Is new technology always a good thing?

Aug 10, 2015

- By Bill Bonner

Bill Bonner
Tivoli, New York

Dear Diary,

As the summer we feel the tremors. The earth rumbles. The markets grumble. A little explosion here...another there. But a Hiroshima? Not so far.

Commodities have crashed. Greek stocks too. Chinese stocks have gotten smoked too - down 30% from the top.

In the US stock market, we've seen no mass sell-off. But a few big stocks have fallen hard. Apple, Twitter...

When will they 'drop the bomb?' Next week? Next month? Never? As always, we don't know. But we're not going to go for a picnic in the vicinity until we get the all clear.

This weekend, we went to the airshow at Rhinebeck, NY. Vintage planes put on an old fashioned, barnstorming spectacle, complete with a mock dogfight between a Fokker Dr 1, the plane used by the 'Red Baron' in WWI, against a Spad and a Nieuport. The planes were the real McCoy, typically patched together replicas with some original materials and some replicated parts.

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The Rhinebeck Aerodrome also has a museum of old planes and automobiles. There, you see on display the technological innovation of the early 20th century - complete with dozens of aircraft manufactures, all of whom went out of business.

Included in the show were working aircraft from 1909, 1910 and 1912. They didn't fly very far or very high, but they got off the ground.

"The Wright Brothers are credited with inventing the first airplane," explained a guide. "But after that, innovation was slow in the US because the Wright's patented their designs. In Europe - particularly, France - there was much less patent control and much more innovation. As you can see, the French models from the WWI era were much more advanced."

By 1914, the airplane was scarcely 10 years old. But it was soon put into service to help people kill one another. Thirty years later, and 80 years ago last week, it scored another spectacular technological breakthrough. On August 6th, 1945 the US committed was either one of the worse war crimes of history...or spared the world further unnecessary suffering...when it used flying machines to drop the atom bomb on Hiroshima. Nagasaki got its dose on the 9th.

You can't say President Truman didn't warn them. On the 26th of July at the Potsdam conference said they could either surrender unconditionally. Or they would face "prompt and utter destruction."

In a rare example of a president who delivered on his promises, Truman made good barely a week later. Approximately 150,000 people were killed, few of them soldiers.

The idea of the atomic attack was to leave the Japanese in such 'shock and awe' that they would accept unconditional surrender. Truman's military experts advised him that an invasion of Japan would have cost as many as 500,000 US deaths. Most Americans applaud him for having made the 'hard decision' to drop the bomb. But his decision must have been a lot harder for women and children living in the two target cities. On the morning of August 10th, Harry had his breakfast, as usual. They did not.

America was a signatory to the Geneva Convention. It was clearly against the rules to kill hundreds of thousands of civilians. One or two, when no one was looking, who would notice? But bombing raids had already killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese non-combatants. And here were two entire cities - obliterated in just two days. So, it was a good thing for Truman that America won the war rather than lost it. Otherwise, he would have certainly been executed for war crimes. But it is the victor who gets to decide guilt or innocence on for Heaven, the verdict Truman received was not reported in the press. And don't bother to Google it.

But we are not here to argue the case for or against Harry Truman. Eight decades later, your editor can take the high ground. His father, in the low swamps of Philippine jungle in August 1945, with a machine gun in one hand and a ticket to Tokyo in his pocket, approved of it.

No, we are not condemning Harry. We are just circling our next topic for the Bill Bonner letter - technology -- looking for a weak spot in the ramparts, where we might direct our canon and gain entry.

In the atom bomb we see a fissure...a point of faiblesse ...that yearns to be cracked open. For who, after August 9th, 1945, could still believe that new technology is always a good thing?

PS. Miraculously, one man, Tsutomu Yamaguchi, survived both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He was in Hiroshima on August 6th, severely burned, and then went back to his home city, Nagasaki, to recover. He died in 2010 at the age of 93.

Bill Bonner is the President & Founder of Agora Inc, an international publisher of financial and special interest books and newsletters.

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