Thursday, November 01, 2007

Enola Gay

Brig. Gen. Paul W. Tibbets Jr., the commander and pilot of the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in the final days of World War II, died today at his home in Columbus, Ohio. He was 92.
I tried writing a poem about Tibbets, inspired by some lines of dialogue from Above & Beyond, a 1952 movie dramatizing his life. I tinkered with the poem for several years, abandoned it, thwarted by my own ambivalence.

The history of warfare is filled with examples of deadly technology developed & used under conditions of extreme national peril. But the atomic bomb was like a neolithic tribe discovering TNT. There's no doubt in my mind the Germans & Japanese would have dropped one on us. We were all at the same general evolutionary stage. The Japanese suffered the consequences of our having The Bomb before we burned every one of their cities to ashes with "conventional" incendiary devices, which we would have tried to do before invading their home islands in 1946. Although the Japanese are convincing advocates for the banning of nuclear weapons, on occasion they've shown a peculiar forgetfulness as to exactly why President Truman did not hesitate in ordering the incineration of Hiroshima. Truman couldn't even be absolutely certain what he was ordering: if it worked the way it did in the desert, it would be terrible beyond imagining. If.

The dilemma was always greater than Hiroshima. In 1945, only a comparative handful of physicists & technocrats, some of them visionary & some of them visionary crackpots, understood the enormity of what the five ton "Little Boy" bomb was unleashing on the human race, & they were divided on what to do about it. Absurdly, we're still debating it over 60 years later. Nuclear weapons provided a rationale for invading Iraq, & they're leading two crazy presidents toward something awful in Iran. Nuclear missiles inflame Russian xenophobia, & make little men from Washington D.C. to Pyongyang think they have big balls. The existence of "The Bomb," what it has done to the human psyche, how it warps the politics & policies of the entire world, has caused far more death & human suffering than the combined casualties of Hiroshima & Nagasaki.

Tibbets was a soldier. God knows how he maintained the level of detachment he exhibited throughout his life; mental discipline, I suppose. He didn't order himself to fly the Hiroshima bombing mission. In that sense, he was no more guilty or innocent than any soldier or sailor or pilot in the chain of command. The buck stopped with Truman then, as it does with every President. Unlike George W., Harry didn't start his long war, but he intended to end it, quickly.

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I'm a semi-regular reader of your blog.
I decided to tag you for a blog meme.

I hope you don't mind. The point to making our choices is variegation.


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