Paul Tibbets was a hero who helped to bring World War II to an end. Tibbets commanded the bomber Enola Gay, which dropped the "Little Boy" atomic bomb over Hiroshima Japan. Americans should honor Paul Tibbets, because his service on August 6, 1945 likely saved a million American soldiers from maiming or death.
Tibbets also saved countless Japanese, more than a million, who would have died fighting to support a fascist government against vastly superior American and Soviet forces had an amphibious invasion been necessary. For the survivors a post-invasion Japan, like Germany and Korea, would have been divided into American and Soviet spheres of influence, hardening into separate governments, backed or ruled by foreign troops facing one another over a DMZ. The Soviet sphere would have contained a Gulag. The American sphere might have developed a democratic government like that of West Germany, or it might have been ruled by a military oligarchy as South Korea was until the 1970s. Either way, the survivors, north and south, would have faced the prospect of living on divided land with nuclear weapons pointed at them in each direction.
So we should honor and respect Paul Tibbets. His son James Tibbets, may be another story.
The son of the U.S. Air Force pilot who dropped the first atomic bomb in the history of warfare says the Obama administration's decision to send a U.S. delegation to a ceremony in Japan to mark the 65th anniversary of the attack on Hiroshima is an "unsaid apology" and appears to be an attempt to "rewrite history."
James Tibbets, son of Brig. Gen. Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., says Friday's visit to Hiroshima by U.S. Ambassador John Roos is an act of contrition that his late father would never have approved.
"It's an unsaid apology," Tibbets, 66, told FoxNews.com from his home in Georgiana, Ala. "Why wouldn't it be? Why would [Roos] go? It doesn't make any sense.
"I know it's the anniversary, but I don't know what the hell they're trying to do. It needs to be left alone. The war is over."
With respect to Mr. Tibbets, the war isn't over. Not for the people who survived the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which only happened 65 years ago. Nor for their families, who've lost parents and relatives to cancer and may carry the scars themselves, in their own genetic codes. Nor for Japan, which still carries scars from the attacks.
Were the scars deserved? Well, if we believe in collective guilt, sure. Japan, as a nation, surely asked for August 6, 1945 on December 7, 1941.
But America isn't a nation founded on notions like collective guilt and punishment. The American ideal, at least the one to which I subscribe, is an individualistic one. People are judged on their own merits. We don't punish the families of the guilty. We don't brand them as "subversive elements" or gloat when tragedy befalls them. Similarly, with a few exceptions, we don't give special privilege to the families of the powerful and successful. We are not a collective. We do not enshrine class into law.
That would be un-American.
And so, to me, it seems proper that we send a representative to Japan to mark a tragedy in living Japanese history, even if it was a tragedy of the Japanese government's making. That government is gone. Its leaders died on the gallows. Japan is not an enemy nation. 65 years after Hiroshima, Japan is a friend to America.
To memorialize a tragedy is not to apologize for wrongdoing. Another American virtue, at least in the America where I live, is that we are a forgiving people. Old enemies, such as Britain, for over a century the greatest threat to this country, become friends. As has Japan. As have almost almost a third of the American population.
If you visit the town of Gettysburg Pennsylvania, and drive a little distance into the battlefield, you will see many monuments. A number of them look like this one:
There is no doubt that soldiers who fought under the flags of North Carolina and the Confederacy posed a greater existential threat to the United States than the soldiers of imperial Japan ever did. Yet the field of battle on which they were beaten contains multiple monuments to North Carolina's war dead, as well as to those of other Confederate states. And visitors to the Gettysburg cemetery and battlefield show those dead as much respect as they do to Union dead, even when the visitors come from Wisconsin or Massachusetts.
Similarly, though Japan isn't part of the United States, we should respect the innocent who died or were ruined at Hiroshima, for innocent they were. It isn't an apology to respect the dead, and one of the ways that governments show respect is to send diplomats to memorial ceremonies.
James Tibbets is an American, and he has the right to speak his mind, but he didn't fight against Japan any more than I did. His descent from a famous man gives him no moral authority. He is not a hereditary war hero. His father's courage and service won't be lessened one bit by a diplomatic visit to a ceremony for the dead.
And while I can excuse James Tibbets for his strong feelings about Hiroshima, for Fox News to use him in the pursuit of its own political war against a President who is merely following the historic American practice of reaching out to defeated enemies, who are now friends, is shameful.