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« Wait Till Next Year! | Main | Our Inefficient Constitution »

Gen. Paul Tibbets, R.I.P.

Paul Tibbets, who piloted the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, has died at his home in Columbus, Ohio at the age of 92. By coincidence, I had just finished reading Bob Greene's book, Duty: A Father, His Son, and the Man Who Won the War, half of which deals with Greene's friendship with Tibbets, and Tibbets's recollections of the war.

What's forgotten, and not mentioned in the AP story about Tibbets's death, is that he not only piloted the plane, he had to put together the entire team whose job it was to deliver the bomb to its target. Tibbets organized the unit near Wendover, Utah. It included not merely the flight crew of 14, but also logistical support, local and remote maintenance crews, flight planning, training, and practice.

It also included all internal and external operational security. Tibbets was the only man on the team of several thousand men who knew that they were planning on dropping an atomic bomb on the Japanese. He recalled sending men home for leave before Christmas of 1944, with instructions to talk to nobody - not even their wives - about their work. On trains and busses, the men sat next to plain-clothes intelligence officers, who reported back to Tibbets about the ones who talked. When men received phone calls or telegrams about babies born during their absence, they also received congratulatory meetings with Tibbets and his staff, just to remind them that they were watching. One wonders what the Senate Democrats would make of that today.

It was a complex, difficult undertaking for one man to get off the ground. Tibbets was 30.

The AP prefers to dwell on the controversy surrounding the Bomb, devoting most of the obituary to that controversy and Tibbets's role in it over the years. For me, it's never been close. Greene's book started as a series of columns in the Chicago Tribune, and it was the number of letters and phone calls from the children of servicemen whose lives were quite probably saved by the end of the war. He also mentions in passing the vast numbers of Japanese, including women and children, whom the Japanese generals were willing to sacrifice to their death cult, and whose lives were saved by their surrender.

(Also by coincidence, I had just finished watching The King and I on On Demand the evening before it was announce that Deborah Kerr had passed away. I hope I'm not reading The Man on Whom Nothing Was Lost too soon to keep Rudy from benefitting from Charles Hill's sage advice.)

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