The most recent issue of Academe displays on its cover a Bob Dylan lyric: “I’ll Tell It and Think It and Speak It and Breathe It.” An image appears at the upper left-hand corner of this webpage. Its provenance is the epic protest song, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” Editor Aaron Barlow deftly situates the song on the cusp of the 1960s revolt against war, racism, gender and sexual-orientation inequality. “Hard Rain” is considered one of the greatest songs in the American-folk tradition and, yet, it is frequently misinterpreted. Nat Hentoff, in the liner notes of Dylan’s second album, Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963), is chronologically incorrect. He places the anthemic song as a blistering reaction to the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. Dylan wrote the poem months before the near nuclear war with the Soviets, and performed the masterpiece in such iconic venues as Greenwich Village’s The Gaslight prior to the brinkspersonship of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Lawrence Epstein, in his book, Political Folk Music in America from its Origins to Bob Dylan, astonishingly removes any atomic references from the song.
While Dylan’s music contains surreal, symbolist poetic visions, that reflect genius and extraordinary capacity of imagination, most extract clear references to the aftermath of a nuclear war. Talkin’ World War III Blues, a vastly underrated Dylan topical song, is another anti-nuclear song on the same album that refers to fallout shelters and lighting cigarettes on parking meters. “Hard Rain” is also referencing a nuclear apocalypse that was clearly on the mind of the twenty-one year old Minnesota native, as well as other Greenwich Village artists, musicians and singers: not to mention the general public that grew increasingly alarmed about radioactive fallout from atomic and hydrogen bomb testing. This is a verse from “Hard Rain.”
I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’
I saw a white ladder all covered with water
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.
August 6, 2015 is the seventieth anniversary of the atomic bombing of Japan. It is also the first anniversary of Inside Higher Ed’s initial revelation of the Steven Salaita tenure travesty at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. They broke the story on Hiroshima day. For those of us deeply engaged in and affected by the Salaita persecution, as well as the use of the atomic bomb, August 6 shall induce reflection and anguish. Most of my professional life has been studying and writing about the decision to use the atomic bomb at the end of World War II. Recently my energies have engaged AAUP issues of academic freedom and shared governance. The confluence on August 6 is palpable.
I have had several op-eds appear on the seventieth anniversary of the decision to use the atomic bomb, that for the most part are distinct with different insights on the only use of nuclear weapons in war. Here and also in the Los Alamos Daily News that is reproduced below. One should acknowledge the journalistic independence of the paper, given the fact it is situated in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where the atomic bombs were built, and where the Los Alamos National Laboratory exists today. It had been the site of the Los Alamos Ranch School when J. Robert Oppenheimer suggested the government take it over during the Manhattan Project. The War Department condemned the property. It eventually received enriched uranium and reprocessed plutonium, and manufactured A-bombs that eliminated large swaths of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The use of the atomic bomb changed the world, and ushered in the nuclear age. This is the Los Alamos piece I refer to above:
On August 6, 1945, an atomic bomb leveled Hiroshima. Three days later on August 9, an atomic bomb destroyed the forgotten second city, Nagasaki. Atomic bombs shattered Japan seventy years ago at the end of World War II. Perhaps 250,000 casualties perished as a result of the neutron bombardment of uranium 235 and plutonium 239 isotopes. The splitting of nuclei unlocked the mystery of the atom, unleashing heat, blast and radiation of unprecedented magnitude.
Several Scientists at the University of Chicago’s Metallurgical Laboratory (Metlab) signed the Franck Report on June 11, 1945, urging an A-bomb warning demonstration on a “desert or a barren island.” Ralph Bard, undersecretary of the navy, wrote a memorandum on June 27 to Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson advocating the United States warn Japan, guarantee its emperor would not hang, and the institution preserved for Japanese national identity. Admiral William D. Leahy, the highest ranking military officer in America during the war, denounced the use of the atomic bomb as “this barbarous weapon…of no material assistance in our war against Japan…I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and war cannot be won by destroying women and children.”
Japan had pursued an exit strategy with the Russians, with whom they were not at war until August 8, 1945. They met secretly with American officials from the Office of Strategic Services in Switzerland. Japan had no navy by spring of 1945, and was vulnerable to a devastating blockade-bombing, siege strategy that pummeled Japan night and day. President Harry Truman and defenders of the atomic bomb attacks argued it saved lives by preventing a bloody invasion with a million casualties. The pre-invasion estimates generated during the final months of the war were considerably lower. However, any invasion would have resulted in thousands of American and Japanese casualties.
The invasion would not begin until November 1 on Kyushu. A second larger offensive on the Tokyo Plain, would not begin until March 1, 1946. Why the rush to bomb in August when the invasion was months away? It seems likely that the combination of the siege strategy, the Russian entrance into the war and a guarantee that the emperor would be preserved, would have induced surrender under the terms of the Potsdam Declaration without using the A-bomb. The United States Strategic Bombing Survey analyzed the impact of the atomic bomb, and concluded on June 19, 1946: “[I]n all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.”
According to the Arms Control Association, there are currently over 9,000 strategic and tactical nuclear weapons. This is an existential threat to global security and survival. The “Little Boy” Hiroshima and “Fat Man” Nagasaki bombs contributed to the Cold War and the nuclear arms race. Just four years after the nuclear climax of World War II, the Soviet Union tested an atomic bomb. There are now nine nations that have nuclear weapons: United States, Russia, United Kingdom, China, France, Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea.
It is important that Iran not develop a nuclear deterrent. The Obama administration’s efforts to prevent a tenth nuclear-weapons state is in the national interest. Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968 also obligates nuclear-weapons states to end the nuclear arms race and achieve “nuclear disarmament.” Our goal must be a world without nuclear weapons. For seventy years, the atomic age has cast a nuclear shadow that, absent new thinking, could result in the destruction of civilization.