Nuclear Weapons and State Crime Research Paper

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Since the advent of the nuclear age, only a relatively small number of lawyers and criminologists have addressed the issue of nuclear weapons from anything resembling a criminological perspective. From 1945 on, questions concerning the legality or illegality of “the bomb” were raised, and over the years, a number of legal scholars and courts have analyzed the legal status of nuclear weapons under international law (Falk 1965, 2008a, b; Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy 1990; International Court of Justice 1996; Boyle 2002). One legal analyst argues “that we need to recognize the intrinsic criminality of any threat or use of nuclear weapons” (Falk 2008a, p. 43). However, the number of criminologists who have advocated for or directly engaged in criminological inquiry concerning nuclear weapons is quite small (Friedrichs 1985, 2010a, b; Kauzlarich and Kramer 1998; Kramer and Kauzlarich 1999, 2011; Kramer and Bradshaw 2011). One prominent criminologist has observed: “It is quite remarkable that the vast criminal potential in the use of nuclear weapons has been neglected by criminologists” (Friedrichs 2010a, p. 132).

And he also points out that the nuclear threat is a “monumentally important issue” that should be part of what he calls a “prospective criminology” of state crime (Friedrichs 2010b, p. 77).

This research paper will address the topic of nuclear weapons and state crime. Three broad areas will be examined. First, the question of the illegality and/or criminality of nuclear weapons will be assessed. Second, specific forms of crime committed by the US nuclear state since 1945 will be examined. These state crimes include the actual use of atomic bombs against Japan during World War II, the repeated threats to use nuclear weapons in various conflict situations since then, and the continued possession of nuclear weapons by the USA and others in violation of the solemn legal obligation to disarm, which in turn has lead to a variety of environmental crimes and the potential for nuclear terrorism. Finally, structural and cultural explanations that have been advanced regarding these state crimes will be briefly discussed.

The Illegality Of Nuclear Weapons

Although the criminologists who work in this area could argue that the use, threat to use, and continued possession of nuclear weapons are state crimes from a broader analogous injury/ social harms approach, the extant criminological analysis of these acts has thus far been carried out within a strictly legalistic framework. The use, threat to use, and continued possession of nuclear weapons are considered state crimes because they involve decisions and actions by state officials, acting as representatives of the state, that violate specific public international laws, such as International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968. As defined by the 1945 Nuremberg Charter, these illegal state actions can be designated as crimes against humanity and/or war crimes. As Agnew (2011, p. 31) points out: “The international law is especially useful for identifying harms committed by states.”

Questions concerning the legality of nuclear weapons were raised early on. The first court case to address the issue was the Shimoda decision, handed down by the District Court of Tokyo on December 7, 1963. In May of 1955, five Japanese nationals instituted a legal action against their government to recover damages for the injuries they had suffered as a result of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Part of their claim for compensation was based on the assertion that the dropping of the atomic bombs as an act of hostilities was illegal under the rules of positive international law. In its important ruling on the case, the Japanese court held that the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki did indeed violate international law, although it rejected the plaintiff claims for compensation. In his classic appraisal of the Shimoda case, Falk (1965, p. 776) clearly summarized the principal reasons the court gave for its decision that the atomic attacks were illegal:

  1. International law forbids an indiscriminate or blind attack upon an undefended city; Hiroshima and Nagasaki were undefended.
  2. International law only permits, if at all, indiscriminate bombing of a defended city if it is justified by military necessity; no military necessity of sufficient magnitude could be demonstrated here,
  3. International law as it has specifically developed to govern aerial bombardment might be stretched to permit zone or area bombing of an enemy city in which military objectives were concentrated; there was no concentration of military objectives in either Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
  4. International law prohibits the use of weapons and belligerent means that produce unnecessary and cruel forms of suffering as illustrated by the prohibition of lethal poisons and bacteria; the atomic bomb causes suffering far more severe and extensive than the prohibited weapons.

Taken together, the international laws that the Japanese court based its ruling on constitute what is called International Humanitarian Law (IHL) or the laws of war. Since the Shimoda ruling, a significant number of international law scholars have concurred with its analysis of the illegality of nuclear weapons (Boyle 2002; Falk 2008b; Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy 1990). The position of these legal analysts that the use or threat to use nuclear weapons violates IHL and would therefore constitute a war crime received a tremendous boost on July 8, 1996, with the delivery of an important decision by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), also known as the World Court. In an advisory opinion, The Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons, the ICJ ruled that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be illegal under international law. This decision came in response to a request from the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) for an advisory opinion on the legality of nuclear weapons. In a complicated and controversial ruling, the ICJ stated “.. .the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular, the principles and rules of humanitarian law” (International Court of Justice 1996, paragraph 105 (2) E).

It is important to stress that the ICJ advisory opinion did not create new law. Rather, the decision clarified that existing public international law, particularly the general principles and rules of international humanitarian law applicable in armed conflict (the laws of war), did apply to the use or threat to use nuclear weapons. The Court’s ruling could be characterized as, to borrow a phrase from Justice Robert H. Jackson, US Chief of Counsel at the Nuremberg Tribunal, “declaratory of existent law.” The opinion supports the ruling of the Japanese court in the Shimoda case that the United States did violate international law by dropping atomic bombs on Japan.

As the Nuremberg Tribunal made clear, the violation of the laws or customs of war are war crimes, and inhumane acts committed against civilian populations are crimes against humanity. Thus, the use or threat to use nuclear weapons is not only illegal but also criminal. As one legal scholar points out concerning the ICJ ruling: “Whenever the court discusses violations of the laws and customs of war; or violations of the Hague Conventions and Protocols; or violations of international humanitarian law, etc. with respect to the threat and use of nuclear weapons, the reader must understand that such violations are not just ‘illegal’ and ‘unlawful’ but are also ‘war crimes’ and thus ‘criminal’ under basic principles of international law that have been fully subscribed to by the United States government itself” (Boyle 2002, pp. 71–72).

Additionally, one of the most important aspects of the International Court of Justice’s ruling on the illegality of nuclear weapons is the call, by all 14 judges, for the abolition of these weapons. The ICJ concluded its advisory opinion with an examination of the duty of states to negotiate in good faith a complete nuclear disarmament. The relevant treaty obligation the Court relied on is that found in Article VI of the 1968

Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that states: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

At the time it was negotiated, the NPT was considered a “double bargain” (Blix 2008, p. 44). The nonnuclear weapon states agreed not to develop the weapons and accepted international inspection. On the other side, the five nuclear weapon states at the time committed themselves to negotiations that would lead to general and complete nuclear disarmament. That commitment was spelled out in Article VI, and on the basis of this provision, a unanimous World Court (International Court of Justice, paragraph 105 (2) F) found that: “.. .there exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.” The ICJ interpreted the NPT provision as imposing a legal obligation to achieve a precise resultnuclear disarmament in all its aspects.

State Crimes Related To Nuclear Weapons

Using this legal framework, several criminologists have argued that a number of state actions related to nuclear weapons can and should be examined as forms of state crime. As noted above, these crimes include the actual use of atomic bombs against Japan in 1945, various threats by the USA to use nuclear weapons in conflict situations, and the continued possession of these weapons in violation of the NPT. In addition, they also assert that the continued possession of nuclear weapons leads to a variety of other criminal harms.

Kramer and Kauzlarich (2011) argue that the use of atomic bombs against Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the first crimes of the “American nuclear state.” However, the political, military, moral, and legal interpretations of the atomic bombings are, to this day, bitterly contested. Many basic questions concerning the decision to drop the atomic bomb can be raised. The questions that criminologists have addressed, however, are the following: Was the use of atomic weapons against Japan illegal? Was the use of the bomb a war crime and a crime against humanity? What structural and cultural factors explain the decision to “drop the bomb?”

Some argue that it is difficult to address these criminological questions about the atomic bomb without first taking into account the more general phenomenon that developed during World War II, of the movement from sporadic, selective, and tactical attacks on military and industrial targets to the bombing of cities in an effort to terrorize and kill civilians (Kramer and Kauzlarich 2011). The aerial bombardment of civilian populations in urban areas, variously referred to as “area bombing,” “strategic bombing,” or “total war,” has been examined by numerous scholars outside of criminology. Many of them concur with the assertion that “.. .deliberately mounting military attacks on civilian populations, in order to cause terror and indiscriminate death among them, is a moral crime” (Grayling 2006, p. 4). While the main question concerns the use of atomic weapons against Hiroshima and Nagasaki, those acts cannot be analyzed separately from the aerial bombing of civilians in cities that preceded them.

Returning to the question at hand: Was the use of atomic weapons against Hiroshima and Nagasaki unlawful and criminal? Kramer and Kauzlarich (2011) assert that they were. They argue that the atomic bombings were objectively illegal, a war crime, because they violated the rules and principles of international humanitarian law that existed in 1945, the law that the Shimoda decision was based on, and the law that the ICJ would rely on in its momentous decision in 1996. These international legal rules for the conduct of warfare were codified and promulgated by the United States government itself in the War Department’s Field Manual 27-10, entitled Rules of Land Warfare, which was issued on October 4, 1940 (and amended on November 15, 1944). As one legal scholar has demonstrated, the principles of international law specified in Field Manual 27-10 were binding on US officials throughout World War II and thus prohibited the use of atomic weapons against Japan (Boyle 2002). Thus, the Shimoda decision, the US government’s own Army Field Manual, the ICJ ruling, and the considered opinion of many international law scholars make it clear that from an objective legal perspective at least, the atomic attacks on Japan did constitute a state crime. As one legal scholar notes: “.. .the unavoidable legal conclusion [is] that these attacks remain unacknowledged crimes against humanity of the greatest magnitude. The use of the atomic bomb in World War II was not merely a violation of the laws of war.. .but was also a criminal act of the greatest severity for which the perpetrators were given impunity” (Falk 2008a, p. 42).

But what explains this great criminal act? According to Kramer and Kauzlarich (2011), the primary goal of the United States and its allies during World War II, of course, was to win the war. The “precision bombing” of military and war-related industrial targets, with its attendant collateral damage, and then the “area bombing” of enemy civilian populations to destroy their morale were two of the means to that ultimate end. But by 1944, military victory was all but assured in both the European and Pacific theatres. At this point, secondary war goals emerged to the forefront: ending the war as quickly and decisively as possible and, by accomplishing those objectives, saving the lives of Allied military personnel. The majority of American leaders came to believe that the accomplishment of these national goals necessitated a change from a sole reliance on precision bombing to an increasing use of terror bombing of enemy civilian populations, including the utilization of newly developed atomic weapons.

Some historians argue that the atomic bombings did help to shorten the war somewhat, and thus they did save some American lives (Walker 2004). After the war however, Henry Stimson, former Secretary of War, President Truman, and others who had participated in the decision to drop the atomic bombs created an elaborate mythology that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been the only way to end the war short of a costly invasion of Japan and that the lives of up to a million soldiers had been saved by shortening the war and avoiding the invasion. The evidence shows neither of these assertions was true. For example, Walker (2004, p. 109) demonstrates that the bomb “.. .was not necessary to prevent an invasion of Japan” and that it “.. .saved the lives of a relatively small but far from inconsequential number of Americans.” Even so, according to the principle of noncombatant immunity found in both the “just war” moral tradition and the international laws of war, it is never permissible to target innocent civilians or noncombatants to accomplish war aims or save the lives of military combatants.

The narrative created by Stimson and Truman, however, served to legitimate the atomic bombings, and by extension all forms of terror bombing during the war, in the eyes of the American people. The goals of shortening the war and saving the lives of American boys were presented as self-evidently “good” and “just.” Even before this, of course, the entire conflict, in a nationalistic fervor, was defined as the “Good War.” Defeating what was, to most Americans, the obvious “evil” of Hitler and the fascists, whose own state crimes during the war were massive; exacting “just retribution” for the “sneak” attack on Pearl Harbor and other Japanese atrocities during the war; and defending the American ideals of freedom and democracy at home against the criminal aggression of the Axis powers were such clear moral goals that any means necessary to accomplish them came to be viewed as acceptable and legitimate to most American leaders and the public. The social construction of the goodness and morality of the war in general, and the specific objectives of shortening the bloody conflict and saving the lives of “our boys in uniform,” overwhelmed and short circuited any attempt to critically evaluate the morality and legality of the terror bombing of the civilian populations of the “evil” enemy as a means to those legitimate ends (Kramer and Kauzlarich 2011).

In addition, a number of historians have documented that the United States also shared with its adversaries certain other nationalistic and expansionist motives. The war “propelled the U.S. to a hegemonic position” that provided a unique opportunity for American leaders to pursue these imperial designs (Selden 2009, p. 91). Enhancing the economic power and geopolitical position of the American empire became central goals of US wartime policies, including the policy of terror bombing.

The United States has been an imperial project from its earliest years (Zinn 1980). The Second World War provided an opportunity for the USA to greatly expand its informal empire by confronting and defeating rival imperial powers and by creating new regional and global structures. A clash of imperial ambitions precipitated “The Day of Infamy” at Pearl Harbor. This clash necessitated the decisive defeat of Japan and the complete destruction of Japanese militarism and imperialism. According to some historians, the firebombing of Japanese cities and the use of the atomic bombs were viewed as important means to accomplish these goals and exact just retribution for wartime atrocities (Gerson 2007).

As the war progressed and it became clear that the United States would be able to exercise hegemonic power in the postwar era, American leaders began to plan for the construction of new global institutions that would greatly advance their imperial designs. As Zinn (1980, p. 414) notes: “Before the war was over, the administration was planning the outlines of the new international economic order, based on partnership between government and business.”

This new international economic order would enhance and expand the informal “Open Door” imperialism the United States had been practicing since the early years of the twentieth century.

Even as World War II was putting the United States into a position from which it could dominate the world, American political and military leaders recognized that the Soviet Union, their wartime ally, would be their chief rival in the postwar period. The contest for power and domination between the Soviet Union and the United States that would later be dubbed “The Cold War” was already underway before the “hot” war against fascism was over. American officials increasingly came to view Stalin and the Soviets as a threat to their postwar imperial designs both in Europe and East Asia. And the perception of this threat would be an important factor in the most momentous decision of the Second World War: the decision to drop the atomic bomb.

A number of historians have argued that the decision to use the atomic bomb was motivated more by political factors related to the perceived Soviet threat than by purely military factors. Alperovitz (1995) presents persuasive evidence that American leaders dropped atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in an effort to impress Stalin with the power of the bomb and to intimidate the Soviet Union in the coming postwar contest for domination. He argues that Japan was on the verge of surrender in the summer of 1945 and that Truman and his advisors were well aware that alternatives to using the bomb existed. Nevertheless, Alperovitz contends, for diplomatic considerations, US leaders decided to use this powerful new weapon on Japan. To gain political leverage over the Soviets in the postwar period, the United States carried out the terror bombing of two cities using atomic weapons.

Another political factor that played a role in the decision to drop the atomic bomb was the threat of Soviet expansionism in the Far East. Once the war in Europe was over, Stalin had pledged to enter the Pacific war by attacking Manchuria, driving the Japanese out of China, and perhaps becoming involved in a prospective invasion of the Japanese homelands. Alarmed by the prospect of Soviet territorial gains in East Asia and a shared occupation of Japan, American leaders hoped to use the atomic bomb to end the war quickly before the Soviet Union could enter the fight and become a major player in the end game in the Pacific. Again, imperial rivalry rather than military necessity seemed to drive the decision to bomb civilian populations with a new weapon of mass destruction (Kramer and Kauzlarich 2011).

A second form of state crime related to nuclear weapons that the United States has repeatedly engaged in is the threat to use these weapons in a variety of conflict situations in order to gain geopolitical and/or military advantage. As Gerson (2007, pp. 1–2) has documented: “On at least 30 occasions since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, every US president has prepared and/or threatened to initiate nuclear war during international crises, confrontations, and war-primarily in the Third World.” These threats, he argues, have been used to illegally expand, consolidate, and maintain the American empire.

On some occasions, the threats to use nuclear weapons were made in an attempt to coerce a Third World government into negotiating an end to a military conflict on terms more favorable to the USA than the current conventional warfare strategy could produce. President Eisenhower’s threat to use a nuclear device during the “police action” in Korea in 1953 and President Nixon’s “November ultimatum” to North Vietnam in 1969 during the Vietnam War are the two primary examples of this practice (Kauzlarich and Kramer 1998). Implicit nuclear threats, which some have called nuclear terrorism, have also been used since World War II in an attempt to impose a global American imperial order and to provide a “nuclear shield” or “umbrella of U.S. power” (Chomsky 1999) to cover the use of conventional forces and make them more meaningful instruments of military and political power. Numerous presidents have used the specter of nuclear weapons in an attempt to secure “vital interests” in the Middle East, particularly with regard to Iraq and Iran, and also in East Asia (Gerson 2007). Nuclear weapons in space and missile defense systems, viewed as offensive weapons, have also increasingly been brandished as part of the nuclear shield designed to advance US hegemony in a post-Cold War world (Chomsky 2003). Finally, the threat to use nuclear weapons to reciprocate for a first strike by the former Soviet Union (a guarantee of “mutual assured destruction”) was the basis for “nuclear deterrence” policies during most of the years of the Cold War.

Some criminologists point out that all of these threats by the American nuclear state to use nuclear weapons, regardless of the circumstances, are unlawful (Kramer and Kauzlarich 2011). First of all, the ICJ explicitly ruled that in all but the most extreme circumstances, the threat to use nuclear weapons would be illegal. The legal reasoning here, as The Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy (1990, p. 19) has pointed out, is that “If a given use of nuclear weapons is judged to be contrary to the humanitarian rules of armed conflict, then logically any threat of such use should be considered contrary to the humanitarian rules of armed conflict as well.” In the view of several legal scholars, these threats, as violations of international law, constitute state crimes (Boyle 2002).

In Crimes of the American Nuclear State, Kauzlarich and Kramer (1998) extensively analyzed the threats to use nuclear weapons by the USA during the wars in Korea and Vietnam. In addition, Gerson (2007) and Chomsky (2003) have documented numerous other situations in which the US government has engaged in criminal acts of nuclear terrorism. In these studies, the important role of imperial motives for state crimes related to nuclear threats is stressed. And just as the bombing of civilians, with either conventional weapons or atomic bombs, became a form of normalized criminal behavior over the course of World War II (Kramer 2010), so too did the threat of using nuclear weapons become a normal and acceptable criminal act in the pursuit of empire during the Cold War and beyond.

The third form of state crime related to nuclear weapons that the United States (and all of the other nuclear states) is engaged in is the continued possession of these weapons. Since the end of World War II, the US government has maintained varying stockpiles of atomic and nuclear weapons. Today, despite the end of the Cold War and substantial negotiated reductions, there are still over 10,000 nuclear weapons in the American arsenal, out of the total of 27,000 such weapons existing among the worldwide nuclear club (Cirincione 2007).

Shortly after World War II, the United Nations General Assembly was determined to eliminate the production and possession of atomic weapons through arms control treaties. Given the Cold War and the technical problems of monitoring, inspection, and enforcement, this proved impossible to accomplish at the time. As the former UN weapons inspector Hans Blix (2008, p. 42) has admitted, “.. .we have not been able to achieve rules specifically banning the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons.” Does the lack of a specific rule banning the possession of nuclear weapons mean that the stockpiling of these weapons is lawful?

Since both the use and the threat to use nuclear weapons are illegal under international law, and, as Falk argues, intrinsically criminal, would not the mere possession of weapons that cannot be legally used in any practical way also be illegal and criminal? One could certainly attempt to make that legal argument. However, there is another legal agreement that can be used to evaluate the lawfulness of the continued possession of nuclear weapons under international law. That agreement is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968, the treaty that the ICJ used in its advisory opinion where it concluded that states have a duty to negotiate in good faith a complete nuclear disarmament.

Some criminologists have concluded that by failing to engage in good faith efforts to achieve complete disarmament and continuing to possess nuclear weapons, the USA and the other nuclear states are in violation of the NPT and engaged in a form of international lawlessness (Kramer and Kauzlarich 2011; Kramer and Bradshaw 2011). This lawlessness presents a host of nuclear problems and dangers that bear on the question of the criminality of continued possession. First, the fact that the USA maintains a stockpile of nuclear weapons provides American state officials with the opportunity to illegally threaten to use them or actually use them in a future conflict situation. Second, the manufacture and assembly of these weapons by corporations in the US Nuclear Weapons Production Complex led to the massive illegal radioactive contamination of both workers and the environment at numerous sites, a form of state-corporate crime (Kauzlarich and Kramer 1998). Third, keeping the world “awash in nuclear-weapons technology” raises “the terrifying specter of a terrorist group that acquires and uses a nuclear weapon” (Schell 2007, p. 6). Finally and perhaps most importantly, by failing to disarm and thus violating the NPT, the USA encourages the proliferation of nuclear weapons among other states, making the world a much more dangerous place (Kramer and Bradshaw 2011).

The continued possession of nuclear weapons in violation of the NPT, therefore, is not only a criminal omission and an abandonment of international law, but it also creates criminogenic environments both domestically and internationally that pose a variety of clear nuclear dangers. As Schell (2007, pp. 12–13) has pointed out, the nuclear dilemma is an “indivisible whole”; that means that “proliferation and possession cannot be considered in isolation from each other.” As the world drifts toward “nuclear anarchy,” he warns that “Not since the world’s second nuclear bomb was dropped on Nagasaki has history’s third use of a nuclear weapon seemed more likely” (p. 14).

Empire, Exceptionalism, And The Nuclear State

Kauzlarich and Kramer (1998) developed a theoretical narrative to explain state crimes related to nuclear weapons that draws on an integrated framework for the study of organizational crime. This theoretical schema, an effort at theory elaboration (Vaughn 2007), links three levels of analysis, macro, meso, and micro, with three catalysts for action: motivation (goals), opportunity (means), and formal social control (sanctions). The objective is to inventory and highlight the key factors that contribute to or restrain organizational deviance at each intersection of a catalyst for action and a level of analysis. The organization is viewed as the key unit of analysis, nested within an institutional and cultural environment, and engaged in social action through the decisions of individual actors who occupied key positions within the structure of the organization. According to this schema, organizational deviance is most likely to occur when pressures for organizational goal attainment intersect with attractive and available illegitimate organizational means in the absence or neutralization of effective formal social controls.

As noted above, Kramer and Kauzlarich (2011) drew on this framework to explain that the American addiction to nuclear weapons is generated by both structural and cultural factors. They show that as organizational goals shaped by the geopolitical and economic environment (US national security and imperialistic interests) were pursued with available illegitimate means (the threat to use nuclear weapons), certain ideological or cultural forces (American exceptionalism, interpretative denial) were drawn on or developed to support and “normalize” these pursuits and disable effective social controls.

As reviewed above, US state crimes related to nuclear weapons have generally been undertaken for reasons of empire. The United States is an empire and in the post-World War II era, its imperialism has been a strong determining structural factor in its propensity to commit a wide variety of state crimes (Kramer 2011). The “bomb” has always provided an “umbrella of U.S. power” (Chomsky 1999) that allows for the pursuit of imperial domination. As Ritter (2010, p. 377) observes: “There can be no meaningful reduction of the American nuclear arsenal so long as it is attached to a national security strategy based on global dominance.”

These crimes of empire have almost always been covered by some form of “interpretive denial” (Cohen 2001) that justifies or rationalizes imperial actions that cause harm or could be labeled as criminal. US state crimes, particularly those related to nuclear weapons, have been interpretively denied by reference to a broad, historical, and cultural narrative referred to as “American exceptionalism” (Kramer and Michalowski 2011). American exceptionalism generally portrays the USA as a nation of exceptional virtue, a moral leader in the world with a unique historical mission to spread “universal” values such as freedom, democracy, equality, popular sovereignty, and increasingly global capitalism. This mythic cultural construction of exceptionalism “thoroughly informs US constructs of its identity” (Ryan 2007, p. 119). World War II, “The Good War,” reinforced the mythic idealism at the heart of American exceptionalism. In the end, the fight against evil and the advancement of America’s exceptional ideals justify any of the means, including violent means; it selected to accomplish national goals. In the wartime environment, conformity to these cultural mandates helped to make the bombing of civilians, even with the most horribly destructive weapon that humans had ever devised, a normal and acceptable act (Kramer and Kauzlarich 2011).

Thus, denial, rationalization, and the narrative of exceptionalism have led to the normalization of the imperial crimes of the nuclear state. And as long as these structural and cultural forces remain in place, it does not matter who occupies the White House. As long as the USA remains an empire and possesses an imperial mentality, it will continue to be addicted to the power symbolized by nuclear weapons and will continue to possess these deadly weapons in violation of the legal duty to disarm imposed by the NPT. Kramer and Bradshaw (2011) argue that there is no “hope” for “change” in US nuclear weapons policy unless nuclear abolitionists and peace movement organizations challenge empire, break through the denial and normalization related to these weapons, and empower the international community to achieve the strategic goal of a concrete and verifiable nuclear disarmament treaty. The work of the scholars reviewed here and a vigorous “public criminology of state crime” (Kramer 2010) can perhaps assist both the American people generally, and criminologists specifically, to think differently about the crimes of the nuclear state and help to enhance the nuclear disarmament movement.


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  32. Zinn H (1980) A people’s history of the United States: 1492-present. HarperCollins, New York

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