Archive for August, 2020

A mushroom cloud billows about one hour after a nuclear bomb was detonated above Hiroshima.

A mushroom cloud billows about one hour after a nuclear bomb was detonated above Hiroshima.Credit…Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum/U.S. Army Via NYT

I recently opened a bookstore [matthewrozellbooks.com]  for direct sales of my titles and the response has been very good. It has kept me busy, almost too busy to find time to drop a few words here. I have been also running some advertising campaigns to get the word out, and trying to keep up with a flood of reactions; one of my popular Facebook ‘book ad’ posts is just two months old, and today has nearly 25,000 reactions, another four thousand comments and nearly 7K shares. So this post now stems from a comment that someone left there a few weeks ago.


Yesterday was the 75th anniversary of the world’s first atomic bombing. In two days we will have the anniversary of the second. Bring it up, and it elicits a strong reaction—strong support for the decision on the one hand, coupled with an almost visceral reaction against those who might stop to ask more questions, as if it were ‘unpatriotic’ to even bring it up—to a persistent examination of the motivations and working knowledge of the facts of the day that led to it.

To be sure, I never met many World War II veterans who questioned Truman’s decision—but I did meet a couple: a Marine veteran of the landings at Iwo Jima, who changed his mind later, being one of those preparing for the mainland invasion, and an Army captain, sent to Nagasaki with the occupation forces, who became a vocal supporter of the National Association of Radiation Survivors and instrumental in lobbying legislators for benefits for the Atomic War Veterans; he thought the decision to use the atomic bombs had been misguided and wrong. They are in my first book, which has sold 65,000 copies in the 5 years since release. [Here]

But this is not a post set up to necessarily elicit that debate right now. Rather I think I’m writing it to pause and reflect on what happened, with the knowledge that the unimaginable is one ‘trigger pull’ away. How does one process that? And I got to thinking about some of the ‘collateral damage’ I never thought of in association with the bombings before. A man began writing an answer to my question about our World War II veterans: Do you really know what they went through? Did you learn it in school?”

He wrote [lightly edited]:
“My father took over 200,000 Japanese to their deaths in less than 4 days….. Hiroshima and Nagasaki..he suffered until the day he died…
Paul Tibbets said he’d do it all over again if need be….my dad flew the Straight Flush, taking photos and motion film …he was the one who gave the ok to drop Little Boy…..
I do think of that… that a full invasion of Japan would have cost so many American lives… it had to be done, twice, before the Japanese woke up…
I feel every member of the Enola Gay and Straight Flush were heroes, {and that] there should be a monument in Washington DC dedicated to them.
I do have all my father’s air medals, diary and goggles worn during the blast. I also have a engraved cigarette holder/lighter with the commemorative date of August 6, 1945… it’s never been used, it has his name engraved on it…

My dad was very private about his life and accomplishments… I know more about him in death than when he was alive. My parents did say they lived in Yosemite National Park after the war, it wasn’t until about 11 years ago I found out that the Wawohna Hotel there was a mental hospital for shell shocked soldiers… my father was a patient there for three years, he really never was mentally stable after that…
I wish I would have known, he and I fought much….I was a teenager, stupid, a hellion, mischievous and I didn’t like rules. I made his life hell, I know that now; things would have been so much different if I’d known… I beg his forgiveness…”

He continued:

“The bomb, Little Boy, was placed in the Enola Gay the day of the bombing, it was kept in a hanger that was private. The bombardier spent hours attaching all the wires to the bomb, over and over and over, the bomb was unarmed when placed in the Enola Gay, the bombardier spent the last few minutes attaching the wires in case the bomb went off accidentally, he really thought he’d wired it wrong when dropped because nothing happened in the first few minutes. He counted the minutes…..only then did the skies turn to fire. My dad’s plane was shook beyond belief, he was told to grip the yoke hard, wear his goggles as the rest of the crew keep circling and continue to photograph the results….many photos you’ll see this August 6th on TV were taken by him. My dad was told to report the weather over Tokyo, Hiroshima, Kobe and other metropolitan areas, he had no clue what was coming, he thought it strange he was receiving orders from Washington DC and not from Tinian Island… When my dad took off, he saw the Enola Gay enveloped in huge spotlights with armed guards surrounding the bomber,not a clue, he thought he was on a reconnaissance mission, no escort from fighters. The Enola Gay went in unprotected to make the Japanese keep their fighters on the ground, single bombers were seen daily over Japan and presented no threat, it wasn’t worth for the Zeros to take flight.
My dad’s diary was daily and on the 6th of August he wrote of a regular mission, only later in the diary did he write of the bombing. He was only in his 20s when it happened…
I understand he was like me, a hellion, trouble maker, fun loving, rules meant nothing. Afterward he was withdrawn, and I never knew who I was going to come home to…. if it was trouble, I kept walking right out the back door… I made mistakes I know…one day, I’ll tell my granddaughter…”

Now I don’t know his father’s name, or who particularly on the B-29 Straight Flush he is referring to. But this article from the NYT indicates that the pilot was definitely a troubled soul after the war. I guess my point in sharing this commenter’s remarks is similar to the one in the article:

“The U.S. service members tasked with dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the prime example of people caught in the Promethean gap. On the one hand, these U.S. servicemen were cogs in the atomic machine. They were couriers sent to deliver a deadly message about U.S. capability and commitment to winning the war. If one of them were to decline the assignment, someone else would have stepped up to fill his shoes. Under these circumstances, it was possible to be “guiltlessly guilty.” On the other hand, as participants in and witnesses to the violence, these men came closer to connecting with the physical consequences of and responsibility for their actions than any others.
Once their initial sense of astonishment subsided, most of the airmen reconciled themselves to the bombings by focusing on their affiliation to their fellow American servicemen, whose lives they may have saved by obviating a need for a ground invasion of Japan. Others simply distanced themselves from the morality of the decision entirely. Col. Paul Tibbets Jr., who commanded the Army Air Forces unit tasked with delivering the atomic bombs and piloted the plane that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, defended his actions until his dying days. “I made up my mind then that the morality of dropping that bomb was not my business,” he told an interviewer in 1989. “I have never lost a night’s sleep on the deal.”

Unlike Tibbets, Eatherly reported suffering from nightmares about the bombings, and his guilt drove him into a spiral of self sabotage.”

Perhaps I will share more posters’ comments later. They do make me stop and reflect. The trauma is real, 75 years later, on many levels.

The Hiroshima Pilot Who Became a Symbol of Antinuclear Protest
Claude Eatherly spent years punishing himself for his role in the first atomic bombing.


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