Don’t you ever forget/don’t you ever fucking forget
So went the song Hiroshima by Todd Rundgren’s on again/off again project, Utopia, from one their album Ra, which was released sometime in the late ‘70’s. Todd Rundgren, who did a lot more than Hello It’s Me, was one of Mom’s favorites all throughout the 70’s and 80’s. As I was growing up with her, a lot of his songs became the soundtrack of my youth. I liked Todd too, and still do, even though he’s always had what I consider to be an oddly flat voice. The guy has always been a musical virtuoso and pioneer, and if there’s one thing I really respect and enjoy when it comes to music, it’s technical proficiency and the ability to flat out write and play, which, evidently, no one that approaches the Top 40 (is there such a thing still?) does anymore. It also explains why I like the band Rush so much and have no idea why they are the dread of so many people.
Anyway, this album Ra was certainly one of Todd’s lousier efforts. I would give Todd the benefit of the doubt by assigning its mediocrity to that same drug-era hangover that afflicted so many artists during that same time period. It was a concept album in which he and his bandmates made a half-hearted parody of a concept album, by way of creating and slapping together songs that were semi-serious. I liked it when it came out, but that’s probably because I was 8 or 9 years old, and it had a lot of synthesizer effects that were brand new technology at the time. Being as this was released a couple of years after Star Wars, that was a big deal to me, and the few fanatical Todd fans that had the album.
Hiroshima was about, of course, the bombing of that city and Nagasaki, in which brand new technology at that time, nuclear fission, was used to incinerate, blast, burn, char, and irradiate two large cities and roughly 300,000 people. It’s a sloppy piece, complete with sound effects (which I don’t believe belong in any song), and it’s completely corny and trite. It paints a picture in which a battered people are punished by a nation that is technologically more advanced, out of spite and in a spirit of Christian revenge, for crimes that relatively few of their more fanatical countrymen have committed, and how this inhumane act of dropping the only two nuclear weapons must never be forgotten.
That all made sense to me…as a 9 year-old kid, who was living under the assumption that at any given moment, ICBMs and their multiple warhead payloads would come raining down on our cities, courtesy of our friends in the Soviet Union, and we’d return the favor simultaneously, and everyone would end up melting on the floor like candle wax.
However, as a somewhat literate, thinking adult, as a person that’s actually even gone so far as to try and learn a little bit about history, that scenario isn’t recognizable on the face of it. I learned early on that during the Pacific campaign that the Japanese just would not quit, even when the outcome of the war was inevitable, and that while dropping Fat Man and Little Boy certainly visited horrors not yet known to humanity upon Japanese civilians, those acts spared the greater horror of invading the Japanese mainland. Everybody knows this nowadays.
(Well, I thought that everyone did. Apparently, there are grown-ups that do not understand, or most likely choose to ignore this. I have no idea how these truths evade certain people, no matter what sort of revisionist history they might have read, no matter just how much their emotions reign over common sense and comprehension of facts.)
So this song, Hiroshima, which was and is completely forgettable, comes to mind these days for a couple of reasons. For one, I’ve been watching the excellent 10-part series on The History Channel called WWII In HD, which follows the stories of a dozen men and women that served or reported on the war in both the European and Pacific theaters.
Their experiences are relayed in the first person, and are taken from either what they wrote down at the time, or as recalled later in life. Not all of these veterans were still alive at the time of production, but the hardships that these people suffered are unimaginable, even when the recollections of them are supplemented by color film. In fact, the sacrifices that these folks made are more evident in their faces, recounting these things as elderlies, than in any kind of footage. This might seem to be a ridiculous observation, but these are old men that have lived entire lives, in their late 80’s, who have seen everything. To see them tell of what they did and saw as kids, really, and to have the reactions that they do on camera is sobering, alarming and edifying.
Nowhere did American troops suffer more casualties than fighting island to island, atoll to atoll in the Pacific, pushing the Japanese military ever back. Most of these deaths, disfigurements, and life-altering woundings had nothing to do with who was going to win or lose. The war was decided fairly early on. Japan was going to lose. Yet, because of some cultural quirk, something in Japanese society that that devalued life relative to national pride, which was somehow mixed into their religion, the Japanese went about dedicated strategies to kill as many of the Americans as possible, and the only way to go about that was through self-immolation, island to island, atoll to atoll.
You don’t plan an invasion of the Japanese homeland over the course of a couple of weeks. Those plans are years in the making, and at the time that the invasion would have come about, plans for the invasion of Japan proper involved over 5 million Allied troops. Casualty estimates at the time for such an invasion were 1 million. 1 million! 1,000,000.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki were acts of self-immolation.
That’s been clear to me for years. It was clear to Kurt Vonnegut, who’s emotional crippling during WWII became a wellspring of literary genius, and also resulted in unflattering opinions of his country, and being a far left peacenik in general (which is fine. He served and earned the right to say whatever he liked). Vonnegut said numerous times that, the only people qualified to answer the question of whether or not Hiroshima and Nagasaki should have been bombed, were those that would have died otherwise, during an invasion.
Unqualified though they may be, my opinions on that question have been settled for sometime, but my emotional and philosophical attitudes towards the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have indeed changed, and very recently.
My Grandfather Kosta, is 88 years old, and is recuperating, as much as an 88 year-old can, in a nursing home with a bad hip, ostensibly, though he just seems to be wearing out in general. He’s talking a lot about his youth, and has brought up what he did in WWII, which up until this point, I thought had not been very much. This is not in judgment of anything he chose. What does a 21 year-old get to choose when he’s in the military, in wartime? He goes where he’s assigned.
For every man that saw combat in WWII, there were 5 that did not, instead supporting the war effort in other roles. My grandfather Kosta was one of those in the latter group, spending the war as a cook in Greenvile, SC, at a training base, supporting not just the war effort, but the local economy by way of the local drinking and whoring establishments during the entire war. Or so I thought, until he told me otherwise about two weeks ago.
In late 1945, my grandfather was nowhere near Greenville, or South Carolina, or the United States. He was on a military transport ship, halfway across the Pacific, halfway around the world from the Macedonia from which he’d emigrated 9 years prior, approaching the staging area for the invasion of Japan, in which he was scheduled to participate, along with 5 million of his colleagues, all for no other goddamned reason than the religious nationalism of the Japanese, which blinded them to the possibility of surrender and life after war.
About Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I used to think:
Hey, it’s too bad that war is so awful, and things came to that, but it had to be done in order to avoid countless more deaths. The suffering that innocent people must endure is awful, and humankind’s only hope is to avoid such costly conflicts in the future.
Or something like that. Now, my thoughts are a bit more specific, along the lines of:
Hey, it’s too bad that the Japanese mindset was so medieval and religious; it’s a damned good thing that there were such smart people working so hard to provide courageous men like Paul Tibbets, Jr. and his crew the tools they needed to end it in the Pacific. Had there not been, then so much of what has happened since would not have had a chance to occur. Army Corporals may not have had a chance to return to Columbus, Ohio, and rejoin the family restaurant, taking it over in 1951. They wouldn’t have had a chance to raise three kids, including a daughter that was born in 1951, who then gave birth to me in 1970…
And so on, and so forth, right on up to my children that are now 10 and 7, and sleeping in their beds, in good health, and looking forward to long lives…so I might add to the above, would we have the will to do it again if we had to?