I don't remember a whole lot about junior high. They still weren't calling many of them 'middle' schools back in the '70s, but I hear changing the name of this traumatic stretch of adolescent institutionalization from 'junior' to 'middle' has resulted in a 7.3-percent decrease in pea-greener wedgies, so bravo, bureaucrats.
I do remember the seventh grade event that changed my life.
It was one of those rare all-school assemblies, but different because the principal, teachers and special presenters all had an air of grave seriousness about them, like Francois Truffaut in Close Encounters of the Third Kind ('We sink ziss iz important. We sink ziss means some-sing').
The hall went black and everybody got quiet as the 16-mm nightmare unfolded before our eyes: It was a movie about the atomic bomb. Welcome to the world, 13-year-old. It is much, much scarier than you thought.
By that summer, I was wearing all black and singing about the end of the world in my punk-rock band, Crucified Youth. By college I was utterly nuclear-weapons obsessed.
Then the Cold War ended and I had to learn how to think about other things. No, the weapons didn't go away. It's just that the instantaneous end of the world we had all been bracing ourselves for became less imminent.
But now and then, something triggers a relapse of my old atomic obsession. That happened on Aug. 6, the 62nd anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. I was driving home to O.B. when I noticed I was on Nimitz Boulevard and recalled Chester William Nimitz, the guy after whom the street was named: commander in chief of Pacific forces for the U.S. and her allies during World War II and the U.S. representative who signed the document aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrendered. Nimitz didn't think it was necessary to use atomic weapons against Japan. And neither did Eisenhower, McArthur, Leahy or Clarke. These were major military leaders of the time. Contrary to what you might have thought, Truman didn't make the decision with the support of everyone in his circle.
This debate over whether or not it was necessary to drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki has raged on. The U.S. Department of Energy's Manhattan Project website claims that 'there is probably no more controversial issue in 20th-century American history.' In fact, Americans are nearly equally divided on the question. With about 47 percent now approving and 46 percent disapproving of the decision, according to a 2005 Associated Press/Ipsos poll.
Which half do you side with? If you think it was necessary to drop the bombs, you'll probably argue that it was the only way to get the Japanese to surrender, that many more people would have died if the bombs weren't dropped, and that the difference between nuclear and conventional weapons is overstated. If you're retroactively against dropping them, you'll probably argue that the Japanese were already going to surrender, or that it is an inherently immoral weapon that should never be used. There might be a few of you in the middle who consider the bombing of Hiroshima necessary but the bombing of Nagasaki overkill.
It would be hard to find anyone intelligent yet dispassionate enough about the issue to conduct truly objective research on it. Sure, key historians of the decision, like Gar Alperovitz or Robert P. Newman, are good at arguing as if they were objective, but they always seem to reach foregone conclusions.
For the sake of making a point, let's say that you are that hard-to-find objective researcher, and you have decided to plunge into the debate to decide once and for all whether or not it was necessary for the U.S. to drop the bombs. You've tackled a mountain of books, articles, web ring posts, academic papers and dissertations on the subject. You've read biographies of the main players, poured over the 'MAGIC' transcripts--the recently released documents that reveal the upper-level strategic communications of the Japanese that were intercepted by the Americans--and attended conferences to discuss minutiae with other historians.
Even after all that, it won't matter much what you decide. Why? Because the bombs were dropped, the U.S. won the war, and we'll never know for certain what would've happened. Anyone who says otherwise probably has their mind made up. Most people will believe what they want to believe--you'll have a hard time convincing anyone that you got it absolutely right or that you're truly unbiased.
If you've read this far, you probably have at least a passing interest in nuclear weapons and their awesome power. And you're probably expecting an answer from me, your trusted friend, about whether or not dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was necessary. Sorry. I can't give you that. I'm too biased. But please stay with me.
There is a more important indisputable reality about the atomic bombings to think about 62 years later. More than 200,000 people who survived the atomic bombs are still among us. Their accounts of what they experienced as children in Hiroshima and Nagasaki are incredible. You can find some at Atomicarchive.com. In Japan, these people are called 'hibakusha,' which means 'bomb-affected individuals.'
After the bombs were first dropped, the U.S. government tried to hide the fact that radiation sickness continued killing hibakusha, and The New York Times helped with the cover-up. Now we know that even children of the hibakusha continue to suffer from physical ailments related to the bombing.
There are organizations dedicated to supporting the hibakusha, just as there are organizations dedicated to supporting American veterans of World War II. Most people agree that helping others is nice, especially people who have suffered or sacrificed quite a bit. So why not take a break from wondering what happened in 1945 and send a few bucks to the Radiation Effects Research Foundation (www.rerf.or.jp), which provides free medical care to a-bomb survivors or Disabled American Veterans (www.dav.org) and help someone who survived The Great War.
OK, OK. The decision to drop the bombs was wrong.
What'd you expect me to say?