Looking back at the atomic bomb

BY JERRY TALLMER  |  This is the time of year when I suddenly remember what time of year it is. Usually, I guiltily remember it too late, a week or two after August 6 and August 9 are come and gone. But this year, for some unknown reason — maybe the fog that’s assaulting my laptop — I am once again in that B-24 that I’ve written about at scattered times over the years. I’m staring back at the mushroom cloud that’s climbing higher than our own 10,000 feet through the beautiful 9/11-like cloudless blue sky over what is left of Nagasaki, 135 miles to our south. We fly on and drop our own bombs, further up the coast of Japan.

Nagasaki: 60,000 to 80,000 dead — the fortunate ones… Hiroshima: 90,000 to 160,000 dead… .

When I climb down out of the B-24, back on Okinawa, I feel as if I’ve just swallowed a bucket of nails. Nobody on our crew says anything to anybody. Nobody looks anybody in the eye.

Since that day, those two days, 68 years ago, only God knows how many multiples of Hiroshima plus Nagasaki have been slaughtered on this planet. Anywhere from several billion, I should guess, down to more than 2,600 at the World Trade Center, down to one — a 17-year-old carrying candy and iced tea, in the rain, at night, in Sanford, Florida.

Yes, yes, I know — and Harry Truman knew only too well — a great many more young Americans might have died if it were not for Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

That doesn’t make it better, or right. I mean they could have — we could have — dropped a demonstration Little Boy or a Nagasaki-type Fat Man — Fat Man! — on Mount Fuji or somewhere, just to show what it could do. We could have, but we didn’t… .

Does it make you sleep better at night to think about a Richard Nixon, say, with one hand on the Red Telephone? Or a Michele Bachmann or a Rand Paul or a Ted Cruz or a Mitch McConnell or even a John McCain on one of his bad days?

I know this is scare talk, but it’s not the baby in the flower garden of the good old L.B.J. vs. Barry Goldwater days, If anybody remembers those days. Americans are not strong on memory, which is why this August 6 and this August 9 will flow past without very much comment or thought anywhere. Except, maybe, in Japan.

As I noted at the head of this dispatch, I’m not very good at remembering, either. Usually, for me, it’s better late than never. But this time, as it happens, I’m on time, back once again in that B-24, looking out over the tailfins at a mushroom cloud out of Hieronymus Bosch’s garden of death without delight.

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