Friday, August 1, 2014

A Lifetime Walked In "Would"-en Shoes

The release of atom power has changed everything
Except our way of thinking...
The solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind.
If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker.
-Albert Einstein

Wednesday, August 6, 2014 shall be the sixty-ninth anniversary of the utilization of the first atomic weapon in recorded history.  It was on that day that the B-29 Superfortress bomber christened the Enola Gay dropped an A-Bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.  When I initially wrote the preceding sentence I employed the article "the" instead of "an".  After reflecting upon it for a moment or two, I realized that "the" was incorrect.  "The" implied that there was no other such weapon. 

When the Japanese failed to surrender in the immediate aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima they developed an immediate appreciation for the distinction between the Hiroshima atomic bomb having been AN atomic bomb as opposed to THE atomic bomb.  Three days after "Little Boy" rained down upon Hiroshima, its brother in armament "Fat Man" did likewise on Nagasaki.  Thus endeth World War II. 

Theodore Van Kirk died on Monday, July 28.  Van Kirk was ninety-three years old.  As a twenty-four-year-old member of the United States Army Air Forces, Van Kirk was the navigator on the Enola Gay.  He was the last surviving member of her crew.

During his career in the United States Army Air Forces, Theodore Van Kirk was awarded the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross and fifteen Air Medals.  He completed his service in August 1946 having attained the rank of Major.   In addition to being an American hero, Van Kirk was a husband and a father of four. 

Van Kirk spoke publicly about the absence of regret he had for the role that he and his crewmates had been forced to play in history.  In a 1995 interview he gave to the New York Times - in response to being asked had he been given a choice about his role in the bombing of Hiroshima would he have done it again, he said that if the same circumstances existed as then faced the world, he would have done so without hesitation: 

We were in a war for five years. We were fighting an enemy that had a reputation for never surrendering, never accepting defeat. It's really hard to talk about morality and war in the same sentence. In a war, there are so many questionable things done. Where was the morality in the bombing of Coventry, or thebombing of Dresden, or the Bataan death march, or the Rape of Nanking, or the bombing of Pearl Harbor? I believe that when you're in a war, a nation must have the courage to do what it must to win the war with a minimum loss of lives. 

Theodore Van Kirk did what he did not because it was easy but because it was - in the circumstances that then and there presented themselves - something that required doing.  "If we had not dropped the bomb, there is no way the Japanese would have surrendered.  We would have had to invade the country and the death toll would have been unimaginable."

Among the lives saved were those of American Prisoners of War, including but not limited to Louis Zamperini, who were being held captive by the Japanese in various camps around Japan.  In Unbroken, the story is told of how certain Japanese guards who behaved in a kindly fashion towards the American prisoners warned Zamperini and some of his fellow prisoners - as the situation in Japan continued to deteriorate in the Summer of '45 - that an Order had been given to exterminate all of the prisoners on a date certain in late August.  The war ended before anyone could act upon the Order. 

Hard choices, often times, have to be made.  Making them and accepting whatever flows from them is not easy.  If it was, then anyone could do it.  Not just anyone can.  Theodore Van Kirk could.  It was a distinction that made a difference. 

A significant difference in fact...

...for quite a lot of us. 


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