“Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds”
That’s the father of the atomic bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer,
the wartime head of Los Alamos Labratory, who oversaw the Manhattan Project,
as he leaned on the Bhagavad Gita for words to describe the 16 July 1945 Trinity test,
which was the first time a nuclear weapon had ever been detonated,
which brought the sun down to earth in the New Mexico desert.
A mere two and a half weeks later,
that sun would return in the skies above Hiroshima,
death would appear in the skies above Hiroshima,
as Colonel Paul Tibbets would fly the Enola Gay,
named after his mother,
miles above above the Japanese city,
which was chosen because it was a ‘virgin target’
meaning it had survived the war, to that point, completely intact
so scientists could best measure the full impact of the bomb
and the impact was the civilian center of the city, not a military target
and Paul Tibbets’ conscience remained clear,
even years after that August day
because it had to
for him to stay sane
because how do you destroy that much life
and then go back home to your kids and wife?
“I made up my mind then that the morality of dropping that bomb
was not my business.
I was instructed to perform a military mission
to drop the bomb.
That was the thing that I was going to do
to the best of my ability.
Morality, there is no such thing in warfare.
I don’t care whether you are dropping atom bombs,
or 100-pound bombs,
or shooting a rifle.
You have got to leave the moral issue out of it.”
‘You have got to leave the moral issue out of it’, that’s what Tibbets said
but… that’s not acceptable, according to common sense
and also according to Principle IV of international law
recognized in the charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal:
“The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior
does not relieve him from responsibility under international law,
provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.”
President Truman and plenty of other people share in the blame,
and countless other pilots would have flown that flight
but wrong is wrong, and right is right,
whether or not he was just a pawn, rook, or knight,
Colonel Tibbets certainly had a moral choice, but he decided to ignore it
because, as he put it, there is no such thing as morality in warfare…
But there is.
Even if you ignore it, it’s still there.
Morality doesn’t come and go as the war winds blow.
It is constant. Some laws are universal, or cosmic.
The truth is the truth is the truth is the truth.
Like Albert Einstein said:
“America is a democracy and has no Hitler,
but I am afraid for her future;
there are hard times ahead for the American people,
troubles will be coming from within and without.
America cannot smile away their Negro problem
nor Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
There are cosmic laws.”
He also said:
“When men are engaged in war and conquest
the tools of science become as dangerous
as a razor in the hands of a child.”
And Einstein was right
Cosmic laws. We have broken these cosmic laws since 1776
and well before
we have broken these cosmic laws in every single war
and since before the slave ships
and we still try to smile away all the grey
that we put in the sky…
but people still die every day
because we’re still breaking cosmic laws
and we all still lie to ourselves
we still say that we’re righteous
we pretend that we’re civilized
we pretend that the selfish men
playing chess with humanity
will ever be able to see past their greed
we pretend that there’s nothing that can be done
we pretend that wars and conquest need to be fought
and can be won
and we still pretend that we can control the sun
and we pretend that morals don’t matter,
that life doesn’t matter
in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen…
Some powerful military men spoke up years after the fact,
but no one knows if they could have banded together
and prevented the attack.
Truman’s Chief of Staff Admiral William Leahy said following the war:
“It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki
was of no material assistance in our war against Japan.
The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender….
My own feeling was that in being the first to use it,
we had adopted ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages.
I was not taught to make war in that fashion,
and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children…”
And Leahy was right.
A couple months after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
commander of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Chester Nimitz, said
“The Japanese had, in fact, already sued for peace
before the atomic age was announced to the world with the destruction of Hiroshima
and before the Russian entry into the war.
The atomic bomb played no decisive part,
from a purely military standpoint, in the defeat of Japan…”
And Nimitz was right.
And President Dwight D. Eisenhower,
the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe during the war,
reflected on a conversation with Secretary of War Stimson
in his memoir in 1963:
“During his recitation of the relevant facts,
I had been conscious of a feeling of depression
and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings,
first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated
and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary,
and secondly because I thought that our country
should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon
whose employment was,
no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives.
It was my belief that Japan was,
at that very moment,
seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of ‘face’.
And Eisenhower was right.
But what do survivors have to say?
“The only people who should be allowed govern countries with nuclear weapons
are mothers, those who are still breast-feeding their babies.”
That’s what Tsutomu Yamaguchi said,
and he survived the bombing of Hiroshima
and he survived the bombing of Nagasaki,
so his words should carry a little weight.
And Yamaguchi was right.
Oppenheimer, the ‘father of the bomb’, said in hindsight:
“If atomic bombs are to be added as new weapons to the arsenals of a warring world,
or to the arsenals of nations preparing for war, then the time will come
when mankind will curse the names of Los Alamos and Hiroshima.
The people must unite, or they will perish.”
And Oppenheimer was right.
but this is still all so very far out of sight
and perhaps we’ll ring a peace bell for Hiroshima today
and perhaps tonight we’ll say, ‘at least we know better now…’
but we knew better then…
yes…we knew better then
but we still let corrupt, greedy men
hold the keys to the sun
and we still buy bullets, and bombs, and guns
instead of medicine, and healthy food
and books for our children
which tell the truth about places like Hiroshima and Nagasaki…
books that include more than just a passing reference
to places like Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
the ones that always write them off as ‘necessary evils’.
The Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were certainly evil,
but that’s all they were
unless, of course, we think it was necessary
to prove to the Russians, and the world
just how crazy we are,
to prove that we’re perfectly fine killing 100,000 human beings
in the blink of an eye.