Battleland

Hiroshima…

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KAREN BLEIER / AFP / Getty Images

The Enola Gay on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

Hard to believe the first, and next-to-last, combat use of the atomic bomb happened 67 years ago today.

Battleland has always been fascinated and appalled, for all the predictable reasons, concerning its use.

The “Little Boy” bomb killed 80,000 people instantly, and radiation poisoning may have doubled that toll eventually. Went to see the restored Enola Gay – the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the bomb – over the weekend at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum out by Dulles airport.

Strange to see it elevated there on massive jackstands, its silverness reflecting the nonstop flashes igniting from tourist cameras below and, from an elevated walkway, above.

Battleland first wrote about the Enola Gay – named in honor (is that the right word?) of pilot Army Air Forces Col. Paul Tibbets’ mother the day before it made history – nearly a quarter century ago. Back then, the plane was in pieces strewn about a large warehouse in Suitland, Md.:

Numerous Japanese tourists come to the workshop specifically to see the plane, [Richard] Horigan [then-foreman of the workshop at the National Air and Space Museum’s Paul E. Garber restoration facility] said. “They are very respectful – they see it as part of their history, and that’s why they want to see it,” he said. “There are tears from some of the Japanese visitors.”

But some Americans have a markedly different view of the aircraft. “We get hurrahs from some Americans who say if it wasn’t for that airplane they would have been killed” in the planned Allied invasion of the Japanese home islands, Horigan said. “Our job is to save history – good, bad or indifferent,” he said. “We can’t change history. All we can do is save it.”

It was fitting finally to see the re-assembled Enola Gay, all bright and shiny. Here’s hoping that its memory helps keep nuclear nightmares at bay for at least another 67 years.

11 comments
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LA_Triathlete
LA_Triathlete

You cannot deny the wording of modern international law, which prohibits the deliberate attack of civilians under any circumstances, no matter what crimes have been committed by their political and military leaders.

It is a fundamental concept of modern international law that civilians cannot be attacked.  Either you are with the law, or you are against it.  The law applies equally everyone.  You cannot have it both ways.  The idea that some nations have the right to slaughter civilians and others do not, is not logically, morally, or legally sustainable over the long run.

The decisions of 1945 predate modern law, and cannot be judged accordingly.  But like Dred Scott, it was overturned by modern moral concepts and legal developments.  Centuries from now, future generations will regard it as a barbaric act that does not conform to civilized human behavior.

Buzz Bayless
Buzz Bayless

 Centuries from now, future generations will also have the same information that exists today concerning Japanese war atrocities; mass killing and/or torture of POWS and civilians, rape, human medical experimentation, biological and chemical warfare, forced labor, comfort women, etc...Not exactly genteel behavior either. 

LA_Triathlete
LA_Triathlete

Centuries aren't necessary here.  Current international law prohibits attacks against the civilian population in response to any crimes committed by their political or military leaders.  Most modern humans already realize that revenge against innocent women and children is immoral, and have made laws against it.  Future generations will surely recognize the horrible crimes committed by the Japanese government, and will also recognize the immorality of nuking Japanese civilians as punishment for those crimes.  There is an old saying: two wrongs don't make a right.

Buzz Bayless
Buzz Bayless

Two wrongs don't make a right, but one ended the war, and you mentioned centuries first.

LA_Triathlete
LA_Triathlete

The dropping of the atomic bombs on the civilian population of Japan violates modern international law, as follows:Geneva Conventions

-The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack.

-Civilians shall enjoy the protection afforded by this section, unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities.

-Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited. Indiscriminate attacks are: (a) those which are not directed at a specific military objective; (b) those which employ a method or means of combat which cannot be directed at a specific military objective; or (c) those which employ a method or means of combat the effects of which cannot be limited as required by this Protocol; and consequently, in each such case, are of a nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction.

-Among others, the following types of attacks are to be considered as indiscriminate: (a) an attack by bombardment by any methods or means which treats as a single military objective a number of clearly separated and distinct military objectives located in a city, town, village or other area containing a similar concentration of civilians or civilian objects;

and

(b) an attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.

-Attacks against the civilian population or civilians by way of reprisals are prohibited.

-No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.

UN General Assembly Resolution 1653

(a) The use of nuclear and thermo-nuclear weapons is contrary to the spirit, letter and aims of the United Nations and, as such, a direct violation of the Charter of the United Nations;

(b) The use of nuclear and thermo-nuclear weapons would exceed even the scope of war and cause indiscriminate suffering and destruction to mankind and civilization and, as such, is contrary to the rules of international law and to the laws of humanity;

(c) The use of nuclear and thermo-nuclear weapons is a war directed not against an enemy or enemies alone but also against mankind in general, since the peoples of the world not involved in such a war will be subjected to all the evils generated by the use of such weapons;

(d) Any State using nuclear or thermo-nuclear weapons is to be considered as violating the Charter of the United Nations, as acting contrary to the laws of humanity and as committing a crime against mankind and civilization

Buzz Bayless
Buzz Bayless

 The Japanese bombed cities in World War 2, as did Germany, Britain, Italy and the US. More people were killed in the incendiary raids on the Tokyo area than in Hiroshima. After that many years of war, whoever got the bomb first was definitely going to drop it on somebody. It was a game-winner. I'd rather that it doesn't happen again, but at that time, it was the right move. We'd lost enough people fighting those folks. It was either that or Operation Downfall. More Japanese would have died during the invasion of the Japanese home islands than died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined, not to mention our troop losses. Japan probably would have ceased to exist.

LA_Triathlete
LA_Triathlete

None of the excuses used in 1945 would be accepted under modern international law.  In 2012, bombing civilians (incendiary or atomic) is a war crime, plain and simple.  This is an unrefutable, objectve fact, as made clear by reading modern international law.  In a few hundred years, the excuses of 1945 will rest in history's dust bin.

Buzz Bayless
Buzz Bayless

LA, you need to read up on World War 2 a bit.

Roger Valberg
Roger Valberg

People like you should read less about rights and laws, and read more about just how brutal the Imperial Army was here in Asia.  30 million citizens overs 20 nations are missing, considered butchered. My own relatives were herded into groups and beheaded merely for looking similar to Caucasians. So call it a crime all you want, but for us here in South East Asia, the atomic bombs were a gift from God.   

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