The New York Times minimizes the role of the atomic bomb - and thus the heroism of Gen. Paul Tibbets - in his obituary today.
Brig. Gen. Paul W. Tibbets Jr., the commander and pilot of the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in the final days of World War II, died yesterday at his home in Columbus, Ohio. He was 92....
The crews who flew the atomic strikes were seen by Americans as saviors who had averted the huge casualties that were expected to result from an invasion of Japan. But questions were eventually raised concerning the morality of atomic warfare and the need for the Truman administration to drop the bomb in order to secure Japan’s surrender.
TheTimes says, "...in the final days of Work War II," as though one had nothing to do with the other. The reason they were the final days of the war is because Tibbets flew that plane.
In fact, serious historians don't question the role of the bomb in ending the war at that point. Even after the two bombs dropped, the Japanese cabinet deadlocked on surrender, only agreeing after the Emperor himself intervened to end the bloodshed. And even then, the surrender was broadcast only after the derailing of a plot to steal the recording.
As for the statement that Tibbets wanted to be cremated in order to deprive his critics of a site to protest, the reality appears a little more, nuanced, than that. This, from Bob Greene's 2000 book, Duty:
"I wouldn't want to be a burden on anybody, and I don't intend to."
"I want to be cremated as fast as the law allows it," he said. "No services. No announcement."
"What do you mean, no announcement?" I said.
"I don't want anyone telling people that I'm dead," he said. "I don't want my friends fretting over me. Memorial services are to pacify the survivors. I don't need to pacify anyone. They can think nice things about be if they want. They don't need a guy in a cloak standing there."
"You've got to have a funeral service," I said.
"No, I don't," he said. "I've listened to too many of them. They're upsetting to me. The weeping wailing attitude."
"People cry at funerals for a reason," I said. "They cry because they're going to miss the person who has died."
"Not for me," he said. "I won't have one."
"I've had enough notice during my lifetime as it is," he said. "I've had enough hoorah,and enough of the opposite....
"Cremate me and take my ashes out over the North Atlantic before anyone finds out that I'm gone. Dump the ashes into the ocean. ...that's where I've had some of the most peaceful moments ofmy life, flying a plane alone, over the North Atlantic. That's where I want to finish up. With no one knowing."
I'm sure the family knew his reasons, and it certainly looks as though the desire to avoid stupid protests is one of them. But it also looks as though only quoting that as the reason over-simplifies, and again, focuses on the controversy at the expense of the heroism.