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Monday, May 12, 2014

"Doing nothing will only encourage new outrages against humanity."

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A previous blog post explores a taboo subject: retaliation as a war strategy. Otto Gross, WW II L-8 researcher and blogger and son of a Nazi soldier responds, below.

Response by Otto Gross to blog post on Retaliation.

The firebombing of Germany and Japan was not retaliation. It was part of a strategy for winning.

The firebombings were strategic. They impacted military production. Dresden was tragic but necessary, and I say that even in hindsight. War is just as imperfect as humans. How could it not be? Don't want to be a target, don't start a war. It's a slippery slope once you make that deal with the devil.

The idea that the population can be separated as a target from the military is a fairly recent idea. Technology didn't have that kind of granularity until recently.

War is politics by alternate means and it's messy. It's unfair and unpredictable. It's supposed to be avoided at all costs if there's any lesson to be learned. And I don't just mean bombs and guns, or rape. Those aren't new. They just get a marketing refresh and are repackaged and sold to whoever is willing to buy.

Fifty percent of Americans believed we should mind our own business while what would become World War 2 was gearing up right up until Pearl Harbor. Chinese and Korean peasants didn't matter at the end of Japanese bayonets – or frying in Japanese radar labs while the Japanese used them as guinea pigs in their attempt to attempting to create a death ray using microwaves. Africans didn't matter while they were being killed from Italian gas attacks. Poland and Eastern Europe didn't matter in 1939, 1940. They didn't count until their deaths impacted us. As noble and evolved as humans like to think we are you can't but see us as just as self-serving and self-centered as any animal.

On the surface. Behind the scenes there was a group who understood and had the foresight to plan for the inevitable war to come. There was nothing they could do for the cannon-fodder, but they could save the world. Cut off a cancerous arm or leg to save the body. Tragic but necessary. It would be nice if you could just kill the cancer cells and leave the appendage intact but that's not always possible. C'est la vie. Hardhearted; yes but life goes on and hopefully society and humanity will evolve if we tell the tale of how it happened. The fact is that justice and life is imperfect. Humans fail to live up to our own aspirations. High or low aspirations, and then it's easy for a Hitler or a Putin to come in and sell a lie.

There's always a “Hitler” waiting in the wings. All we can do is make sure we speak up and act effectively and with humanity and long-term, wider good in mind.

That's one reason I get so outraged when people use ridicule and intimidation in what should be a scholarly and logical debate. Bullies piss me off – smart ones just as much as stupid ones.

I was recently doing research at Columbia for the NDRC (National Defense Research Committee) – inventors of everything from Sonar to Radar to the Atomic Bomb to those Sonobouys you see being dropped out of planes looking for the missing Malaysian flight.

The NDRC (later reorganized into the ORSD) was a civilian and military body headed by Vannevar Bush and only accountable to President Roosevelt, was tasked with understand and developing what technology and processes needed to be developed to win the war. For those interested, the book “Endless Frontier” by G. Pascal Zachary is great. If I thought he would read it I would send President Obama a copy. The example of the NDRC/OSRD should be a required topic of study for business schools, anyone in politics and anyone running a large organization.

The NDRC invented the M-98 and M-95 firebombs dropped on Germany and Japan. The Japanese and Germans firebombed the Allies. The Japanese attempted to float lacquered, paper balloons across the Pacific. They had an overly complicated mechanism to try to trigger forest fires and firebomb American targets. It was ineffective but not for lack of trying.

They also had spies on the ground and submarines (I and J boats – like German U-boats ) off the West coast that had more impact.

Incompetence prevented them from causing terror by fire. If they could have, we would be talking about the tragic firebombing of San Francisco today. The blimp, L-8, by the by, was on patrol to prevent that when the crew disappeared  

The NDRC needed two firebombs, one for wood, fabric, and paper houses in Japan, the other for heavier wood and clay tiled houses in Germany.

I have yet to figure out where the testing occurred but a large part of the story here takes place in and around New Jersey and New York. In order to develop the firebombs, the NDRC had to have building and furniture available to test. In the case of the Japanese, they found a load of Japanese spruce used in buildings and furniture in Washington state. It was sent to New Jersey to be milled and then furniture built in Brooklyn using samples homes and museums in the City as samples.

Columbia was where the NDRC did most of its nuclear theory work.

One of the NDRC members, a brilliant scientist by the name of Kenneth Bainbridge is probably a key twist in the mystery of the L-8. Anyone who has seen film footage of the first bomb going off outside of Alamogordo, New Mexico, Bainbridge designed the trigger mechanism and it was his finger that pushed the button on the first explosion.

I came across a letter about a professor who had been cleared to return to Columbia . He was of Japanese descent by his name and taught Asian languages. He was interned at Ellis Island. The A-bomb was one of the biggest secrets of the war and so checking the background of all personnel was taken very seriously.

I know that there were more spies than anyone would have thought. They were from all sides; good guys and bad guys alike and did whatever served their countries' needs. America and Canada interned Japanese and Italians, even those native-born. The only hint as to why they didn't inter Germans I can gather is that there were so many. My pop was a Nazi soldier – he served in the Africa Corps until he was wounded. My father's nephew served in the American Army in WW2.

I came to conclusion a long time ago that we're ultimately judged by the team we side with. Just as heavy-handed and unfair as anything in this imperfect world but probably true. I'm Republican and so I must be anti-gay marriage or pro-NRA, for example. Pro-gay marriage and if guns disappeared tomorrow I don't know I'd ever realize it. Biased, bigoted, crap logic, but again humanity's thinking is often imperfect.

So we have this university professor of Japanese descent interned while they figure out whether he's a threat to national security or not. He's released and...any guesses what he helps work on? Firebombing Japan? I can't be certain, but evidence suggests that that is the case.

So where does that leave us.

War is horrific and unfair. People die. Bombs and bullets don't necessarily recognize the Geneva Convention. Humans don't either necessarily and all we can do is actively maintain our influence to effect positive change through peaceful means, and failing that, understand that circumstances are driven by the lowest common denominator.

Canada was a signatory of the treaty preventing the use of gas in war after WW1. Japan and the US were the only two countries that did not sign. Had Germany taken Britain, Greenland and eastern Canada was a short jump away. Eastern Canada would have lasted about as long as Poland held out against the Germans. It was Canada's plan to use poison gas in crop dusters as a delaying tactic. Criminal – yes according to treaties.

Why did we drop the bomb on Japan and not Germany? Good one. I keep hearing it's because we're racist. Actually, according to the first archivist of the NDRC, the argument was made for how to use the limited nuclear supply. German defeat was all but certain, but it was Japan's unwavering loyalty to the Emperor that sealed its fate. America and Britain would have lost between 1 and 1.5 million men trying to take Japan and there was the nagging fact that Japan had not signed that treaty hanging over our head. We also knew that Germany and Japan had nuclear programs. It was unclear how far along they were, but in this race there is no second place prize. There's just winner and waiting to die.

Want Social justice? Fight to keep it. Want the right to spit on the American flag or say something unpopular? Fight for it. Feel outrage at slavery? Get off your ass and be willing to challenge those who want you to think slavery was what Americans did and it ended in 1865. Speak up. Act out. Take up a cause that you'd be willing to die for. Take up and defend a cause you'd be willing to kill for. Because the past is prologue.

Take up the banner for things that promotes humanity. Something that allows life to go on. Somethings that stops a wannabe Hitler to cause that kind of pain. “Hitler” is a concept as much as a man. Kill one Hitler and another dozen are lurking in the shadows.

My proposal is that we show our best first, but if we find ourselves in a fight, that we make certain that humanity survives. People will survive, but necessarily our humanity.

I do believe we should help fight this evil on so many levels and for so many reasons. I also know it won't be perfect and clean and neat. I can only hope that enough see the need to pick up the banner and prevent a bigger tragedy. Doing nothing will only encourage new outrages against humanity.

Otto's essay, "Ripples of Sin," can be read here.

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