Paul Tibbets, the commander and pilot of the US B-29 bomber, Enola Gay, that dropped the atomic bomb "Little Boy" on Hiroshima in 1945, died Thursday in Colombus, Ohio, aged 92.
Tibbets, throughout his life, steadfastly defended the US military's rationale behind the dropping of the bomb. In a nutshell, it was that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima, and Nagasaki a few days later, brought the war to a quick, decisive end and in the long run actually saved lives.
Tibbets believed a conventional US invasion of Japan would have lead to a far greater loss of life and untold destruction. The grisly events of the invasion of Okinawa can be used as evidence in support of this view. As a graduate student of Japanese history in the mid-90s, this was also the mainstream argument given to students by the course professors where I studied.
Alternative views of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are that they stand alone as crimes against humanity and should not have happened. Steven L. Leeper, the recent American chairperson of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation, would be in this camp, and most visitors to the Atomic Bomb Memorial Museums in Hiroshima & Nagasaki probably leave with the feeling that the attacks were tragic happenings and must not be repeated.
Tibbets, a man who had fought throughout the war in Europe and North Africa, declared, "What they needed was someone who could do this and not flinch - and that was me."
"I knew when I got the assignment it was going to be an emotional thing."
"We had feelings, but we had to put them in the background. We knew it was going to kill people right and left. But my one driving interest was to do the best job I could so that we could end the killing as quickly as possible."
On that fateful, historic day of August 6, 1945, Tibbets commanded a crew of 12 other men aboard the Enola Gay - the plane named after Tibbets' mother - which flew from Tinian Island to drop the equivalent of 20,000 tons of TNT on the city of Hiroshima, causing an estimated 80,000 deaths and 60,000 injured.
After the war, Tibbets inspected the damage caused by the bombing of Nagasaki and continued in the US Air Force until his retirement in 1966 with the rank of Brigadier General after 29 years of service.
Tibbets made it clear he did not want a tombstone or a memorial built after his death as that would create controversy, and that he wished for his body to be cremated. He is survived by his wife of over 50 years, Andrea, and 3 sons.
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Saturday, November 03, 2007