Monday, October 12, 2009

That day a hero was born.

Paul couldn’t really say for how long he was flying the thick white clouds spread like a carpet beneath and it stretched as far as his eyes could see. And the unchanging view kind of blurred his ability to comprehend the speed of his B-29. He left the plane to its course he knew there was some time till he reached his specified target. He checked over his shoulders to see if Charles was there at his side. Yes Charles was flying the other B-29 sent along with his; there like a trusted friend. “Charles Sweeny, Trusted friend indeed”, he thought. He knew that Charles was there just to ensure that he did his job right. The young major was a rookie compared to him. How dare they send this boy to keep an eye him, Commander of the 509th composite group, Colonel Paul Tibbets. But then again perhaps they were right. He had been having all these thoughts about the rights and wrongs of his actions for some time now. And more, ever since Secretary Stimson himself had called him up to congratulate him on his selection for the great privilege.

He had no doubts about it. There are no just and wrong parties in a war. A war is much too complex to have such black and white distinctions. He himself had seen the way his colleagues used to treat the Philipino women in Clark Air base where he was stationed last year. When Secretary of State Paulson camped in Guam he himself had arranged in extreme secrecy for three women for the Secretary’s entertainment. And two days later he had come to know that the girls were quietly disposed off. Apparently the Allied propaganda machines didn’t want a blotch on the records of the much decorated four-star General. The media men were there everywhere. There were times in the battle fields when he felt that the battles were fought more for the photo-opps than for anything else. And these photos would be splashed across the front page of papers all over America by the end of the week. And that would create a spurt in the sale of war bonds. The realities that you face every second, in the center of the battle were ones that questioned your faith. Faith in God, Faith in his country and above all faith in himself. But still despite everything he believed in the American cause as he did in the integrity of President Truman. He believed that God is with this great nation and that in the end when judgment day comes the just shall be separated out from the evil. But today what he somehow seemed to lack was faith in himself.

The true implications of Secretary Stimson’s call a few days back hadn’t dawned on him when he thanked him and put the phone down. It was indeed a privilege. In a way this ensures that he won’t go down in history’s account book as a mere number. He wouldn’t have to struggle for the rest of his life as a war veteran as he had seen his father do. His dad had served with the British Army in India during the First World War after which he had migrated to the United States and settled down with his mother. But then was he ready to become a hero. It was an undertaking to be an actor for the rest of his life. His thoughts, beliefs and actions would henceforth be dictated by a propaganda machinery which read the American hearts and minds and knew exactly what had to be fed to them. But he had said thank you like a fool. God Damn you Stimson.

But this was no time to be thinking about that. The faith really needed some reinforcement. He was no longer sure what was right and wrong and he looked above for a sign. It was just calm blue above. He again said to himself, “There are no just and wrong parties in war”. This time somehow the conviction seemed a bit deteriorated. He again tried to convince himself this is for a greater good. In a way you are freeing them from the clutches of a stifling autocracy and an even more suffocating life. But what if all that is just what the government wants you to believe. Aren’t they too living breathing people with as much emotions in their heart as he? But even otherwise as his dad often used to say, “Every moment in this world is a cruel torture, a punishment for sins committed in this life and before”. The conflicts of beliefs implanted by his Lutheran mother and karmic-yogic father were a constant theme in his thoughts. If with one press of a button you could end the suffering in the world would you not do it, he argued.

He checked the watch. It was nearly five hours since they took off from Tinian. The plane held a steady course north east, 8000 feet above sea level, at a speed of around four hundred knots. That meant just a little less than an hour to go. The pocket watch that he kept in a chain around his neck had a picture of Angelle on its flap. He wished he could have discussed this with her. But that would be breach of protocol. He was much too professional to do things like that. But then again he knew what she would have said. The same thing that his mind was telling him now, “Answer the call of duty”. But Angelle, what about all the children. Hundreds perhaps thousands like our Catherine and Jennifer.

His thought was broken by the voice over the speaker phone. It was his assistant 2nd Lt. Morris Jeppson. “Unit Armed Colonel. All systems go”. Jeppson was a cold soldier. In all their years together he had never seen him show a slight sign of emotion. And he had risen swiftly through the ranks. Emotionless – perhaps that was how the American Government wanted its soldiers to be. Hmm. His thoughts returned again to Angelle, Cathy and Jenny. They needed him to return to them after the war was over. It soon would be. But would he be the same person when he gets back. Is a hero what Jenny and Cathy needs in a dad? And Angelle? At least she would be proud of him. But something in his head told him she wouldn’t be.

“Colonel, Anything wrong Colonel. We are right above ground zero. Tinian has given the go ahead to deploy in thirty seconds. Press the button Colonel”, that was Jeppson.

Paul stood up, his face in cold determination. But before he could say anything, Jeppson said “Press the damn button Colonel”. His heavy hand pushed Paul down to his seat and with his other hand reached over and pressed the Release button. A brief beep confirmed the initiation of the release process. Jeppson smiled and said, “Great job Colonel, you did it”.

For moments Paul didn’t know what to do. He could hear exalted voices from the back of the place. He lifted the mike and talked to his commander at the base in Tinian. “Enola Gay to base. ‘Little Boy’ has been deployed. I repeat, ‘Little Boy’ has been deployed”

Fifty six seconds later when Little Boy kissed the ground at Hiroshima, a hero was born and about seventy thousand died.

“But Angelle, I wasn’t the one who dropped the Boy”.

PS: I guess an Atom is just too big a thing for human beings to be playing with.

PPS: All situations imaginary and doesn’t have any bearing to the actual events that unfolded over Hiroshima on August 6th 1945. O.K, a little bit.

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