Hiroshima and Nagasaki are in the news, and for good reason: They mark the first use of nuclear weapons — to bring an end to World War II — and the dawn of the nuclear age.
I was 6 years old when the bomb was dropped and the war ended. Five of my uncles and one of my aunts were in the war. My aunt was an Army nurse and accompanied the first units into Dachau, the notorious German death camp. She acquired many gruesome photographs and the Dachau guest register, signed by Reichsminister Himmler and other Nazi VIPs who visited the camp.
I visited Dachau during a trip to Munich a few years ago. It was a horrible reminder of how totalitarian governments start wars and kill their own people and why it is important never to forget what happened there.
One of my uncles served in the Pacific, one was a B-24 bomber pilot, one was in the Navy. My father worked in a factory that made heating equipment but was converted to make munitions. He figured out a new way to make Howitzer shells — faster and cheaper. He got an award for that and was always proud of it. I was always proud of my dad and my aunt and uncles and the many sacrifices they made to fight fascism in Europe and Asia.
I lived in Lebanon, Ind., at the time, and even though we were hundreds of miles from a coast, I remember the periodic air raid drills. I also remember rationing stamps for food and clothing. So the war was very real to me, even as a child.
But nothing was more real or dramatic or heart-wrenching than the day we were visiting my aunt in Crawfordsville, Ind. Late in the morning — we were just finishing breakfast, as I recall — there was a knock at the door. It was a Western Union boy with the dreaded telegram from the Department of the Army: “We regret to inform you that… ” I will never forget the deep anguish of my aunt and our entire family that day in 1944.
Her son and I grew close over the years, more like brothers than cousins. Constantly over these past 51 years I have thought about the uncle and father and husband who never came home — and what all of us missed by his sacrifice for freedom.
I visited his grave at the American cemetery in Luxembourg a few years ago. It was a moving and memorable experience — beginning with the fact that the teen-age cashier at a roadside restaurant in the south of Belgium knew exactly where the American cemetery was located and said, after giving me directions, “It’s good for us that the Americans carne to help.”
So, the muted celebration of WW II victories by America’s revisionist historians and, especially, the deconstruction of the history surrounding the decision to use the atomic bomb are infuriating — including the Smithsonian’s quashed plan to show the Enola Gay (the B-29 that dropped the Hiroshima bomb) along with gruesome accounts of the Japanese sufferers of radiation burns, but no mention of the fact that Japan started the war with a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor or of Japanese atrocities such as the Rape of Nanking or the Bataan Death March or of huge casualties at Iwo Jima, where 21,000 of 22,000 Japanese defenders fought to the death rather than surrender.
TV newsman David Brinkley, a working reporter during the war, said it best last Sunday: “Harry Truman did what he had to do. The results were quite horrifying. But the war itself was quite horrifying. He had in mind stopping the war…and it did.”