Evading the Question


I read today on a friend's blog that yesterday Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the Enola Gay died. The entry was short and scathing. When I first read it I wondered, Is this really called for?

It catches me the way some documentaries are movies catch me about when they exhibit a particular opinion. Shortly thereafter, I was reading the man's Wikipedia entry. Unsurprisingly, the page was not only flagged for recent changes, but also locked to prevent vandalism. Most of the details about him were expected: There was a terse overview of his early life, and his military career up until and after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The details read out like the specifications of the Enola Gay itself, the only details posted next to it's fuselage on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

Then I began reading about the acts and opinions of Mr. Tibbets expressed in the last 20 years. I will spare you the details, but I did find them most distasteful. I decided to return to the blog entry and read the short list of comments. Much of what was discussed reminded me distinctly of an exercise in hypothetical history a teacher assigned to me in high school.

The question simply was this: "Was it right to drop atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945?" This gave 17 year old me a great deal to think about. Clearly, the sudden incineration of 220,000 civilians sounded more like genocide than an act of war. Then I recalled my study of Japanese culture at the time. At the time, Japanese citizens were being trained to defend their homeland to the end. Instruction of weaponry and hand-to-hand combat was made available. Perhaps it was even required, I have so little research on this issue. When considering all of this, it begs the question, "Just what is the distinction between military and civilian when both are being trained to fight 'the enemy'?"

Interestingly enough, this question is what is currently being played out in American courts. Only this time the definition at hand is "unlawful combatant". We as a species never seem to learn, do we?

Now I'm at the point in this entry where I have to give my summation. How do I think of Mr. Tibbets? Should we fame him or revile him? Some of his statement are reminiscent of the ending of Dr. Strangelove, rather than a complex, contradicted character. Yet, when looking at the situation facing the Allied commanders in 1945 (and coldly ignoring the incineration of 220,000 people), it seems clear the a ground assault would be a disaster. It may have resulted in even more deaths than Little Boy and Fat Man could have wrought. Or would it?

One particular aspect of my personality flabbergasts people when it comes to these arguments: I believe am not required to give an opinion. I am, after all, not Mr. Tibbets, or the pilot of the Bockscar, or even a member of any armed forces. I have not gone about my life to put myself in the situation to make such a choice. I do not believe myself capable of making it, nor would I want to. Some insist I state an opinion, suggesting I put myself in their place. I also find this a rather silted thing to do. Had I been in their place wouldn't I have gone about putting myself in such a position? Rarely are such life-and-death choices handed out to the proverbial woman on the street. I could only decide from my perspective, and as I've already said, I've purposely avoided putting myself in the position to make those choices in the first place. In effect, haven't I already expressed my opinion?

I can be infuriating at times.