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Monday, June 20, 2005

They've been lying to us for a very long time

I've been reading the book Twentieth Century Sprawl: Highways and the Reshaping of the American Landscape by Owen Gutfreund. There's lots of interesting stuff in the book, but one thing that caught my attention was how industries which profited from building more roads--auto, oil, rubber companies and others--were involved in starting so-called "consumer" advocacy groups. From page 32:
General Motors president Alfred P. Sloan, mentor of Charles E. Wilson, started the most aggressive new highway lobby in 1932, the National Highway Users' Conference (NHUC), a group that survives to this day. With auto industry funds, Sloan built this organization into a powerful force--again, clothed as a consumer advocacy group--that focused on any state or federal legislation related to gas taxes or auto-related fees.
Basically, these groups have insisted over the decades that governments provide ever more, wider, and better roads, and that the users of those roads pay nothing or next to nothing for the privilege. The result has been the grotesque oil-intensive suburban landscape that is killing us today.

The other two examples of lies going way back deal with the atomic bombing of Japan in 1945.

Mickey Z writes that two common wisdoms about the bombings are false. First, that an invasion of the Japanese homeland would have been necessary and extraordinarily bloody. He points out that there is plenty of evidence that Japan wanted to surrender before the bombs were dropped, and that estimates for the number of expected American casualties from an invasion grew from a June 1945 Joint War Plans Committee report suggesting 40,000 soldiers killed to a series of inflating estimates from Harry Truman himself, culminating in a 1959 claim that dropping the bombs saved millions of lives. The second common wisdom that seems to be false is that Hitler was anywhere close to developing an atomic bomb (probably not even as close as Saddam was in 2003). This lie served to inspire the scientists at Los Alamos, many of whom were Europeans who had escaped as Hitler took over the continent.

The second story concerns the reports from the first western reporter to reach Nagasaki after the bomb dropped--George Weller of the Chicago Daily News. Weller reported on the "wasteland of war" and the hideous effects of radiation poisoning. Weller's reports were completely censored by MacArthur, and have only come to light almost 60 years later because his son found carbon copies of the reports in Weller's apartment after his death three years ago.
[George Weller's son] Anthony Weller told Mainichi he thought wartime officials wanted to hush up stories about radiation sickness and feared that his father's reports would sway American public opinion against building an arsenal of nuclear bombs.