Memorial Day and the Enola Gay, from yesterday to today

May 24, 2009

AP photo/J. David Ake)

There is much discussion taking place this Memorial Day weekend. What is patriotic, what is not, can you love your country while actively undermining her, who knew what, when, and really, just what is “torture”?

To all armed forces members, past, present and future thank you for your service and God bless.

To all who are currently trying to armchair quarterback the past eight years and now bemoan how “terrible” America has become understand you are not the first to sully her from within nor will you be the last, but in the end, her decency and ideals will always prevail.

I penned an essay almost fifteen years ago regarding similar attempts to re-write history. At that time it was the attempt to use the dispaly of the famed B-29 Enola Gay to demonize America for dropping the bomb to end WWII.

It was a different war and a different time but the issue of framing history to form a political agenda is just as alive today as it was in ’95.

Enola Gay

It was the last dawn of security.

In London, they were toasting Churchill and Montgomery and Parisians were still drunk with freedom. In Berlin, the Germans were paying the price for following their demonic dream master. In Moscow, Stalin was once again free to continue the holocaust on his own people. In New York there was joy and celebration for the boys coming home and fear and prayers for those still in the Pacific. In Tokyo, war ministers swarmed in a last ditch attempt to protect the homeland. And in Washington, a Missouri farm boy awaited the result of his decision.

As the sun rose around the globe that fateful August morn the masses went about their ways. Oblivious to the unfolding event that would change civilization forever; for on August 6, 1945 destiny had reserved a place in history for two little known locations.

From a tiny speck of an island in the South Pacific known as Tinian, a lone B-29 lumbered into the sky. In her belly, the secrets of hell itself.

1000 miles away, the people of Hiroshima went about their routines, unaware of the place in history they were about to assume.

By the end of the day the world would be shaken to its very core, never again to be the same. An entire city could now be destroyed without a single shot fired.

As insane as war was, the new message was clear. Unleashing the atom meant that now there was a destructive force so powerful it could destroy not just an enemy, but the world itself.

There was much debate in the fall of ’45 as to what America had done. Almost half a century later it continues. The Smithsonian Institute’s decision to display the Enola Gay in the National Air and Space Museum has rekindled that debate.

At issue is not the display of the plane herself, but rather the editorial comment some want to go with it. There are some who wish to transform the display into an indictment of America’s cruelty to the Japanese people.

Looking down from their ivory palaces of intellectualism they are attempting to re-write history with 1990’s political correctness. After almost 50 years they now wish to portray America as evil for unleashing such devastation on a civilian population as they form their facts to frame an agenda.

I do not wish to re-kindle old hatreds, but truth must prevail.

America did not want war those long years ago. It was another dawn of December 7 which forced us to fight, and though the causality count is not as high, the unsuspecting victims of Pearl Harbor are just as dead.

No matter what your personal beliefs, years of scrutiny have revealed one unshakable fact. President Truman made his decision in the sincere hope of saving lives, Japanese as well as American. We had just incurred the blood baths of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and the predictions were even bleaker for a conventional assault on the Japanese mainland.

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 upon 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.

I have often wondered if in some twisted way, Hiroshima actually prevented nuclear war on a larger scale. Throughout those dark days of the Cold War, was it really possible for our leaders to ignore the images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? It’s one thing to explode bombs on a deserted island or in the isolation of Siberia, it’s totally another to witness the human consequence.

As the world reached the brink in October of ’62, surely the events of August ’45 entered the minds of Kennedy and Khrushchev. A brutal example, that if compromise not found, Hiroshima was but an appetizer to the entree of destruction that would follow. That somehow, the souls of ‘45 cried out, “never again”. Thank God they were heard

Perhaps, just perhaps, without Hiroshima it is very likely that we would instead be paying homage to a wasteland where New York or Moscow once stood. For it is a testament to man’s own idiocy, that throughout civilization, no new weapon has ever been vindicated until at last used against the “enemy”.

Had it not been used to end WWII, it was only a matter of time, before the bomb started WWIII.

We cannot undo the events of time and we will never know the full effects of Hiroshima, but as the 50th anniversary approaches I do know that those who now attempt to re-write history are more dangerous than the bomb itself.

For when we begin to shade the facts, history becomes but a murky gray. No more black and white, no more right and wrong, no more lessons from history learned, only mistakes to be repeated.

To the Smithsonian I recommend:
Display her with dignity and leave the history to individual interpretation.

And for her epitaph may I humbly suggest:

Be not afraid to forgive,
For in forgiveness lies peace.
But stand guard we never forget,
Lest history repeat.


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