General Paul Tibbets, Pilot of Enola Gay, RIP
Brigadier General Paul Tibbets, best known as the pilot of the Enola Gay that dropped the Little Boy atomic bomb onto the Japanese war-supporting city of Hiroshima, has died at the age of 92. In recent years he has made the news about being unrepentant over what some vocal (revisionist) critics consider a war crime.
Paul Tibbets, who etched his mother’s name — Enola Gay — into history on the nose of the B-29 bomber he flew to drop the atomic bomb over Hiroshima, died Thursday after six decades of steadfastly defending the mission. He was 92.
Throughout his life, Tibbets seemed more troubled by other people’s objections to the bomb than by him having led the crew that killed tens of thousands of Japanese in a single stroke. The attack marked the beginning of the end of World War II.
Tibbets grew tired of criticism for delivering the first nuclear weapon used in wartime, telling family and friends that he wanted no funeral service or headstone because he feared a burial site would only give detractors a place to protest.
And he insisted he slept just fine, believing with certainty that using the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved more lives than they erased because they eliminated the need for a drawn-out invasion of Japan.
Considering the estimates AT THAT TIME were over a million Allied casualties, and more than that on the Japanese side, I think Tibbets has the moral high ground here. The war ended in August 1945 only because of the unprecedented entry of the Emperor into Japanese politics, after the atomic bombs. The Generals and Admirals were generally ready to fight to the last man standing in Japan, until the Emperor said no.
Tibbets, a 30-year-old colonel at the time, and his crew of 13 dropped the five-ton “Little Boy” bomb over Hiroshima the morning of Aug. 6, 1945. The blast killed or injured at least 140,000.
I’m not sure what that phrase means, “or injured.” Today it means a broken fingernail, but then it was more significant, as the WaTimes coverage clarifies quoting Tibbets,
“I remind you, we were at war. Our job was to win. Once the targets were named and presidential approval received, we were to deliver the weapon as expeditiously as possible consistent with good tactics,” Gen. Tibbets once recalled. “The objective was to stop the fighting, thereby saving further loss of life on both sides.”
Estimates of deaths in Hiroshima top 140,000 within one year of the blast, which rose up in a massive mushroom of smoke and fire, the shape and image itself destined to become a visceral cultural icon in the years to come. The U.S. dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki 72 hours later; the Japanese surrendered shortly thereafter, ending the war.
“It did in fact end the war,” said Morris Jeppson, the officer who armed the bomb during the Hiroshima flight. “Ending the war saved a lot of U.S. armed forces and Japanese civilians and military. History has shown there was no need to criticize him.”
Former U.S. Sen. John Glenn, a former Marine fighter pilot, said people who criticized Tibbets for piloting the plane that dropped the bomb failed to recognize that an allied invasion of Japan, which the bomb helped avert, would have resulted in the deaths of several million people.
“It wasn’t his decision. It was a presidential decision, and he was an officer that carried out his duty,” Glenn said. “It’s a horrible weapon, but war is pretty horrible, too.”
Tibbets said in 2005 that after the war he was dogged by rumors claiming he was in prison or had committed suicide.
“They said I was crazy, said I was a drunkard, in and out of institutions,” he said. “At the time, I was running the National Crisis Center at the Pentagon.”
The difference to today is that the military would have a dozen Colonels/Captains, and a General/Admiral in charge for a similar program – and I’d guess there were more generals then.
Author Richard Rhodes said Tibbets’ feelings about the bombing he helped plan embodied public opinion at the time.
“He was so characteristic of that generation. He was a man who took great pride in what he did during the war, including the atomic bombing,” said Rhodes, who wrote “The Making of the Atomic Bomb.”
“It’s hard for people today to think about the atomic bombings without feeling they were just out and out atrocities, but people at the time had a very different sense of what they needed to do,” Rhodes said
An exceptional man — Colonel at 30 (even Lt Colonel at 30 is an achievement).
For details on his long Air Force career, see his updated USAF bio He was in the Air Force (Army Air Corps) for almost 20 years after Hiroshima including several major commands, but he is known only for one event.
And via DefenseTech comments, I find this link for his interview with Studs Terkel
Note: I have been at ground zero in Nagasaki.