[W]hat is the aim of these self-appointed media watchdogs? At first, I thought there was some use in them. The media too often has a tendency to be arrogant and insular and, yes, is sometimes too close to power. There is a tremendous value in a debate between media workers and concerned readers.
But that is not what this is all about. In truth these groups - and Medialens is a good example - have discovered that, through the increasing presence of print and broadcast media on the internet, they can exploit their 'critical relationship' with the media to create a virtual soap box for their views. For journalists like myself, the voice of the disgruntled left we hear is not that of the silent hundreds of thousands I marched with against the war in 2003, but the small, shrill, squeaky voice of an extreme.
This accords with my own observations and experience of the organisation. So let me now give you an example of the critical analysis that Media Lens provides.
This week's Independent on Sunday contained an article by a critic, David Thomson, on a film called "Flags of our Fathers", about the recollections of American soldiers at Iwo Jima in 1945. One of the editors of Media Lens, David Cromwell, wrote to Thomson and posted his email on the Media Lens website. Here it is:
Dear David Thomson,
I enjoy reading your 'Film Studies' essays every week in the Independent on Sunday. In your latest article you wrote, referring to the deaths on Iwo Jima in February-March 1945:
"These deaths were a vital part of the calculation that a direct assault on Japan would result in as many as half-a-million losses".
It's really a shame to see you repeat this supposed justification for the horrendous atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing 100,000 civilians or more [*]. But then, the justification for those awful events - arguably war crimes - is part of the standard mythology in the west.
Consider the following facts which don't receive as much attention as the above legend.
As US historian Howard Zinn, who served on bombers in WW2 in the Army Air Corps, has noted:
"The most powerful reason given for the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was that they saved the lives of those who would have died in an invasion of Japan. But the official report of the Strategic Bombing Survey, which interrogated seven hundred Japanese officials right after the war, concluded that the Japanese were on the verge of surrender and would “certainly” have ended the war by December of 1945 even if the bombs had not been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and even without an invasion of Japan. Furthermore, the United States, having broken the Japanese code, knew the Japanese were on the verge of surrender.
Then why was it done? The research of an American scholar, Gar Alperowitz, pointed to a political motive: to beat the Russians to the punch in defeating Japan, and to demonstrate to them our strength, because they were about to enter the Pacific war." (Zinn, 'A People's History of the United States', HarperCollins, 1999, p. 422)
Nelson Mandela, speaking at the International Women’s Forum in Johannesburg, South Africa, January 30, 2003 said:
"Fifty-seven years ago, when Japan was retreating on all fronts, they decided to drop the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Killed a lot of innocent people who are still suffering from the effects of those bombs. Those bombs were not aimed against the Japanese. They were aimed against the Soviet Union to say, 'Look, this is the power that we have. If you dare oppose what we do, this is what is going to happen to you.' ” (Quoted in 'American Voices of Dissent', Gabriele Zamparini and Lorenzo Meccoli, Paradigm Publishers, Boulder, 2005)
Were you aware of the propagandistic basis for western leaders' claim of "half-a-million" allied lives being saved by dropping atomic bombs on Japan?
Once again, thanks for your entertaining essays.
[*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atomic_bombings_of_Hiroshima_and_Nagasaki gives the combined death toll as 214,000].
It's a fine judgement, but I consider the "thanks for your entertaining essays" to be the most impertinent remark in a rather typical approach. I thought in the circumstances that I should also write to Thomson. I did so and copied it to Cromwell. I have from time to time found that what I had thought were private emails to inquirers were immediately posted on to Media Lens's website, and I was interested to see if Cromwell would do the same one with this one. He hasn't, so here is the text of it:
Dear Mr Thomson,
I see from its website that Media Lens is lobbying you about your article on the film "Flags of our Fathers". Forgive the intrusion, but you should be assured that your correspondent David Cromwell, co-founder of Media Lens and "a researcher in ocean circulation", is not to be taken seriously as a commentator on the Pacific War. He even manages to get wrong the name of his cited source Gar Alperovitz, the principal populariser of the claim that the A-bomb was an instrument of "atomic diplomacy" to intimidate the Soviet Union. Cromwell's additionally quoting Nelson Mandela to advance that claim is obviously ludicrous: Mandela is a great man, but to evaluate historical claims you go to competent historians in the relevant field.
Cromwell's assertion of the "propagandistic basis for western leaders' claim of 'half-a-million' allied lives being saved by dropping atomic bombs on Japan" is hollow propaganda. D.M. Giangreco has demonstrated from primary sources that Truman based his decision on estimates that American casualties in a ground invasion might surpass one million ("Casualty Projections for the US Invasions of Japan, 1945-1946: Planning and Policy Implications", Journal of Military History, July 1997; '''A Score of Bloody Okinawas and Iwo Jimas': President Truman and Casualty Estimates for the Invasion of Japan", Pacific Historical Review, Feb 2003). Those estimates were plausible given the heavy casualties at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
Cromwell is also wrong in claiming that without the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki "the Japanese were on the verge of surrender". Sadao Asada has shown from primary sources that the dropping of both bombs was crucial in strengthening the position of those within the Japanese Government who wished to sue for peace ("The Shock of the Atomic Bomb and Japan's Decision to Surrender - A Reconsideration", Pacific Historical Review, November 1998). Cromwell is evidently unaware that the assertions of the Pacific report of the US Strategic Bombing Survey concerning Japanese surrender have been refuted using information that was available to the report's author, Paul Nitze, at the time he wrote it (Robert P. Newman, "Ending the War with Japan: Paul Nitze's 'Early Surrender' Counterfactual", Pacific Historical Review, May 1995; Gian Gentile, "Advocacy or Assessment? The United States Strategic Bombing Survey of Germany and Japan", Pacific Historical Review, February 1997).
These historians' research does not resolve ethical debate over Hiroshima and Nagasaki (though it ought, in my view, strongly to inform that debate). Nor would it be appropriate for me to suggest how, if at all, you respond to Media Lens, which in my experience is unversed in the conventions of civilised let alone scholarly discussion. But I can say with certainty and as a matter of fact rather than interpretation that David Cromwell is an ignoramus.