I had recently read Bob Greene’s book Duty: A Father, a Son and The Man Who Won The War -the latter referring to the pilot Paul Tibbot’s who piloted the B-29 “Enola Gay” to Hiroshima and dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan. A question put to him was: do you ever regret dropping the bomb.? In essence, he was a pilot trained to do a mission, is how he viewed it. One can (and has numerous times) raised the moral question about the need for killing so many innocent people. But the war was over in Europe and the only way to end the Pacific war was to invade Japan. The cost in both American and Japanese lives was staggeringly estimated in the millions.
I was surprised to read that many Japanese had met Paul Tibbots over the years, some thanking him for what he’d done, as they, like so many American soldiers, counted themselves among those millions who would’ve perished had the invasion gone on. Today while visiting the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Udvar-Hazy facility I noticed an Asian family standing in front of the Enola Gay. I approached the youngest, a man in his early thirties to ask him some questions: “Are you Japanese? and “How does it feel for all of you to be standing here?” nodding at the huge, aluminum-skinned bomber merely feet away. It appeared to be three generations of his family, he being the youngest.
“I have been here many times,” he said. “The information about the bombing of Hiroshima has changed a lot. Japanese visitors were very upset with what had been written. So now it’s a simpler story,” he finished. Not having my easel as an anchor and conduit for extensive conversations, I didn’t feel comfortable pushing for more information. But I was curious to want to know something about their feelings. Here was the carrier of the biggest instrument of destruction of the second world war. It had to mean something to be this close to that history which wiped out two major Japanese cities. As I walked away, I wondered how he was interpreting our conversation, especially to his grandmother who was probably a little girl in 1945.