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71 years ago this week, the United States dropped nuclear bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing at least 129,000 people.
Breathe that one in for a moment.
Yes…I’m aware this brought a swift end to six long and miserable years of WWII where a staggering 60 million people lost their lives.
My own grandfather served at Okinawa and – who knows – perhaps if the war had continued he wouldn’t have come home and you wouldn’t be reading this now.
It is not my intention to debate the bombing itself, but to acknowledge a core truth within the famous quote that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
This is the value of anniversaries, by the way. They give us a reason to pause and revisit lessons of the past. In turn, I believe it’s not only our job to hold these lessons with reverence, but to pass them on to our children so they do not repeat our mistakes.
This is also why we must not be afraid to look at our own history – even if we find it uncomfortable.
I was inspired to write about Hiroshima and Nagasaki after reading an Atlantic article about Leona Libby, a physicist on the Manhattan Project. When it came to building a weapon capable of so much destruction, Libby was described as being “unconflicted” about her role given the fear that Germany would develop a nuclear bomb first.
“I have no regrets,” she said. “When you’re in a war to the death, I don’t think you stand around and say, ‘Is it right?’”
Is it just me, or does this sound eerily like the run up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003? Looking back, it’s clear that in the wake of 9/11 too many of us were bent on revenge and too few of us were stopping to ask “Is this right?”
But, then again, nothing clouds perspective like fear.
It’s not for me to say whether the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki or the “shock and awe” of Iraq were morally justified. I will say, however, that they hurt my heart. And given that we are all keepers of the lessons of our time, they should hurt all of our hearts.
There’s a deep sadness about war that should lie ambient in us always. If we forget this sadness it’s too easy to get swept up in the fear.
Obviously, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t face the evils of our time, only that we will be better served in the long run if we ask ourselves “Is this right?” at every turn.
When our strength is matched by our kindness, perhaps then the world will know peace.