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November 2nd, 2007

Paul Tibbets, the man who piloted the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, died at age 92 today. There has always been controversy surrounding this, something that I have covered on this blog before. Extremists on both sides see it in black-and-white. On one side, Tibbets was a man who at the very least killed tens of thousands of people. On the other side, he was a hero who helped stop a murderous dictatorship and made unnecessary the deaths of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and millions of Japanese troops and civilians.

The thing is, as I figure it, the man was a pilot sent on a mission to drop ordnance. I just don’t see Tibbets himself as being that central to the issue. You might as well make a big deal over the man who drove Kennedy’s limo when he was shot, or the captain of the ship that brought missiles to Cuba. These people did not decide anything, they were not vital or irreplaceable. Tibbets was not much more than a lightning rod for a military decision made by the president of the United States.

That said, one thing did cross my mind in all this. Let’s say that Tibbets is buried at Arlington. What would Japan’s reaction be if Bush and several successive U.S. presidents made official visits each year to his grave site? It would be interesting to see what Japanese officials would make of such a spectacle.

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  1. November 3rd, 2007 at 15:19 | #1

    It’s already been covered in the news. Tibbets has requested that he be buried in an unmarked grave at an undisclosed location so that no controversy can arise from his grave. There’s no chance politicians will visit his grave and it will be made a big issue. He already had the foresight to spare the world this problem.

  2. November 3rd, 2007 at 19:48 | #2

    I believe anyone who is watching Ken Burns’s series on WWII on PBS must be getting a real perspective on war and those involved in it. I remember one fighter pilot discuss his feelings when he first strafed a German convey and saw his bullets tearing into human beings. He didn’t like it; however, he said he went back up to do the same thing the next day. Tibbets was doing his job; I hope he experienced real personal peace before he died.

  3. Luis
    November 4th, 2007 at 03:55 | #3

    Shari: Good on Tibbets. I don’t know what his take on things was, but then the gist I was conveying was not centered on that issue in any case. I doubt that American politicians would really have made much of his grave site anyway, unless somehow Hiroshima unexpectedly becomes the center of some future political brouhaha. I just thought the idea of it becoming such would be a good example for any Japanese person, likely a conservative/nationalist, who thought it was perfectly acceptable for Japanese politicians to make official visits to Yasukuni.

  4. November 4th, 2007 at 08:53 | #4

    It’s a classic case of trying to choose between horrible options. Personally, I don’t think you can simply say Tibbets was “just dropping ordnance”; that’s like excusing German soldiers who “just put people on trains” when they were shipping ’em to the camps.

    There should be, IMO, some accountability for our actions. If you’re taking part in something that you know will, no doubt, kill innocents, then you’re complicit in the overall exercise- even if it’s just a little.

    That said, if Hiroshima killed hundreds of thousands but saved millions, does the math work? Wouldn’t it be better to kill, say, 100,000 if you think it’ll save a million?

    It’s almost impossible to say either way. (And that doesn’t even get into the whole “did the A-bombs stop the war?” argument.)

    In any case, you’re right- it would have been interesting to see the reaction of some had Tibbets’ grave become a visiting place.

  5. Tim Kane
    November 5th, 2007 at 19:10 | #5

    The bomb itself was evil. Killing thousands of innocent people was also evil. But still their is the context. The bomb was a relatively new weapon – I’m not sure anyone can fathom it in advance. Also it was a time of war that had evolved into one where bombing of civilians in cities was routine. This was a war between industrialized combatants. The Japanese, for their part were trying to figure out ways to inflict similar types of damage on the U.S. by using things like balloons laden with biological or radiolocal toxins (so I recall from, cough, cough, the history channel). When someone is searching their pockets for bullets to put into their gun to shoot you, its hard to transcend to view the decision making purely objectively in good versus evil terms.

    I think the guilt goes to all those associated with it in the sense that tort law asigns guilt for a defective product to every vendor in the chain of supply. But, no doubt the President of the United States carries the greatest burden of guilty. That man was Harry S Truman. But he was fairly new to the job. He didn’t have much time to contemplate the gravity of the situation, however Harry Truman was particularly good at the one thing a president has to do most – make decisions. Truman, generally speaking, did a great job of doing his home work and then making decisions. The post war Golden Age and the outcome of the Cold war is attributable to Truman as the the Golden Age was to FDR and the Cold War’s outcome was to Reagan, in fact Reagan deserves little credit for the fall of the Berlin wall, other than pull the occurance of the event up a further 10 years in history.

    Truman fully acknowledged that he was the man who had to make the decision, and scorned anyone who commented on the decision, for or against, because they can’t really appreciate what its like being in that position. Truman, like Tibbets, had little regrets.

    Truman’s situation was difficult, but from his perspective, he made the right decision. If he had chosen not to use it, and then tens of millions of Japanese die in the fight for the home islands, while half a million or more Americans (perhaps even my father) die, then his not using the bomb would look terribly tragic. The use of the bomb was a terrible terrible event. But it is mitigated by the fact that the war ended quickly after that, and launched a Golden Age of peace and prosperity through out the free world that lasted for several decades, from which the Japanese benefited greatly.

    Thats the problem with contemplating the event. Paul I think nailed it. Using an atomic bomb on Japan was a terrible event, except, that not using it might have been much much worse still. Historians and demographers have stated that the worst death possible is one that comes slowly from famine. In the year following August 1945 millions of Japanese were facing starvation even with the presence of U.S. aid and the termination of the war – imagine if the war had dragged one another two years in house by house, person by person fighting. Japan’s population would have been decimated by war and famine, perhaps on the scale of tens of millions of people. In that context the bomb doesn’t look so evil.

  6. November 5th, 2007 at 23:22 | #6

    I’m a bit surprised by the markedly conservative views expressed here. It is by no means certain that the atomic bombs sped up surrender by more than a couple weeks or saved “millions” of (soldiers’) lives. There is much evidence, including documented statements by military officials right after the bombing stating that it was unnecessary to end the war and that Japan had already begun suing for peace earlier that year.

    And is the intentional killing of foreign civilians on a mass scale ever justifiable for any reason? I know what Republicans would answer.

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