08 August 2008

Oliver Kamm: distortion à la carte

Oliver Kamm is at it again, peddling distortions to try and discredit someone. If its not Chomsky, its Pilger, and if its not Chomsky or Pilger its Media Lens.

The fact of the matter is that Kamm is now Murdoch's pet Fox Terrier (the expression is normally rottweiller but Kamm's just too small both physically and intellectually to be a rottweiller).

On 06 August 2008 he published this critique of Pilger's article in the Guardian.

This is my reply to Kamm:

"Oliver Kamm states:

"So far, and so predictably cavalier with the fruits of historians' inquiries; but Pilger then goes one better. He writes: "The day after Hiroshima was obliterated, President Truman voiced his satisfaction with the 'overwhelming success' of 'the experiment'."

Here is the text of Truman's statement on the use of the A-bomb at Hiroshima. Truman does not say what Pilger attributes to him. And Pilger has been called on this one before. In 1983, he made a television documentary purporting to expose official deceptions about nuclear weapons. The film was called The Truth Game; you can watch it here. His first words in the programme are: "On 7 August 1945, President Truman announced the atomic bombing of Hiroshima with these words. ' The experiment,' he said, 'has been an overwhelming success.'"

If you have access to a good library (as I'm not aware that the article is online), I recommend looking up a masterly evisceration of the numerous errors of fact and interpretation in Pilger's film, published in New Society, 24 March 1983, under the title "Games with the Truth". The authors are Lawrence Freedman, Professor of War Studies at King's College, London; and the journalist William Shawcross. Freedman and Shawcross note, of Pilger's "quotation" from Truman: "Truman's announcement of the destruction of Hiroshima was released on 6 August 1945. It does not contain the words Pilger cites."

A quarter of a century later, Pilger is still peddling an ahistorical and insupportable thesis by means of a quotation that he knows to be spurious. Think about that. Few are likely to mistake Pilger as an authority on twentieth-century history; but there are still some who regard him as a voice of integrity and a teller of uncomfortable truths. He is in fact, and knowingly, a retailer of ideologically congenial falsehoods."

Literally Kamm is almost right in that obviously Truman did not say the words Pilger quotes in that particular statement. But then Pilger never said he did!

However, if Kamm had done his homework he would have found that Truman did actually utter the words Pilger claims!

Pilger never says that Truman uttered these words in the officisal statement. That was Kamm's supposition and his 'mistake'.

Greg Mitchell, editor of 'Editor & Publisher' in the US, would no doubt be pleased to put Kamm on the right track, as he reported on 06 August 2008 that the quote actually comes from "a wire service report filed by a journalist traveling with the president on the Atlantic, returning from Europe."

He also states: "Approved by military censors, it went beyond, but not far beyond, the measured tone of the president's official statement. It depicted Truman, his voice "tense with excitement," personally informing his shipmates about the atomic attack. "The experiment," he announced, "has been an overwhelming success."...The sailors were said to be "uproarious" over the news. "I guess I'll get home sooner now," was a typical response. Nowhere in the story, however, was there a strong sense of Truman's reaction. Missing from this account was his exultant remark when the news of the bombing first reached the ship: "This is the greatest thing in history!"

I sent a similar comment to Kamm's blog, I ended the comment:

"Perhaps you'd care to withdraw the offending comments in your blog, and apologise to Mr Pilger for accusing him of "peddling an ahistorical and insupportable thesis by means of a quotation that he knows to be spurious" and of being "knowingly, a retailer of ideologically congenial falsehoods"?"

Of course, he could always surprise, but, in my opinion, Kamm doesn't have the moral integrity or courage to apologise when he's mistaken, if it is actually a mistake and not lying propaganda...



I've been doing a bit more research and have turned up more proof that Kamm is wrong.

1. Time Magazine dated December 31, 1945. Article entitled: 'The Bomb & the Man' (p. 3):

"Like many an average citizen, Harry Truman greeted the bomb with few immediate overtones of philosophic doubt. When it was dropped on Hiroshima, by his order, he was aboard the cruiser Augusta, returning from his first international conference at Potsdam. He rushed to the officers' wardroom, announced breathlessly: "Keep your seats, gentlemen. . . . We have just dropped a bomb on Japan which has more power than 20,000 tons of TNT. It was an overwhelming success." Applause and cheering broke out; the President hastened along to spread the word in the other messes. "

2. 'The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb', Author Dennis Wainstock (Associate Professor of History at Salem-Teikyo University in Salem, West Virginia) P.87 :
Google Books

3. The Argus (Melbourne, Australia) 08 August 1945 p. 1:

"Truman Excited at Bombs Success"

"From Our Own Correspondent in London

After hearing of the success of the atomic bomb mission over Japan, President Truman, on USS Augusta, entered the wardroom visibly excited. "Keep your seats, gentlemen. I have an announcement to make," he said.

Pausing only for a moment, the President added: "We have just dropped a bomb on Japan which has more power than 20,000 tons of TNT. It was an overwhelming success."

The President left quickly while the officers were still cheering to repeat the news in other messes throughout the ship."


UPDATE II - 09 August 2008 14,30 hrs

Here is Kamm's pathetic reply:

I should explain to my readers, who may well have worked it out for themselves, that David Sketchley is an indefatigable member of the Media Lens organisation. I have written about Media Lens from time to time owing to its practice of spamming journalists with email campaigns and then publishing their replies without their knowledge or permission. The passionate intensity of these email campaigns is, reliably, inversely related to the amount of political expertise invested in their formulation.

If you check the Media Lens site, you will enter a parallel universe in which the band of regulars assure each other of their own virtue and wisdom, condemn the Jews for their nefarious conspiracies (they don't even bother with the euphemism "Zionist"), and compare journalists (me in particular, for some reason) to excrement. The "media alerts" that guide the faithful invoke the research of such analysts as the 9/11 conspiracy crank Howard Zinn and - no joke, this - Neil Clark, a monoglot school teacher and Wikipedia editor from Botley whom Media Lens count a "Balkans specialist".

Mr Sketchley's distinctive contribution to this organisation is to promote the theory that the massacre of 8,000 Bosniak men and boys at Srebrenica is all a hoax. At one point, he couldn't stop himself from sending me angry emails from his home in Seville, and I endeavoured to answer courteously everything he sent my way; but evidently he has the bug again.

Mr Sketchley, now that my readers know what we're dealing with, let me answer your questions directly. You ask whether I would care to withdraw from my blog the disobliging references to John Pilger, and apologise to him. The answers are "no" and "no".

Almost every time I post on the Pacific War, some aggrieved commenter accuses me of being no expert on this subject, and I'm concerned to acknowledge the truth of that charge. I've never done a stroke of primary research into the subject, and don't read Japanese (or any non-European language). But I do know my way round the secondary literature, and the work of the leading historians in the field, several of whom have very kindly guided me through their own research.

I am consequently able to distinguish, as Mr Sketchley is not, between a "report" and a second-hand recycling of a hoary claim. Mr Sketchley's source has not "reported" any statement attributed to Truman, because he wasn't with President Truman at the time. He has cited, in an op-ed piece that does not bear the hallmarks of familiarity with the historical literature, a claim about President Truman that is noticeably short on verifiable detail. Who was this journalist, Mr Sketchley? What wire service? Why does Mitchell not provide these identifying details?

I ungraciously suspect Mitchell doesn't provide them because he doesn't know them, but is merely retailing a claim that he's picked up from a comrade. This is how ideologically congenial myths get propagated. I have tried to track this one down before, and find that it eludes the leading scholars of the Truman administration whereas it's common knowledge to Pilger, Media Lens and various disarmament groups (who have plainly picked it up from Pilger's original documentary). How fortunate that we have Media Lens to cut through this web of official deceit.

Posted by: Oliver Kamm August 08, 2008 at 01:55 PM

Oh dear. I hadn't anticipated, as I ought to have done, the ease with which a Media Lens supporter can be confused. I was not, Mr Sketchley, taking issue with Truman's appellation of the bombing as a "success" - given that there were huge questions about whether the bomb would detonate at all, and many sceptics, it would be amazing if he hadn't made such a comment. I was referring to Pilger's alleged quotation from Truman that "the experiment was an overwhelming success". That was what I quoted and it is, as far as I am able to tell, a spurious quotation. Truman and the administration did not regard the bombing as an experiment; they regarded it as a necessary act to stop the war and terrible bloodshed. Truman recoiled from the notion that he might have to drop a third bomb, and there is much biographical evidence that the A-bomb decision weighed on his mind for the rest of his life.

Your Googled source Dennis Wainstock is, by the way, not a reliable source: he's a far-right editorialist. I can understand that the distinction will not necessarily be clear to Media Lensers.


Posted by: Oliver Kamm August 08, 2008 at 02:06 PM



I sent Kamm's comments to Greg Mitchell who replied:

"Those quotes are recorded and footnoted in the fairly prominent — and reviewed on the front pages of book sections nearly everywhere -- book that I co-wrote with Robert Jay Lifton in 1995, “Hiroshima in America” (G.P. Putnam) They appear on page 23 of the book and the citations are not “some cliam picked up from a comrade” but rather The New York Times and Newsweek in August 1945. For the record, I started studying the atomic bombings 30 years ago, was editor of the national magazine Nuclear Times for four years, spent several weeks doing research in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, plus several weeks at the Truman Library, several months more at other research libraries, read thousands of articles published from 1945 to 1950, read dozens of books on this subject from authors with a variety of views, hundreds or thousands of magazines articles, examiend diaries and thousands of letters and diaries, interviewed many veterans of the war, consulted on leading films and museum exhibits, watched dozens of documentaries and, besides writing the book, have also penned hundreds of articles on this subject. GM " (E-mail to the author from Greg Mitchell received 8 August 2008 21:03)

Mitchell's book was reviewed by Publishers Weekly thus:

"President Truman was ambivalent about the decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yet, according to this unsettling study, Truman, influenced by army general Leslie Groves and Secretary of War Henry Stimson, went into denial and developed a sense of omnipotence that allowed him to deploy weapons that killed vast numbers of civilians. Eminent psychologist Lifton (whose National Book Award-winning Death in Life dealt with Hiroshima survivors) and former Nuclear Times editor Mitchell (The Campaign of the Century) draw on primary sources, including the diaries of Truman and other decision-makers, in an attempt to refute the widely held belief that the atomic bombings hastened WWII's end, thereby preventing an invasion of Japan and saving countless American lives. The authors demonstrate that the U.S. military and media for decades systematically suppressed on-site photographs, as well as American and Japanese documentary films, that showed the devastation produced by the bombs. They argue that the lasting, harmful impact of Hiroshima on American society includes a defense policy in thrall to nuclear weaponry, self-propelling arms buildups, patterns of psychic numbing and secrecy and denial of the health effects of radiation from bombs and from U.S. nuclear waste dumps. BOMC and History Book Club selections. "

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