Beyond the facts and controversies of the assassinations, the story the fellow related got me to thinking about how our memories and world views are products of many factors in our environment beyond what we may immediately perceive at the time. I was five years of age in 1945. That was also a time of monumental, world shaping events, but the opportunities for a five-year-old to perceive and evaluate them did not include the visual and narrative structuring of experience that were made available by television programming in the 1960s. My memories of those times contain many small snippets of information gleaned from infrequent exposure to newsreels in darkened theaters, bits of overheard conversations, and perhaps a little audio input from the big old wooden cabinet RCA radio in our living room. I'm sure there were more coherent written journalistic accounts of events available, but they were not accessible to a child of five. I do have some recollection of the sense of relief and elation around the ending of WWII. I do not directly recall anything at all about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Conversation in our household about the events of 1945 were no doubt muted to an extent by the fact that my father did not return from the war. How much that was responsible for the obvious holes in my memory of that time is hard to judge.
It turned out that I was a precocious reader. Thanks to that I did gain some awareness of the A-bombs not too long after the event. I clearly remember John Hersey's book, Hiroshima, sitting in the plywood bookcase in our living room which had been built by my grandfather. My grandmother encouraged me to read the book; I was probably seven or eight by then. Hersey's account relating the stories of the six survivors created an indelible impression in my young mind. It is an impression that has stuck with me and influenced my thoughts about the bombing and the threat of the Bomb ever since.
Like everyone of my generation, I lived closely with the Bomb throughout my youth and well into adulthood. I learned to duck under my school desk when the practice alarm was rung. I recall being in D.C. during the tense days of the Cuban missile crisis and suddenly awakening in the middle of the night, sure that I had perceived the flash of a nuclear detonation. The lessening of tensions and a reduction in the nuclear arsenals of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. brought a sense of respite, but the reality and the on-going danger of the Bomb came to the fore every year in any case, usually around the anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
I believe it was on the fiftieth anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that we were visited in our home in the desert in New Mexico by two young Japanese women who Margaret had befriended through her hospice work. I recall that as we sat down to dinner one night that I felt compelled to share with them my feelings of regret about the dropping of the A bombs. They were quite reserved in their reactions to my comments. I don't really know what they thought of what I said, or even how much they understood given the language issues of the moment. It is possible that even their parents were not yet born before the end of the war, and the two young women may have felt as remote from those events as my own children.
Albuquerque, where we now live is home to the Museum of Nuclear Science and History. The section of the museum devoted to the Bomb includes a book where people can leave comments about the use of the Bomb against the Japanese. Some of the commenters express feeling similar to mine, but many repeat the idea that the use of the A-Bomb was necessary to avoid a high number of American losses which would have resulted from an invasion without the use of the Bombs. Similar arguments have surfaced in response to Obama's recent visit to Hiroshima. Here is a typical response to an article in The Nation about the U.S. use of the A-Bomb:
It might be interesting to sit down with the fellow who made those assertions to get at the process by which he arrived at his opinions justifying the need to drop nuclear bombs on the two Japanese cities in response to the threat of "ceramic grenades and any other weapons they could come up with to defend the island to the last man, woman or child." The writer is likely just a troll given the absurdity of his proffered imagery, but I think there are a substantial number of people who adhere to similar views who are entirely sincere in their beliefs.Sure we could have invaded the Island of Japan and ended the war at the cost of another 100,000 American lives. All the bleeding hearts are pouring forth with their version of what could have been. The reality is the Japanese were arming the populace with ceramic grenades and any other weapons they could come up with to defend the island to the last man, woman or child.
It seems most want to forget the brutal murderous reign of these war loving people who would slaughter anyone who stood in the way of their domination.
Truman was right then and he remains right today and forever.
I think such beliefs are the product of a combination of racism and false memories, some of which are implanted by happenstance, but others being the product of deliberate propagandistic manipulation. I'm not overly optimistic about changing the world views of people who are able to glibly write off the instantaneous incineration of cities based on such flimsy reasoning. But, it still seems worthwhile to make an effort to offer the relevant facts when the opportunity arises. The article in The Nation by Gar Alperovitz is a good place to start as it presents the actual views expressed by top military and scientific leaders at the time the Bomb was used.