Una Mullally: Trump holds true to America’s bloody history
US has been almost constantly at war since 1700 and threats to North Korea have to be seen in that context
US B52 drop bombs over a Viet Cong controlled area in South Vietnam in 1965. America lost 60,000 military in Vietnam. Nearly two million Vietnamese civilians were killed. File photograph: AFP/Getty Images
Do we think it’s a good omen or bad omen that America will be enveloped in darkness during a solar eclipse on August 21st? It can be tempting to give significance to natural events, but in these most unnatural of times, at least the plunging of the world into darkness is not happening at Donald Trump’s hands. Yet.
Trump’s improvised threats to North Korea, as if riffing on nuclear war is normal, were all the more outrageous given that his apocalyptic freestyle occurred on the anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki. What Trump is threatening is terrifying and senseless, but he is also America’s id, America’s bullying and brainless prowess unfiltered.
America has a torrid history of murdering innocent civilians in Asia. From the occupation of the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century, to the deaths of more than 30,000 civilians to its original foray in Korea in the 1950s, a pointless war where everyone lost and around 2.5 million civilians were killed or wounded. While visiting Vietnam last year, I lost count of the number of times I cried; at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, a the Military History Museum in Hanoi, in the Cu Chi tunnels, in Da Nang watching an American veteran stare out at the horizon. America lost 60,000 military in Vietnam. Nearly two million Vietnamese civilians were killed.
There’s all that before we even mention American invasions in the Middle East in the 1990s and 2000s, including the ongoing war in Afghanistan, which has lasted 16 years so far. We should also be reminded of the massacres the US army committed in Vietnam at My Lai (504 people murdered) and Thanh Phong (21), when last week Nicolas Slatten, a Blackwater security guard who was convicted of murdering 14 Iraqi civilians had his conviction overturned.
America has been almost constantly at war since the 1700s, including with its own indigenous people. The potential for nuclear war is terrifying, primarily because we know it’s within America’s capabilities, given their acts of terror during the second World War.
Up to 150,000 innocent people were killed in Hiroshima, and up to 80,000 in Nagasaki during America’s previous foray into nuclear catastrophe. We should also remember the vicious American bombing campaign against Japan, striking dozens of cities, most horrifically the firebombing of Tokyo in 1945, where overnight, up to 200,000 civilians were killed, and a million made homeless. It remains a unique bombing in its scale and impact and the swiftness of its brutality.
Now we have two maniacs – Trump and Kim Jong-un – trading increasingly insane threats, threats that would be ludicrous if the consequences were not so dire. It’s not like nobody warned the country about this. How many people screamed and roared that Trump would plough America towards war if he was elected? And yet nearly 63 million people still voted for him. We already know that Trump trivialises everything, even death, given that he told the Chinese president about striking Syria over dinner yet seemed more interested in a slice of chocolate cake than people’s lives. He also authorised the use of the largest ever bomb used by the US in combat in Afghanistan in April.
An idea the academic Roger Fisher famously devised in 1981 has resurfaced this week, regarding a visceral nuclear deterrent: “Put that needed code number in a little capsule, and then impact the capsule right next to the heart of a volunteer. The volunteer would carry with him a big, heavy butcher knife as he accompanied the president. If ever the president wanted to fire nuclear weapons, the only way he could do so would be for him first, with his own hands, to kill one human being . . . He has to look at someone and realise what death is – what an innocent death is . . . When I suggested this to friends in the Pentagon they said, ‘My God, that’s terrible. Having to kill someone might distort the president’s judgment. He might never push the button.’”
Trump’s rhetoric eerily echoes Harry Truman’s at the time of the nuclear devastation of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, when the then American president spoke about bombings, “the like of which has never been seen on this earth”.
Maggie Haberman of the New York Times recently gave an interview to the Longform podcast, where she spoke about the attitude of those surrounding Trump – not particular to warfare, but regards to what the dynamic of the White House is under Trump and his goons.
“There’s a degree to which these folks don’t get that they’re playing with live ammo and people’s lives,” Haberman said, “just the way they talk about this stuff, not all of them, but some of them, it’s not about enacting policy or doing what’s best for the country, it’s winning. Winning their little corner of power.”
All of this should rightly have us terrified. Yet displays of unnecessary cruelty and inhumane bombast are part of the fabric of America’s military history. That Trump is hollering about such threats is not belying some alternative history or goodness, he is merely continuing a very real, very dark lineage.