December 16, 2003


Amid the Cheers, Sobering Facts (James Carroll, December 16, 2003, The Boston Globe) 

I had spent Saturday in Washington at a conference organized to protest the Smithsonian's new National Air and Space Museum exhibit that opened yesterday. A centerpiece is the Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. In 1995, a previous exhibit drew fire from veterans groups and the Air Force Association because curators had provided "context" which suggested that President Truman's decision to use the weapon was not uncontroversial, even at the time. (Eisenhower's opposition was noted.) That exhibit was abruptly canceled.

The exhibit that opened yesterday provides no context for the display of the Enola Gay. Not even the casualties it caused (more than 140,000 deaths) are noted. The bomber is being displayed, the current museum director said, "in all of its glory as a magnificent technological achievement." A group of historians protested "such a celebratory exhibit" with a statement that drew hundreds of supporting signatures from scholars, and on Saturday more than a dozen of them, together with numerous Japanese survivors of the atomic bombings, came together. The issue is the construction and reconstruction of history, a question not only of the past, but of the present and the future. If America remembers its first use of nuclear weapons as morally uncomplicated -- or worse, as an event to be celebrated -- its present commitment to a huge nuclear arsenal, and its future readiness, under Bush policies, to build "usable" nukes will seem acceptable.

At issue in how the capture of Saddam Hussein is understood, also, is the construction and reconstruction of history. The melodrama of the seizure should not be allowed to obscure the fact that Saddam Hussein, by this point in the war, had long since stopped being the crucial issue. Hussein was a bloody tyrant whose crimes should be adjudicated, but to assess the meaning of America's war in Iraq with that as the key justification would be like remembering Aug. 6, 1945, only with reference to the atrocities committed by the Japanese imperial army. The United States did not attack Iraq because of Hussein's wickedness (The world is rife with wicked tyrants). It did so because Hussein posed an imminent threat to his neighbors and America, and there was no other way to stop that threat.

Mr. Carroll is well known for his hatred of America and Christianity, but even by his standards this seems asinine. Who cares why we deposed Saddam? Isn't the point, for anyone who actually does believe him "a bloody tyrant whose crimes should be adjudicated" that now they will be? That the world is rife with wicked tyrants is an argument to go get the rest, not that we should have left this one in place.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 16, 2003 1:55 PM

One of the things I have to admire about the leftist flock is its ability to turn on a dime. Although the President has said all along that this is not about revenge on Saddam, the left had been arguing that the war was a failure unless he was captured. The moment he was captured, the left wheeled as one and started to argue that his capture meant nothing. Leftism is truly a fowl ideology.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 16, 2003 2:06 PM

I, for one, remember Aug. 6, 1945, not only for the atrocities committed by the Imperial Army but also the atrocities committed by the civilians of Hiroshima.

Dropping the Big One was a wholly good thing, one of the very, very few morally simple acts of the 1937-45 wars.

(I hope I'd believe this even if the only reason I'm here is that the bombs were dropped. My father would almost certainly not have survived the invasion of Japan.)

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 16, 2003 2:29 PM

We hope you'd believe the needless slaughter of innocents was justified if it had been a prior war over religious differences rather than a modern one over political. When ideas clash people die.

Posted by: oj at December 16, 2003 2:47 PM

I'm with Harry. Hiroshima was a morally uncomplicated act to be celebrated. I trust I'd feel differently if we had been the aggressor.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 16, 2003 3:06 PM

Harry -

You may recall Paul Fussell's essay Thank God for the Atom Bomb which made similar points as yours. It caused a huge stink for The Atlantic Monthly magazine, and I remember reading the letters to Fussell (and his replies) with amazement, scarcely able to conceive of such pacifist idiots.

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at December 16, 2003 3:14 PM

"At issue in how the capture of Saddam Hussein is understood, also, is the construction and reconstruction of history."

Seems to me that at issue, as far is Carroll is concerned, is less the construction and reconstruction of history than his forgetting of it.

Not only him, mind you.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at December 16, 2003 4:46 PM

There is a certain kind of person who can think about current events only as future history.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 16, 2003 4:50 PM

No one has ever adequately explained what is supposed to be morally special about nukes.

If the objection is to the targeting of civilians and the intentional killing of larges numbers of them in war, it should make no difference whether the killing is done with a nuke or with a LOT of high explosives.

If that is NOT the objection, what remains?

Posted by: Marcus Tullius Cicero at December 16, 2003 6:19 PM

Mr. Cicero:

that we're the only ones who can deliver them and these people hate their own country?

Posted by: oj at December 16, 2003 6:33 PM

"When ideas clash people die."

Those weren't ideas that they dropped on our ships at Pearl Harbor.

Posted by: Robert D at December 16, 2003 7:08 PM


Think the women & kids in Hiroshima & Nagasaki were a threat to us?

Posted by: oj at December 16, 2003 7:13 PM

I have no idea what political ideas, if any, the people of Hiroshima had. I know they murdered and robbed innocent Chinese.

That sort of thing goes a long way with me.

Ypu've never heard me complaining about religionists punishing robbers and murderers. Not that they have done a lot of that.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 16, 2003 8:06 PM

This is General Carroll, the founder of the DIA's
son, His most recent book, has commentary on how
the Berlin Wall was a good thing, and pines over
the fate of the Communists at Moabit; the other
party complicit in the fall of the Weimar Republic

Posted by: narciso at December 16, 2003 10:42 PM

What is never pointed out is that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved the lives of at least a million Jappanese civilians who would surely have perished, if we had invaded the home islands and fought the imperial bitter enders door to door.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at December 17, 2003 9:19 PM

And virtually all the Koreans. The Imperial Army had requisitioned the entire Korean rice crop in 1945. Although the U.S. Navy had destroyed nearly 100% of the Japanese merchant navy bigger than 500 tons, it was unable to do much about the smaller sampans, which the Japanese were building by the thousands at every coastal village.

If Operation Olympic been necessary, that would have been November. Not all the rice would have gotten to Japan, but all of it would have gotten out of Korea.

Orrin, presumably, would not count those deaths, but, heck, I say count 'em.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 18, 2003 2:25 PM

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