasion. These extremist organisations were not just “nationalist,” but were racist – expressing hatred for Poles, Jews and above all, Russians. And these three groups became their victims during the war.

Misinforming tourists

I had happily accepted the story that the Khatyn Massacre was perpetrated by “Nazis” – assuming they were German Nazis. So this information came as a bit of a shock to me. Worse – the role of such nationalist forces was not talked about much during Soviet times in fear of encouraging antagonism between the different republics. So innocent tourists were left in the dark about the true origins of the perpetrators – despite the fact that the leaders of the battalion involved had been brought to justice. As Wikipedia says:

“The commander of one of the platoons of 118th Schutzmannschaft Battalion, Ukrainian Vasyl Meleshko, was tried in a Soviet court and executed in 1975. The Chief of Staff of 118th Schutzmannschaft Battalion, Ukrainian Grigory Vassiura, was tried in Minsk in 1986 and found guilty of all his crimes. He was sentenced to death by the verdict of the military tribunal of the Belorussian military district.

The case and the trial of the main executioner of Khatyn was not given much publicity in the media; the leaders of the Soviet republics worried about the inviolability of unity between the Belarusian and Ukrainian peoples.”

A lesson for today

So the message is – when your hear about Nazi atrocities the perpetrators were not necessarily German. We should not forget the role played by collaborators and non-German nationalists in the Holocaust and other atrocities.

epa04318197 New soldiers of Ukrainian army battalion 'Azov' attend their oath of allegiance ceremony before departing to eastern Ukraine in Kiev, Ukraine, 16 July 2014. The government in Kiev does not recognize the declared independence of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and pro-Russian militants refuse to cooperate with the pro-European leadership in Kiev. Ukraine insisted that there would be no ceasefire or negotiations before the pro-Russian separatists in the country's east give up their arms.  EPA/ROMAN PILIPEY

New soldiers of Ukrainian army battalion ‘Azov’ attend their oath of allegiance ceremony before departing to eastern Ukraine in Kiev, Ukraine, 16 July 2014.Image Credit: EPA/ROMAN PILIPEY

And this is not an abstract appeal. Today the inheritors of the Ukrainian nationalist organisations which committed these atrocities are alive and very active in Ukraine. They even have military battalions fighting in the current civil war. Worse, the US has now sent their own troops into Ukraine to train National Guard battalions which include units like the Azov Batallion which is based on extreme National Socialist ideology.

Talk about a slippery slope.

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What a nice idea

pc-150509-immortal-regiment-jsw-03_4dd6a50cf7f3448b58856367221051d8.nbcnews-ux-1440-900

Click to enlarge – Moscow Celebration of Victory day.
Image Credit:
 NBC News

The recent commemorations of ANZAC Day (in New Zealand), Victory day (Internationally) and Mothers’ day got me thinking about how we mark these events. Thinking spurred on by a family discussion precipitated by a difference of opinion about the Victory day Celebrations (or the reporting of them) in Moscow.

Firstly – Mothers’ day. I was struck by Facebook entries some of my relatives made dedicated to their mothers. The sincere expression of love and respect for, and thanks to, their Mothers. Quite moving but really lovely to see the expressions of gratitude to parents.

ANZAC Day is a notable day in New Zealand. In my youth, many people felt bad about it because of its glorification of war and support of a bad war in Indo-China. Being of “call-up” age at the time my pacifist tendencies (and support for the Vietnamese) meant I rejected what ANZAC Day seemed to stand for then.

But more recently ANZAC Day celebrations in New Zealand have come to recognise the horrors of war, to oppose militarism and to be a time when we remember the sacrifices of our relatives who died in wars. It has come to be more concentrated on the losses at Gallipoli in the First World war (the event which initially launched ANZAC day).

There was very little here marking the Victory Day Celebrations commemorating the end of the war in Europe on 8/9 May, 1945. And local reporting of overseas commemoration events was no better. A pity, as many New Zealanders did fight and die in Europe – and for a much better reason than some other wars we have fought in.

Personalising the commemorations

The media sometimes makes a big thing of the Military Parade in Moscow’s celebration of Victory Day – and I must admit military parades don’t appeal to me. But, unfortunately, our media often ignores the mass participation in Victory Day Celebrations. The photograph at the head of this post is a shot from this year’s mass commemoration in Moscow (click to enlarge – it is worth it).

It is the nature of this mass participation which interested me.  It is sometimes called the parade of The immortal regiment. Here is how the US Rusky Mir Foundation, which reported on an immortal regiment march in New York, describes this mass participation:

“The Immortal Regiment (or Besmertny Polk) dates from 2012, when people in the Siberian city of Tomsk were debating how to keep the memory of World War II heroes alive even as the veterans themselves passed on. They asked people to create large posters with photos of their relatives who had served in the war, and carry them in Victory Day parades. This year, more than 800 cities will have a “Besmertny Polk” parade.”

That is the idea that appeals to me – the use of portraits of lost relatives in these commemorations. It personalises the celebration and expression of gratitude – in much the same way that Facebook posts on Mothers’ day do. And it figuratively enables our lost relatives to be seen participating in the events.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see more people bring along and display photos of their relatives in New Zealand’s ANZAC celebrations? That would help improve the personal and family aspects of the celebration and the display would surely be moving.

Here is some video footage of the Moscow parade – but there is a lot more around, much of it from other countries.

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We always seem to ignore the causes

I thought this cartoon was very relevant – not only to the Baltimore situation but to many areas of conflict throughout the world.

Take the situation in Ukraine. The media seems to only concentrate on problems of the ceasefire – violations and non-compliance with withdrawal of heavy arms.

But the Minsk agreement covering the current ceasefire has far more content than just the ceasefire arrangements. It has political and social requirements such as constitutional reform, language rights, local autonomy and new elections.

Of course these are dependent on maintaining a ceasefire – but the ceasefire itself cannot be maintained without progress on the political agreements. Unfortunately the media concentration on  the ceasefire and it’s almost complete silence on the political requirements is just not helpful to a proper solution.

The current ceasefire is crumbling and most observers are predicting outbreak of full-scale fighting in the near future. But the cause of this is not just the itchy trigger-fingers of the combatants. It is the refusal of at least some parties in the conflict to allow any progress on the political solutions.

We should stop concentrating on, and moralising about, the riots and shooting which are manifestations of the underlying problems and instead work on solving those underlying problems.

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Commercial and ideological support of anti-fluoride activity

Fluoride Free NZ (FFNZ) promotes a list of “NZ Health Professionals who are calling for an end to fluoridation.” I am generally cynical about such endorsement lists, but the details in this list do give a picture of the commercial and ideological alignment of the FFNZ supporters and activists. So I did my own analysis, dividing the list into those described as “Science and Environmental PhD Professionals”, “NZ Dentists, “NZ Doctors” and Alternative health professionals (Chiropractors, naturopaths, Homeopaths, etc.).

Of course, this is approximate as, for example, some listed as doctors may have specialised in one or another alternative fields. The pie chart below shows the distribution of FFNZ supporters among these groups.

Clearly with such a large proportion of supporters coming from alternative health fields this above distribution is not representative of professionals in general, let alone health professionals. However, anyone who has looked at the anti-fluoride movement or debated with anti-fluoride activists would not be surprised as “natural”/alternative health arguments and sources are frequently used.

I wonder, though, to what extent local body councillors are aware of this commercial and ideological orientation when considering submissions they get on the fluoridation issue. I suspect they aren’t. Yet groups like FFNZ engineer these submissions from their supporters – often providing templates for individuals to sign – and usually dominate the submission process.

Personally I think this is a defect in our system of representative democracy – councils should actually insist on declarations of conflict of interest, details of employment and commercial interests from submitters. Their failure to do this explains how some local bodies, like the Hamilton City Council, have unwittingly been captured by ideological and commercial interests from the “natural”/alternative health industry during such submission processes.

Financial links

Declaration of conflicts of interest and details of employment, etc., may to some extent help identify big business interests financing this sort of submission in future. At the moment, we are largely left to speculate. However, there are financial data available showing the money trail involved in at least one anti-fluoride campaign – the High Court case against  the South Taranaki District Council aiming for a judicial review of a decision to fluoridate water supplies in Patea and Waverley (see Who is funding anti-fluoridation High Court action? and Corporate backers of anti-fluoride movement lose in NZ High Court).

This action was taken by New Health NZ – an incorporated body set up by the NZ Health Trust – In November 2013. Statements of financial performance of these two organisations are available online and show the following movements of large amounts of money during the year to March 2014. NZHT As the NZ health Trust is a lobby group for the “natural”/alternative health industry the grants it receives must come out of the profits of this industry which is actually a big business in New Zealand. Although the financial statements do not identify sources and recipients the $100,00 grant to New Health NZ clearly came from its parent body and is included in their declared $125,ooo grants and donations.

The $95,156 paid out by New Health NZ in professional and consulting fees would have covered the costs involved in their High Court action. So this is a clear example of pretty direct funding of anti-fluoride activity (the High Court action) by corporate interests – the “natural”/alternative health industry.

But none of the reporting of this High Court action identified the commercial interests involved. Readers were given the impression that New Health NZ was just another one of these anti-fluoride activist groups and possibly assumed funds for the legal action came from donations.

Again, this is a flaw in our representative democratic system. There should be more transparency of financial links. Corporate interests should not be able to hide behind astroturf organisations and the dishonesty that their actions are the result of concerned citizens and not the ideological and commercial interests of big business.

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Why is Vladimir Putin so popular in the USA?

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Photo credit: REUTERS

Most readers are aware that Russian President Vladimir Putin has a very high popularity rating in his own country – a rating that most politicians  would die for. But it turns out he is also popular in the USA.

Putin came in at the number one spot in this year’s TIME 100 reader’s poll with 6.95% of the votes. According to TIME:

“Putin edged out rapper-singer CL (of the South Korean girl-group 2NE1) to claim the number one spot with 6.95% of the votes in the final tally. Pop stars Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Taylor Swift rounded out the top five with 2.6%, 1.9% and 1.8% of the votes, respectively.”

Putin was the only political leader in the top ten:

“Barack and Michelle Obama sat just outside the top 10 with 1.4% and 1.2% of the votes, respectively. Besides Putin, the only non-entertainers to crack the top 10 were the Dalai Lama (1.7%), Malala Yousafzai (1.6%) and Pope Francis. (1.5%).”

TIME-poll

I guess Putin is happy with the result – perhaps he is doing something right.

But here’s the interesting thing:

“More than half of the votes — 57.38% — were cast within the United States. Canada and the United Kingdom followed with 5.54% and 4.55% respectively.”

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One of the tamer cartoons demonising Putin

Despite continuous demonisation of Putin (and the Russian Federation) by the mass media in the US, UK and Canada in recent years he seems to be more popular than any other political leader – including the leaders of the countries where the readers live!

I wonder why that is? Is the naive demonisation counter-productive?

Do readers here have any suggestions?


Note: The TIME 100 readers’ poll closed April 10. It is not the same as the annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world, spanning politics, entertainment, business, technology, science, religion and other fields. That is actually chosen by the editors of TIME – this year’s list will be unveiled April 16.

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“Fair-weather” scepticism

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My old man used to label us kids as “fair-weather sailors” when we bitched about working outside during bad weather.

That phrase comes to my mind sometimes when I come across people who claim to be “sceptics ” (“Skeptics”) behaving very unsceptically when confronted with a claim outside their area of interest. For example, someone who can be quite objective about scientific claims but reacts quite unobjectively to political claims.

Perhaps politics is a bit like religion to some people – they line up instinctively on one side or another. However, I think a true sceptic should still be able to consider political claims according to the facts available and not just rely on instincts.

So, I am all for this image. Yes it is hard. But when you think about it what use are one’s ingrained prejudices if they do not stand up to sceptical consideration.

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