Historian Peter Kuznick joins Mickey to discuss the new Christopher Nolan movie “Oppenheimer.” While his overall evaluation is positive, Kuznick notes that the movie fails to address the crucial fact that there was no military need to drop the atomic bomb on Japan. Kuznick also reminds listeners that had Henry Wallace not been replaced as Vice-President by Harry Truman, Wallace would have succeeded to the presidency upon FDR’s death in April 1945, and history would’ve taken a different path (Kuznick believes that Wallace would not have used the bomb, nor started the Cold War). In the second half of the show, Peter Phillips and Bill Tiwald remind listeners of the catastrophe that even a “limited” nuclear war would unleash on humanity, as well as the human and financial costs of maintaining nuclear stockpiles. They explain how New Mexico has borne a disproportionate share of the nuclear burden, and talk about an event they helped organize — the Albuquerque Peace Festival taking place on August 5.
Peter Kuznick is Professor of History at American University in Washington, DC, and director of AU’s Nuclear Studies Institute. Peter Phillips taught Sociology at Sonoma State University, is a former director of Project Censored, and cofounder of the Project Censored radio show. Bill Tiwald is secretary of the Veterans For Peace chapter in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
1) “Phoenix” by Wishbone Ash
2) “Peace Ain’t Coming (the Military and the Monetary)” by Gil Scott-Heron
3) “The Resistance” by 2 Cellos
the Project Censored Show:
Hosts: Mickey Huff, Eleanor Goldfield
Producers: Anthony Fest, Eleanor Goldfield
Video of Interview With Peter Kuznick
Video of Interview with Peter Phillips and Bill Tiwald
Below is a Rough Transcript of the Interview with Peter Kuznick
Welcome to the Project Censored Show on Pacifica Radio. I’m your host, Mickey Huff. Today on the program, we are delighted to bring Back to you, the best selling historian, Peter Kuznick. He is professor of history and director of the award winning Nuclear Studies Institute at American University.
And he is also a distinguished lecturer with the Organization of American Historians. He’s written extensively about science, politics, nuclear history, Cold War culture. I think you see where this is going today. you likely know Peter Kuznick from Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick’s Untold History of the United States.
A, an updated edition came out a few years ago that added a couple hundred pages just about the last decade. This book came out in 2012. It is an amazing book, The Untold History of the United States. Of course, it is the companion to what was the Showtime documentary series. I’ve assigned this text and, these films in my history classes, for years.
They are an amazing addition, to, to teaching, U. S. history in particular, and they really fill in a lot of gaps. You can tell from the Untold History, and it’s coming up here on… The beginning of August 78th anniversary or commemoration of the decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan and kill 170, 000 some people, mostly civilians.
Peter Kuznick has been on to talk about this before. Today, Peter Kuznick is here to talk about history. In the popular culture because of the film Oppenheimer, and, there’s been some discussion about the accuracy or inaccuracy or what’s been left out of that. some of that is creeping into the establishment press, but not, I don’t believe nearly enough of it, and Peter Kuznick is here to fill in the gaps today.
Peter, welcome back to the Project Censored Show. Thanks, Mickey, and thanks for that introduction. It’s always great to have you on Peter. So, let’s just have it out. you saw the film Oppenheimer. And of course we know, as, as it may be a, cinematic, sort of, spectacle, that’s drawing, record numbers of.
people back to the theaters along with, of course, Barbie, which we won’t talk about too much. but Oppenheimer, let’s just talk about the, the pop culture phenomenon maybe around the film. And why don’t you dive into some of the history and the history, historiography of it, Peter Kuznick. Well, for starters, it’s based upon a terrific book that our friends, Marty Sherwin and Kai Bird wrote titled American Prometheus, which won the Pulitzer prize, I think it was back in 2005.
So Christopher Nolan, to his credit. has a good eye for a book to base a movie like this on. and it’s interesting to compare the Christopher Nolan biopic, big feature film, with the documentary that came out two weeks before that on MSNBC. MSNBC put out a documentary, an hour and a half documentary, about Robert Oppenheimer.
Now that was riddled with errors. I, I pointed out in some of my interviews, at least a dozen different, pretty egregious errors that were contained in that documentary. By comparison, the Christopher Nolan movie is a masterpiece, cinematographically, even historically. It’s not what I would do, it’s not what you would do.
It’s not even what Kai and Marty would do, but it does have a lot of real history packed in there, and its heart is in the right place, which makes it difficult to criticize, because it’s a really strongly anti nuclear film. And it points to the horrors of nuclear war. And it even, to its credit, emphasizes the possibility, going back to the first use of the bomb, that this could end life on the planet.
And that haunted Oppenheimer, and it haunted some of the people around him. However, the fundamental question that I’ve grappled with for years, and you and I have talked about extensively, the mythology around the use of the atomic bomb in World War II, that’s where this movie is most deficient. In other places, it’s got historical elisions and fabrications and composite characters, which you have to have to make a feature film.
And it leaves a lot of things out. Because you had to make choices. This was a three hour movie. But you would think, in a movie that spends… Scores of minutes building up to the Trinity test in Alamogordo on July 16th, 1945. You can find more than a few seconds to talk about the debate around the dropping of the atomic bomb.
And what it does is it presents it in such a rapid fire manner that if you don’t know the history the way you and I do, and you don’t know who each of these scientists is and what their positions really were, it goes way over your head. It happens so quickly, and it’s not clear. And the last word is given to Oppenheimer, and Oppenheimer’s concerns that if we didn’t drop the bomb, that the United States were going to have to invade Japan, and hundreds of thousands of American soldiers would be lost in the invasion.
It doesn’t refute that. It does bring in Leo Szilard. One of the things about that MSNBC documentary, it talks about the émigré scientists, and it talks about Einstein, Fermi, Beta, and what other scientists. Teller. It doesn’t mention Leo Szilard. The feature film brings in Szilard, and it brings in the petition that Szilard was circulating, saying that we’re opening the door to an era of unbelievable destruction, that we should not drop the bomb even if we have it and it’s ready, and it’s going to lead to an uncontrollable arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union on that, you know, but that is in there, but it’s in there in such a brief, cryptic way that nobody’s gonna pick up on it.
, so at least, to Nolan’s credit, he raises at least three times the scientists concerns about and opposition to the dropping of the bomb, and the whole thing takes 45 seconds. Whereas the buildup to the test in the desert in Alamogordo takes 45 minutes. So I would think that the balance is off, the message is off, and the myth is reinforced.
The fundamental myth. It’s the one that we see Susan Rice saying it’s the one that we see Obama saying when he goes to Hiroshima. It’s the one that the New York Times repeated just this past week, that World War II ended with the atomic bombs, which means implicitly, if not explicitly, that the bombs were necessary, justifiable, and even humane, because they saved hundreds of thousands of American lives and potentially millions of Japanese lives.
That’s the myth. That’s the lie. And it gets repeated over and over again. Chris Wallace’s best selling book in 2020. I mean, over and over again, these myths about the atomic bomb. That’s what kids are taught. We dropped the bomb to avoid an invasion of fanatical Japan and to save lives. Well, you know, that’d be a nice fairy tale that Places American exceptionalism at the heart of the rise of the empire.
And the reality is that we didn’t need to drop the bomb. That the Japanese were already defeated. That Americans knew there were two other ways to end the war. One was to change the surrender terms. General Douglas MacArthur, the head of the Southwest Pacific Command, who wanted to drop atomic bombs during the Korean War.
It says that if we had told the Japanese they could keep the Emperor, they would have happily surrendered in May, months earlier, and saved so many lives. That’s MacArthur. But we know that seven out of America’s eight five star admirals and generals in 1945 are on record saying the atomic bombs were either militarily unnecessary, morally reprehensible, or both.
Admiral Leahy who was Truman’s personal chief of staff and chaired the meetings of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, this put us on the level of the barbarians of the Dark Ages. He said there was no reason we were ever going to have to invade, and the Japanese were already defeated. Eisenhower says the same thing.
The Japanese were already defeated. We didn’t have to drop that awful thing on them. He says how depressed he became. He said this on several occasions. Well, they all knew that. And Truman knew it, and that’s what’s so important, because the Joint Intelligence Committee, to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says back in April, and then over again after that, that this is the other way to end the war, wait for the Soviets to come in.
The day after Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt started imploring the Soviet Union to come into the Pacific War. But as you and I know, the Soviets had their hands full. Well, throughout most of the war, the US and the British were confronting 10 German divisions between us. The Soviets were confronting more than 200, 200 German divisions.
They lost 27 million people fighting in that war. And so, so they, but at Yalta in February, Stalin finally agreed to commit to the Pacific War three months after the end of the war in Europe. Three months, which would make it right around August 8th. So, Truman goes to Potsdam and, , he has lunch with Stalin July 17th.
Stalin assures him the Russians are coming in on schedule. Truman writes in his diary, Stalin will be in the Jap war by August 15th. (unintelligible) Japs when that occurs. He writes home to his wife, Bess, the next day. The Russians are coming in, we’ll end the war a year sooner now. Think of all the kids who won’t be killed.
He refers to the intercepted telegram that he reads on July 18th as the telegram from the Jap emperor asking for peace. Truman knew the Japs were defeated. Everybody around him knew the Japanese were defeated and trying to surrender. And they also knew that they were appealing to the Soviets to get them better surrender terms.
And they didn’t know that the Soviet Union was about to come in. And Truman did not want Stalin to sign the Potsdam Declaration because that would signal to the Japanese that the Soviets were about to come in, and it would probably end the war before the U. S. could use the atomic bomb. So the United States wanted to.
And the question that you and I have discussed is why did the United States want to use the atomic bomb so much if it wasn’t militarily needed? And the other thing that’s clear is that what finally convinced the Japanese to surrender was not the atomic bomb. It was the Soviet invasion, as intelligence had been saying.
And we know that Prime Minister Suzuki, the Japanese Prime Minister, when he was asked on August 13th why they had to surrender so quickly, because they surrender the next day, why they can’t wait, he says, I can’t do that. If we miss today, the Soviets will take not only Manchuria, Korea, Karafuto, but also Hokkaido.
This will destroy the foundation of Japan. We must end the war when we can deal with the U. S. And some Americans knew that. Special War Department report in January 46 says that explicitly. The lead up to the surrender, there was almost no discussion of the atomic bomb. It was all the Soviet invasion. You go to the official Navy Museum here in Washington, D. C., and it has a display on the end of the war. It says, the vast destruction leaked by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the loss of 135, 000 people made little impact on the Japanese military. However, the Soviet invasion of Manchuria on August 9th changed their minds.
That’s what convinced them. And we knew that. Intelligence had been saying that. Truman knew that was going to be the case. All of his advisors knew that was going to be the case. And so that, but that history is left out of the movie. It’s a great movie in a lot of ways, but for the fundamental myth that Nolan could have tackled and should have tackled he didn’t.
Yeah. And that’s, I mean, that is typical, , of, of course, Hollywood and, and of course, some have, , some, some critics of this criticism have been saying it’s just a movie. of course, I don’t believe that such a, that kind of a. Of an argument , popular culture isn’t innocuous. It is a great tool of propaganda.
It’s a great tool of normalizing, particularly Hollywood, normalizing American exceptionalism, part of Hollywood, even getting off the ground, you know, some 100 years ago was all wrapped around this right after the Great War. And the first the first movie they made the beginning or the end is a total defense.
Of the atomic bombings, although it started off was going to be an anti nuclear movie and a critique of the atomic bombings. By the time it goes through Leslie Groves and Harry Truman and the military advisors that completely changed the message there. I’d like to remind our listeners you’re tuned to the project censored show.
I’m your host Mickey Huff we are speaking with American University professor and historian Peter Kuznick co author with Oliver Stone of the untold history of the United States we’re talking about. , historiography around the film Oppenheimer, of course, which is capturing a lot of people’s attention and, sort of steering, the American public kind of back to this decision of dropping the bomb and, of course, the film focuses on, Robert Oppenheimer.
We’re going to continue our conversation with historian Peter Kuznick after this brief musical break and we’ll talk a little bit more about some of the untold histories that you likely aren’t going to see, this summer in such blockbuster films like Oppenheimer. Stay tuned. Three, two, one. Welcome back to the Project Censored Show on Pacifica Radio.
I’m your host, Mickey Huff. Today in this segment, we are honored to welcome historian Peter Kuznick from American University, co author with Oliver Stone of The Untold History of the United States. Both book, has an updated edition that came out a few years ago. That added a great deal of history, contemporary, contemporary history, basically on the Obama years.
It was also, of course, an award winning documentary series. you can, you can still see that. I encourage you to see it if you have not. It is incredible. In fact, the topic that we are on today about the ending of World War II, about the film Oppenheimer, the decision to drop the atomic bomb, what’s sort of been left out of this, sort of blockbuster film.
Chapter, four and five, folks in the book for the literate listeners out there of the Untold History really covers the bomb, the tragedy of a small man, the Cold War who started it. indispensable historiography. Stuff that, you know, not enough young people are learning, in our schools. And Peter Kuznick, you alluded to that earlier, I think before we started the, the tape running here.
, you, you know, mentioning, the kind of histories that, that the, that people learn in the U. S. is, is exceptionalist in nature. And you mentioned earlier that even though Oppenheimer might be a stellar, you know, kind of blockbuster film, there’s some extraordinary things that are left out.
Particularly, there’s no real depictions of the consequences of the bomb. There’s no depictions of what happened in Hiroshima or Nagasaki. There’s surely no mess, mention of what was going on, really in detail with Bikini Atoll. Of course, the documentary film Nuclear Savage and Project 4. 1 point out the horrific atrocities that went on with, indigenous populations in the Pacific that were used as human guinea pigs.
Peter Kuznick, you know, weigh in a little bit more on, on some of these things that some of the more human elements that really are missing and it’s a missed opportunity from from Nolan to have this kind of really significant discussion at a time, when we are living with the atomic clock closer to midnight, than ever before.
And your good friend, the late great Daniel Ellsberg committed a great part of his life fighting for peace, fighting to stop, nuclear proliferation and to prevent nuclear annihilation. Peter Kuznick. I mean, Dan was the leading spokesperson warning against the threat of nuclear winter. I mean, back in the 80s, when Sagan and other scientists first raised the possibility that even a more limited nuclear war Could create planetary disorder, and we know even a hundred Hiroshima sized nuclear weapons between India and Pakistan would send 10 million tons of smoke, soot, and dust into the stratosphere.
Within two weeks, it would circle the globe, block the sun’s rays from hitting the earth, destroy agriculture. A limited nuclear war like that could lead to up to two billion deaths, and that’s a hundred nuclear weapons. And now we’re facing a world with 12, 500 nuclear weapons, all of which, or most of which, are much bigger than the Hiroshima bomb, 70 to 70 times most of them.
And Nolan appreciates that to his credit. He said that when he was starting on the film, his teenage son asked him what he’s working on, and he told him. And his son said, Says, well, nobody really worries about nuclear weapons anymore. Are people going to be interested in this? , and, and, you know, that’s the truth.
Oliver and I tried to get our, my movie about Henry Wallace made. Now, Dolan says Oppenheimer is the most important person who ever lived. Had Henry Wallace become president instead of Harry Truman, there would be no atomic bombing and no Cold War. And we can say he was the most important person who ever lived.
When Nolan says that, then I wonder, does that make Leslie Groves the second most important person? You wouldn’t recognize Leslie Groves in this movie. Maybe you should call Christopher Nolan. Maybe he’ll make the Wallace film. Well, he could do a great job. I think this is a great movie from a movie standpoint.
Right. I think he had Matt Damon playing Leslie Groves. The most likable Leslie Groves I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t focus on Groves as the enemy. Most people writing about Oppenheimer, the bomb, focus on Groves as the bad guy. But the secondary focus of this film, when he gets past the Manhattan Project and the Trinity test, is the McCarthy hearing.
The 1954 security loyalty hearings in which Oppenheimer loses his security clearance. And so the bad guy is Louis Strauss, , Louis Strauss is a former banker and shoe salesman who becomes the head of the Atomic Energy Commission. Oppenheimer headed the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Atomic Energy Commission, and they voted 8 to 0 in 1950 against developing the hydrogen bomb.
The reason why Strauss and Teller and Borden and the others go after Oppenheimer in the 50s is not so much because he used to be a communist in the 30s or a communist fellow traveler and an ally, and he says a member of every left wing front group on the west coast, and everybody, his relatives, his students, his friends were all communists, so he may or may not have carried a communist party card, but he was at heart a communist, but he disavows all that.
During the Manhattan Project, and they let her go back and get him on that is a fair affair with Gene Tadlock and other things along those lines, but it’s because of his opposition to hydrogen bomb. But even still, and no one doesn’t deal with this quite the way I would. Oppenheimer was opposed to the hydrogen bomb as a genocidal weapon, but he wanted to focus more on the atomic bombs.
He said, let’s not divert attention from the atomic bombs, which can achieve everything we need against the Soviet Union. And instead of focusing on the hydrogen bomb. So even there, you know, he’s very culpable. Nolan makes him out to be better than he is. Yeah. And, and, and, you know, my Marty and Kai. You know, they’re more, they’re more critical, I would say, in their biography, American Prometheus, than Nolan is in the film.
Nolan is critical, and he raises the issues, and he portrays an Oppenheimer who’s wracked with guilt, and they show the scene where he goes to see Truman in 1946. What they don’t have is before he went to see Tran, he went to see Henry Wallace. And Henry Wallace at Oppenheimer seems to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
He’s so worried that Burns and others are going to use the atomic bomb against, in diplomacy against the Soviet Union, and it’s going to start World War III. He says the scientists are the world’s guilty men. But he encouraged , Oppenheimer to go meet with Truman. And it’s a famous meeting in which Oppenheimer, first Truman, the idiot, says, , when do you think the Russians are going to get the bomb?
And Oppenheimer says, well, I don’t know. Truman says, I know they’re never going to get the bomb. And, and Oppenheimer is so taken aback by Truman’s bluster and his total ignorance, because Oppenheimer knew that the bomb was going to, the Soviets were going to get a bomb very quickly, even without espionage.
And then he says, so he’s rattled and he says, I, Mr. President, I feel I’ve got blood on my hands. And Truman says, well, the blood’s on my hands and, you know, don’t worry about it. And then, and then, then when he throws Oppenheimer out, basically, and he said, on some accounts, have him calling him a son of a bitch, as well as a crybaby scientist.
He says, I never want to see that crybaby scientist, that son of a bitch, in this office again. Yeah, you know, you write about that, of course, and I reference the chapter in the book, the bomb, the tragedy of a small man, you have a whole passage here. I’m on 178 179. I’m actually just reading along with you.
, you talk about Truman claiming he felt no remorse, even bragging that he quote, never lost any sleep over the decision. Right. And TV interviewer Edward R. Murrow asked him any regrets and Truman responded, not the slightest, not the slightest in. The world. And then, of course, you go on to talk about Truman meeting Oppenheimer and those, those, , infamous quotes, if you will, , that come from, from that period.
, so pretty much from the, from the beginning again, and you, you’ve gone into great length about this. The difference between Wallace and Truman are just extraordinary. And, and Wallace should have become president on April 12th, 45, when Roosevelt died, but people don’t know 99. 9% of Americans have no idea that when the Democratic Party Convention started on July 20th, 1944.
with Wallace as the sitting vice president for the past three and a half years, , that Gallup released a poll that day that asked potential voters who they wanted on the Democratic ticket as vice president. 65% said they wanted Wallace back as vice president. 2% said they wanted Truman. Nobody knew Truman.
Nobody liked Truman. And he was such a non entity that he was vice president for 82 days before Roosevelt died. They met with Roosevelt twice and nobody had enough regard for Truman to even let him know we were building an atomic bomb. He doesn’t find out until that night after he’s sworn in. And then, then Burns comes up the next day and briefs him and says, and Truman writes it in his memoir, a weapon great enough to destroy the world.
And he says that on several occasions, when he gets a full briefing of the bomb test at, at, Potsdam, he writes in his journal, we’ve discovered the most terrible bomb in history. Quote, this may be the fire destruction prophesied in the Euphrates Valley era, after Noah and his fabulous ark. The ultimate crime he commits is using the bomb, even though he knew he was beginning a process that could end life on the planet.
And Oppenheimer too, when Oppenheimer briefs the interim committee, the top advisors on May 31st, they ask him what’s coming down the pike in the future. He says, within three years, We’re likely to have weapons between 700 and 7, 000 times as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb. Oppenheimer knew this. They all knew this was coming, and they knew, most of them knew that there was no military necessity or justification for using it, and that they were beginning the process in exactly the way that Szilard and Frank and the other scientists had warned was going to lead to this uncontrollable arms race.
That’s a tragedy, and that’s not in the movie, although he hints at a little of it. So, Peter Kuznick. the timing of the release coming up on the 78th, year past the dropping of these bombs on civilian populations. 78. 78. 78, yeah. 78 years. the timing of the film, summer, right? I mean, it’s, it’s happening right?
When, when I know you, for a very long time, you’ve taken students and you’ve taken annual trips to Japan, to Hiroshima, Nagasaki, you know, you’ve, you’ve been there, you’ve been a big part of. of understanding how it’s impacted the culture there. Could you just make a, you know, comment a little bit on that? And of course, that’s, that’s certainly not, not part of the film.
No, that part, that’s not part of the film. And they don’t show the Hiroshima and Nagasaki part. And I can understand that. Because when I wrote my screenplay for Oliver, We didn’t show it either. We show the American reaction to it, but to actually stage that, it’s almost impossible. He does brilliantly in staging the Trinity test.
It’s really terrifying and awe inspiring, but to show Hiroshima and Nagasaki would require almost a movie in itself. I mean, the horror, the horror convey that without trivializing it. In 1991, there were two really good Japanese movies, feature films. One is called Black Rain, and that won all the Japanese Academy Awards for that year.
, and then the other was called Rhapsody in August, and it’s by Kurosawa, the brilliant Japanese filmmaker. And it’s about Nagasaki. Black Rain is about Hiroshima, and Black Rain is very explicit. Rhapsody in August does not show the effects of the bombing. Mm-hmm. And I show them both to my students and I as well.
I show the American films about the atomic bombs and I ask them, which is more impactful? Mm-hmm. , and sometimes they’re more impacted by the ones that don’t show. Mm-hmm. explicitly. The effects of the bomb, because it’s hard to convey that degree of horror and suffering and incomprehension and the magnitude of it all.
And the people walking naked with their skin falling off eyeballs melted, you know, so I don’t blame him for that. I think that there are other things that he could have done within the realm of the movie with a little bit different emphasis, you know, and and I know that Kai saw the movie before back for the 75th anniversary.
Remember, Kai Bird, Marty Sherwin, Gar Alperovitz and I did a series. of international webinars and press briefings together, which we emphasize the Soviet invasion as a determining factor. We emphasize the alternatives. We emphasize the ethical issues that were raised by the scientists, and others as well.
And the fact that there was no justification for using atomic bombs and what the door that’s left us open to. And that’s the ultimate thing. And that message does get across in the Nolan movie to his credit, the idea that we’re still living with the effect that our, our, our future as a species is still not guaranteed.
And that in many ways now with Ukraine and Taiwan and what’s going on in the world, the new cold wars. closer to nuclear annihilation than we’ve been any time without the main possible exception of the Cuban Missile Crisis for those 78 years that we’ve been living with this. Yeah, that’s why I was mentioning the timing to is, you know, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the war there, , NATO arming Ukraine, Joe Biden just sent cluster bombs there. , it’s, it’s, it seems like that there isn’t enough attention on the potential. for that to go very wrong. It wasn’t the beginning. When Putin was making more explicit threats, there was a lot of attention. But that died off. You know, Robert Lifton, my friend Robert Lifton, talks about nuclear numbing.
And we see that. This generation, your students, my students… Yeah. They, they know all about climate change. They care passionately. They know about gender issues, and race issues, and LGBT plus issues, and, but they don’t know about nuclear. It’s not on their horizon, and they try to think about it. And maybe they can think about it for 15 minutes, and it becomes too overwhelming.
Other things even climate is on a scale that they can comprehend, but there’s something about nuclear war. That’s beyond human comprehension. This idea that in a, almost in an instant, our planet, the lives of all life on our planet can be wiped out. So Peter Kuznick, we’re about out of time for this segment, and I was just going to end on this note.
despite some of the things missing, despite some of the maybe missed opportunities in, in, in the, blockbuster film Oppenheimer, that we’ve been discussing, what are some, what are some of the takeaways, wouldn’t one be the drawing of attention to this for another generation of people? I think it’s great that they made this film, that it’s being so widely advertised.
I can’t watch a Baltimore Orioles game without every inning in between the commercials about Oppenheimer movie. You know, it’s, it’s everywhere. and it’s getting, generating discussion. Most of the discussion is really worth having. Most of the reviews have highlighted some of the more positive aspects of the movie.
I give Nolan a lot of credit. I just wish he’d used me as an advisor. And I co inserted just a few things that would have made the point. You know, and gotten it across, which I don’t think he would have disagreed with, but it was in the Marty, Marty and Kai’s Pulitzer Prize winning book. There’s more in there that he could have drawn out, but it might’ve opened up a can of worms, made the film much more controversial and debating other issues, which as historians, you and I would love to get and, you know, fight, fight this out finally in a fair fight.
And we don’t get the opportunity very, very often to do that. Well, Peter Kuznick, I always appreciate the opportunity to talk about these issues with you here on the Project Censored Show. I know Greg Mitchell’s been getting around and he’s been getting a little attention to offer some of these, sort of counterpoints and these different, historiographic perspectives that you mentioned are not Greg.
Greg’s a terrific historian, is written great books and has done a very good job. He’s been out there talking about the things we’re talking about to his credit. Yeah, and it’s good. It’s good to hear. And again, it’s really good to hear from you. And I like you do wish that Nolan had had you on the on the payroll for consulting in the film.
But anyway, I would have been happy to do it for free. Oh, I know you would. I know. And the film would have obviously been better for it. And the American public would have been better educated, but. You know, that’s what we’re here for. And we keep doing it anyway, blockbuster or otherwise. We keep trying to tell those untold histories and, with great respect to you, , for all of your, your wonderful work, Peter Kuznick, professor of history, American university, coauthor with Oliver Stone of the untold history of the United States.
Peter, thanks as always for joining us on the Project Censored Show. My pleasure.
Below is a Rough Transcript of the Interview with Peter Phillips and Bill Tiwald
Mickey: Welcome back to the Project Censored Show on Pacifica Radio.
I’m your host, Mickey Huff. In this segment of the program, we continue on our theme from the first segment where we were talking about the Oppenheimer film and, of course, the historiography around it. Right now, I have the distinct pleasure of welcoming back to the program, at the other side of the mic, Dr. Peter Phillips.
Of course, Peter co founded the Project Censored show with me in 2010. Peter Phillips was the long time second director of Project Censored with 14 annual Censored books. Peter, of course, also is author. Of giants, the global power elite that came out about five years ago, an extraordinary analysis of the global power elite.
The small number of people that actually control so much of what happens around the world. Peter Phillips, welcome back to the program today.
Peter: Mickey, it’s really great to be back. Thank you for having us.
Mickey: It’s absolutely my pleasure. And thank you too, Peter, so much for welcoming me. Your new friend and colleague, Bill Tiwald.
Bill is a 72 year old Vietnam era conscientious objector, and he has continued to be a peace and justice activist. He’s retired from two careers, one in residential commercial construction, and later a career in middle and high school teaching kudos to you, Bill, for that. Currently, he is Secretary of the Donald and Sally Alice Chapter of Veterans for Peace.
And Peter and Bill, both these days, reside in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Bill Tiwald, welcome to the Project Censored Show.
Bill: Thank you so much, Mickey.
Mickey: It’s an honor to have you. So Peter, there’s some things happening in your neck of the woods. I know that’s, that’s occasioned our meeting here today on the program coming up on August 5th is the Albuquerque Peace Festival and Hiroshima Nagasaki Commemoration Rally.
And of course, we’ll have links to the show at projectcensored.org for people to learn more about that. You can go to abqpeacefest.org to find out. But Peter, tell me a little bit about that and let’s kick off our conversation today.
Peter: Well, the Albuquerque Peace Festival is good. We want to make an annual event.
When I moved to Albuquerque and I met Bill over a year ago, I came to realize that this is the center of the nuclear weapons industry. And at the air base right here in Albuquerque is a storage place for over 2000 nuclear bombs. And I mean, this was just appalling to me. And so not only in Los Alamos, do we, did we make the weapons.
And they’re restarting that. We’re going to start building new plutonium bomb cores called pits. And that’s funded at almost 30 billion this year, Los Alamos labs are really huge and that’s like 17, 000 employees, but then all the waste from all of this and all the waste from nuclear weapons industry is shipped to New Mexico down by Carlsbad and buried in salt mines there.
And that’s really concerning to people here in New Mexico because you’re going to be driving down the freeway and there’s a truck filled with these big ton, all this nuclear waste. Sooner or later, there’s going to be accidents, and it’s inevitable. So those were concerns, and so the Peace Festival is designed to bring attention to it’s time to end nuclear weapons in the world today.
Mickey: Bill Tiwald, let’s bring you in and talk about this a little bit. This of course, first the event that’s coming up August 5th in Albuquerque, and then, of course, broader concerns. Bill Tiwald.
Bill: Yes, yes, on August 5th, We’re going to go from 2 p. m. to 6 p. m. with speeches, music, food trucks, tabling, and we’re going to ring a bell at 5:15 p.m. mountain time, which on this side of the international dateline will be the 78th anniversary to the moment of when the Hiroshima bomb was dropped. And we are excited about having this event because we want people to be more conscious of the threat of nuclear war. Nuclear war actually could it could happen at any moment.
You know, we might hear, we might not hear the air raid sirens and it would be all over. And I can talk about that as we get into this.
Mickey: Yeah, well, so it strikes me to both Bill and Peter just in the first few minutes here of our discussion, you’re pointing to the very grave circumstances that could be literally right around the corner a literal playing with fire, moment for humanity that, that we’ve actually been enduring
for decades, literally since the ending of the Second World War coming up through the Cold War détente the Cuban Missile Crisis, right? When the atomic scientists put the the warning for nuclear annihilation at two minutes to midnight. And of course, Interestingly, more recently, especially since the Russian invasion of Ukraine they’ve notched that even closer.
In fact, historians have noted that it, the warnings are now even worse, or more dire, as we should say than they may have been some 60 years ago, which is extraordinary. You know, earlier in the program I was talking to historian Peter Kuznick, and one of the things we were talking about the film Oppenheimer too, and I know you all might have a few things to say about that germane to the topic here.
But he had mentioned that the filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s teenage son was curious as to why he was making this film about nukes, kind of highlighting that there’s a younger generation of people that don’t necessarily put nuclear annihilation on their top five list of things to worry about, like climate crisis is something that younger people are acutely aware of.
They’re increasingly aware of both gender and race oppression. And so forth, but this issue seems to have escaped that. And so I don’t know, bill, let’s just, you know, keep with you here for a moment. And maybe you can talk about that and of course, one of the reasons that you all are doing the peace fest is to bring broader awareness to more people.
Bill: Yes. Mickey. Peter, Theodore Postol, who is a nuclear physicist, who has been involved involved in nuclear treaties concerns about the other nations that have nuclear weapons for administrations, starting with Ronald Reagan and on up to the present day. Peter Postal points out that when a nuclear missile comes in from, say, Russia, it will be a MIRV missile, and it’ll be called the Satan missile, is what it is called, believe it or not.
A MIRV missile is actually several missiles within one missile. So this missile will open up over any of the, the large cities of the United States. And Albuquerque and these other missiles will come out that the Satan missile or the Sarmat missile, the Russians, has 10 to 15 missiles in it.
When those missiles ignite about 2000 feet above their target, those missiles will become within one second over 179 million degrees Fahrenheit. The missile itself will become that temperature. So, just the heat, we’re not talking about the radiation and the electromagnetic pulse that emanates from the missile.
But just the heat itself will be 179 million degrees at that point. So, in New Mexico, for instance, there probably are going to be at least three missiles targeted. One at Albuquerque because of the Air Force Base here and the Sandia National Nuclear Weapons Laboratory. But also at Los Alamos, where nuclear weapons are being built, the plutonium pits are being produced, and also at the White Sands missile range down in southern New Mexico.
So when you think about the heat of maybe 45, maybe more, weapons going off, Over New Mexico, there isn’t going to be a blade of grass, a tree that isn’t turned to ash pretty quickly, within seconds. And the surrounding states are going to feel this too. These missiles are going to be aimed at Amarillo, Texas, because there’s a big Pantex nuclear facility in Amarillo.
They’re going to be aimed at Denver, Colorado. So this part of the country is going to be destroyed real quickly. Now what’s going to happen to the rest of the country is that the cities like Houston. New York, Chicago, San Francisco, L. A., they’ll all be targeted. There won’t be infrastructure left in the United States after a nuclear exchange.
So, the people who are away from the actual heat and magnetic pulse, electromagnetic pulse of the missiles, and from the immediate radiation effects, they will have no infrastructure. There’ll be no pipelines to deliver fuel. There will be the electrical power grid will be knocked out. Those people be squabbling over the food that isn’t rotting in the grocery stores all already, and they won’t have potable water.
There’ll be no water being pumped around the United States. This will be true. In Europe and in Russia, China, India, Pakistan, all of the nuclear armed countries are going to be annihilated essentially in a a full nuclear exchange. When that nuclear exchange happens also, those bombs, those missiles will lift a tremendous amount of soot, ash, and dust into the air, up into the stratosphere, where there is no rain.
So that, that ash, soot, and dust, and smoke will be distributed by the upper atmosphere across the globe. And nuclear winter will set in, because the sunshine will not really be hitting the surface of the earth. And so, people in the Southern Hemisphere, where perhaps they’re spared to large part of the effects of a of a nuclear exchange, those effects, they will not be able to raise crops.
They won’t have any sunlight. And also, The atmosphere will be poisoned with radiation. So, yeah, this could be the end of all mammal life, certainly of human life.
Mickey: Yeah, certainly, and again, this summer, people, Americans are going in droves to the theaters to see Oppenheimer about one of the makers of the bomb here, and one wonders what lessons are taken away given the exceptionalist nature of Hollywood propaganda.
Bill, you just really explained one of the other sides of the equation that’s often left out, and there’s really no escaping that kind of an outcome once something like this is triggered.
Bill: Absolutely. There is no escape. It’s… And, you know, the sad thing about it is, is that well, there’s just, what can I say?
What, what could be more profound? It’ll be the end of all meaning, of all human meaning.
Mickey: Yeah, it’s again, really extraordinary. To me, it’s extraordinary that this is such an existential threat it makes it even more peculiar that it somehow has slipped off the radar of so many people.
Peter Kuznick called it a nuclear numbness. That somehow over the generations, it’s become less and less. Peter Phillips, can you talk a little about that? You’re certainly a political sociologist. You’ve studied the halls of power for a long time. Those people can’t escape, these people can’t escape it either.
Peter: I’m also a baby boomer that has lived with this my entire life. As has bill and growing up, we had that that consciousness of life could end at any time. So, The Cold War was the height of military insanity. We built almost 30,000 nuclear weapons that’s been reduced down to about 5,000 now, the US and Russia has 5,000.
China’s got 350. France has a couple hundred, UK has a couple hundred, and then Pakistan, India, Israel, and North Korea all have some. But the idea of this, that 92 countries have ratified a treaty with the UN, that prohibits the use of nuclear weapons, and even owning them, or using them, or having them, have made that illegal.
I mean, the Pope Francis, he came right out and said nuclear weapons are immoral. And that’s what Bill and I are talking about. We need to stop this. We need to mobilize people in this country and the world to say that we got to stop nuclear weapons. And we will say that this can be unilateral. I mean, the United States could withdraw all nuclear weapons.
It was, Oh, wow. The Russians will come get us. The Chinese, no, they won’t any country that sets off a hundred nuclear weapons. All their people are going to die too from nuclear winter. I mean, so this is insanity at the highest level. And we continue to do this. I mean, we’re still going to put billions of dollars into building new weapons.
And guess who benefits. Boeing, General Dynamics, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, all make billions off of nuclear weapons. And and they’re invested by the largest investment holders in the country, BlackRock and Vanguard and all of that. So money is creating nuclear weapons and making profits off it.
It’s it’s absolute insanity. And we absolutely have to have to mobilize millions of people to say no to this.
Mickey: Welcome back to the Project Censored show on Pacifica Radio.
I’m your host, Mickey Huff. Today, in this segment, we are continuing our conversation about the threats of nuclear war of atomic weapons. We are speaking with Peter Phillips, political sociologist, former director of Project Censored and co founder of this program. It’s wonderful to bring peter back on the program.
We’re also joined by Bill Tiwald, who is a Vietnam era conscientious objector. Also had a career in middle and high school teaching. Currently the Secretary of the Donald and Sally Alice Chapter of Vets for Peace in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Bill and Peter, before the break, we were talking about the consequences of nuclear attacks, the danger of nuclear weapons that they still pose.
Peter, you just kind of got a little bit into the political economy behind this and you used the word insanity a couple times, which I’m afraid is appropriate. That these, these companies and of course the, the financial sector that you write about, in fact, you’re writing about again right now for the follow up to Giants, you’re writing Titans right now, which will be out next year.
Can you talk a little bit more about the financial connections? Can you talk a little bit about the political culture? Why there is an inability to really address such a serious and significant question. I mean, you and Bill Tiwald just laid this out. It seems pretty plain that it’s insane behavior.
The late great Dan Ellsberg, you know, referred to all of this scenario as the doomsday machine. We’ve had people warning us for ages of this. What do you make of the lack of inroads and really trying to, to get some meaningful change among the world’s nuclear weapon wielding countries.
Peter: The countries without weapons are saying we have to ban them.
They know that it will destroy the world if they’re used. They continue to be built and expanded based on this idea of deterrence. If we build them, then the other people are going to be scared of us that we’ll use them on them.
Mickey: Yeah, back to the Truman Doctrine.
Peter: Yeah, exactly. But now it’s kind of become the Chinese deterrence.
The Chinese have 350 weapons and they’re going to build a few more. And so the new assessment, this comes out of the Atlantic council, it comes out of the state department, it comes out of the defense department is that we have to stay ahead of the Chinese. So we have to spend 30 billion, 60 billion right away and, and expand and upgrade our weapons.
They’re worried that our plutonium weapons are deteriorating, that they might not work, so they’ll dismantle them, they take the plutonium, they cleanse it, and then they ship it to Los Alamos, and it’s repacked into new nukes that can be attached to bombs and missiles. This is expenditures that we don’t need to make.
The idea of even building these things to use them as defense is absolutely incorrect. We will all die if they’re used. So I, we advocate the unilateral withdrawal of all nuclear weapons in the United States, even if other countries have them. And we have to do it first. We started it.
We use the bombs first. And we have a moral obligation to deter this and to stop it. And that is in my mind, absolute. That this needs to cease but the top half of 1% of the people in the world, the richest they’re making money off of this, the BlackRock Vanguard, UBS, Fidelity, all those investment companies.
Who represent the surplus capital of the 40 million millionaires and billionaires invest in weaponry and nuclear weapons. They invest everywhere in the world. They just lost a few billion dollars in Russia because of the treasury department said they couldn’t sell their stocks there anymore.
It couldn’t be invested, but they more than made it up by being invested in Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, whose stocks went up 12%. So we have a crisis of wealth that perpetuates this massive bomb building and military industrial complex that Eisenhower talked about. And it’s got to stop.
Mickey: So Bill Tiwald, Vets for Peace, it’s got to stop. So that’s where these kinds of organizations and groups like yours come in to raise awareness and really try to move the political needle as it were to make some changes. Your thoughts?
Bill: Well, I’ll tell you, Veterans for Peace here in Albuquerque, and we’re also in Central and Southern New Mexico here.
This is our second action this year. And on March 5th, we had a march from a park in Albuquerque to the gates of the Sandia Weapons Lab. And for the first time in my consciousness of being here in Albuquerque as an activist, for the first time since the war on Iraq, did the local news stations pay attention to our action?
And I attribute that to the fear that has grown around the war in Ukraine. I want to go back to Ted Postol for a minute. Ted Postol says, he points out that there have been over 40 accidents, for instance a bomb right here in Albuquerque that was in a plane, fell out of a plane, just five miles directly south of where I sit right now, and it wasn’t armed, it was a nuclear weapon, it wasn’t armed, in other words, the fuse wasn’t set.
And so it is thought that that bomb was left laying and it was covered up and is still out there. That, that kind of accident has happened over 40 times just on the part of the United States. This doesn’t count accidents that Russians, Chinese, and other nuclear arms states, right? Let’s say one of those weapons goes off when that happens.
Will the president, who has the football, in other words, that’s the name for the device that the president uses to launch a nuclear attack, will the president really understand why a nuclear weapon went off in, say, Albuquerque or anywhere in the world? And well, how will that president react or how will the people who have the fingers on the buttons in Russia or in Pakistan or India or Great Britain and the other nuclear powers, how will they act?
Will there be a nuclear exchange just because of an accident? I look at it this way. We’ve been lucky so far. I bet on baseball. You know, I, occasionally bet on baseball and I follow that very closely. I’m very rational about my bets. I, I know that chance is a real thing and the chance that we’re going to have an accident that causes a nuclear exchange or we’re going to have a conflict like we’re having now that’ll cause a nuclear exchange means that sometime we will have a nuclear exchange.
Mickey: In your mind, it’s not if it’s when, and it could be because of belligerence. It could be because of, again, the threats that we saw with Putin and Ukraine, but you know we live in a country with a crumbling infrastructure. I’m just talking about the United States. We have a thousand train derailments a year.
I mean. You just talked about 40 instances of bombs just sort of accidentally falling out of planes or something, which seems totally ludicrous, but gosh you know, I remember back in grad school, some of my history professors would talk about kamikaze pilots, accidentally landing on American aircraft carriers or vice versa, you know, mistakes happen, accidents happen.
Stupidity plays a role, incompetence plays a role, and you just said as a rational person that, that places some smart bets you see this as something that might be inevitable if we don’t act fast.
Bill: I believe it is. I believe that I have Children and grandchildren. I believe that if I don’t see a nuclear exchange in my lifetime that they will.
Mickey: Yeah, extraordinary. Again, these very tangible and real threats I don’t think they’re getting enough airing. Certainly the media recently has, in the last few years, sort of paid more attention to issues around the climate and so forth, but this is one that I don’t think seems to get enough serious attention still and Peter Phillips, you know, back to you as being a longtime director of Project Censored former co host of this show, I remember over 10 years ago when you and I were doing programs on the documentary Nuclear Savage about Project 4.1 And the horrible experiments that were going on, on the people in the Pacific Islands, Bikini Atoll, et cetera where the US government was knowingly and willingly just seeing what would happen to people, not to mention that they didn’t talk about what was happening downwind after Trinity. There just seems to be an extraordinary series of other crimes against humanity affiliated with all of this.
Peter: This is driven by by capital wealth and expanded and perpetuated due to ideological fears. Originally of Russia for being communist, and then of course China for being communist. But now they’re considered world threats. And John Pilger’s movie that, you know, the way he talked about the coming war with China, he reminded the world that during the Cuban Missile Crisis, where we almost launched against Russia, we were going to launch against China at the same time and take out all the cities in China just because they were communist, not because they threatened us in any way.
So I think there’s an element of potential use and belief. Among the military and the nuclear weapons industry and the complex that building these things, ultimately we’re going to use them. And they’re worried now that they’re getting old, so they won’t work right. Let them get old, dismantle them. Let’s not have any more ever.
That’s what has to happen.
Mickey: So what about this talk about the small controlled nukes or the, the new generation of manageable nuclear weapons built Ewald more propaganda, more nonsense.
Bill: This certainly is nonsense. Can you imagine if Russia used its tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield in Ukraine?
Do you think, for instance, Poland would stand by? And when Poland gets involved, all of NATO gets involved. And so the use of nuclear weapons is just has to be prohibited that the, existence has to be prohibited and Mickey, I’m glad you mentioned Trinity. That was the first bomb. That was the experimental bomb that was blown up in the desert.
South and East of Albuquerque aways those people that live down there. There were 10, 000 people that were under the very shadow. of the nuclear bomb smoke and mushroom that came from that weapons experiment. Those people are still suffering cancer because the radiation that comes from plutonium, it actually comes from high grade uranium.
Causes 50 types of cancers and the radiation changes DNA. The people who survived that and not everybody did. There were people that died pretty quickly from that bomb. That experiment. Some of them went on to have Children. They passed DNA on to people, to their prodigy, and their prodigy has passed that DNA change onto their prodigy, and it goes on and on.
The cancer has gone on and on. Those people need relief. These, those people need relief from the radiation Exposure Compensation Act, which they haven’t been given by the Congress and the president, the Congress is the one that’s holding it up, so I wanted to get that plug in there.
Mickey: Yeah. Well, thank you so much, Bill Tiwald, for sharing that important information.
Thanks also for the work you’re doing with Veterans for Peace. Peter Phillips, we’re out of time for this segment. As you know, that, that bell comes ringing quickly and we start wrapping up. So I wanted to thank you for joining us, but Peter, any last words before we wrap up today?
Peter: Well, I, I think this is a national issue that we need to really be involved.
So we’re, we’re organizing the Albuquerque Peace Festival and it’s an honoring the Hiroshima Nagasaki being destroyed. A couple of hundred thousand people were incinerated in those cities. There was no need to do that. It was done arbitrarily to test how these weapons were used, how they would affect the city.
So those were cities that hadn’t been bombed yet. And so this was deliberate. And having that, knowing that, that deliberate use of these weapons then, and continuing to build them with the potential abuse of them now, it has to be stopped.
Mickey: Well, peter Phillips, I want to thank you so much for joining us again on the Project Censored show today.
Bill Tiwald, thank you so much. The Albuquerque Peace Festival is on. Saturday, August 5th. For anybody that’s in that part of New Mexico, you can learn more at abqpeacefest. org. Gentlemen, thanks again for the important work you’re doing, and thanks for joining us on the Project Censored show today.
Bill: Thank you.