That Awful Thing

It’s raining again today, as it has for much of this summer. So instead of trudging around in the mud all day, questing for corn, spuds and the rest, my attention turns briefly to finding a topic timely and perhaps of interest to the reader.

As we approach the end of summer September beckons and with it another anniversary of my birth on the 1st of that 9th month in 1945. About three weeks prior to my howling entry into this world the United States had dropped atomic bombs on civilian populations in Japan. The cover-story was that “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” had shortened a war just ended before I plopped out into the waiting hands of Doctor Sargent Jealous.

All I know about that war is what I’ve read. At its end, the public was urged to move-on. “When Americans opened their newspapers each morning, they …. saw news of the homecomings of American troops….” (Town & Country, 8/4/20, “The Secret History of Journalism’s Biggest Scoop”)

Media stories focused on the military triumph with the establishment of a “victor’s peace,” war crimes trials for the defeated, and what they called a global “Pax  Americana”—— Nearly 800 US military bases in more than 70 countries. We’re still paying for that today. It’s all taken as a given and quite  unremarkable even as life expectancy here declines, our cultural and physical infrastructure crumbles, and countless “shiny objects” distract our downwardly-mobile population. During my life we’ve been at war somewhere or other most of the time. But that’s another story. Sort of.

While Americans are routinely bamboozled about the rumored  nefarious intentions of foreign nations and their “autocratic” leaders, the fact remains that the United States is the only nation ever to drop atomic bombs with cold and calculated intent on a civilian population. There’s really no other way to spin that, although our betters have spent 78 years trying.

Recently they’ve even made a movie about the bomb’s development—or at least the guy in charge, one J. Robert Oppenheimer. Anna Schumann, Communications Director of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation commented, “This film provides the lowest barrier to entry to interest in nuclear weapons issues that I could ever hope for in a movie of this kind.” Or, one could skip the whole thing, Just catch Barbie and pass on the “enheimer” part——low barrier not withstanding. You know….. save your Ken-ergy.

Of course there’s much in the historical record that contradicts the conventional wisdom about the use of the bombs and the stated justifications presented to school kids ever since; no less a military man than former General/ President Dwight Eisenhower, for example.  In a Newsweek interview (“Ike on Ike,” Nov. 11, 1963) he recalled a meeting with Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson: “So then he told me they were going to drop it on the Japanese. Well I listened, and I didn’t volunteer anything because, after all, my war was over in Europe, and it wasn’t up to me. But I was getting more and more depressed just thinking about it. Then he asked for my opinion, so I told him I was against it on two counts. First, the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing. Second, I hated see our country be the first to use such a weapon….”

But of course, use them we did and when kids of my generation went to school in the 50s we practiced “air raid drills” during which we marched to “shelters,” or over at Washington Street school (now a parking lot), my classmates and I dived under our desks in “Duck and Cover” rituals. Thus was the specter of nuclear war made to appear “thinkable”—— even routine. Perverse but true. And frankly, quite insane.

In those days, before the advent of digital distraction devices we played outside as the radioactive dust from open air testing of ever more powerful nuclear bombs drifted overhead and settled out on the fields where we tussled. It fell with the rain and gathered on the crops we ate and the grass fed to the region’s cattle. When the local dairy’s heavy glass milk bottles were delivered to the door back then they carried Strontium 90 as well as milk protein. Ditto the cardboard containers of milk distributed at the school (where we ducked and covered).

But decades later (2017) when Nobel Peace Prize winner, president, and David Geffen’s favorite mega-yacht-buddy  Barack Obama announced his plan to spend a trillion dollars “modernizing” the American nuclear  arsenal there was (of course) little dissent. Apparently we have well-and-truly learned to love the bomb.

Passing strange, this.

Perhaps a Ken-igma.

More likely——continuing Barb-arism.

Richard Rhames is a dirt-farmer in Biddeford, Maine (just north of the Kennebunkport town line). He can be reached at: