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Article posted Aug 06 2010, 6:31 PM Category: History Source: Anthony Gregory Print

The man who bombed Hiroshima

By Anthony Gregory, Nov 19, 2007

The man who flew the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima passed away last week at the age of 92. Paul Warfield Tibbets, Jr. did not die from war wounds or violently at the hands of other people, years before his time. He died in hospice care, in a bed, from heart problems and strokes.

In stark contrast, the more than 100,000 civilians who were killed at Hiroshima 62 years ago were burnt, melted, vaporized, in an apocalyptic act of warfare. Many died painful deaths over a period of days or weeks. Others saw family members consumed by flames. Most were far younger than Tibbets was when he finally died. Thousands were children.

Is now the wrong time to discuss this? Tibbets called it a “damn big insult” when a Smithsonian exhibit commemorating Hiroshima’s fiftieth anniversary attempted to capture some of the suffering. If he didn’t think that was the right time for such reflection, then perhaps now is as good as any.

Although he was offended to see the victims remembered, he had said that he meant no insult himself when he reenacted the bombing in Texas in 1976, complete with mushroom cloud. He said he slept fine every night. He consistently affirmed he’d do it all over again.

People disagree on whether the nuking was a war crime. The 1946 Strategic Bombing Survey determined it had been unnecessary to the winning of the war. We know that Japan, demoralized from having dozens of cities obliterated in fire bombings, was extending peace feelers. “The Japanese were ready to surrender,” said Dwight Eisenhower, who as a general during that war believed the atom bomb was “completely unnecessary.” Admiral William D. Leahy, General Douglas MacArthur, and many other high officials at the time agreed.

Japan wanted only to keep its emperor. Understandably, the nation feared the consequences of the unconditional surrender that Truman and the Allies demanded. They had reason to fear brutalities exceeding the very harsh treatment of Germany under the Versailles Treaty after World War I, which had come after a mere conditional surrender.

Some have tried to rewrite history and have said that to win the war without nuclear weapons, the U.S. would have had to invade and suffer intolerable losses, that the atomic bomb “saved a million lives.” But there is no reason to doubt that Japan’s cause was lost by mid-1945—even without an invasion. Practically every major city was destroyed. The people were blockaded and starving. Then, perhaps as a show of strength to Stalin, the U.S. government nuked two of Japan’s remaining cities, introducing nuclear warfare to the world, and ultimately, allowed the Japanese to keep their emperor anyway.

Robert McNamara, who worked with Curtis LeMay in planning the pre-Hiroshima fire bombings of Japan, admitted in recent years that he and LeMay were acting as “war criminals.” Does this term apply to Tibbets?

We know Tibbets did not shy away from personal responsibility. He proudly took credit for planning the nuclear attack.

This raises uncomfortable questions: If your government orders you to slaughter tens of thousands of defenseless men, women, and children, to whom and to what do you owe your loyalty? If you’re willing to take credit for your supposed acts of wartime heroism, should you also be ready to accept blame if it turns out you committed an atrocity?

Some might say it’s insensitive to ask now whether Tibbets was a war criminal. Indeed, there is no need to condemn this man upon his passing. Even if he was guilty of a war crime, he is now beyond the reaches of human justice.

But it remains crucial for us to consider the implications of what he did. It is important to our sense of individual responsibility in a world where, especially in times of war, people think mainly in terms of the collective. It is this fallacy in moral reasoning that leads otherwise decent people to commit unspeakable barbarities against their fellow man.

We must not lose track of the individual’s role, even in the chaos of war. For whatever we think of Tibbets, it is the refusal to view people as individuals, the branding of everyone as merely an expendable part of a larger group, which brought about the atomic bombings and so many other horrors of World War II.


Anthony Gregory is a research analyst at The Independent Institute. He earned his bachelor's degree in American history from the University of California at Berkeley and gave the undergraduate history commencement speech in 2003. In addition to his work with the Independent Institute, he regularly writes for numerous news and commentary web sites, including, Future of Freedom Foundation, and the Rational Review.

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Comments 1 - 3 of 3 Add Comment Page 1 of 1

Posted: Aug 07 2010, 5:45 AM

Whether or not he was a "war criminal" is again a red herring, something to distract people from reality of things to herd them into thinking in concepts foreign to life - he was a total scumbucket of a human being. That's the only real criteria that matters. Not whether or not he was a "war criminal."

Why should anyone think differently of him on wholly abstract technical grounds?

But there you have it, people have no humanity or decency in them left.

Posted: Aug 08 2010, 12:07 PM

6492 Were all bomber pilots "scumbuckets"? I'll wager more civilians were killed by conventional weapon fire bombings than were killed by the A-bombs. Also, do you think any survivors of Nanking, China would feel any remorse about Aug 6 and 9, 1945?
Of this Earth

Posted: Aug 26 2010, 1:43 AM

2419 Anthony Gregory suggested in his articles that the Japanese Government was united in its offers of Peace. First and foremost, there was no official branch of peace extended before the bombings, there were factions within the state offering such inclinations, but it was not a united effort. The Weapons demonstrated to all parties concerned that no hope remained.

Also worth noting, Hiroshima and Kokura (the other intended target before Nagasaki was bombed). were chosen as Military objectives, not as civil targets. Hiroshima was a munitions and mechanical center which was producing vital equipment for the war effort, and Nagasaki contained a Navy Base.

A show of force? Most certainly, but so were the conventional bombings (which killed numerically more than the both Atomic bombings). Was it necessary? I would be inclined to say no it was not, but after the Crimes against Humanity committed by the Japanese throughout the Pacific (to the score of 18 to 20 million civilians dead), we may be focusing on the wrong crimes. For every citizen of the west and east knows of the Atomic Bombings, which Killed a combined 150,000, but not of the "Three all's policy calling for the destruction of Chinese civilian communities which accounted for so many Millions.

Cheers and goodluck in you future journalistic endeavors

These are my two cents
-He who is of this earth-

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