Oppenheimer Film Should Remind us Who is the Real Enemy of the People
Japanese anti-war activists in 1952 protesting US occupation after WWII.
The call “France dégagé!” reverberates across West Africa. On July 26, 2023, forces within the Niger military, led by General Abdourahamane Tchiani, overthrew President Mohamed Bazoum and took control of the country. France, the United States, and the EU were quick to condemn the actions taken by the coup leadership and demanded that Bazoum be reinstated and “constitutional order” restored. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has since imposed sanctions against Niger and threatened a coordinated military invasion.
However, on July 30th, thousands of Nigeriens flooded the streets in support for the Niger military leadership. Some waved Russian flags; many held signs and chanted out “À bas la France! À bas les bases étrangères au Niger!” Down with France! Down with foreign bases in Niger! Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea – all countries in which military coups have taken power and expelled the French government from their borders – came out to oppose the reaction by Western countries, refusing compliance with the ECOWAS-imposed sanctions. An official communique from Interim Prime Minister of Mali, Col. Abdoulaye Maiga, shared a powerful message of solidarity: “Any military intervention against Niger would be tantamount to a declaration of war against Burkina Faso and Mali.” He repeated this statement three times. While Western media outlets raise alarm about the coup as a supposed “threat to democratic order,” the sentiment of the people is summed up well by a protester in Niger: “We have uranium, diamonds, gold, oil, and we live like slaves? We don’t need the French to keep us safe.”
The true motivations of the US and Europe are abundantly clear to the people of Niger. The mainstream media and government leaders frame this as a threat to “stability” and “democracy” in the region. But what does the US and France actually wish to “restore” in West Africa? In an op-ed by President Bazoum in The Washington Post published on August 3, he laments that foreign aid, or 40% of its national spending, will not be delivered due to the coup. Why should a country, whose uranium powers 1 in every 3 lightbulbs in France, have to depend on foreign aid for 40% of its budget? How can the French dare to own 85% of the uranium industry in Niger, while 42% of the country lives below the poverty line? This is the reality that the West wishes for Niger to stay imprisoned in. This is why the Nigerien transitional government has canceled all exportation of uranium and gold to France. This is why the people shout “France dégage!”
For young internationalists and anti-imperialists in the United States, it is essential for us to listen clearly to the people of West Africa and the Sahel. Western media has been spinning nefarious tales of Russian and Chinese “growing influence” in the region. The Council on Foreign Affairs argued that an allied Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea “will undermine African governance norms, stoke anti-Western sentiment as they seek scapegoats for their own failures, and grow the influence of malign actors in the region.” Disregarding the racism and ahistoricity in this statement, most Nigeriens do not identify China or Russia as their enemy. Instead, they point to the over 2,500 American and French troops on their soil. They point to the US drone base that costs over USD 110 million. They point to the existence of AFRICOM, a unified command of the US government that exists explicitly to further US interests on the continent.
And why should they not point to the centuries of Western interference? The US has historically been the single greatest purveyor of violence across the world, despite their efforts to distract from this history. August 6 to 9 mark the 78th anniversary of the bombings of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The film Oppenheimer directed by Christopher Nolan was released in US theaters on July 21st, raking in USD 80 million over opening weekend. Yet, what was not shown in the movie is the true destruction and unprecedented horror unleashed by the atomic bomb on the Japanese people. Not a single Japanese person is shown in the movie. For anyone who has seen or goes to see Oppenheimer, I urge you to go in with the following history in mind.
During World War II, the infamous Manhattan Project was first justified by reports that Nazi Germany was going to use the revolutionary research of German scientists to develop the world’s first nuclear weapon. Although it has become clear that Germany was never close to developing an atomic bomb, scientists across the US and the world were recruited to work under the leadership of J. Robert Oppenheimer to beat the Nazis in the arms race and stop the war. In fact, the uranium used in the Atomic Weapons Program was extracted from the Congo under Belgian colonialism. However, even after the Nazis delivered an unconditional surrender to the Allied forces on May 7th, 1945, the US continued full speed ahead. Instead the Allies identified a new enemy: the US wartime leadership promoted the idea that the Japanese imperial forces were never going to surrender.
The Interim Committee on atomic weapons – a committee made up of military leaders, government officials, and scientists – decided that a technical test was not enough. The bomb would be dropped twice over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, to “finally end the war.” The movie chooses to emphasize dialogue about dropping leaflets over both cities to encourage evacuation, but in reality, the leaflets did not clarify exactly which cities were going to be targeted, nor is there conclusive evidence that the leaflets were even dropped before the bombs were. It’s now widely known that the US military had intercepted intelligence indicating that Japan was considering a surrender, revealing the “last straw” logic of using the bomb was a complete lie. In fact, it was the decisive victory of the Soviet Union along with the sacrifice of 27 million Soviet lives, that won the war against fascism. The movie acknowledges none of these truths.
As General Leslie Groves and Lewis Strauss (played by Matt Damon and Robert Downey Jr. respectively) state in the film, the ultimate enemy of the United States was the international communist movement. And it was with the Soviet Union in mind that the United States scorched the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and incinerated over 200,000 Japanese and Korean people in them.
If there is any lesson that you walk away from the movie with, I hope it is a clear picture of what the United States will do to anyone who resists its global dominance and the spread of its death-making militarism. And this has not changed, more than fifty years later. This is why we must stand with the people of Niger and West Africa who reject the economic and military stranglehold of the West. This is why we must fight against US imperialism here at home, where our tax dollars don’t go to healthcare, housing, or education, but to finding the largest and most expensive nuclear arms program on the planet. This is why we must join with Hiroshima-survivor and former member of the Japanese Communist Party Toge Sankichi in his poem “Call to Action”:
give back the fathers! give back the mothers! give back the elderly!
give back the children!
give me back! give back the human beings connected to me!
for as long as there are human beings a world of human beings
give back peace
a peace that will not crumble!
Miya Tada is an organizer of Japanese and Vietnamese descent, a research assistant at The People’s Forum, and a law school student in New York City.
(Photo of Japanese activists protesting US occupation after WWII.)
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