Reading a brief item Thursday night about the death of retired Brigadier General Paul Tibbets, pilot of the Enola Gay, NBC's Brian Williams noted that “he requested there be no funeral, no headstone left behind, so there would be no place for his detractors to protest.” Interestingly, just over two years ago, Williams himself conveyed the very line of attack on the Enola Gay crew which so upset Tibbets: that they should be remorseful for dropping an atom bomb.
To mark the 60th anniversary of the Enola Gay dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, Brian Williams went to the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum annex near Dulles Airport -- where the plane is on display -- to talk to the plane's navigator, Dutch Van Kirk. Williams asked: “Do you have remorse for what happened? How do you deal with that in your mind?” Van Kirk indignantly replied: “No, I do not have remorse...”
The item read by Williams on the November 1 NBC Nightly News:
From Columbus, Ohio, tonight, news that the commander and the pilot of the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima in the last days of World War II has died. Brigadier General Paul Tibbets had recently been in poor health. Like millions of his generation, General Tibbets never questioned his wartime mission. But tonight a friend reports, he requested there be no funeral, no headstone left behind, so there would be no place for his detractors to protest. General Paul Tibbets was 92 years old.
The AP obituary, by Julie Carr Smyth, recounted Tibbets' view on what he did and criticism of it:
Throughout his life, Tibbets seemed more troubled by other people's objections to the bomb than by him having led the crew that killed tens of thousands of Japanese in a single stroke. The attack marked the beginning of the end of World War II.
Tibbets grew tired of criticism for delivering the first nuclear weapon used in wartime, telling family and friends that he wanted no funeral service or headstone because he feared a burial site would only give detractors a place to protest.
The Washington Post's obituary for Tibbets, by Adam Bernstein, recalled his anger at a planned 1995 Smithsonian exhibit:
Gen. Tibbets was angered by the planned 50th anniversary exhibit of the Enola Gay at the Smithsonian Institution, which included a long explanation of the suffering caused by the atomic attacks. He and veterans groups said there was not enough about Japanese villainy during the war. The Smithsonian exhibit, at the National Air and Space Museum, went ahead without commentary or analysis.
Speaking of that Smithsonian controversy, a trip down memory lane with an excerpt from the MRC's “Janet Cooke Award” in the August of 1995 issue of our old MediaWatch newsletter:
ABC Special Contends U.S. Dropped the Bomb Unnecessarily to Stoke the Cold War
Professor Jennings' Fractured Fairy Tale
The Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum is currently exhibiting a newly refurbished Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima 50 years ago. But the museum's curators originally planned a confessional exhibit, displaying America's guilt and Japan's innocence in World War II. One museum passage would have read that for Americans, fighting Japan was "a war of vengeance. For most Japanese, it was a war to defend their unique culture against Western imperialism."
That canceled leftist exhibit in a tax-funded museum became the center of ABC's July 27 Peter Jennings Reporting 90-minute special, "Hiroshima: Why the Bomb Was Dropped." ABC told viewers U.S. officials overstated the casualty estimates of an invasion of Japan; that the Allied demand for the dumping of the Japanese emperor delayed an imminent surrender; and that the U.S. dropped the bomb not to save lives, but to play a cynical Cold War game of intimidating the Soviets. For presenting a one-sided version of revisionist history much like the rejected exhibit, ABC earned the August Janet Cooke Award.
Jennings began by mourning the original Smithsonian vision, implying that the facts were no match for the politicians: "Many veterans insisted that by dropping the bomb, the U.S. avoided a ground invasion of the Japanese mainland. One million lives, they argued, had been saved. But when the Smithsonian responded that such a claim had no historical basis, the vets went to Capitol Hill. Eighty-one Congressmen took up their cause....the Smithsonian bent to pressure....There would be nothing on the decision to drop the bomb and there would be no pictures of the victims."...
Jennings ended the show with a gripe: "It's unfortunate, we think, that some veterans' organizations and some politicians felt the need to bully our most important national museum, so the whole story of Hiroshima is not represented here. That is not fair to history or to the rest of us. After all, freedom of discussion was one of the ideals that Americans fought and died for." ABC failed to air a free discussion....
A transcript of the second half of the August 5, 2005 NBC Nightly News story, picking up after Van Kirk offered some recollections of what he saw:
WILLIAMS INTONED, OVER VIDEO OF THE DEVASTATION AND INJURED CHILDREN: 70,000 people in the city of Hiroshima were killed instantly. The lingering radiation killed 70,000 more over the next five years. But Dutch and his fellow crew members will have none of the controversy surrounding the bomb. They point out that the firebombing of Japanese cities earlier in the war killed four times as many people. It's widely believed the U.S. would have invaded Japan, and that the Japanese would have fought to the very end.
WILLIAMS TO VAN KIRK AS THE TWO STOOD NEXT TO THE ENOLA GAY: You just told me the story about one photograph from the war that always kind of catches you, the Japanese soldier returning to his city that's been destroyed. Do you have remorse for what happened? How do you deal with that in your mind?
VAN KIRK REPLIED EMPHATICALLY: No, I do not have remorse. I pity the people who were there. I always think of it, Brian, as being, the dropping of the atom bomb was an act of war to end a war.
That ended the NBC story.