Sep 14th, 2015

Hiroshima & Nagasaki — The Aircrews’ Atomic Dilemma

This past month, a friend shared a story about a man who called a pastor.  He wanted to “vent” because he had learned that several of the crewmembers on the Enola Gay mission professed to be Christians.  He stated that no one that was truly a Christian could have been a part of that mission.  The man raised a question that deserves an answer.

For those that are not familiar, the Enola Gay was the aircraft which dropped the first atomic bomb (Little Boy) on Hiroshima on Aug 6, 1945.  Three days later another crew dropped another atomic bomb (Fat Man) on Nagasaki.  The Japanese surrendered six days later.  Their surrender was signed on September 2, 1945 – 70 years ago.

This was an ethical dilemma for many involved, not just the aircrew.  For example, there were the group of scientists who realized that an atomic weapon may be possible and they came to ask Albert Einstein’s assistance in convincing President Roosevelt to begin a program to develop such a weapon, in the event that the Germans (they were pretty confident) would also be working on such a weapon.  There was the group of scientists who gathered in New Mexico to work on the bomb, among them a family friend of ours, Lan Wong.  Then there was President Truman, who upon taking office after Roosevelt’s death learned of the bomb and then learned that we could likely use it, but should we.  That was his decision.

The aircrews on the Enola Gay and later the Bockscar (which bombed Nagasaki) were way downstream in this decision.  The crew of the Enola Gay could only imagine what such a weapon could do, the crew of the Bockscar knew.  Was it ethical for them to fly, in particular the professing Christians?

One of the biggest factors in Truman’s decision making (and I assume the aircrews’) is that any serious student of history knows that the dropping of the atomic bomb saved millions of American AND Japanese lives.  The Japanese would have lost many more citizens (including civilians) if the allies would have been forced to take each island in tough fighting.  The evidence of Okinawa makes that clear.  Okinawa was not technically part of the Japanese mainland, yet the Japanese fought to the death of thousands of soldiers and civilians to defend it.  Furthermore there is the legacy of previous invasions of the Japanese Islands, all of which had been thwarted, some super naturally, claimed the Japanese.  They felt it was their destiny to have this happen again, should the Americans invade.  The ends do not always justify the means, but in this case, the dropping of the atomic bomb was the best means to save lives.

This entire case highlights the moral and ethical dilemmas, which aircrews, particularly military aircrews, sometimes find themselves in.  The wise pilot has thought through his or her ethical framework before the situation arrives so they are prepared to fly, or refuse to fly, given the circumstances.

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