Perhaps no date stands out more in my long life than August 6, 1945. It was two days before my 16th birthday and it had been a warm summer day. I had biked home, carrying my ragtag golf clubs on my back after playing 27 holes of golf. It was six o’clock and my parents sat in the living room listening to a news report on radio. They had shocked expressions.
I heard the radio announcer state in somber words, describing “a bomb equivalent in size to 100 blockbusters.” What was that all about? I asked my parents.
My dad said that we (meaning the U.S.) had dropped something called an atomic bomb on a Japanese city called Hiroshima. “It may mean the end of the war,” he added.
The relief I might have felt by the possible ending of World War II was blunted by my realization that our country had caused terrible devastation, even though at that time I believed, along with just about everyone else that “the Japs deserved it.” Hadn’t we sung — and hadn’t I plunked out the song on the piano — “We’re Gonna Have to Slap the Dirty Little Jap?” (I feel shamed today to write “Jap,” but feel it’s needed here to show the tenor of the times.)
The concept of 100 blockbusters blew my mind. That would mean 100 blocks were destroyed by one bomb; the United States had instituted the use of blockbuster bombs on German cities late in the war and it was not until many years later that I learned of the terrible devastation Allied bombers had done to cities like Dresden.
President Obama has announced that he will be visiting Hiroshima at the end of May, the first US president to make such a visit since the tragic bombing more than seventy years ago. A debate has arisen over whether the President should apologize for the devastation. Whether such an apology is necessary or not, it’s not mine to answer.
There are lessons we should learn from Hiroshima. I remember seeing early news photos from the bombing and noting there was but one relatively tall, slender building still standing among the devastation.
One year later, one of our next-door neighbor’s sons showed snapshots he had taken while in Hiroshima as a member of an army occupational force. Even though his black-and-white photos were of the tiny-size typical of the era, the impact couldn’t have been more striking. There, standing like a lone sentinel was the same singular building amid the rubble, a tragic symbol of the bombing that cost some 200,000 lives.
More than anything else the killing of those Japanese citizens, including many women and children, dramatized the terrible losses that are foisted upon all of us by war. A scene from Erich Maria Remarque’s famous book, “All Quiet on the Western Front,” has further pointed toward the terrible foolishness of war. That book, written from a German soldier’s point of view during the First World War, has the hero seeking shelter in a bomb crater and finding a dying French soldier in the same shelter. After a few tense moments, the French soldier dies. Guiltily, the German soldier searches the dead man’s pockets, finding a wallet, containing a small picture of a smiling woman and a young child. It was obviously the man’s family, a family not much unlike his own. The German solder cries.
Some of us hoped immediately after World War II that we could take steps to end the terrible nationalism that brought about the wars of that Century; why not form a federal world government — modeled after the U.S. Constitution that in 1787 developed a process to bring together our disparate states into a central government that could ensure peace between the states? The dream failed, though a hamstrung United Nations emerged.
Wars haven’t ended; in fact today’s world is spawning an epidemic of violence. Now, however, added to the fear of one nation fighting another, we have tribes and terror groups that know no borders engaged in hateful killing sprees.
Those of us who preach peace and urge restraint on “revenge” and “retribution” are castigated as being “weak” and “dreamers.” Let’s reject that: we recognize the need to sometimes bear arms to enforce peace, but we must resist the inclinations — so often stirred by ambition politicians — to act first in starting a fight, to use a pledge of “making America great again” as an excuse to start bombing again — and killing many innocents along the way. Ken Germanson, May 15, 2016.