by Bruce Patterson, November 11, 2010
You never know what will stick in your memory. Some years ago I heard on TV the news that the last surviving crew member of the Enola Gay that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima had dropped dead. The TV man told how, when asked if he’d ever lost any sleep over having helped massacre tens of thousands of helpless civilians, the fellah replied that he never gave it a second thought. “Water off a duck,” he may as well have said.
Of course, the TV story ended there. Yet I wondered: Could it be true? I imagined the old coot saying something like, “They bombed Pearl Harbor, didn’t they? They were Japs, weren’t they?” Yet, to put it in perspective, after 50 million people have been butchered — the vast majority helpless civilians — what was 100,000 more? When you could end the war with one, or two, purifying flashes of lethal light, why wouldn’t you?
After spending WWII as an Air Force flight instructor (B-17s, B-24s), my dad landed in Munich shortly after the collapse of the Nazi regime. Thousands of civilians were still buried under the bombed out rubble of the city, and the stench of their rotting bodies carried on the breeze. My dad toured the Dachau slave labor camp and that, too, was a bone chilling experience. But what had impressed him most was how during his stay he never once met a single German who had anything against Jews or their fellow travelers — much less Americans. Although my dad was confident that if you took one of those Germans, put a pistol to his head and told him he’d either explain why he did it or meet his maker, through clenched teeth he’d snarl, “They were Jews, weren’t they?”
Right wing historians enjoy pointing out that, although in 1914 the European industrial working classes were staunchly “International Socialist,” once Nationalism’s bugles blared, they happily took up arms and set about slaughtering each other. They kept it up for years, too, since you can’t quit an army. As a result, only after a generation of young able-bodied European males had been annihilated, and the various civilian populations were teetering on the edge of mass starvation, did The Great War sputter to its profane and obscene end. And then, as soon as the European Powers had grown up a new generation of young, able-bodied males, they did it again. Only this time it’d be Total War, a war of extermination, and the wholesale slaughter of civilians seen as the noblest — cheapest — way to achieve total military victory. When it came to military terror campaigns launched against civilians, the Great War’s Kings, Emperors, Field Marshals and Tsars couldn’t hold a candle to their sons.
“Who remembers the Armenians?” Adolph Hitler was fond of asking, confident that no one would remember the Jews once, with a helpful little nudge, they’d passed into history. Hitler wasn’t far off the mark, either. How many Americans remember the Creek or Shawnee, the Nez Perce or Cheyenne? How many Americans remember the saturation bombings of Laos and Cambodia or the My Lai Massacre? The Germans didn’t invent wars of extermination; they didn’t even invent European Fascism. And that raises a question: did the Fascist armies, militias and lynch mobs that rose up out of virtually every province of every country in continental Europe cease to be Christians? Even though one of their specialties was putting babies to the bayonet (it saved bullets and made less of a mess), did that mean they’d repudiated God? Or, in their minds, was God on their side?
How about those who rule America’s global war machine today? They have publicly dedicated themselves to “reinventing war for the 21st Century,” they have done so, and their plentiful fruits are plain to see. The price tag is posted in plain view across the planet and the debt has yet to be repaid. Still, day by day and around the clock, their multiple wars and endless preparations for even more wars spin like a toy top having perpetual motion but no audience or purpose. Is God on their side? Yes, absolutely, they think in their minds. They’ve never given it a second thought.
When, as an old man, Albert Einstein was asked to predict the sorts of weapons the Third World War would be fought with, he claimed to have no idea. But he was certain of the weapons that would be used during the Fourth World War. When asked what those weapons might be, Einstein answered, “sticks and stones.”
Veterans Day, a day of mourning.