Book Reviews

So many books (you know the rest)

Enola Gay
by Gordan Thomas
Published in 1977 (I finished it on July 31, 2014)

When Richard Jordan Gatling invented the first machine gun in 1862, it was built, according to him, to save lives.

Warfare, hitherto, has expressed other sentiments.

To explicate his reasoning, Gatling felt weapon his would require fewer men for combat, and fewer people exposed to battle and disease. Voila! The problem of war solved forever.

The best laid plans… …yeah.

Moving on.

Enola Gay! I knew the name. I knew lightly of the story. We dropped two bombs on two cities and in two moments, hundreds of thousands were obliterated and warfare was never the same. Turn the page. Russia figured it out too. Cold War begins.

As I said, I knew “lightly.”

To begin, the title is the name of the plane which dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. The Captain, Paul Tibbets, had named it after his mother.

And this was much to the chagrin of another pilot, Lewis, his fellow serviceman and jealous adversary, who felt the bomber primarily had been his. This all happened just before the fateful day.

Also, “Little Boy” had many names: “Gimmick” and “It” were two of them. Ninety-nine plus percent of the people in the squadron from training up until the final flight had no idea it was an atomic bomb, but rather a very powerful weapon. “Little Boy” had been called “Thin Man” after Roosevelt until the main shaft was shortened, and thus “Little Boy.” “Fat Man” was after Churchill. Anyway, a lot of interesting facts are in the book. I won’t spoil all of them.

What is also covered are many stories of the men who served or lived on both sides. We read about generals from America and Japan, scientists on both sides, a doctor in Japan who still made house calls to the countryside, and even the mayor of Hiroshima, who highly sought peace and was not in favor of the war.

The stories probably change from school to school, but I remember the consensus was that we perhaps had to do it, but we chose a target with no military bearing, and simply wiped out nothing but innocent women and children.

Not exactly.

Well, yes, there were many victims whose only crime was being born in the wrong place and time. There were people against the war, in favor of peace, hoping to return to their old way of life. And yes, once the city was selected as a potential target, the regular bombing had stopped. If it were to be done, the effects and damage would be measured.

But Hiroshima also had a military presence. Soldiers and guns were placed there. It was well defended. In fact, two American bombers had been brought down and the GIs captured. And–something that isn’t mentioned too much–they were there during the bombing. It’s estimated that most of our POWs there died in the blast or were executed thereafter. It is a tragedy, but all war is such.

Hiroshima also had been prepared against a landing force (as did most towns). The harbor had kayaks ready for suicide bombers. Everywhere possible, defensive positions were created, with even invalids being booby-trapped to inflict casualties. Again, this was echoed all over Japan. If America were to land, the people of Japan would take as many lives as possible, sacrificing one and all to do so—in some regards, they were to exhaust all men, women, and children.

I don’t say that this is unique to Japan alone. Most people would die defending their country. Many still do today.

So the idea that the bomb saved lives isn’t completely far-fetched. And really, the lives saved were probably far greater on Japan’s side. Like in many cultures, you didn’t question orders; you did what was ordered. And the ones not breaking the law and listening to forbidden foreign news (an executable offense) were of the mind that Japan was winning the war. Control information and you control the population.

America had control to some extent—all mail was subject to reading and censoring, but our limitations were not to the same level. It’s hard to say if that was good or bad, but Japan Intelligence did reportedly subscribe to over 120 American newspapers (through covert couriers) to access news which sometimes gave away key information. Loose lips really did sink ships.

So the casualties of landing would not come just from hardened soldiers guarding the beaches with guns, but from the majority of the population defending their homeland down to the last man, woman, and child. (That’s of course a generalization. As the stories in the book explain, many just didn’t want a war at all, or thought surrender was imminent and necessary. But to openly say so in public…unthinkable.)

So a landing force as an option? Extremely costly for both sides. Iwo Jima was a prime and sobering example. Lesson learned.

The US also had another issue to contend with: The Soviet Union joining the cause. Surely, that would be a plus, having more support, but there was a huge caveat—they were leaving behind a little something in their wake as they conquered: communism. With Eastern Europe already getting folded into the USSR’s comforting curtain, America didn’t want the same issues appearing in the Far East—at least not with Japan. With Germany out of the picture, Russia was growing mighty once again. Time was of the essence. It is suggested that it was probably a combined factor of the power of the bomb AND the pending Russian attacks that finally convinced Japan that it was over. (Notably the Japanese word for surrender was not used in the final speech ending the fighting.)

There’s talk about what if the U.S. had just done demonstrations of the bomb’s power over scheduled drop sites in the ocean. It’s not an absurd idea, and it’s discussed in the book, but the problem was that the bomb was in limited supply (2 of them at the time) and that it was not guaranteed to work—a problem that could severely limit the bluff. The allies had sent a warning about a great weapon which would cause great damage, though there’s no reason to believe that the warning would have been heeded, especially with so many deceived into thinking their country was doing spectacular (though the declining situation and food shortages should have suggested otherwise).

So the main alternative was many more bombing runs—which equally killed soldiers and civilians, and missed targets frequently. The book covers conditions of just why bombs don’t often hit the exact target when dropped thousands of feet up in the air. And there’s the issue of clouds that continually ruin the APs (aiming points).

A good deal of the high-ranking officials wanted the war over and saw the great bomb as the best solution. Obviously, scientists differed greatly in the matter, yet the war couldn’t continue forever, and the USS Indianapolis had just been sunk by a Japanese sub, with roughly 800 sailors dying from the results of the torpedo attack. As some of the deceased men were known personally by the ones working with the bomb, it certainly must have raised the desire to just drop the bomb and end the war and allow all to go home.

So all in all, the book covers a lot about the first secret operations in Utah to the preparations on Tinian Island to the eventful bomb runs (mainly focusing on the first). And while my reflections may lightly suggest how I regard the final decision, the book is balanced and unbiased, simply describing the events and the conversations of those who were a part of it.

It does not simply say if the right call had been made. You have to decide that yourself. But alas, as a poignant quote states, “What’s done is done.” The past can’t be changed, only learned from. And to date, no cities have been bombed by nuclear bombs again.

Finally, I return to the story of the Gatling Gun—the machine gun to end or reduce combat. The Atom Bomb scared countless people for a long time, and assuredly does today, and yet war has not ceased. “Conventional” weapons still are widely in use and missiles save the hassle and fuel costs of flying bombers.

Turn on the news. There’s probably a story right now of one country hurling shells or firing missiles against its neighbor.

I wouldn’t say that since the world witnessed the devastation and destruction from the first atomic bombs, that it’s been a deterrent, as such a position is a weak argument. Hundreds, if not thousands of tests have been done displaying the nearly omnipotent force of now hydrogen thermonuclear bombs.  A child could see the potential fallout and repercussions. And America has been involved in numerous conflicts since WWII and never used such nuclear weapons—sort of an ironic thing to do if you’re attempting to aid a country. The worldwide consensus may be that such powerful life-destroying weapons won’t do anything to help end a war.

And yet so many still believe that bullets will.