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August 07, 2005

Happy Anniversary

As we're in the middle of our 60th anniversary celebration of the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it comes as no surprise that we've been inundated with the litany about how, if not for the nuking, one million American lives and three million Japanese lives were saved. Usually, this is followed by the statement from some baby boomer that his father was being prepped for an invasion, and no doubt would not have survived this bloody event.

Professional cynic that I am, whenever I hear this statement --€“ it is usually repeated damn near word for word -- I think about the 200,000 dead and wounded (and, many cases, later dead) Japanese. I do the math and figure there would be, what, over a million people who are NOT here today?

I have no doubt that these soldiers were being prepared for such action. Knowing the reaction to the bombings would be ugly, our government got ahead of the story; a physical act of spin control that is common to the military and was used brilliantly during the D-Day preparations.

The fact is, a great many top military commanders did not agree with this decision. They felt it unnecessary. I'll site but one source. If you think this guy was stupid, ill-informed, or a hysterical peacenik, I invite you to Google to your heart's content because plenty of well-informed people shared the opinion of General Dwight Eisenhower.

Gen. Eiserhower said: "Secretary of War Stimson visited my headquarters in Germany, [and] informed me that our government was preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. I was one of those who felt that there were a number of cogent reasons to question the wisdom of such an act"€¦

"During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and second because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives.

"It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of "€˜face.' The Secretary was deeply perturbed by my attitude, almost angrily refuting the reasons I gave for my quick conclusions"€¦

"Japan was at the moment seeking some way to surrender with minimum loss of "€˜face'. It wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing."€

Of course, even if Eisenhower was wrong and the bombing of Hiroshima was justified, that doesn't explain why we dropped a weapon of mass destruction on Nagasaki -- with far greater precision, I might add. At the very least, Truman and Stimson are smoking a turd in hell for that one.

Happy anniversary, folks.

Posted by Mike Gold at August 7, 2005 11:07 AM

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Mike, one comment, and please feel free to delete after it's posted, but it's only the 60th anniversary (2005 - 1945 = 60), not the 70th.

Posted by: JosephW at August 7, 2005 11:42 AM

Thanks for the note; I made the correction. No, I'll leave it up -- I try to own up to my mistakes.

This week was The Shadow's 75th anniversary (first radio appearance on a mystery anthology show -- it inspired the pulp magazine). I must have gotten confused between the two. After all, the atom bomb SOUNDS like a Shadow plot. And probably was.

Posted by: Mike Gold at August 7, 2005 03:28 PM

Professional cynic that I am, whenever I hear this statement – it is usually repeated damn near word for word – I think about the 200,000 dead and wounded (and, many cases, later dead) Japanese. I do the math and figure there would be, what, over a million people who are NOT here today?

I found the following statistic just googling:
"There have been more than 32.5 million abortions in the twenty one years since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized unrestricted abortion on January 22, 1973."

You'll excuse me if I find it hard to tear up over a measley million imaginary lives, when the extermination of over 32 times that in real lives are considered a "right".

And when you consider how many times the world has been on the brink of total annihilation, the spectre of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have probably saved far more lives than it cost. It's a small comfort, I know, but at least we're still here to BE comforted.

Posted by: eclark1849 at August 7, 2005 10:46 PM

Re Nagasaki:

If the Japanese were so about to surrender before Hiroshima, why did they not do so right after Hiroshima? 3 days go by, no surrender.

Even after Nagasaki there were Japanese military men who wanted to fight on. Frankly, I find the idea that Japan was ready willing and about to go down without a fight pretty much historical revisionism.

Posted by: Bill Mulligan at August 8, 2005 09:58 AM


As you know, I have a unique perspective on this, since my spouse would not have existed were it not for the Japanese occupation. I also now have in-laws in Japan, and the huge irony in my life is that the only person to whom I am related in any way who saw WW2 action was a Japanese uncle-in-law who died prior to to the Pearl Harbor attack.

I was unaware of the Eisenhower quote you presented, although I am aware that there was a noteworthy difference of opinion about the use of the weapon (and, of course, the Manhattan Project folks, once they saw it, were in favor of merely demonstrating it).

And hindsight is always 20/20.

Using the atomic bombs on Japan were an act of racism -- this has always been my spouse's point of view, and she's probably correct. Had Hitler prevailed at the Battle of the Bulge and extended the European war even six months, one wonders if we would have nuked Europeans as easily as we did Asians. I think that's part of the issue. I suspect the atomic bomb wouldn't have been used, not even after Curtis LeMay's wonderful destruction of Dresden. (The more I learn about LeMay, the more I believe he may have been the most evil SOB ever to have a position of responsibility in the US government.)

The US had also been randomly destroying civilians in Tokyo, too, prior to the atomic bomb attack. In fact, one of the wonderful contributions to war that comes from WW2 is the loss of inhibition of mass killing of civilians. (Wonder where Osama bin Laden went for his primer on terror?) The US wasn't alone -- far from it -- but I think we were the best. (Gosh, aren't we always?)

It's probably a good thing that Trinity yielded just two bombs with two different types of fission triggers. Had there been six, Truman probably would have used all of them.

This scorched earth philosophy drives our current efforts, too. Anything to avoid infantry casualties, that's the rationale for bombing cities back into the Bronze Age. And because it's clear that we're willing to use our weapons with very little discrimination (this, by the way, is the only true thing for which JFK may be marked by history as great -- for refusing to escalate the Cuban Missile Crisis into any sort of shooting incident), those with whom we have disagreements now feel compelled to pre-emptively act indiscriminately.

If your neighbor's dog craps on your lawn, that's bad, but the proper response is never to blow up his entire house.

Proportion and perspective. It would have been useful. I can't totally condemn Truman for what he did -- after all, he was looking at four years of war, and it would have been a bloody mess to invade Honshu, maybe as bad as the 1 million casualties predicted. I've seen reports that some of the Japanese military were actually planning a coup against the Emperor because he was listening to saner heads. (Hmm. Could that happen in the US? Hmm?) I think Nagasaki was unnecessary, and less understandable.

But then again, ever since the first proto-human took a rock to another proto-human over a puddle of water (or Cain slew Abel), I've never seen logic to any sort of aggression. (I am reading Pete Hamill's "Forever" currently, and one of his characters talks about how kings become kings, and he's spot on -- they're just big bullies who use weapons to make people agree with them, and, if not, they kill them.)

Crap. Now I'm all depressed. Now I'll start thinking about Native Americans and my own piece of property.


Posted by: Mike Flynn at August 8, 2005 03:16 PM

While I find it somewhat quaint that an anniversary that creates little to no stir in anyone under 50 should be under consideration here, it is still useful to consider what the dropping of two atomic bombs really accomplished--the undisputed hegemony of the United States up to the present day through the first, and still the best, display of shock and awe in modern history.

BTW, happy belated birthday, Mikey.

Posted by: Marilyn Ferdinand at August 8, 2005 05:16 PM

Hey, Marilyn. It's been a really, really long time. Too bad I have to disagree with you slightly. Two points:

1. Our hegemony was, AFAIK, quite actively disputed by the Soviet Union for the better part of half a century after WWII. Yes, I'm familiar with the theory that the real reason we dropped the bomb was to show the Russians that we meant business, but I'm inclined to the Occam's razor intepretation of the events in this case: Truman saw a way to end the war quickly with little or no additional lose of American life, and he took it. (I'm not defending that position, just stating it.)

2. Some historians, who are perhaps even more cynical than Mike, believe that FDR maneuvered us into the war because he believed (rightly as it turned out) that the victors would become the dominant world powers, and he wanted the United States to be one of those powers. I don't think nuking Japan was really a necessary prerequisite to attainment of that goal -- but insistence on the unconditional surrender of both Japan and Germany may have helped.

And I know I shouldn't, but I just can't help myself. Thanks to eclark for the abortion analogy. I'm sure we'll all find that helpful in making future moral/ethical judgments. Maybe the drug companies can use that as their defense for putting mercury in vaccines administered to newborns. "Hey, maybe we caused brain damage and autism in hundreds of thousands of kids, but it's not like we killed 32.5 million of 'em!"

My apologies in advance to eclark if I've misrepresented your position. No doubt you'll correct me.

Posted by: Rick Oliver at August 8, 2005 08:30 PM

Rick, why bother? Be yourself, dude.

Posted by: eclark1849 at August 8, 2005 10:51 PM

Has a definite link between vaccines, mercury and autism been found? I was under the impression that the big studies on the subject have shown there to be no link. I know that the word mercury is scary as hell but so is Sodium (A grey metal that blows up in water) and Chlorine (A poisonous gas that melts your lungs) but you don't see people freaking out about salt. Yet.

here's an interesting article on autism: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/08/opinion/08baron-cohen.html?ex=1281153600&en=497fba7d39bb5396&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss

Posted by: Bill Mulligan at August 9, 2005 12:25 AM

Hey, it's medical science. It may take decades to establish any "definite links" in any legally binding sense. There are, of course, undisputed links between mercury poisoning and brain damage, and ethylmercury, which makes up about 50% of the presevative thimerasol used in vaccines, is apparently particularly virulent.

But there has been enough evidence to cause enough concern that the drug companies stopped using mercury-based preservatives in vaccines a couple years ago.

Posted by: Rick Oliver at August 9, 2005 07:59 AM

Hi, Rick. Yes, it has been a long time. Hope you're doing well.

I agree that the Soviet Union did challenge U.S. hegemony--by closing borders and keeping its subjects in the dark. (The 1950s communist witch hunts, of course, were the answer to that challenge and largely worked.) That is not what I would call true hegemony. American culture, on the other hand, has circled the globe, and the American mythology of a free and open society where every man's a king has captured the popular imagination of an entire planet.

Regarding the ongoing battle about abortion that this board seems fixated on--not only in this thread--it seems the antiabortionist here has decided that it is innocence, not life, that must be protected and mourned. The victims of the atomic bombs were alive, too. Their deaths are no less tragic than those taken through abortion, and to say that one genocide is worse than another because it is continuing does not allow you to discount the former. (BTW, I am not against abortion, but I do understand the point of view of antiabortionists and do not discount it.)

Posted by: Marilyn Ferdinand at August 9, 2005 11:17 AM

A few comments:

Bill Mulligan said If the Japanese were so about to surrender before Hiroshima, why did they not do so right after Hiroshima? 3 days go by, no surrender.

Even after Nagasaki there were Japanese military men who wanted to fight on. Frankly, I find the idea that Japan was ready willing and about to go down without a fight pretty much historical revisionism.

Historical revisionism? Hey, I was quoting Dwight D. Eisenhower. Sure there were Japanese who wanted to fight on; look at all the Southerners who are still fighting the American Civil War.

As for the Japanese not surrendering within three days, c'mon. They still had little idea what had happened to Hiroshima. Forgive them if they were a little traumatized by the reports and rumors coming out of that hysteria. Better still, read Barefoot Gen.

Thanks for the birthday greetings, Marilyn. Always wonderful to hear from you. How's the movie-going business?

And Rick Oliver said: Some historians, who are perhaps even more cynical than Mike, believe that FDR maneuvered us into the war because he believed (rightly as it turned out) that the victors would become the dominant world powers, and he wanted the United States to be one of those powers.

I didn't know there were any historians who are even more cynical than I am, except maybe Gore Vidal. I'll have to try harder.

Posted by: Mike Gold at August 9, 2005 01:36 PM


If I seem somewhat fixated onthe subject of abortion, (I don't know why you would assume that, its only been brought up twice) its because there but for the grace of God, go I. All I can say is thank God NARAL wasn't around when my mother got pregnant with me or I'd most likely be dead. I was the last of eight kids, she was black, we were poor ( that was a condition of racism and being in the south) and my father died a few months before I was born.

Sad thing is, growing up black, male, and in the racist south, some pro-abortionist out there would probably think they would have been doing me a favor to convince my mom to kill me before I was even born. Of course, that could be said about most of the black population that grew up around me. No wonder there were so many blaxplitation movies in the 70's about genocide.

And by the way, you're half-right. This antiabortionist thinks that Innocent life should e protected and mourned. I never said we shouldn't mourn the deaths of the people who died, and if that had been the premise of Mike's post, I'd agree with him. But Mike was talking about the HYPOTHETICAL people who might have been born to those people who died, up to a million of them. There's nothing hypothetical about the 32 million aborted persons since 1973. They are indeed dead.

BTW Mike, I dispute that 1 million number. When you factor in variables such as natural selection, accidents, crime and yep, even abortion... I think you'd fall far short of the million person mark.

Posted by: eclark1849 at August 9, 2005 01:59 PM

I used the most conservative figures as my base number, but if that hypothetical number is 500,000 or it's two million, my point's the same.

I think the hypothetically non-alive vs. the aborted is apples-and-oranges, although I'm certainly not above that myself. Perhaps an apples-to-apples argument would be the hypothetically non-alive not in Japan due to nuking vs. the hypothetically non-alive not on Earth due to abortion -- but then I'd feel obligated to bring the birth control argument into this debate, and we all know how much fun that'll be.

I was born in 1950 to low-income parents in Chicago's notorious Cabrini neighborhood, then called Little Hell. I was born two months premature. In those days very few babies survived and I was promounced dead at least once (as I recall). If doctors had the technology they have today it's possible I would have been aborted for medical reasons. Yet I remain firmly on the side of a woman's right to choose. That's just me, though.

Right after Illinois legalized abortion (prior to Rowe V. Wade), I was on a radio call-in show and one woman asked me "Aren't you glad your mother didn't abort you?" chortling over her view of my hypocricy. I responded: "Well, I hadn't thought about it but, yes, I guess I am. But I sure wish Mrs. Hitler had thought it over." She hung up.

As I've said in previous posts, the abortion argument almost always comes down to the definition of when life begins. And once someone adopts one side of this argument or the other, it seems almost impossible to alter that position. I respect that.

Oddly, there are or were Asian cultures (I'd have to research which -- I've long forgotten) that consider life begins at conception and, therefore, their birthdays are their conception days.

Posted by: Mike Gold at August 9, 2005 02:17 PM


I did misread to some extent your post, and I apologize for that. I think it is very difficult to know cause/effect of the atomic bombing in terms of life cost/life benefit. Regardless of whether you can apply accurate actuarial models to such a scenario, why would you want to? Dead is dead, and never born is not alive. I can understand being grateful that one's father was spared so that one could have a life or that one's mother chose to give birth instead of abort. However, you are applying your current consciousness to one that would not have existed otherwise; it's an egocentric way of looking at possible futures that cannot really extend beyond your own gray matter.

Mike - Movie-going is still fun, though I wish there were more new films I felt were must-sees. Chicag is the test market for "Duma," a wonderful family film about a boy and his cheetah, so I was out this weekend doing my part to help ensure nationwide distribution. Third Eye Film has passed the one-year mark and is going strong with just under a hundred members. The film forum we left, the one run by the New York Times, however, is now defunct; it could not survive without us! I'm trying to break into documentary film writing. Kartemquin will not return my phone calls, (the bastards!), so if you know anyone I can talk to about it, let me know. That's it.

Posted by: Marilyn Ferdinand at August 9, 2005 02:40 PM

The Nazis sterilized hundreds of thousands of people against their will. Should we not mourn the loss of their "hypothetical" children because we find it less severe than the number of real children killed by, say, the gas chambers? Killing millions is certainly more horrific than sterilizing hundred of thousands, but both are still horrific.

The callous, indiscriminate, irresponsible administration of DES in this country resulted in thousand of men and women of my generation unable to have children. This drug was never proved safe or effective (and was later proved to be neither), and was given to many women without their knowledge or consent (they were told it was a vitamin supplement).

I suspect that many of those folks have shed more than a few tears for their "imaginary" children. Should we casually dismiss their loss because somehow it's not a "real" loss?

I somehow failed to infer from Mike's original post that the one million "hypothetical" lives was the "premise" of the post. I thought the premise was that he objected to dropping nuclear weapons on the Japanese at the end of WWII because it was arguably unnecessary and represented a callous disregard for the lives of the people on whom we dropped them.

But maybe I have the advantage of having had this conversation with Mike before. Somewhat ironically, I argued that the firebombing of Dresden killed more people than the Hiroshima or Nagasaki bombings (although more recent estimates of the Dresden death toll have been drastically reduced to less than 50K), so what was the big deal? War is hell. And lots of innocent people die in horrendous fashions. Where do you draw the line?

Mike's response was simple: "I draw the line at dropping atomic bombs on people."

Mike, my apologies if my memory is faulty.

Posted by: Rick Oliver at August 9, 2005 03:55 PM

Nope, Rick, you're right on the money. Your point about Dresden was as well, but if you ask the unanswerable question "where you do draw the line" in war, at the very least I'd draw it south of dropping atomic bombs on people.

If the purpose, or even a purpose, was to show our strength to Stalin, it certainly didn't work. Instead of Uncle Joe saying "Holy shit!" he said "I want one too!"

Moral of the story: never underestimate a madman. Or show off your toys.

Posted by: Mike Gold at August 9, 2005 04:07 PM

Rick, are you claiming I casually dismissed the loss dead people were feeling for their non-existant children?

Marilyn, Dead is dead and alive is alive. Non-existence is non-existence. You can't be dead if you never existed in the first place. Now, if you want to debate whether or not there was a consciousness or awareness in the embryo or fetus, you might have me there. but there are some interesting studies that I understand have just come out that could challenge your perception on the matter.

And Mike, I'm not for making abortion illegal. But I AM for convincing as many women as possible that the time to make a choice is BEFORE not AFTER pregnancy becomes a fact.

Posted by: eclark1849 at August 9, 2005 10:38 PM

I refuse to get into a debate about consciousness of fetuses and embryos. When I have irrefutable evidence that they operate on a fully conscious and cognitive level, then I'll consider abortion murder. Otherwise, I will never accept that proposition.

Posted by: Marilyn Ferdinand at August 9, 2005 11:44 PM

Bill Mulligan said:

Re Nagasaki:

If the Japanese were so about to surrender before Hiroshima, why did they not do so right after Hiroshima? 3 days go by, no surrender.

I have read credible-sounding reports that the Japanes DID try to surrender after Hiroshima, but that we really needed to make sure that both types of bomb worked...

Mike Flynn said

I suspect the atomic bomb wouldn't have been used, not even after Curtis LeMay's wonderful destruction of Dresden. (The more I learn about LeMay, the more I believe he may have been the most evil SOB ever to have a position of responsibility in the US government.)

Ummm -- you might want to look at what actually happened in Dresden -- where, incidentally, the destruction was much more complete and horrible than at either Hiroshima or Nagasaki, and more people, at LEAST the 260,000 claimd by German media, possibly upwards of a half-million, were killed. I really don't think Curtis LeMay is the one who should carry the can for that one; it was a British operation, and the incendiary bombing of the city was primarily or totally carried out by RAF bombers; the primary target of the US bombers that participated in the raid was the rail yards, which, arguably, were a legitimate military target, and their payloads consisted of HE rather than incendiaries.

And, of course, before we get all high and mighty over the "racist" bombings, let us consider that, while Japan grieves and proclaims to the world how evilly the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were treated by the West, let us consider the way that Japanaese society has treated its own people who had the misfortune to be there at the time of the events, the "hibakusha" (i had heard that "hibakusha" means "burnt one", Wikipedia claims it means "Bomb affected one"):

Studs Terkel's book "The Good War" has a conversation with two Hibakusha. The postscript observes:

"There is considerable discrimination in Japan against the hibakusha. It is frequently extended toward their children as well: socially as well as economically. "Not only hibakusha, but their children, are refused employment," says Mr. Kito. "There are many among them who do not want it known that they are hibakusha.""

Posted by: mike weber at August 10, 2005 01:56 AM

It's interesting you should say that, Mike W. I was talking with a friend who had come back from Japan. He was feeling suitably guilty about what we had done to the gentle Japanese. I said, "Gentle? Tell that to the Chinese!" The Japanese are quite xenophobic. My Korean friend tells stories of their brutality when they occupied her country. This does not mean I think we should have bombed them, but it does put their claims of total victimization into perspective. For more on the prejudice against victims of the bombings, see the superb Japanese film "Black Rain."

Posted by: Marilyn Ferdinand at August 10, 2005 07:13 AM


I'm suggesting that you should me more careful in your selection of comparisons and analogies. Your abortion comparison would be just as relevant in a post decrying the generations of lost potential due to the Nazi eugenics program, which is to say not particularly relevant at all. Even if the original post had been entirely or even primarily about the generations of Japanese children who will never be born (and I would argue that it was not) due to the arguably unnecessary bombings, the only tenuous connection it would have had to abortion would be the concept of unborn children, and abortion is not automatically pertinent to every discussion involving unborn children (real or "imaginary"). Whether or not action A is better or worse than some arbitrarily chosen action B is a cheap and usually bogus argument, because you can almost always find some action B that is worse by some standard.

The poet George Herbert said, "Comparisons are odious." I know absolutely nothing about George Herbert, but I've always liked that quote.

As for the whole abortion debate, I don't really want to go there again. All I can say is that if you're not completely opposed to abortion but believe life begins at conception, then, as someone who clearly gives a lot of thought to the issues, you must have some serious inner struggles on that issue. (And if you don't believe life begins at conception, then a certain percentage of those 32.5 million abortions weren't "real" people.)

Posted by: Rick Oliver at August 10, 2005 10:13 AM


Sounds like you have a pretty closed mind on the subject. If you studiously avoid considering even the possibility that you might be wrong, how is anyone ever suppose to present you with the irrefutable evidence you need to change your mind? Unless, that's the point?

By the way about Japan. I do regret the bombings as I stated before, but lest we forget, Japan literally brought it on themselves. We didn't attack them, THEY attacked us. and unlike the Germans, we were faced with an army that seemed quite willing to not only willing die for their war, but take as many of us along with them as they could. As far as I'm concerned you have little right to criticize when you attack me with a brick and I come after you with a bat.


As for my inner struggles, there's an old prayer:
God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.

I only have to answer for my own moral shortcomings and no one else's. So no I have no inner struggles on the subject.

BTW, jumping back to the last topic dealing with the FCC, I'm wondering about your position on the current NARAL ad opposing Judge Roberts. Even Factcheck,org calls the ad "demonstrably false". Should the FCC go after NARAL?

Posted by: eclark1849 at August 10, 2005 02:54 PM

I would think that if one believes that life begins at conception, then abortion would be unacceptable under virtually any circumstances, and the extent to which one makes exceptions would be a source of deep soul-searching and inner conflict.

John Roberts' wife apparently belongs to a group that does, indeed, believe that life begins at conception and therefore abortion is totally unacceptable. I may not agree with that position, but at least I find it internally consistent.

As for the NARAL ad, I would think the accuracy of the material would be irrelevant from the perspective of the FCC.

If, however, the material were presented in a way that made it unclear that it was an ad but was rather presented as program content, with no disclaimers that the program content was actually essentially paid advertising, then -- regardless of the accuracy of the content -- I would think it would be a matter for the FCC, assuming the FCC payola regulations apply to cable content.

And if the ad contained material that caused widespread panic, apparently that would be a violation of a different FCC regulation.

But even if both of the above conditions were met, I remain queasy about the FCC -- or any government agency -- being in that line of work, because I'm not sure where you draw the line without unreasonably impinging on free speech.

Posted by: Rick Oliver at August 10, 2005 03:59 PM

Ah, see you DO understand that the FCC does not normally deal with programming content.

That life at conception thing is really bothering you, isn't it?

Posted by: eclark1849 at August 10, 2005 07:56 PM


Murder is a heavy word that applies in special circumstances. Ending a life and murdering one are not necessarily the same thing. That's all for me.

Posted by: Marilyn Ferdinand at August 10, 2005 08:14 PM

Sigh. I guess we're getting into the abortion debate again. I'm not "bothered" by the belief held by some people that life begins at conception. I'm bothered by apparently inconsistent or contradictory belief systems.

And jumping back to the FCC, I didn't say the FCC doesn't normally deal with program content, I only said that they didn't deal with the accuracy of program content (although, as it turns out, they do...under certain circumstances). They do, in fact, regulate program content in at least three ways:

1. Paid programming is supposed to be clearly identified as such. AFAIK, this is a free speech restriction applied only to the public airwaves as regulated by the FCC.

2. Material that meets the FCC's definitions of "obscene," "indecent," or "profane" is prohibited (the latter two from 6 am to 10 pm), and although obscenity is supposedly not protected under the first amendment, the FCC's definitions of obscenity indecency, and profanity, if applied elsewhere, would result in the banning of a wide range of books, magazine, movies, and everyday speech (at least during certain hours of the day) that currently enjoy a more liberal interpretation of the first amendment.

3. FCC regulations "prohibit broadcast licensees from broadcasting false information concerning a crime or a catastrophe..." if the false information would cause immediate "substantial public harm." By way of example, the FCC cites the famous radio broadcast of "War of the Worlds". Judging from the content of the Weekly World News and half the imminent global catastrophe books my wife reads (she does NOT read the WWN), I'm guessing an equivalent free speech restriction doesn't apply elsewhere, with the notable of exception of yelling "Fire" in a crowded movie theater, which I would argue really isn't quite the same thing.

Posted by: Rick Oliver at August 11, 2005 09:25 AM


Granted, and if at some point I had actually used that word, you might have a point. But I haven't.

Posted by: eclark1849 at August 11, 2005 09:26 AM

You'll forgive me if I extrapolated the idea of murder from this statement, eclark:

"You'll excuse me if I find it hard to tear up over a measley million imaginary lives, when the extermination of over 32 times that in real lives are considered a "right"."

I think I understand where you're coming from, too.

Posted by: Marilyn Ferdinand at August 11, 2005 10:49 AM


You'll forgive me if I doubt your sincerity. You picked the worst possible definition to attribute to that statement. That pretty much says what you think about me. And I sincerely doubt you understand where I'm coming from or you would never have extrapolated that word in the first place. I'm pretty direct. If I had meant murder, I would have stated as much.

Posted by: eclark1849 at August 11, 2005 12:23 PM


1. There is no such regulation by the FCC. The closest you can find is that program suppliers must notify the broadcast stations of their sponsors. Even editorial announcements aren't required. Stations do that for legal reasons.

2. Rules and regulations that the broadcast stations agree to when they apply for the license. And it is a license. It can be revoked, just like your driver's license if YOU don't follow the rules. Howard Stern's position was essentially that he did not have to follow the rules that everyone else abides by.

3. A newspaper only has to answer to it's readers and advertisers. Hell, they think they're the fourth branch of government.

Posted by: eclark1849 at August 11, 2005 12:37 PM


1. I was referring to the type of "paid programming" covered by the FCC's payola regulations, not paid advertising. Although I guess if you blur the lines between advertising and programming enough, then the FCC's payola regulations become mostly meaningless.

2. What's your point? You can't legally broadcast without a license from the FCC; so you're forced to accept their terms, which include certain restrictions on your freedom of speech. I don't think the constitution includes an explicit or implicit "freedom to drive," and the criteria for getting a driver's license are set by the states, not the federal government. Continuing with the driver's license analogy, the licensing process theoretically increases public safety by keeping unqualified drivers off the roads -- but is the public safety endangered by the use of "bad" words or the sight of naked bodies broadcast over the airwaves?

3. Exactly. And I would suggest that this might also be sufficient for radio and television stations.

Posted by: Rick Oliver at August 11, 2005 01:45 PM

All the payola regulations and laws are meaningless, and always have been. That pretty much brings us full circle, doesn't it?

The FCC has no business regulating content by imposing onerous fines and threatening license revokation. They are a government agency, and in the textbook definition of the term, they are acting as censors. The Constitution doesn't permit that.

The absolute fact of the matter is, you CAN shout fire in a crowded theater. Surprised? The Constitution prohibits governmental barriers to free speech, but it does NOT absolve people of the responsibility of their actions. If there is no fire, the shouter can and should be held responsible for the consequences of his or her actions.

There's what the Supreme Court ACTUALLY said, and I'll emphasize the parts generally dropped from the quote. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote "The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in FALSELY shouting fire in a theater AND CAUSING A PANIC." If there's a real fire, you can shout until your lungs burst.

As for Howard Stern, well, he certainly is not alone in practicing the form of broadcasting for which he is best known. Nor was he the first. Dan Sorkin, Steve Dahl, Opie and Anthony ... lots of folks have walked that walk and talked that talk, or the equivalent for its time. Opie and Anthony were tossed off the air by their employer for doing something that the station found untenable. They went to satellite radio. Howard Stern is doing the same.

Lots of broadcasters and former broadcasters are turning to satellite and Internet radio to work in an uncensored environment.

Including me.

Earl noted the newspapers act as though they are the fourth branch of government. Well, yes, they do – extending the argument to broadcasters, book writers, bloggers and other communications kings and consorts. That’s a very big part of American tradition. Except that communicators don’t govern; they advise and promote and flak and whore. Just like the folks in the “other” branches of government. But, unlike the official three branches, the public can be selective in its choice of communicators, and the public is not ruled by communicators. We can make our voices heard by our politicians, particularly on a local level.

Now more than ever. As blogging has illustrated.

Posted by: Mike Gold at August 11, 2005 06:40 PM

Well, unfortunately FCC regulations aren't meaningless as long as the FCC persists in enforcing them, even in a sporadic and arbitrary manner. But other than that minor detail, I'd say you summed it all up quite nicely.

Posted by: Rick Oliver at August 11, 2005 09:55 PM

And just to underscore the dubious validity of the FCC regulations that restrict free speech, Greenpeace has filed a complaint with the FCC against Tucker Carlson, contending that Carlson violated the FCC regulation against obscene, indecent, and profane broadcasts when he commended the French for blowing up the Rainbow Warrior.

Personally, I support many Greenpeace initiatives and think Carlson is a dick, but I support Carlson's right to be a dick on the public airwaves.


Posted by: Rick Oliver at August 12, 2005 01:11 PM

Was Tucker a dick on public airwaves, or on cable? He was a regular on various CNN shows until he got fired (for being a dick; they have wavy standards at CNN) -- now he's got a show on Ms. NBC. It just got shoved back from 9 PM to 11 PM to make room for a person who sounds like Selma Diamond with a sore throat, so I wouldn't bet the rent on his longevity there, either.

But, as this complaint clearly shows, Greenpeace's sense of humor hasn't improved much over the years.

I had a complaint filed against me. A woman who tuned in real early for the far-right reverend Carl Macintyre, a man who actually believed the Boy Scouts was a communist front group, heard me play the Grateful Dead's "Turn on Your Love Light." She said I was promoting prostitution.

Posted by: Mike Gold at August 12, 2005 01:19 PM


Were you? You were, weren't you? You dog! 8^)

And yeah, I knew about the Supreme Court ruling I had to look it up earlier this year.


The restrictions on broadcast stations is because of two things.
nature and technology. There's a limited umber of boradcast frequencies and signals don't stop at imaginary borders. So yeah they make station owners jump through hoops to get them. It's WHY the FCC was created in the first place.

Furthermore, it's the public airwaves. The FCC does not act unless and until the public complains. so your gripe isn't with the FCC it's with the public.

The only restriction to starting up a newspaper is enough money. and even I would oppose a commission on controlling them. It would be a clear violation of the Freedom of Speech Amendment and in fact, it would be the very reason why the amendment exists in the first place.

Doug the Greaseman Tracht once opined on the first MLK holiday that if killing one black man was enough to to get one day off, killing four more would get us a week. IRC, the FCC did nothing, but public outcry almost caused the station to fire Tracht, and he was fired as a deputy of the sheriff's department for what he said. Hell, even his wife was disgusted by what he said.

Then in 1999, he did it again, Tracht played a Lauryn Hill song and then said, "No wonder people drag them behind trucks." Referring to James Byrd.

And Andy and Opie... a couple having sex in a church.

I'm not saying they're speech isn't or shouldn't be protected... but you'll excuse me if I have little sympathy for shock Jocks.

Posted by: eclark1849 at August 12, 2005 04:16 PM

I have no problem with their bosses firing them for their sundry statements, if they violated their terms of employment or brought undue negative attention to their employers. But I would have a problem with the FCC issuing sanctions against them, as that would be government censorship.

As for the FCC regulating frequency assignments -- no problem. They're traffic cops. But if anybody actually thinks the FCC is controlling the "public airwaves," I strongly suggest they call their favorite FCC commissioner and ask them when they're going to get their morning drive slot. The "public" is Clear Channel and Infinity and Disney and Tribune and a handful of others. Virtually all of the rest -- not quite, but nearly -- are public stations that are assigned low power signals and/or fringe frequencies. I can hardly pick up the New York City public station (WNYC), and I live in the New York City market.

Posted by: Mike Gold at August 12, 2005 04:53 PM


The number of broadcast frequencies has no bearing on what the FCC allows to be broadcast on those frequencies. You defended the FCC's right to restrict free speech based on the fact that the station owners sign a license agreement restricting their free speech -- but it's not like they have any choice in the matter. You either agree, or you don't get a license.

The standard apartment lease in Chicago used to contain a clause called "Confession of judgment" which basically signed away your right to due process. Most renters had no choice since virtually all leases contained the clause. But, hey, I guess they didn't have to sign away their rights as long as they didn't need a place to live.

And it's the existence of the FCC regulation and the FCC's ability to enforce that regulation that gives any weight to any public complaint. And the "public" can be a single person filing a complaint. So, no, my gripe isn't with the "public" for complaining, my gripe is with the FCC for providing disgruntled individuals and groups with a legal avenue to penalize those who say things they find distasteful.

Posted by: Rick Oliver at August 12, 2005 04:55 PM

Mike: But as I mentioned, the FCC did not sanction them even though as I remember several groups petitioned the FCC to do so. And i beleive several groups also challened the stations licenese renewal, which as you know, they have a right to do.

Rick: I defended the FCC's right to enforce the rules and regulations it imposes. Otherwise there's no point in having those rules and regualtions It is not up to a broadcast station or an individual jock to decide which if any rules and regulations he will or will not abide by.

Furthermore, no station's license is permanent. They have to come up for renewal from time to time. People can and do challenge those renewals and although it's rare, stations have had their licenses revoked. The FCC didn't shut Howard Stern up. He's still saying god awful stuff. He's just not doing in on the public airwaves and that was his call.

Frankly, I don't like Stern anyway, so this is one time I'm happy to be a Free Speech hypocrite.

And it's the existence of the FCC regulation and the FCC's ability to enforce that regulation that gives any weight to any public complaint. And the "public" can be a single person filing a complaint. So, no, my gripe isn't with the "public" for complaining, my gripe is with the FCC for providing disgruntled individuals and groups with a legal avenue to penalize those who say things they find distasteful.

So you're not against the First Amendment, just certain parts of it? Any other constitutional rights you wanna do away with while you're at it? How about that pesky fourth amendment?

Posted by: eclark1849 at August 13, 2005 08:55 AM


I neither said nor implied that the public couldn't complain when others say things they find distasteful. I stated fairly clearly that I object to the FCC providing a way "to PENALIZE those who say things they find distasteful." (emphasis added)

The very fact that the FCC regulations exist and that broadcasters must adhere to those regulations to keep their licenses acts as a form of government-imposed censorship, even if no one ever files a complaint, because the broadcasters censor themselves before the "offensive" material ever gets out over the airwaves, because they want to keep their government-controlled licenses -- which is one of the ways the FCC has of PENALIZING them for exercising their first amendment rights. The very real threat of a government-sanctioned PENALTY undermines the broadcasters first amendment rights.

You can complain all you want. That's your first amendment right. And I can say the things about which you complain. That's my first amendment right. Unless, I want to say it on the air, in which case I can't say "Hey, fuck you" without fear of a penality imposed by the federal government.

The facts are really quite simple and not subject to much debate: The FCC has regulations that restrict free speech. You either think this is acceptable or you don't. I don't. You, apparently, do.

(And, yes, I know the FCC has a web page all about how they can't restrict free speech, but they clearly do, and if you believe everything you read on the web, I can point you to site that claims the universe was created by a flying spaghetti monster and global warming is caused by the worldwide decline in the number of pirates.)

Posted by: Richard Oliver at August 13, 2005 10:17 AM


We're going to have to agree to disagree. The FCC has rules which stations agree to abide by. If the stations do not wish to follow those rules It should and does not have to apply for a license. Let's remember that there is not a limitless number of broadcast frequencies out there. And that radio signals do not stop at borders, and not every country has a freedom of speech clause in it's constitution, and evey community has different gauges of what it considers decent. That said, no I really don't have a problem with telling a station to watch it's broadcast mouth.

Oh, and yeah, would you post the url's to those websites you mentioned?

Posted by: eclark1849 at August 14, 2005 05:18 PM


Because this article was so on point regarding your feelings about the FCC providing a legal way for people to penalize someonne for broadcasting something that they did not agree with or like, i thought you might like to read it.


Posted by: eclark1849 at August 14, 2005 06:05 PM

As Mike pointed out earlier, free speech doesn't exempt one from the consequences of irresponsible speech, and from the link you supplied it sounds like this was the result of a civil action, not an FCC-imposed fine. And I know from personal experience that anyone can sue anyone for pretty much anything, regardless of merit, without the FCC or the public airwaves entering into the equation in any fashion.

As for community decency standards, there are two problems: 1) The "public" airwaves don't recognize community boundaries, and what is deemed offensive in one community may not be offensive in another or even in the majority of other communities. 2)The courts have struggled with obscenity laws for the past 30 years, yielding a mixed bag of results, with most recent rulings relying on the somewhat nebulous concept of the "average" community member.

And here's the spaghetti monster link:


I already got the coffee mug.

Posted by: Rick Oliver at August 15, 2005 08:21 PM

Oops. My bad. Dug a little further and found the following in another article:

"Hernández filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission, which fined Univisión $28,000 earlier this year, and sued Univisión Radio."

IMHO, this shouldn't be a matter for the FCC or the federal government, because I don't think it's any different than outing someone in a similar manner in the print media. So it seems like an issue that could be adequately resolved by the local courts using the normal local channels for filing civil suits - unless, of course, the complaint claims a violation of civil rights, in which case it's federal, but I still don't see where the FCC fills a need that wouldn't be adequately served through other, well-established channels.

And I refer you again to the Greenpeace complaint against Tucker Carlson, which I find completely bogus.

Posted by: Rick Oliver at August 15, 2005 08:50 PM

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