The week that changed the world

August 2, 2020

Seventy Five years ago today, what was left of the crew of the USS Indianapolis was spotted by a navy PBY patrol plane. Hit by two torpedoes on her starboard side from a Japanese submarine just after midnight on July 30, she went down in twelve minutes and roughly nine hundred sailors found themselves adrift in the Pacific Ocean with little to no rations, life rafts, or fresh water.

For three and a half days the survivors endured the screams of their shipmates as one after another were picked off by sharks that never stopped circling.

The story of the Indianapolis is the classic tale of one bureaucratic foul up piled upon bureaucratic foul up ending in the death of men who need not ever had to die. Ultimately it would be learned that it was human fallibility as much as the torpedoes that left those hundreds of men alone in the water that night.

Yet the Indianapolis’ final mission was also the beginning of an new era; The atomic era.

The mission that got her sunk was also the mission that delivered the nuclear components for the world’s first nuclear weapon of war.

While Germany had surrendered in May, the Japanese were stubbornly hanging on and the death toll in the Pacific was still climbing. A climb that President Harry Truman decided he would do all within his power to stop.

And so it was, that two cities alive and bustling at week’s start would be left radioactive piles of rubble by week’s end. It was brutal beyond brutal. The images still sear the senses three quarters of a century later.

And from those images the birth of the debate of debates. Should the United States have dropped the bomb at all? Why not a demonstration drop? Why the second bomb? Why, why, why? Academics and social philosophers have been tackling those questions for decades and we’re no closer to answers today then we were then.

With COVID-19 causing memorials and discussions to be scaled back or canceled on this 75th anniversary of the bombings I return to the 50th.

It was a time when the National Air and Space Museum was planning to use the Enola Gay (the B-29 that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima) as a backdrop for social commentary on the bomb rather than a display of historical record.

One of the more infamous lines put out for comment was an apologist’s dream: “For most Americans, this war was fundamentally different than one waged against Germany and Italy – it was a war of vengeance. For most Japanese, it was a war to defend their unique culture against Western imperialism.”

It was an attitude that brought even the Washington Post, in a January 1995 editorial to write the initial scripts were “incredibly propagandistic and intellectually shabby” and had “a tendentiously anti-nuclear and anti-American tone.”

My own column of the time focused first on Truman’s decision:

“Had he not used the bomb, two things are certain:

1. There would be no debate because the Enola Gay would be nothing more than another B-29, by now long forgotten except in the memories of her crew.

2. There would be tens of thousands less grandfathers and tens of thousands more graves on both sides of the Pacific.

Those who question the casualty projections and estimates of the stubbornness of the Japanese leaders should reflect on one thing. Even after seeing the devastation of Hiroshima, the Japanese government still refused to surrender. Only after Nagasaki were they finally forced to their knees”

And second on the years that followed:

“…I often wonder if in some twisted way, Hiroshima actually prevented nuclear war on a larger scale…that throughout the dark days of the Cold War, was it really possible for leaders to ignore the images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?…As the world reached the brink in October of 62′, surely the events of August ’45 entered the minds of Kennedy and Khrushchev…that if a compromise were not found, Hiroshima was but a mere appetizer to the entree of destruction that would follow.

That somehow, the souls of ’45 cried out, “never again”.”

It’s worth noting that while today so called “peaceful protesters” spend their nights rioting at will in cities across the country, 75 years ago, 18 and 19 year olds were still giving their lives for the freedoms those thugs and their media enablers now abuse.

That so many Americans today have not a clue of the sacrifices made then that they live free today is beyond embarrassing, it is a national disgrace. Yes, this nation has issues, but they are nothing in comparison to the world of the Indianapolis and Hiroshima. And it’s high time the professional grievance industry realize that.

PUBLISHER NOTE:  A version of this column first appeared in the August 2, 2020 print edition of The Joplin Globe

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