Filed under: Japan, Militarism | Tags: conscience, Hiroshima Day, peace, revenge
On August 15 1945 I was five and a half years old. My mother and I were in the house when the news arrived by radio. I didn’t realize that it was so important. I had never known a time in my life when there was no war. War was normal and it didn’t affect me except for the brown sugar we had to use instead of white sugar for our cereal. My mother asked me to run to the barn and tell Dad that the war was over. I felt an urgency in her voice.
I ran out the cement side walk to the barn and tried to find my father. Going to the barn with a message was normal. Usually it was about someone in the community or church. Occasionally it was about an emergency that my father, a minister needed to tend to. This time was different because it had to do with the whole world. So I ran as fast as I could. He wasn’t in the barn so I looked in the milk house and then the granary, the shop, and the chicken house and finally I found him on the barn bridge repairing something.
Out of breath I ran up the barn bridge as fast I could and said. “Mom said I should tell you the war is over.” There it was I had said it. Dad looked down at me and said, “Oh, I am so glad.” He said it again, “I am so glad.” His response seemed strange because usually when I delivered a message he would race off to the car or to the house to make a telephone call and I would race after him to get in on the action. “Oh, I am so glad.”, he said it again and then he was silent. In the distance we heard the sound of explosions and Dad said, “I think they are celebrating the end of the war.” I was confused because I didn’t understand the meaning of the word, celebrate. My mission was completed. My final words to Dad that day, “But who won?” His answer, “Nobody won.” For months I wandered around trying to understand why, “Nobody won.”
The Little Boy in me is still contemplating how nobody could win. Little Boy was the name of the bomb that exploded over western Hinshou island on August 6 1945, nine days before my mother sent me on my first war ending mission. Some people may have forgotten the name of the bomb that hit Japan.. Most of us may not have known its name.
The images of incinerated Japanese children, parents, soldiers, buildings and playgrounds never get easier to look at. The bomb that destroyed so much within us and killed so many was built by the Manhattan Project (1) an effort the size of the pre war auto industry incorporating the work of 130,000 people. The 5 ton bomb exploded 1,900 feet above Hiroshima directly over a parade field where Japanese soldiers were doing calisthenics at approximately 8:15 am. Enola Gay, the B-29 aircraft named in honour of a favourite fictional character of the pilot’s mother, was already 11½ miles away when it felt the shock of the blast. At first Colonel Paul Tibbet, the pilot thought his airplane was taking flak. After the second shock wave the crew looked back at the city and described what they saw, “The city was hidden by that awful cloud . . . boiling up, mushrooming, terrible and incredibly tall,”
The spiritual cloud of Little Boy from the misted-over memory of my childhood now hovers over all of us. Colonel Tibbet retired in Columbus, Ohio the city where I joined American Mennonites last month for the biannual church assembly. About piloting the Enola Gay he said, “I’m proud that I was able to start with nothing, plan it, and have it work as perfectly as it did… I sleep clearly every night.” Shortly before his death in 2005, he said, “If you give me the same circumstances, I’d do it again.”
I still want to deliver my own Little Boy message of August 15, 1945 because the war set in motion by the Hiroshima event is not over. Almost all of us recognize how dangerous it has become. Most of us know that the chances of more Hiroshima explosions anywhere in the world remains very high. So we push it from our memory or leave it to government authorities who work in secret. Sixty-four years ago it took an effort the size of the car industry of the time to build and deliver the nuclear bomb. Today it would take only a handful of motivated and reasonably educated people to deliver one. Moral conviction combined with the fear that we may not survive has held us so far but that dam may break.
“Nobody won,” a teaching passed to me by my father and passed to him from generations before him hints at another way of thinking about winners and losers, attack, revenge and enemy work. On that day 64 years ago Dad started to teach me to suspend my instantaneous need for judgement, punishment and pride of victory. Sometimes I remember to practice these lessons. That is also when hope settles over me so that I can see a unity in the cosmos that may reach beyond my generation.
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