Sunday, May 20, 2007

A Seemingly Innocuous B-29 Super Fortress

While in Mevagissey, I spotted a very cute looking model plane in a very strange antique shop. My wife insisted on buying it - it is, I suppose, the sort of thing a man ought to have on his desk. It is a metal Corgi model from their Aviation Archive range, a B-29 Super Fortress. On closer inspection, it turns out to be a very specific B-29. It is the Enola Gay. 'Are you into aircraft?' asked the seventies, old-rocker type shop owner. 'No,' I replied, 'mass slaughter.' Unable to back out after this witticism, I now find myself with a very beautiful model of the Enola Gay on my desk. Is this right?


  1. To have this in front of you is for it to be whatever your mind dictates. If it appears as a charming areoplane, then this is all it is. If for example, it appears to your mind as a kind of symbolic lifting of the veil on the Progress myth, then that's what it is. As a general guess, I would imagine it most likely to assume the status of a representation of the diabolic. Though these very words themselves could be seen as contributing to this feeling.

  2. Welcome back Bryan!

    I seem to recall staying in Mevagissey myself once; a very nice rented cottage with a small indoor swimming pool, located in a little cluster of such cottages.

  3. Imagine the feelings inside Leonard Cheshire, if at this remove you question. But I would move the model before inviting a Japanese person into your office.

  4. A sombre reminder that something beautiful can also be so deadly.

  5. Right? It's brilliant. Also, more lives were saved by the Enola Gay than were saved by dropping all the other bombs in history.

  6. An interesting discussion of "the Progress myth", and whether it's actually a myth.

    Otherwise, what David said, although I dunno if Little Boy really did save more lives than "all the other bombs in history".

    But it may well have.

  7. Welcome back, Bryan. Hope you had an interesting holiday.

    No, it is not right. It is an abomination. It is monstrous. I don't care how aesthetically pleasing (or cute) it looks sitting on your desk, it represents our moral nadir and one of the most wicked acts in human history. Surely, something so noxious and sinister cannot be beautiful?

  8. Neil:

    By what measure? The case that it saved lives is pretty unassailable. The same argument can and was made about the Maxim gun, the airplane, the tank and lots of other extremely destructive weapons. And the same defence of them was made, successfully. So in what are you grounding the certainty of your outrage?

  9. I am afraid it is beautiful. The B-29 was a very perfect shape, reminiscent of the Cutty Sark in fact.

  10. Peter, by any definition or measurement it was a genocidal act. To try to justify it by saying it was done to save lives is both morally repugnant and grossly naive. Are you seriously trying to suggest that the US did it for purely noble reasons? They had no (geo-)political agenda?Anyway, morality and mathematics don't mix. To reduce other human beings to numbers is to step outside the moral arena.

  11. it's as well to remember that more people were killed by firebombing Dresden than in Hiroshima. The after-effects of radiation, and the mystique of the atom bomb (or whatever it was) make it a strange sort of symbol, however.

    personally i'm not that keen on murdering civilians in order to save lives elsewhere. Put it like this: would you beat a small child to death in order to save the lives of, say, 100 soldiers?

    i feel that once you begin to justify murder as 'expedient', you side with all tyrants & executioners, against all victims; and that your cause is perhaps noble only makes it a more subtle corruption.

    But luckily i don't think any of us will have to make such a choice; our killings will be purely face to face, on the streets of a post-apocalyptic warzone, not on the larger, political scale.

  12. Neil, I'm not saying anything because I find the whole issue very troubling, but I don't see how you can divorce it from overall technological progress. The Victorians to a man were morally appalled by the prospect of aerial bombardment. No doubt there were many in the 12th century who shuddered at the immorality of gunpowder. But if you are as certain as you seem to be, surely you must be arguing it would have been morally preferable to launch a land invasion that Intelligence said would cost two million lives and no one has credibly challenged ever since.

    To reduce other human beings to numbers is to step outside the moral arena.

    Saving lives and summarily ending wars is outside the moral arena?

  13. Neil Forsyth's comment that he suspects that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were done because of a "(geo-)political agenda" makes me wonder if he is aware that the U.S. and Japan had been at war for nearly four years at the time.

    The historical record of the high casualties taken on both sides during the American invasion of Okinawa are highly supportive of the estimates of millions of casualties if there had been an invasion of Japan itself.

  14. Further, elberry is absolutely correct. Atomic weapons weren't the only doomsday weapons used during WW II, they're just the most mythologically venerated.

    Those who protest the use of nukes during WW II don't seem to understand that what they're essentially saying is that they would have preferred to see the Japanese incinerated using thermite instead.

    Not killing Japanese people wasn't an option, since the Japanese refused to surrender until after the spectacular destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

  15. About 30,000 people were killed at Dresden. The inflated figures come from David Irving's "research".

    The Tokyo fire-bombings is the example you're looking for.

  16. hold up! I thought you told us your wife insisted on buying it.

    I'm confused as to the real reason behind the purchase now.

    does it matter? no.

    yes, I had an airfix model once. I had lots of them once - all gone now. I may have even had the cutty sark!

  17. Funny how experiences overlap. I just got back from a trip where I saw the actual Enola Gay at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington. I also managed to be onhand when the Queen visited the World War II memorial to pay tribute to American servicemen who fought in that war.

    I'll second the comments of Oroborous, Peter and David and just say that refusing to make a choice for the lesser among alternate tragic outcomes when those outcomes are unavoidable is the real definition of stepping outside the moral arena.

  18. dear me, this old perennial chestnut.

    saving lives and ending wars. surely it should be ending lives and saving wars?

    well, just to say I'm on the side of neil forsyth though I am able to consider the design merits of the plane outside of that moment in history - is that the bryan ferry syndrome? yes, I can see it too!

  19. (It's a little disconcerting to mangle my syntax purposely for comic effect and not have anyone notice.)

    Neil: That seems to be a little over the top. The Hiroshima bombing killed 150,000 Japanese out of 73 million, give or take. Hardly genocidal. The invasion of Okinawa killed 15,000 Americans, 66,000 Japanese soldiers and 140,000 civilians. The next step was the invasion of the home islands.

    Bombing Hiroshima, by comparison, wasn't even the most wicked thing that humanity did that week.

  20. Eisenhower described the atomic attacks thus:

    " [July] 1945... Secretary of War Stimson, visiting my headquarters in Germany, informed me that our government was preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. I was one of those who felt that there were a number of cogent reasons to question the wisdom of such an act. ...the Secretary, upon giving me the news of the successful bomb test in New Mexico, and of the plan for using it, asked for my reaction, apparently expecting a vigorous assent.

    "During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of 'face'. The Secretary was deeply perturbed by my attitude..."

    - Dwight Eisenhower, Mandate For Change, pg. 380

    In a Newsweek interview, Eisenhower again recalled the meeting with Stimson:

    "...the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing."

    (Chief of Staff to Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman)
    "It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons.

    "The lethal possibilities of atomic warfare in the future are frightening. My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children."

    - William Leahy, I Was There, pg. 441.

    On May 28, 1945, Hoover visited President Truman and suggested a way to end the Pacific war quickly: "I am convinced that if you, as President, will make a shortwave broadcast to the people of Japan - tell them they can have their Emperor if they surrender, that it will not mean unconditional surrender except for the militarists - you'll get a peace in Japan - you'll have both wars over."

    Richard Norton Smith, An Uncommon Man: The Triumph of Herbert Hoover, pg. 347.

    On August 8, 1945, after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Hoover wrote to Army and Navy Journal publisher Colonel John Callan O'Laughlin, "The use of the atomic bomb, with its indiscriminate killing of women and children, revolts my soul."

    quoted from Gar Alperovitz, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, pg. 635.

    "...the Japanese were prepared to negotiate all the way from February 1945...up to and before the time the atomic bombs were dropped; ...if such leads had been followed up, there would have been no occasion to drop the [atomic] bombs."

    Norman Cousins was a consultant to General MacArthur during the American occupation of Japan. Cousins writes of his conversations with MacArthur, "MacArthur's views about the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were starkly different from what the general public supposed." He continues, "When I asked General MacArthur about the decision to drop the bomb, I was surprised to learn he had not even been consulted. What, I asked, would his advice have been? He replied that he saw no military justification for the dropping of the bomb. The war might have ended weeks earlier, he said, if the United States had agreed, as it later did anyway, to the retention of the institution of the emperor."

    Norman Cousins, The Pathology of Power, pg. 65, 70-71

    If we suppose the existence of a satanic entity, it must be laughing itself silly at the notion of dropping nuclear weapons on civilian populations to save lives. You sure can fool alot of people a hell of a lot of the time.

  21. Andrew: Your faith in the perspicacity of American generals and presidents is heartening.

    Unfortunately, there is reason to believe that both Eisenhower and MacArthur weren't quite as opposed to the use of the atomic bomb as they later presented themselves. MacArthur, right up until the Japanese surrender, was fighting with the Navy because he wanted to invade and they didn't. Contemporary memorandums of Eisenhower's meeting with Stimson do not reflect the powerful objections he later claimed to have made.

    For what it's worth, in 1995 the US government published the complete set of Magic/Ultra daily briefings circulated to war leaders in the US and UK. These were summaries of intercepts of Japanese military, commercial and diplomatic cables; in other words, we knew exactly what the Japanese position was at all times. Among the things we knew in the summer of '45 was that the people who believed that Japan was about to surrender were completely wrong. In fact, Japan's official position was that they would fight to the end and, even in private, their position was that they would only negotiate an end to the war (not surrender) if the Emperor's sovereign power was not diminished (not simply that the Emperor be kept on) and that the current regime be allowed to continue. This was not acceptable to the US and should not have been acceptable. Our position had been, from the beginning of the war, that we would only accept an unconditional surrender. This was also our position in the Civil War (the joke was that "US" Grant stood for Unconditional Surrender) and would not have been lightly abandoned.

    The Magic recipients also knew that, although US invasion planners assumed that the Allies would outnumber the Japanese 3 to 1 in any invasion and have air superiority, the Japanese were mobilizing to oppose the invasion with three times as many troops and airplanes as the planners assumed. The Japanese plan was to make the invasion so costly (an invasion at 1:1 might well have failed entirely) that US public opinion would turn against the war and force a negotiated peace.

    Finally, by the end of the war the Japanese were killing between 250,000 to 400,000 civilians week in the Co-Prosperity Sphere.

    I have no expectation that this will settle the question because old arguments don't fade away, they live forever on the Internet.

  22. Susan B. de PhillyMay 22, 2007 1:32 am

    Penicillin saves lives. Wars, any kind of wars, destroys them.

    See the current "Rolling Stone, which recounts the lives of several American soldiers in Iraq, now all dead (though not all died over there). It's the RS with Johnny Depp & Keith Richard on the cover. Keith Richard looks like he should be dead.

    Bryan, glad you're back, though I'm still not sure you were ever really gone!

  23. True enough, Susan.

    Now, if only despotic dictators around the world would adopt that view, there could be world peace.

  24. Keith is a national treasure, susan. one of a kind.

  25. i think we can all agree that the bomb needed live testing, and where better to test it than on the Japs, with their sushi and sinister origami? it proved once and for all that a katana is no match for an atomic bomb. Previously, we were in doubt.

    Nam was another great live testing environment. There is a theory that all wars are just excuses to test the weapons developed in peace time, and to cull the poorer members of the population, as well of course as boosting the arms industry. What good's a weapon if you can't scare people with it? If i had a few nukes i'd have to drop at least one on a civilian population, just to let people know i mean business.

  26. I'm sure we are all gratified by our collective actions of not destroying lives in Darfur. I'm sure the citizens are duly grateful to us.

  27. Susan, I assure you once again Nige is not me, though we have some dubious Cambridge experiences in common.

  28. I've heard about those dubious Cambridge experiences. A Daihatsu Copen was involved, no doubt.

    elberry: It's not like the picked the Japanese out of a hat. There was a war on, as Oroborous pointed out. What should the US have done in December 1941? What would you have done as President in July 1945? It's easy enough to live in the world those people made possible and be snide about choices you'll never have to make.

  29. David my lovely, if i could give back the life i've lived in order that thousands of civilians didn't die in Hiroshima, i would without hesitating. However i can't, and i don't recall asking to be born, or agreeing to everything that was done in this world before my birth, so nor do i feel obliged to condone the actions that made my life possible.

    i wouldn't be president in the first place, because i don't have a sufficiently flexible or abstract morality. i'm glad i'll never have to make such a choice, and that's because of an anterior choice: the decision not to moralise in the abstract, but only in the particular. This is why i could never be a politician, because i don't understand ideas of 'the greater good'. i don't claim to be right; this is just how i feel & i don't see any point trying to be otherwise, since i cannot change my essential nature, which is basically quite primitive.

    i'm sure many of the people involved in making and dropping bombs are actually very nice, and capable of goodness.

    People are complicated. We may not find accord.

  30. [I]f i could give back the life i've lived in order that thousands of civilians didn't die in Hiroshima, i would without hesitating.

    That would indeed be a shame, since by doing so you'd have condemned MILLIONS to death, instead.

    The point is that NOBODY could have prevented thousands of Japanese civilians from dying in 1945, including President Truman.

    If it hadn't been nukes, it would have been thermite, and if not thermite, then artillery.

    The U.S. was going to invade Japan, no question about it, and millions were going to die, no question about that either.

    The nukes saved lives.

  31. "That would indeed be a shame, since by doing so you'd have condemned MILLIONS to death, instead"

    a bold statement, sir, and one that can only be decided by fisticuffs between the two of us. Expect to see me soon: you will recognise me, as i will be naked apart from my lycra boxing shorts, and will be carrying a copy of Hagakure. Beware: i was schooled in the brawling art by Irish gypsies and Geordie miners.

    There can be only one!

  32. There can be only one!

    That was a great show.

  33. It is profoundly racist for any white person to disparage the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, because these acts saved millions upon millions of yellow people -- including virtually the entire population of Korea.

    Hasegawa has published (in 'Racing the Enemy') the definitive, though wrongheaded, summary of the question, using the Russian archives for the first time.

    In it he proves that Japan would never have surrendered without the bombings. See my review posted at Amazon.

  34. hey Harry you eager beaver you, i'm not white, i'm a mongrel, so is it ok for me to express horror at dropping bombs on civilian populations of non-white people? Or does my horror fall into some worse category, since i'm not white? If so, how would you punish my crime? i am actually part-white, so does that make my horror partly profoundly racist?

  35. For every one death from the nukes
    the japs murdered 100+ souls. For every one death from nukes the japs raped 20+ women(multiple rapes not counted).

    The japs do not teach WW2 history (nor do germans teach ww2 history)
    to their youth. For that matter the liberal USA public schools do not teach ww2 history.

    So it is no wonder so many condem the USA for nuking the japs.
    But something had to be done to stop them from murder and rape.

    Thank God for the USA!!!!!!!!!!!!