Friday, August 6, 2010
TOO SOON? THE HIROSHIMA REENACTMENT INCIDENT
Until the day he died, Paul W. Tibbets was adamant that he never had any regrets or even second thoughts about his role in ushering in the age of atomic warfare over the skies of Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945. The retired Air Force general reaffirmed his unwavering support of the decision to use the bomb some thirty years later in a unique and monumentally ill-advised stunt. On Saturday, October 10, 1976, Tibbets reenacted his historic Enola Gay mission—complete with a simulated atomic explosion—for a paying crowd of 40,000 people in Harlingen, Texas. He repeated the flight two more times the next day. Instead of the Enola Gay, named in honor of his mother, Tibbets flew “Fifi,” a restored B-29 Superfortress named after the co-pilot’s girlfriend.
The purpose of the faux atomic sorties was to help raise funds for a World War II aircraft preservation group called the Confederate Air Force (now known by their less controversial name, the Commemorative Air Force). The non-profit CAF may have sponsored the event, but, shockingly, the U.S. Army supplied a detonation team to help out with the “atomic-bomb simulator,” described in the press reports at the time as “a barrel of explosives” that produced the mushroom-shaped cloud money shot.
The public address script for the re-enactment included the following text heard by the assembled crowd at Rebel Field in Harlingen: “As the B-29 approaches, the explosion of the atomic bomb goes off, ending some of the darkest days in American history…”
In evaluating the stress levels involved in the Enola Gay mission versus the decidedly less deadly Fifi bombing runs, Tibbets told the Associated Press: “There certainly wasn’t as much to worry about compared to 1945.” The pilot then added: “I was not emotionally involved in the dropping of the first atomic bomb. To me, it was a military mission and I was relieved after it was over that it was a success. I’ve never lost a moment’s sleep over the fact that I commanded the bombing…” The AP reporter apparently did not ask the logical follow-up question, "So, in essence, you feel exactly the same now as you did then?"
Of course, after news of the Texas air show’s peculiar main attraction hit the wires, it did not take long for the people of Japan to react. They were, quite understandably, furious.
The Mayor of Hiroshima, Takeshi Araki, who, at first could not believe the incident really occurred, called the re-enactment “a blasphemy” and “grotesque.” In a later press release he wrote that he would tell the organizers of the air show that “What you have done insults the Japanese people who suffered from the bomb. I feel real rage and we shall protest to the U.S. government and all concerned.”
Foreign Minister Zentaro Kosaka was more reserved in his condemnation: “A bomb and a mushroom-shaped cloud is a real nightmare for the Japanese. Although it was a civilian air show, I cannot refrain from feeling badly. They lacked consideration for the feelings of others.”
Hisako Tanaka, a 28-year-old woman in Tokyo, told the Washington Post: “I’m really angry. It’s ridiculous, racist and discriminatory. I’m really surprised that people like that still exist in the states.”
Juro Ikeyama, an official of the Japanese Congress Against Atom and Hydrogen Bombs told the Post that he “trembled” when heard about the air show. “Our effort to make the world aware of the consequences of atomic warfare have plainly been inadequate. We must do more. The American people have no guilty conscience. If you knew the consequences of what you have done, this demonstration would have been impossible.”
The president of the same organization, Ichiro Mortake, sent a cablegram to the Confederate Air Force calling the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki a “historical crime to mankind” and demanded that the group never again stage such a re-enactment.
On October 14, 1976, the U.S. Embassy in Japan issued an apology for the bad taste displayed by the persons responsible for the Texas air show. The Washington Post quoted unnamed sources describing Embassy officials as being “appalled” by the re-enactment and, especially, the reported involvement of U.S. military staff.
Col. Glenn Bercot, spokesman for the Confederate Air Force, reacted to the international incident that his group had created by stating:
“All we’re doing here is recreating the historic air battles of World War II with the aircraft we have. We are not trying to glamorize it in any way, but to show something solemn…”
A ranking Japanese diplomat had already anticipated that kind of tone deaf excuse and had, the previous day, compared his country’s dismay over the Hiroshima reenactment to how Americans might feel if Japanese veterans restaged the Bataan death march.
The CAF’s last word on the matter was a press statement that concluded:
“We feel that this demonstration was altogether proper and presented in an appropriate manner. We do not owe an apology to anyone.”
Paul Tibbets was smart enough to reserve his comments on the incident for his 1978 autobiography, but they were no less combative. On page 306 of The Tibbets Story, the controversial pilot took a delayed swipe at the man who had protested the reenactment to the CAF. Tibbets suggested that Ichiro Mortake “might not be alive today, to lead his protest group, had it not been for the atom bombs [that ended World War II].
To the best of our knowledge, there has never been another Hiroshima recreation, but Fifi still flies…
The Tibbets Story [New York: Stein and Day, 1978] by Paul W. Tibbets, Jr.
MAGAZINE / NEWSPAPER ARTICLES
“Hiroshima Bombing Re-Enacted Sunday,” The Post Tribune (Jefferson City, MO) via AP, October 11, 1976
“Hiroshima Reenactment In Texas Angers Japan,” The Midland (TX) Reporter-Telegram, via Washington Post, October 14, 1976
“U.S. Apologizes To Japan For A-Bomb Reenactment,” The Galveston (TX) Daily News via UPI, October 15, 1976