Wolfgang

Hiroshima

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Philosopher Harry Binswanger once said that bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II was one of the most profoundly moral acts of the 20th century. I think he was right, but could you give me a more profound explanation of that topic.

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Philosopher Harry Binswanger once said that bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II was one of the most profoundly moral acts of the 20th century. I think he was right, but could you give me a more profound explanation of that topic.

I am not sure what you are asking. Most importantly, what do you mean by "profound"? What I mean by that term is "hierarchical." That means an argument is drawn logically from basic, objective principles. Thus, contrary to general academic opinion, Ayn Rand is the most profound thinker since Aristotle. By contrast, Augustine, Kant, and Derrida are shallow.

I have not heard Dr. Binswanger's argument in favor of the atomic bomb attack on fascist Japan. My argument is that the attack demolished the fascists in Japan and thereby protected U. S. lives. Since U. S. culture was superior to fascist Japanese culture, and since the fascist Japanese threatened U. S. lives, the attack was good. That is a moral judgment based on a morality of rational self-interest, which in turn is based on respect for reason, which is based on recognition that reality is what it is.

Is there a more profound argument than that? If so, I would like to hear it.

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I would also like to add something.

Victor Davis Hanson once said:

"There is a law and a way to war over the ages that are unfortunately immutable, given that human nature is constant across time and space: namely that peace follows only from the defeat and humiliation of the culpable, not from magnanimity granted to impotent but still proud enemies."

The Atomic Bomb was moral because it broke the pride of our enemy. It was the supreme act of justice: totally humiliating evil by the superiority of the good. An invasion of Japan, and eventual victory, would have been humiliating. However, to surrender after two hits...that devastated the pride and morale of the Japanese people. Instead of sending the message "We will fight you because we are against you" and leaving a bitter after-taste of defeat, we utterly destroyed them, sending the message "Don't ever mess with us again."

It is for that reason that I consider it a supremely moral act. I'll end with the (edited for decencies sake) great words of General Patton:

We'll win this war, but we'll win it only by fighting and by showing the Germans that we've got more guts than they have; or ever will have. We're not going to just shoot the sons-of-****,we're going to rip out their living **** guts and use them to grease the treads of our tanks. We're going to murder those lousy Hun *** by the bushel-***-basket.

It is this distinct American attitude that proudly shines of Justice.

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Good moral reasons have been given above for dropping the bombs, but the immediate reason why Truman and his generals decided to go with them were the numbers.

As we fought our way through the string of islands and atolls on our way back to the Philipines and to the Japanese islands, our people confronted something totally foreign--a people who would not surrender no matter what. Let's look at just three of the major battles:

1. Guadalcanal (1942-43): US had 1,592 dead; the Japanese lost 25,000, +9,000 of which died of disease and starvation (rather than surrender).

2. Iwo Jima (Feb.19-April 9, 1945) US lost 6,621 Marines and 900 sailors; the Japanese lost 18,000.

3. Okinawa April 1-June 21, 1945): US lost 12,520 killed and missing; The Japanese lost 110,000 soldiers (an estimated 20,000 died in caves, burned to death rather than come out and surrender), and 75,000 civilians, many of whom took their own lives, and those of their children, rather than be captured. (In one incident, our forces watched, and there is film, as civilians on Okinawa threw themselves and their children off of a cliff.)

(The above figures are from Toland, Rising Sun, 1970, and reflect the numbers I've read elsewhere.)

As can be seen by the numbers, the closer we got to Japan, the greater the resistance. When our forces saw how the civilians died at Okinawa, they knew they had seen but a small sample of what would happen when they invaded the main islands of Japan. (The Japanese make the Islamofascists we are fighting now look like sissyboys.) Most importantly, however, was the increasing casualties among the American forces. The battles became bloodier and more horrendous; "shell-shock" was becoming a big problem, as well. (See any decent history of Iwo Jima and you will get a real taste of what our forces faced.)

The home islands of Japan were a nightmare to invade. There was no chance for any of the tactics that worked so well in Europe, such as keeping them guessing where we would land. They knew exactly where our forces absolutely had to land and they were ready. Even the civilians, women and children, were trained to kill Americans and die for the Emperor. The Japanese perfected the first "smart" bombs, kamakazis in planes and submarines, which attacked in force at Okinawa. They had a whole population bent on being smart bombs. The projected casualites from an invasion of Japan were between 500,000 to 1 million American dead and injured.

Add to this the fact that in order to invade, the not so fresh troops from the European war were now being sent to the Pacific. Having won in Europe, Americans (they never change) were getting antsy about the war taking so long. They were not in the mood to lose another half million of their sons and husbands. (One reason why the US was adamant about getting the Soviets involved in Japan was to help cut our own loses, even at the price of giving the Soviets a foothold there.)

So, the number one reason why Truman authorized the use of the bomb was because of the projected casualties. A good reason. The second was political. Not a bad reason. Even after making the decision, it should be noted that both bombs were not dropped at once. It was hoped that one would do the trick, but the Emperor and Co. still held out for some kind of a deal. It was only after the second bomb--and even then it took time and pressure from the people--that they finally surrendered. (I'll add here that no one ever mentions the fact that those bombs actually saved Japanese lives. Anyone who has ever looked at the plans of the Japanese for fighting the invasion, and look at the casualty rates from Okinawa, can easily see that an invasion would have taken many more lives. The value of the A-bombs were in their shock-and-awe, i.e. their ability to frighten the civilian population when nothing else could.)

The fact that this action has been questioned for over 60 years tells us that, while the practical reasons for dropping the bomb were certainly valid, we desparately needed the moral clarity that only Objectivism has been able to provide. It is a case of doing the right thing for the wrong philosophical reasons. Here, there was only the idea of revenge that made America demand unconditional surrender, and this led many in our government, even in the military, to oppose using the bombs. We were right in our demand, but without a clear cut philosophical statement underlying our actions, we've been left with simpering hand-wringing and second-guessing until now half of the population in this country thinks that it was the wrong thing to do!

(The people on the front lines that fought the Japanese didn't wring their hands, however. My father fought in the Pacific. His destroyer was hit twice by kamakazis during the battle for Okinawa. Afterwards, he was stationed in Japan almost constantly from the time of the surrender until his death in '61. He, and every other Sailor and Marine I've known who was there said that those bombs saved their lives. They were sure they would not make it through an invasion. My mother worked as a nurse with a commission that studied and cared for the casualites from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. She hated working with the results, but never once thought that we should not have dropped the bombs.)

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Good moral reasons have been given above for dropping the bombs, but the immediate reason why Truman and his generals decided to go with them were the numbers....

Thank you, Janet, for this excellent post. You bring the history alive and add a philosophical perspective.

(Incidentally, I have seen higher figures of projected American losses, and Japanese as well, but I have never seen any official document that Truman used for his decision.)

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Thank you, Janet, for this excellent post. You bring the history alive and add a philosophical perspective.

(Incidentally, I have seen higher figures of projected American losses, and Japanese as well, but I have never seen any official document that Truman used for his decision.)

I've seen and heard of evaluations which projected up to 2 million American casualties, but the figures I gave were generally believed to be most accurate projections. I don't know if Truman looked at only one particular document. I know that there were many varying opinions even among the military. The figures I gave were conservative estimates.

I would guess, and it is only a guess, that those who had actually fought the Japanese would have given high estimations. Battle is a nightmare, of course, but the battles for Iwo Jima and Okinawa were such an unremitting hell, and cost so dearly, that those who were there understood that it could only get worse as we invaded the Japanese homeland. Besides the number of dead, the rate of injury, and especially shell-shock, on Iwo Jima and Okinawa was enough to give anyone pause. I once heard a Marine who fought on Iwo Jima say that the dead were the lucky ones. I'll never forget the look that came over his face when he said it, and I hope I never see such a look again. The memory alone still held the shock of fear frozen in time, and the terrible, haunting resignation to the unrelenting death and destruction. It was chilling. And it explains why our fathers rarely talked about those battles.

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I just go off the phone with my brother. I mentioned this thread to him and he gave me an astounding bit of information that concretizes the numbers I've been talking about.

Jim was the Command Master Chief for the Navy (meaning that he was the top enlisted man in the Navy) and working at the Pentagon during Desert Storm. In preparation for the war, he was to make sure that they had a certain number of Purple Hearts at the ready. To his surprise, there was no need to order new medals. In anticipation of the invasion of Japan, the War Department had ordered Purple Hearts in such numbers that we are still using those medals! Jim didn't have the original number, unfortunately, but considering the fact that we've fought in Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Granada, and Kosovo and still had tens of thousands left over even after Dessert Storm is telling. Jim thinks we are probably still using those Purple Hearts even now.

Brrrrrrrr.

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I have heard that about purple hearts as well. My history teacher from last year is a Vietnam veteran, and he says that his purple heart was originally made for WWII.

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I'm doing a project on the battle of Okinawa this year. From what research I have done so far, I think that that battle had some influence on the decision to drop the bomb. Around 30% of Okinawa's civilian population died in that battle. Project that percentage to the mainland, and you'll get a much higher figure than the amount of people that died at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those bombs saved American lives. They also saved Japanese lives. No one ever seems to question the morality of the deaths of all the Okinawan civilians, though in truth they perhaps bore less responsibility for the war than the citizens of Hiroshima. Okinawa was an independent kingdom that was taken over by Japan. Japan used the island as a sort-of sheild for the mainland, something Okinawans weren't all that happy about. All of this, however, is superfluous. The battle of Okinawa was a moral action. Okinawa is now and was then a part of Japan and as such was a hostile territory. The innocents who died there can blame the Japanese government, just as the innocents who died at Hiroshima can blame the Japanese governement as well. The bomb was the best choice for Americans. It presented a minimal loss of American life and a reduced loss of innocent Japanese life. What would be immoral about that?

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On a slightly different subject than the bombing.

I was in the Marine Corps and stationed at Camp Schwab, Okinawa, Japan in 1990 to 1991. I spent around 13 months on the island and took many tours of the local surrounding area. The island itself is very small, if I remember correctly it is 85 miles by 15 miles and its widest and longest. You can stand on hills in some points and view the Pacific Ocean to the east and the Sea of China to the west. Within minutes of leaving the biggest and most advanced city, the City of Naha, you can be in farm land where it is not uncommon to see oxen pulling carts.

One of the tours to see is the Battle for Okinawa. Where a person can walk down into the tunnels that the Japanese had built. When I saw these, two things came to mind. First, it must have been very hard to beat these people when they were so deep into the side of the island. Second, the brilliance of the Navy and the Marine Corps to coordinate a plan and win.

When I left the island there were still many military installations there. The Army had Fort Tori (?) a tiny base on the western side of the island. The Air Force had Kadena Air Force Base, the largest single base on the island, it is about 1/3 up from the southern tip of the island. The Navy was stationed on Kadena also, along with being attached to Marine Corps units. The Navy also had Camp Lester Naval Hospital at Camp Lester. The Marine Corps had the most bases of all the military forces on Okinawa which all fell under Camp Butler. The major bases included at the time were Camp Foster, Camp Courtney, Camp Hansen , MCAS Futema and Camp Schwab.

At the time I was stationed at Camp Schwab it was an infantry base with no women allowed after 1700 hours. One of the only women that actually worked on the base was the USO officer, though she did not have quarters on the base. When you heard heels hitting the deck, it was most likely her, at which time everybody would peek out of their office to look at and greet her, she was beautiful.

Almost every installation in the military has historical items, tours or pictures to locate and see. Okinawa is full of all these for the person that wants to see it.

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I agree that our decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was absolutely moral. In fact, together with the desision to develop the atomic bomb, those decisions are among the most moral our leaders have made this century.

My understanding is that Truman didn't take very long to make the decision, and was proud of his decision afterwards. Somewhere I recall reading a statement by him to the effect that it was worth destroying two enemy cities to save "the flower of American manhood". (And remember, this man was a liberal Democrat!)

....

A few years ago, I had the privilege of hearing General Paul Tibbets speak. (He is the man who flew the Enola Gay which dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, and he also played a large role in training men for the atomic missions. He was Colonel Tibbets at the time he flew the mission.) He underscored what others have said here: that the war against Japan was at the end getting very expensive in lives lost, and the atomic bombs saved the lives of many allied soldiers. He is still proud of his role in ending the war. Here is what he said (this is on the back of his book Return of the Enola Gay):

On August 6, 1945 as the Enola Gay approached the Japanese city of Hiroshima, I fervently hoped for success in the first use of a nuclear type weapon.  To me it meant putting an end to the fighting and the consequent loss of lives.  In fact, I viewed my mission as one to save  lives rather than take them.  The intervening years has brought me many letters and personal contacts with individuals who maintain that they would not be alive if it had not been for what I did.  Likewise, I have been asked in letters and to my face if I was not conscious stricken for the loss of life I caused by dropping the first atomic bomb.  To those who ask, I quickly reply, "NOT IN THE LEAST".

I'm glad that the United States unhesitatingly developed and used the atomic bombs to help end World War II. To have done anything less would have been a terrible, altruistic sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of our fighting men.

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A few years ago, I had the privilege of hearing General Paul Tibbets speak.  (He is the man who flew the Enola Gay which dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, and he also played a large role in training men for the atomic missions.  He was Colonel Tibbets at the time he flew the mission.)  He underscored what others have said here: that the war against Japan was at the end getting very expensive in lives lost, and the atomic bombs saved the lives of many allied soldiers.  He is still proud of his role in ending the war.  Here is what he said (this is on the back of his book Return of the Enola Gay):
On August 6, 1945 as the Enola Gay approached the Japanese city of Hiroshima, I fervently hoped for success in the first use of a nuclear type weapon.  To me it meant putting an end to the fighting and the consequent loss of lives.  In fact, I viewed my mission as one to save  lives rather than take them.  The intervening years has brought me many letters and personal contacts with individuals who maintain that they would not be alive if it had not been for what I did.  Likewise, I have been asked in letters and to my face if I was not conscious stricken for the loss of life I caused by dropping the first atomic bomb.  To those who ask, I quickly reply, "NOT IN THE LEAST".

Bravo General Tibbets! And thank you for the lives of my father and my uncle.

There is an urban legend of sorts that says that the men who were on the planes that dropped the bombs all went insane from guilty consciouses. Disgusting.

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Bravo General Tibbets!  And thank you for the lives of my father and my uncle.

There is an urban legend of sorts that says that the men who were on the planes that dropped the bombs all went insane from guilty consciouses.  Disgusting.

Yes, I have heard of that legend, but I don't know any basis in fact for it. All of the books I've read about the a-bomb missions don't support it. It's probably just one more piece of pacifist junk spread by the new left.

I was very happy to see and hear that Tibbets himself was still proud of his role in ending World War II. He has every reason to be. Not only did he fly the Enola Gay, but he was in charge of putting together and training the "509th Composite Group", which was the group of planes and men who were to drop the atomic bombs. Obviously lots of hard, focused effort was required to do this. A truly great American.

The site www.theenolagay.com has some good information on Tibbets, the mission, the decision to develop and drop the bomb, and some related books and collectibles for sale. (They used to have copies of Flight of the Enola Gay, by Paul Tibbets himself, for sale.)

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I just go off the phone with my brother.  I mentioned this thread to him and he gave me an astounding bit of information that concretizes the numbers I've been talking about.

Jim was the Command Master Chief for the Navy (meaning that he was the top enlisted man in the Navy) and working at the Pentagon during Desert Storm.  In preparation for the war, he was to make sure that they had a certain number of Purple Hearts at the ready.  To his surprise, there was no need to order new medals.  In anticipation of the invasion of Japan, the War Department had ordered Purple Hearts in such numbers that we are still using those medals!  Jim didn't have the original number, unfortunately, but considering the fact that we've fought in Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Granada, and Kosovo and still had tens of thousands left over even after Dessert Storm is telling.  Jim thinks we are probably still using those Purple Hearts even now. 

Brrrrrrrr.

My brother sent me this follow-up today.

Hi Sis,

After our conversation I called a friend who is the son of a Colonel on MacArthur's staff.  He said his dad told him that there were two orders for Purple Hearts made prior to the invasion Kyushu.  [Kyushu is the southern big island and was to be invaded first.  JB]  The Colonel received the first order himself, of +400,000 medals.  They expected a second shipment of the same amount.  We're lucky to have been born, Sis, along with most of our generation.  Just think how many fewer boomers the kids would have to complain about.

Love, Jim

Of course, there would have fewer kids to complain, as well.

I also read a tidbit in today's paper that included a line or two from the guy who armed the bomb on the Enola Gay. He said he had no regrets and would do it again. He sounds perfectly lucid to me!

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A recent History Channel documentary on Truman's decision noted the rising US casualties as we approached Japan and Japanese plans to murder all Allied POWs. Socialist John Kenneth Galbraith and environmentalist Stuart Udall were interviewed and claimed that Japanese peace feelers to the Soviets made using nukes immoral. Curiously enough, however, the first nuke was insufficient. Why, if they wanted to surrender?

Also, Truman is said to have also used nukes to frighten the Soviets from attacking Japan.

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A recent History Channel documentary on Truman's decision noted the rising US casualties as we approached Japan and Japanese plans to murder all Allied POWs. Socialist John Kenneth Galbraith and environmentalist Stuart Udall were interviewed and claimed that Japanese peace feelers to the Soviets made using nukes immoral. Curiously enough, however, the first nuke was insufficient. Why, if they wanted to surrender?

Also, Truman is said to have also used nukes to frighten the Soviets from attacking Japan.

From what I've read (and what I remember hearing from military personel as a child in Japan after the war) these so called peace feelers were made by a second tier faction in the government. Those who actually held power, were all for every Japanese dying rather than surrendering. When it was obvious that Germany hadn't a hope left, Hitler ordered the destruction of all means of production, on the premise that the German people didn't deserve to survive him. This order was ignored. The militarists around Hirohito would have left nothing in their wake had the Emperor so decreed. The Japanese didn't surrender. Rather than commit sepuku, however, the Emperor was concerned with retaining his power -- which he eventually did after denouncing his godhead. It was only after Nagasaki that the Emperor signaled that he would surrender (it was reportedly feared that the next one would land on his head). Even that was not done immediately after Nagasaki. The time between the second bomb and the surrender was spent by those in power scurrying for cover.

..........

"Although it is said that faith can move mountains, experience shows that dynamite works better." Anon

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At the time the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, anybody who cared to look at the evidence could see that there was no way Japan could win the war. They were finished. And yet they continued to fight: practically to the last man in places like Okinawa and Iwo Jima.

Apparently, the moral code the Japanese subscribed to at the time held suicide (or fighting when no hope of victory remained, with death as the only possible outcome) to be good, but surrender to be evil.

We couldn't change their moral code, but we could stop them from taking hundreds of thousands more of our men with them. That's where the atom bombs came in.

What I fail to see is.... given an enemy that prefers death to surrendering and "losing face", how can such an enemy object if we decide to bring them death in the form of nuclear explosions, rather than death in the form of brutal hand-to-hand fighting on beaches, and in their cities? (Or death from starvation as we blockaded Japan and systematically destroyed the country's infrastructure.)

It would almost seem to me that our dropping the atom bombs gave the Japanese the "excuse" they needed to surrender. In other words, before we used those bombs, their militarists could have argued that surrender would be "dishonorable" because they could imagine facing conventional weapons. But atomic bombs were so awesomely devastating that there would be no doubt that complete destruction awaited them if they did not surrender.

It's interesting to speculate on what would have happened if Japan had not surrendered after Nagasaki. At that time, we had no more atomic bombs, though from what I've read, we could have produced 3 or so per month starting in September. (We were limited by the time it takes to produce the active material in the bombs: enriched uranium and bomb-grade plutonium.) We also had the capability of using incendiaries (e.g. napalm and magnesium) to burn down Japanese cities in conventional air attacks - we had already done so, very effectively. (And now that we had bases closer to Japan, we could have brought the shorter-range B-17 and B-24 bombers from Europe to help out the B-29's.) And our naval blockade would surely have tightened. Japan, with few natural resources, would have been under siege. Perhaps we could have won the war in this way - without having to invade Japan. In such a case, though, there would have still been more US casualties, and of course many more Japanese deaths. And the atomic bombs would still have played a role in our victory.

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And for a change of pace.... some poetry :D .

In July 1945, the 509th Composite Group was stationed on the island of Tinian, from which the atomic strikes would be launched. There were also many other groups of B-29's there that were making conventional raids on Japan.

However, before August 6, none of the other airmen knew what the 509th was all about. What were they doing? Why were they so secretive? Why were they flying these strange missions in which they would go and drop one big bomb? (These were in fact large conventional bombs of the same size as the atomic bombs would be; so these missions were to practice dropping these bombs as well as taking the evasive maneuvers that were needed so that the bomber would be far enough away to survive a real atomic explosion.)

The atomic mission was such a well kept secret that most of the men in the 509th didn't even know they would be dropping atomic bombs.

So, the 509th was subjected to all sorts of taunts. This poem, entitled "Nobody Knows", was written by somebody on Tinian about them:

Into the air the secret rose,

Where they're going, nobody knows.

Tomorrow they'll return again,

But we'll never know where they've been.

Don't ask us about results or such,

Unless you want to get in Dutch.

But take it from one who is sure of the score,

The 509th is winning the war.

When the other groups are ready to go,

We have a program on the whole damned show.

And when Halsey's Fifth shells Nippon's shore,

Why shucks, we hear about it the day before.

And MacArthur and Doolittle give out in advance,

But with this new bunch we haven't a chance.

We should have been home a month or more,

For the 509th is winning the war.

....

I don't imagine the men of the 509th heard this taunt much after August 6 though!

[This poem is taken from Flight of the Enola Gay, by Paul W. Tibbets, and I have seen it in other books about the atomic missions also.]

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And for a change of pace.... some poetry  :D .

In July 1945, the 509th Composite Group was stationed on the island of Tinian, from which the atomic strikes would be launched.  There were also many other groups of B-29's there that were making conventional raids on Japan.

However, before August 6, none of the other airmen knew what the 509th was all about.  What were they doing?  Why were they so secretive?  Why were they flying these strange missions in which they would go and drop one big bomb?  (These were in fact large conventional bombs of the same size as the atomic bombs would be; so these missions were to practice dropping these bombs as well as taking the evasive maneuvers that were needed so that the bomber would be far enough away to survive a real atomic explosion.)

The atomic mission was such a well kept secret that most of the men in the 509th didn't even know they would be dropping atomic bombs.

So, the 509th was subjected to all sorts of taunts.  This poem, entitled "Nobody Knows", was written by somebody on Tinian about them:

Into the air the secret rose,

Where they're going, nobody knows.

Tomorrow they'll return again,

But we'll never know where they've been.

Don't ask us about results or such,

Unless you want to get in Dutch.

But take it from one who is sure of the score,

The 509th is winning the war.

When the other groups are ready to go,

We have a program on the whole damned show.

And when Halsey's Fifth shells Nippon's shore,

Why shucks, we hear about it the day before.

And MacArthur and Doolittle give out in advance,

But with this new bunch we haven't a chance.

We should have been home a month or more,

For the 509th is winning the war.

....

I don't imagine the men of the 509th heard this taunt much after August 6 though!

[This poem is taken from Flight of the Enola Gay, by Paul W. Tibbets, and I have seen it in other books about the atomic missions also.]

:D Thanks so much for that. It's so typically military! You gave me my smile for the day.

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:D  Thanks so much for that.  It's so typically military!  You gave me my smile for the day.

You're welcome.

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