James Carroll Evokes Thoughts Of War At MMC
By Leigh Baker
James Carroll, a distinguished author and columnist for The Boston Globe, recently spoke to the students, faculty, and visitors of Marymount Manhattan College about the struggles and complications of America’s wars on Thursday. Carroll both began and ended his speech with thoughts on Arlington Cemetery in Washington D.C., as well as the many monuments dedicated to remembering the heroes of America’s wars and the fathers of our country.
Carroll, who’s lecture, “1945-2007: America And Its Wars,” was the presented at part of the annual Rudin Lecture, stressed the idea that America has, “in the past decades, been picking up this momentum which has continually led America spiraling into war after war, provoked paranoia among its citizens, and left people questioning the mortality of this country.”
This dynamic of momentum, as Carroll calls it, began with the creation of the first nuclear devices at the end of World War II. He explains that this race to develop more and more nukes only provided an opportunity for the momentum to continue building upon itself until it was too strong for anyone to control. Carroll mentions the one-week period in January of 1943 when four separate occasions brought America into this downward spiral. First was Roosevelt’s statement of unconditional surrender of the axis powers at the Casablanca Conference.
Next on the list was the “Operation Pointblank” initiative. America and Great Britain bombed German cities day and night, with no distinction between civilian and military targets. Third was the opening of the Laboratory in Los Alamos, which, to this day, is one of two labs that hold the U.S.’ nuclear technology. During World War II and shortly after, it housed the Manhattan Project, which was an initiative undertaken to develop the first nuclear weapons.
The final occurrence has some significance to Carroll’s own personal life. He says that the dedication of the Pentagon, which occurred on the day of his birth, provided Americans with a faceless organization that only fueled this momentum. “Although Roosevelt envisioned the Pentagon as a temporary organization, it was not dismantled at the war’s conclusion,” Carroll said. Further, the momentum continued when 19,000 atomic bombs were created in one decade. This dynamic of nuclear arms became, “A constant and permanent feature of American life,” according to Carroll. In addition, with a stockpile of 200,000 nukes by 1980, it became “A momentum madness that no one had chosen.”
After these events, American citizens had reason to be suspicious, paranoid, and simply frightened by what the government was up to. This began the Cold War and incited many uncertainties within America’s borders, both in government and civilian life.
Carroll says that the only honest plea for peace took place during Kennedy’s inaugural speech. Other than that, there was no attempt to calm the nerves of U.S. citizens; thus, since the country’s first Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal, took office, the apprehension about nuclear technology lay in the back of the minds of most Americans. The paranoia that people were feeling only stimulated the momentum, Carroll said.
With the Pentagon defining America’s reach across the world, as Carroll put it, the people were consequently questioning the mortality of this country. What could happen was the question. The dynamic of momentum continued to escalate itself, and Americans were constantly worrying themselves with questions such as these.
It was not until the attacks of September 11th that this question of mortality was answered, for we saw the devastating immortality that the Pentagon actually possesses. In terms of today’s world, Carroll says, “This is our tragedy: That reach [across the world] is choking.” It was then that we learned the ultimate lesson of mortality: “Find another way to live than by killing.”
Carroll asks, why is it that our war monuments do not remember the allied soldiers that have died? Why does the Air and Space Museum display the plane that bombed Hiroshima into nothing, yet there is no mention of the Japanese civilians who were also killed by this monstrous attack? It is, according to Carroll, because of the immense pride of this nation, and its tendency to ignore the honorable when caught up in such “momentum” movements. “Although solid fear stems from this momentum, fear of losing and fear of retreating tend to overpower it,” Carroll said.
Carroll’s book, "House Of War", highlights these ideas and many others, and explains in depth the dynamics of American warfare.