The first week in August always, always brings with it a time to remember the fifth of the month, in 1945, when America introduced Japan to atomic energy. There's a Peace Memorial located in that nation's city of Hiroshima, below the spot which was designated as Ground Zero, as the "Little Boy" bomb was actually detonated overhead. Last week thousands gathered there for silent prayer, and to hear the Mayor of Hiroshima once more dutifully call for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
Those opposed to the use of nuclear weapons forget, or choose to overlook, that although 140,000 initially died in Hiroshima, followed by 80,000 additional deaths four days later when "Fat Man" destroyed Nagasaki, the use of these weapons actually saved lives.
Conservative estimates of combined total casualties exceeded six million people, had an invasion of Japan's home islands been necessary.
Nine days after the B-29 "Enola Gay," piloted by Paul Tibbets, dropped "Little Boy," Japan capitulated and ended the deadliest war in history.
When those who decry America's use of the atom bomb come up for air, they would do well to give thanks that the USA won the nuclear weapons race, instead of Germany. Nazi scientists had already deployed the world's first intercontinental ballistic missile, the V-1. If they'd had a nuke to ride it, today's world would likely be goose-stepping and celebrating Hitler's birthday as a holiday.
Not far from Japan explosions of a different sort were heard this week as the 2008 Olympics opened in communist China. I still call it "Red China," and lament that so many contemporary citizens seem not to know the story of nationalist China, communist China, the ramifications behind Hong Kong being "given back" to China by the British, why it was such a big deal when President Richard Nixon visited mainland China, who Chiang Kai Shek and Mao Tse Dung were and why the sight of crowds waving "the little red book" brings heartburn to any historically minded American.
One of the more interesting aspects of the Olympics, in my mind, will be how the team from Japan is welcomed in Beijing. Most of the same Japanese who decry America's use of nuclear bombs to bring about the end of World War II conveniently choose to ignore what they term "the Nanking Incident." That's because, to the rest of the world, it's called "the Rape of Nanking." In December 1937, extending into February of 1938 troops of the Imperial Japanese Empire raped, tortured and eventually murdered between 150,000 and 300,000 Chinese civilians. American intelligence documents declassified from "top secret" in 2007 actually add another astonishing 500,000 deaths to the staggering total.
For those who think I'm exaggerating, please pay attention. In the late 1930s China was in the midst of a civil war, split between Chiang Kai Shek, a man who espoused democracy, and Mao Tse Dung, an avowed Communist.
When the Japanese invaded China, seeking to turn the entire southeastern Pacific world into their "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere," and perpetrated the rape of Nanking, Chiang Kai Shek and Mao Tse Dung tabled their own war and combined forces, agreeing to wait until later to settle their own differences.
When the war ended, Mao and his Communist forces forced Chiang and his followers to flee to the island of Formosa, now called Taiwan, where they established Nationalist China.
As "the Nuclear Age" unfolded and Mao aligned himself with the Soviet Union, America refused to recognize Red China as a legitimate government, dealing only through the United Nations with Taiwan's Nationalist China as the real China. President Dwight Eisenhower, a World War II hero, allowed his outspoken vice president, Richard Nixon, to spew the anti-Communist venom. Nixon, in the heyday of the 1950s McCarthy-ism witch hunts for any American displaying Communist tendencies, spewed it so well that, in the end, it was he, alone, who simply had to visit Red China. No other government official would have been able to convince the Communist Chinese of America's genuine hope for a thaw in diplomatic relations.
I watched with great interest as NBC-TV showed Chinese preparations for counteracting terrorism, including impressive displays of surface-to-air missile batteries similar to those which shot down so many American pilots in Vietnam, including 2008 presidential candidate Sen. John McCain.
I couldn't help but wonder if the young Japanese Olympic team members even know of their country's rape of Nanking. In the past, meeting young folks from mainland China, I was astonished to find that they're not taught of the struggle between Chiang Kai Shek and Mao Tse Dung, and they wonder why Taiwan has missiles pointed their way from their island.
But all of that was then, and this is now. Georges Santayana warns that "those who ignore history are doomed to relive it," but maybe a peaceful, joyous 2008 Olympics from the capital of Red China will be a helpful tonic for the world.
For those of us who doubt, however, I'm reminded of the 1960s television show, "Star Trek," which purported to bring hope of a better day, when people from all cultures, all races, all political backgrounds, could peacefully join together to explore that last frontier: space.
Sir Richard Branson, the British billionaire, has aligned himself with American aerospace pioneer, Burt Rutan, and established Virgin Galactic. For merely $200,000 a regular, everyday citizen can sign up for a sub-orbital trip to break the surly bonds of Earth, to boldly go where few men have gone before, to put out their hands and touch the face of God.
Don't laugh, please.
Sir Richard started Virgin Atlantic Airways, expanded it into Virgin America, and has already run successful tests on his spacecraft. 270 folks have forked over the $20,000 deposits on flights which will carry only six passengers, so that all can have, as Sir Richard insists, "a window seat."
NASA, our governmental space agency, will also take private citizens into space. That'll cost you $30 million, however, and you won't accrue frequent flyer miles.
Virgin Galactic: truly a giant leap for mankind.
Nat Harwell is a Newton County resident whose column appears Sundays in The Covington News.