Ignorance 007 — Part III (Lessons from Hiroshima)

I was afraid of the hypodermic bullet effects of the Time magazine’s story on Hiroshima. In an earlier post I was apprehensive that people may not have reasons not to believe the myth that bombings on “Japan led to end of war”, since the magazine had orchestrated the story so well (with a Japanese victim-model actually heralding the bomb on the cover and “eyewitnesses” inside thanking the bombs)!

For me, the reading was a macabre humor. So I was wondering how would readers react. Just hope against hope. M-pyre had a brave story. Apart from them, I did not discover much on the blogosphere either on the issue. Finally, the Aug 22nd issue of Time has published the readers’ views. And my worst fears have come true. Unlike other issues where readers are at least partially divided on a cover story perspective, this time, not a single letter writer feels disgusted! And everyone (all 8 of the published letters talk about Hiroshima and all of them are happy that the bombing was done) has congratulated and thanked Time for the efforts to educate us about why bombing was a good thing. Here are a couple of reactions (statutory apology: If you feel slighted, insulted, hurt, hold Time responsible for publishing them. I do not personally agree with the views on the letters):

I hope the US servicemen know they are heroes. They helped end WWII and ensured that my grandpa and millions of other grandpas would go home instead of invading Japan. It was estimated that an invasion might have caused 1 million Allied casualties. There would have a lot fewer dads and grandpas of ours around today had that taken place.

–says one officer candidate of Illinois Army National Guard.

How much longer do Americans have to feel guilty about Hiroshima? By dropping the atom bombs, the US delivered millions of people from the jaws of the Japanese war machines.

— says a reader from Hong Kong.

As a young Marine who would probably have played a role in the scheduled invasion of Japan, I cheered when I heard the news about the bombing. Since then, 60 years of reflection have tempered my enthusiasm

— says a reader from California.

Sounds incredible, but each letter is a reflection of the war-mongering selves of the highly educated yet such ignorant minds. As one observed that he believes that bombing saved “our dads and grandpas”. OUR? Our people’s lives have worth and not theirs? The undercurrent is there has been no war since then to have claimed a large number of lives. The other advocacy suggests that we did not have to invade Japan since bomb helped us committing from the act. One other letter even thanks the Japanese for living the horrible effects of bombs, which helped us never to use the bomb again.

Each of these is not mere opinion emanating from innocent observations. These are well cultivated attitudinal issues. I don’t blame Time for having planted these propaganda in popular minds. Indeed no form of mass media is capable of carrying out propaganda. We are socialized in fashions (along with family, peers, teachers) that make us vulnerable to thinking in a way that gets reinforced by the mass media we choose to play the role of mediators. So whereas the needle theory may have been misplaced, the effects cannot be completely overlooked.

For a fact, war was not ended because of the bombs. The so-called World-War II had ended well before that. Secondly, there is no difference between Our Dad and the Japanese Dad. When human lives are lost such recklessly because one political leader wants to have a good time, then only ignorant fools seek nationalities of the dead (after deaths anyway the body does not belong to a country anymore. Then why kill because someone is Japanese?) Thirdly, Japan was definitely the evil country. But to blame its innocent civilians for it would be to suggest the most fallacious assumption. The bombs were never aimed at the evil ruling class of Japan, it was aimed as an experiment of mass destruction (which caused generations of deaths of people who were themselves oppressed under authoritarian rule). There is absolutely no logic behind an assumption that because “x” country is evil (which is so grossly wrongly phrased and overplayed by our cautious media, that it’s pathetic), its citizens need to be taught a lesson.

What happens in effect is for everyone to note. The dictatorial rulers ably supported by the ruling class of America including to name just a few, Batista of Cuba, Bolkiah of Brunei, Botha of South Africa, Diem of South Viet Nam, Franco of Spain, Hitler of Germany, Marcos of the Philippines, Pinochet of Chile, or Videla of Argentina have all lived well. Its another matter, even their lands were not attacked. But when it was, in case of former allies like Saddam or Bin Laden (Afghanistan is one of his playing fields) they were never sent to gas chamber anyway. Actually none of these dictators were ever punished. Only the people of the countries they ruled were subjected to unnecessary deaths.

The end of war was a myth. The world was in fact divided up in blocs soon after the bombs. And in name of cold-war, millions were annihilated systematically. American invasions never ended. In fact, it quadrupled. Vietnam continued for 11 years. Several countries went for nuclear bombs to “safeguard” their interests. The world is much more dangerous a place today because of the misuse of bombs. Just because an atomic bomb has not been used for the second time does not prove a thing. 60 years in the history of world is a short chapter. Too short to conclude predictions.

Moreover the lives lost last century (continuing draconically this century too, as if it were a logic) because of wars after the 1940’s should serve reminders of the evil of wars and those who perpetuate them. Not feel glad that we killed them, when in effect all that people have done is play the cards of the motivated politicians (who never send their kids to war front ever—and even if they were—still it would not make any sense for the child to play by the dad’s whims), and kill fellow human beings who have had no role in creating the prejudices.

The fact is that Hiroshima bombing was the most dastardly act ever committed. And not all Americans need to feel guilty about it. Only those must feel guilty irrespective of the countries they come from, who think American leadership made the right decision by going ahead with the bombs. Those who support the people who do business with these military-corporate nexus should feel guilty too. Those who think harboring bombs is a effective tool for whatever reason should feel guilty too. Those who kill people in the name of faiths and nationalities should feel guilty. And those who support these people on principle must feel guilty too. In conclusion, that’s not many people, if you count. Spare the rest of us the pain. Guilt is the last thing on the minds of the peace-loving citizenry of the world. They must work towards rewriting the history of the world so that the future generations are not misled anymore into the web of misinformation, lies, and anti-people propaganda.

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Welfare economy and Growth rates

While introducing a historic bill that will guarantee 100 days of employment each year to every rural household in India, where more than 70% live in villages, Sonia Gandhi has given the most laudable quote of the year:

“I believe an economy which is growing at 7% per year, can and should find the resources for such a crucial intervention.”

The ambitious National Rural Employment Guarantee Bill was clearly one of the reasons why the Left parties were claimed to be active in India’s central politics of the day. Sonia and the Left have been lending each other support, but what will be interesting to watch out now is the stake of Manmohan Singh. Is he really in favor of a bill that the critics predict will draw on India’s potential as a world economic player?

India, since the 1950’s has been largely a self-proclaimed welfare state, rationalizing items of mass consumption to cater to the poor. In the process of course, it had been left behind by the capitalist competitors, until the present PM in his stint as the finance minister 15 years back relaxed the economic sectors for class consumption (because he thought India needed to compete with the group of seven looter countries). And amid competition among the giants private sectors, the rural employment schemes (such as Rajiv Rojgar Yojana) and small scale industry initiatives had fallen apart.

In his new avatar as the prime minister, Singh has been vocal about his intent to further worthy lessons of Thatcherism, much to the chagrin of the Left. Now that the Left parties’ demands are about to bear some fruits, it will be worthwhile to watch which fine line will Singh walk (as such he has been severally accused of being remotely controlled by Sonia Gandhi). Will he show his real face this time? Or just stand humbled at the showers of praises?

On a philosophical ground, the Indian initiatives seem contradictory. Allowing industrial workers to be harassed by multinationals on one hand, and promising employments to all poor (in the classic “Garibi Hatao” manner) are not the hallmark of able planning. Call it a premature prediction, but a happy marriage between capitalism and welfare state is just unlikely. For a temporary period, the governments can fool some people for a time being into believing that a free market state can secure the future of the unemployed poor, but it will be a cruel joke all the same.

Intentions of Sonia Gandhi may be above board, and she could be right about the utility of growth rates. But to assume that dividends of the growth rates can be applied to country’s upliftment is a dependability that’s utterly short-term. For example, with welfare schemes, the first casualty is the growth rate itself.

The way to further economic growth has nothing to do with welfare. Indeed, the economic growth in a free market economy happens only with curtailing infrastructure for the poor. A cursory look at China and India in the past decade will vouch for the fact that as the growth rates have taken place, the poorest sectors of population have most adversely been affected. The fastest growing economies of Asia also are seats to the most widening wealth gaps.

The way to further welfare has something to do with economic growth instead. In other words, the goal should be not to improve (or depend on) the growth rate. The goal should be to better the welfare schemes, so that it will gradually (and not suddenly—lets say because of the way IT sectors in India has helped growth of Indian companies flourish which we mistake for a national economic growth) improve the overall economic conditions of the worst affected poor.

When Mahatma Gandhi in his talisman had indicated that we ought to look at the poorest of the poor before taking a step, he knew his words well. For example, IT sector growth helps the middle class become rich, the rich to emerge richer, but it clearly leaves out the poorest of the poor in even worse situation. Although IT investments suddenly help economic growth of the country (per capita increases x fold—per capita is just an average anyway, not an actual reflection of individual incomes), it does not include the state of the 70% of population. The 70% of population reel under even more scarcity since their representatives instead of coming onto the villages to discuss water scarcity issues, then start using video conferencing to talk to district magistrates who do not come out of their little chambers of wires either, in the name of a myopic e-governance. Who gets most affected, and in which way?

The way about it is to look at welfare first, and then the growth. This can be attained by proper planning. As of now, India has pathetic five year plans ( I doubt if we still have any, these days) –economic, and educational. The planning must include the rural areas first (since most people –72 crores in India–live in villages today and most people who are needy live in most rural areas too, although this does not exclude the urban poor—who are growing in number thanks to unplanned urbanization).

The pro-poor planning is the step to viable pro-people economic growth. Pro-sector economic growth is not a step to better peoples’ lives. It only helps a dozen more business geeks to become millionaires (those who eat away the portion of wealth that should have been equitably distributed among the more needy). Planned urbanization, and focus on agrarian rural economy does not exclude information technology –it merely lets people handle the benefits via use of kiosks and self-made computer hardware—much as the spinning machines or mango orchards, instead of letting some private company like Wipro make huge profit margins by selling products at abominably high rates.

If I dare rephrase Sonia Gandhi, the more effective (although less laudable) quote could have been:

“We believe that consistent pro-poor schemes aimed at 70% of people in our country of abundant natural and human wealth can easily maintain an economy to grow at 7% per year and more.”

Tales of the leaders and issues they lead us to notice

Maureen Dowd comments on the father-son saga.

Not that the monarchy works any differently. But what is unforeseen are the kind of media coverage and the generated public attachment.

Mugs, t-shirts, books, dvds, calendar, greeting cards, cartoons, slogans, billboards, and op-ed columns. Bush family is the singularly most desisted in the history. Despite the junior’s thumping victory for the second term.

Who enjoys the mud the most? Ones who love getting dirty. And apparently the political system’s internal contradictions of having an elected president who is so much abhorred publicly (for no direct fault of his, he is being blamed for Iraq war to the unemployment problems at domestic scene) is being mistaken for a victory of the system!

No wonder, the Prez is happy as ever (as the story goes, as jubilant as his Dad). After all, the system that masquerades as democracy and in actual, functions as a governing body of the rich is winning the applauds of the day.

Two events come to mind immediately: media covers on Natalee Holloway and lack of media attention on gas price hike. So long as it affects a rich family, the media as we know have gone far overboard with Holloway (with 297,000 google search finds—this blog makes it one more). The gloss and the luster of it attracts so much attention that for some uncritical thinkers (ah, thanks to Fox, their numbers are multiplying by the minutes) the news becomes legitimate. Similarly, the gloss attached to the freedom-loving presidents who go on vacation and play golf in times of crisis that they create for news value is accepted by many as legitimate democratic exercise of good humor.

Three days back, I noticed the despair largely writ on the face of a fellow passenger who was trying to tell me that we should do something about the price rise of gas. After all, the night before it was 2.36 and now it was 2.61. I could sense his frustrations and I agreed that unless people organizedly protest against the monopolistic rises in price, one will not see the end of it (I have seen the prices exactly more than double within the last two years). And when I got off, I knew neither of us was kidding. But neither of us was being effective either. The issue we were deliberating was being seen as non-issue, not meant for editorial tables of the day. After all Iraq war is interesting, not its aftermaths (one of the excuses for price rises). That was not one of the stories to be written by the columnists or staff writers.

The happy-go-lucky political systems are like the celebs themselves. Walking on the red carpet is so alluring that they must need to overlook the people who put together that carpet for them. And for now, democracy talk allows the golfers-presidents to reign.

Wealth Gap and Internet Sites

So, Internet is the cause behind the widening wealth gap?

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) says it is. In a study published by BBC, it is concerned about websites providing househunters with data on neighborhood income levels and ethnicity.

Similar process has already surfaced in the US, the report says, where segregation is more and social cohesion is less. In effect, the Britain, known for class divisions, has accused US (which refuses to believe there is any) of class divisions. And the pundits opine that Internet may be the reason behind the widening wealth gap in both societies.

They may not be out of their wits entirely. Yes, Internet sites offer specialized searches for neighborhoods, categorize them into economic interests and helps people choose communities.

But this theory has two dangerous deductions: one, that people are solely affected by external sources of information (that is, conversely speaking, they do not use their own conscientious judgment), and secondly that, human beings always prefer to live with their likes (in terms of class, gender, ethnicity, nationality) and in effect, abhor diversity.

Oftentimes studies like this as they get prominence in mainstream media are nothing more than mere spaces. The nature of mainstream media to absorb any sensationalism has reached a point, where journalists/editors no more critically screen through a copy before using them for x number of columns/pages/minutes.

Its not merely important to talk about findings (Time magazine’s article on Sleep was another of the kind). That job can be done by the research assistant at the lab. What we as mediapersons need to do is to understand that we are addressing such issues of wide implications to a larger gamut of people and we need to incorporate at least some of the differing perspectives to check if there are some loopholes in the theories of the “experts”. The respect for experts as the “gatekeepers” of today’s news contents need questioning not to undermine their significance, but to critically update their contributions.

Hence in the aforesaid story we could also talk about another parameter: that is, who determine the neighborhoods?

1.Government as the agent 2. People as actors 3. Others as mediators (media, advertorials). Government has a responsibility to enforce desegregation. It’s not just a duty of human beings to morally think of it as a virtue and not practice (we know the colossal difference between preaching of virtues and practice of them). And the mediators are actually the second layer information channels. They are the points of references, not instigators for actions for an informed citizenry.

To claim that certain websites lead to wealth gap is like missing the whole point altogether. The issue of wealth gap itself. The people we elect as representatives simply are not accounted for except for the part of election themselves. Which is self-serving anyway. It’s like people feed them with their doses of electoral bliss and perpetuate the system. What should rather be the focus of stories on widening wealth gap is the lack of accountability on part of the administrators who carry out the oaths of public causes and simply shun them according to their whims.

If the government cannot on any pretext educate people about the need to live in a diverse community, it’s quite easy to blame some websites for mischief. But it also absolves the government (that is the people whom we elect—even in case of non-western democracies the people who we allow to rule over us) of its primary responsibilities—to bridge inequality gaps. Banning certain websites, if any, will not serve any purpose.

Recalling this Independence Day

I celebrated the independence day fine.

Well that’s the India’s freedom from the British Raj, I am referring to. August 15th midnight hours were the times of the “trysts with destiny” as Nehru proclaimed. And I am just going to reflect on the layers of destinies in store now.

Switched on the television set to find if there was any anti-colonial flavor, any celebration of a multi-cultural society willing to adopt welfare socialist economy or a people nostalgic of huge dreams, broader visions.

Of course it was a disaster. Instead all I could notice was the running advertorials on grand marshals of Indian freedom: Anil Kapoor, Karisma Kapoor, Randhir Kapoor, Babita Kapoor etc are the chief guests to celebrate India’s day of freedom in New York about to be organized on August 20 instead (why? Ask Karisma what courtroom drama she is into these days, that’s why).

Its better to be off to office, I thought. Took the entire office folks to the Tiffin, an Indian restaurant.

Thought there would be fanfare inside the restaurant. Some special smiles. Some warmer greetings. Some big balloons.

Well there was nothing of that nature anywhere. Business as usual. My colleagues and I ended up sharing some unique heritages of freedom struggles in our respective lands. And wished more power to Indian people on the day.

Could not blame the restaurant much. You see, although the owners may be of India origin, almost all people who work there are from Nepal. And I don’t think there is any special reason for Nepalese workers to celebrate independence of their Indian bosses.

Caught a cab to take my new friend and her papa to dinner where we were all invited. The driver was from Pakistan. “Happy belated Independence Day”, I said. He was quick to wish me the same back. And then, said “today is yours”. I said, “but of course we are not such different people that we have to rival each other in celebrating. Remember we both together ousted the British from our land.” He also agreed that while it was true, the fact is the partition was the most painful byproduct anyway. That was true. But does he feel anyway proud?

“What rubbish? I am hiding in the US from being prosecuted in Pakistan. Hence driving cab. Otherwise I used to be a Catholic priest in Pak.”

Had excellent dinner, a very memorable one. I called it the Independence Day dinner. Only that we did not recall the sacrifices of people without whom the day would not have come to such a pass.

Depending on where one comes from, the day will be perceived. For the cab guy, the day was not just bitter, but it never leaves his shadows. No amount of talk would convince him that all religious leaders have used gullible people to further their politics of hatred. “But there is nothing called Christian fundamentalism”, he retorted. I explained for an hour and gave up. But he was sure we were not going to celebrate anything. No matter what.

The fault is not with him. Indeed the way we have crafted the history of struggles with the British domination and how we have carried forth the heritage is the cause of distress. Instead of correctly looking back at the freedom struggle as a secular one where people of all color/religions/castes had taken part to eliminate the oppressive rulers, we are looking back at it as a Hindu struggle to create Hindustan and Muslim struggle to create Pakistan. What we have been taught to forget is the contributions of the peasant class, the industrial workers, the lower rungs in the military, the naval strike, the secular nature of Indian National Army, the atheism of Bhagat Singh and revolutionaries. The Maulana Azad, the Kaifi Azmi. The Progressive Writers Movements, the Indian Peoples’ Theatres (IPTA), the Aruna Asaf Alis and the Quit India Movement which in 1942 was led by no leader, but orchestrated by the entire masses of people who boycotted the British and challenged them to “Quit” India. Never before and never after has such a call been so pronouncedly made. Just when we were to win, the British had a map ready. We lost big time.

We have now been reduced to religious symbols in the world. Far from being hailed as the founders of the anti-colonial peoples’ struggles, we are today a Muslim poverty called Pakistan and a Hindu bomb called India. And we are the cheapest tech-slaves of the 21st century. The biggest consumer market, the largest slum-dwellers, the saddest communal fanatics.

And we don’t have heroes. Not one in real life. Why blame the cab guy?