Michael KreponOn Memorial Day, Remembering Mark Hatfield and Others Who Served

Quote of the week:

“People understood that when lives are given on their behalf they have received something precious. Ceremonies are a way to give something precious in return.”
— Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass (2013)

Editor’s note: Dan Caldwell is a superb teacher, a prolific author, and a wonderful friend. At this time of remembrance of those who have served in harm’s way on distant battlefields, I am reprinting Dan’s remarks on the occasion of the Mark O. Hatfield Lecture on Capitol Hill on October 6, 2014. The messages he conveyed then are timeless and worth hearing again. Mark Hatfield was a Republican Senator from Oregon who, along with many others, including two other future Senators, Dale Bumpers, a Democrat from Arkansas and Charles “Mac” Mathias, a Republican from Maryland, were on their way to participate in the invasion of the home islands of Japan when the war was abruptly ended by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Senator Hatfield was instrumental in Congressional efforts to halt US nuclear testing.  Dan’s family connections and remembrances make for a compelling story on this Memorial Day weekend. — MK

At the end of World War II, a number of American military personnel saw first-hand the devastation that the United States had wrought at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the human and physical destruction that they saw deeply and profoundly affected some for the rest of their lives. Among these were Senator Mark O. Hatfield, Los Angeles businessman and peace activist Harold Willens, and Harvard Professor John D. Montgomery.

War can, and often is, mentally, emotionally, and/or physically disabling; however, for Hatfield, Willens, and Montgomery, the indelible memories of Hiroshima proved to be enabling rather than disabling. This talk traces their transformation from warriors into peacemakers.

When Mark Hatfield signed up for the Navy, he was following the precedent set by his father who had also been a Navy man. After completing his training and earning his officer’s commission at Lake Champlain, the Navy sent Ensign Hatfield to Coronado, California, and assigned him to be a “wave commander.” At first, the young officer thought that he had received the best assignment in the Navy: to command a group of Navy women, then called the WAVES, but this was far from the case.

Ensign Hatfield soon learned that a wave commander was the officer in charge of a twenty-five foot long amphibious landing craft, officially called a LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel) or more colloquially a “Higgins boat,” named after the inventor of the new craft. As Hatfield and other young sailors discovered in the harrowing amphibious invasions of World War II, being a wave commander was one of the most dangerous jobs in the Navy.

Anyone who has seen the first twenty minutes of Steven Spielberg’s moving film, Saving Private Ryan, depicting the landing on Omaha Beach in Normandy, has some sense of the danger, terror, death, and destruction of opposed amphibious landings. This is how Senator Hatfield remembered his participation in the battle for Iwo Jima:

“Like every other man, I knew fear and terror on a level I couldn’t even fathom. As soon as the Marines disembarked, my tiny boat all but drowned. We took on water and my crew bailed as fast as they could, frantic, under fire every minute, deafening artillery right over our heads.”

After four days and five nights of delivering Marines to the beach and returning to their ship with their boat loaded with grievously wounded Marines, Hatfield and his men went to the beachhead to help with the wounded, and after several days of doing this, their ship departed from one of the Marines’ costliest battles in their history. Later, Hatfield recalled, “Iwo Jima was never far from my mind. The bloodiest battle in the Pacific, we ultimately lost over 6,280 troops–with over 19,000 wounded–on that tiny island alone.”

In the pre-dawn hours of August 6, 1945, three B-29 bombers took off from their Pacific island airbase for a five-and-a-half hour flight to Japan on what was rather blandly called “Special Mission 13.” Their primary target that morning was Hiroshima, an army logistics center in southern Japan that had been put off-limits for bombing by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. One of the B-29s was flown by Colonel Paul Tibbets. Named Enola Gay in honor of his mother, Tibbets carried “Little Boy,” a 10-foot-long, 9,000-pound uranium fission bomb. With a destructive yield equal to 15,000 tons of TNT, it was the most destructive weapon ever used in warfare to that time.

At 8:15 in the morning, Enola Gay dropped the bomb. Forty-three seconds later it detonated, and in one second, the temperature at ground zero—the point directly below the detonation—reached 3,000 to 4,000 degrees Centigrade, two-thirds the surface temperature of the sun. The heat was so intense that birds burst into flame in mid-air.

The effects on the residents of Hiroshima were horrific. One eyewitness reported, “Men whose whole bodies were covered with blood, and women whose skin hung from them like a kimono, plunged shrieking into the river. All these become corpses and their bodies were carried by the current toward the sea.” The official estimate of the number of people killed was 70,000, although more recent estimates indicate that by the end of 1945, 140,000 died.

When he felt the concussion of the bomb hit his plane and then saw the mushroom cloud rising over the city, the co-pilot of the Enola Gay, Captain Robert Lewis, asked, “My God, what have we done? If I live a hundred years, I’ll never quite get these few minutes out of my mind.”

The Hiroshima bombing did not end the war. The Japanese government was still debating, torn between civilian leaders who wanted to sue for peace and military leaders who preferred death to the disgrace of surrender. In the early morning hours of August 9 another “Special Mission” of three B-29s took off for Japan led by a bomber nicknamed Bock’s Car and carrying “Fat Man,” an 11-foot-long, 10,000-pound plutonium fission bomb with a destructive yield nearly twice that of the “Little Boy” bomb. Their primary target was Kokura, another city the Joint Chiefs had put off-limits to bombing. Fortunately for Kokura, the city of Yahata, about 4 miles away, had been fire-bombed the day before, and smoke from the fires made it impossible for the Special Mission to find its target. After trying three times, the crew decided to bomb their back-up target: Nagasaki, and just after 11 a.m. the world’s second nuclear weapon was detonated above the city, creating temperatures of about 4,000 degrees Centigrade and winds over 600 miles per hour.

The day after the bombing of Nagasaki, Emperor Hirohito, despite the continuing opposition of Japanese military leaders, surrendered unconditionally, and the most costly war in human history ended. But, while the development and first use of nuclear weapons ended the war, they raised profound questions, questions that have remained to this day like shadows of the mushroom clouds that rose ominously over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Nuclear weapons are the most powerful weapons devised, built, and used by human beings. To give you an idea of the power of the new, fearsome weapons, consider these facts. Most people have seen a building being imploded on television news. Entire buildings collapse within seconds. Demolition engineers generally use 300 to 500 pounds of TNT—less than a quarter of a ton–to accomplish this task. The fifteen kiloton “Little Boy” bomb was 50,000 times as powerful. A bomb of this size releases sixty-three terajoules of energy, which would power the average American home for approximately 1,500 years. The power of these weapons is beyond comprehension.

Although more Japanese were killed by conventional incendiary bombs, nuclear weapons made it dramatically easier and faster to do so. More people were killed in the March 1945 fire bombing raids on Tokyo or the February 1945 bombing raids on Dresden than were killed in either Hiroshima or Nagasaki, but those earlier attacks had involved hundreds of planes dropping thousands of bombs.

In the first issue of Time magazine published after the bombings, writer James Agee noted:

“The greatest and most terrible of wars ended, this week, in the echoes of an enormous event—an event so much more enormous that, relative to it, the war itself shrank to minor significance. The knowledge of victory was as charged with sorrow and doubt as with joy and gratitude. More fearful responsibilities, more crucial liabilities rested on the victor even than on the vanquished…With the controlled splitting of the atom, humanity, already profoundly perplexed and disunified, was brought inescapably into a new age in which all thoughts and things were split—and far from controlled.”

One month after the war ended, Mark Hatfield’s ship went to Hiroshima where he saw first-hand the destruction wrought by the world’s first nuclear weapon. Hatfield recalled:

“The devastation lay indiscriminate and the people cowered at our arrival, garbed in patchwork clothes. Well over 100,000 of their neighbors had been incinerated by one bomb…I had been trained to hate these Japanese. I would have almost relished killing them in battle. War created such a raw, stripped-down human being…I lifted a small, Japanese child and was purged, spiritually renewed as hate flowed from my system. I had been a victim of this, my own hate…I stood awash, clean in an epiphany which has never deserted me…Hiroshima would forever mark my deepest thinking. I had seen the unbelievably destructive power in our possession: nuclear attack. And it was not good.”

Lieutenant Hatfield was not the only one deeply affected by Hiroshima; many other American officers served in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, including another Naval Officer who, like Hatfield, subsequently became a United States Senator, Charles Mathias. In addition, a young Marine officer, Harold Willens, and an Army Officer, John D. Montgomery, served in Hiroshima, and that service was to have a life-long impact on each of these men.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Harold Willens volunteered for the Marines and was assigned to learn Japanese as an intelligence officer. After his graduation from language school, Lieutenant Willens was sent to Hiroshima and Nagasaki to serve as a translator. In letters to his wife, Willens recalled, “I stood where buildings had once stood—buildings that the blast had transformed into powder I could sift through my fingers. Not mounds of rubble, but piles of powder.”

Like most members of his generation, Willens did not talk about his experiences in World War II—even with his family. So, although four Japanese samurai swords hung in the Willens’ living room, his family had no idea of their origin. They later learned that at the end of the war, the U.S. military ordered the confiscation and destruction of all weapons held by the Japanese, including even antique, ceremonial samurai swords. A young Japanese man came to Willens and told him that the swords that were to be destroyed had been in his family for more than a century and that it would be devastating to his family to have them destroyed.

Willens was moved by the young man’s plea and pledged to find the four swords and take them to America. Willen’s daughter, Michele, recalled, “That seemed to satisfy the Japanese father and son, who claimed that just knowing they would be safe would be enough. The swords were eventually identified and made their way to our wall [at the Willens’ home in Santa Monica].”

In 1973, the Willens family made plans to go on a family trip to Asia, and Harold came up with an idea. He had kept the young Japanese man’s name, and he contacted local Japanese officials and the NBC news bureau in Tokyo. When the Willens family arrived, they were met with the bright lights of television cameras and the Japanese man who had pled with Captain Willens to save his family’s swords. Michele recalled, “That formerly young Japanese man—now a distinguished businessman close to 60—greeted us with a kind of emotion that I had not seen before—or since. I truly didn’t know a human being could bow so low.”

The day after their arrival, the swords were formally presented. Michele recalled, “My father remembered enough Japanese to tell the story in their native tongue. A country that had attacked us, gotten us into a world war, and to whom we had done incomparable damage—was weeping with gratitude. Those four swords seemed to accomplish what presidents and emperors could not.”

In his book, Harold Willens noted, “I have searched for ways to convey with sufficient force, intensity, and urgency the unparalleled significance that took place with the first atomic explosion.” His search was fruitful. He helped to found the Center for Defense Information, a Washington think-tank that provides information about military and defense issues. In addition, he supported the founding of the Interfaith Center to Reverse the Arms Race, Business Executives Move for Vietnam Peace, and the California Nuclear Freeze Campaign. In 1987, Willens went to the Soviet Union with his business associate, Wesley Bilson. This visit led to the conversion of a Soviet army base near Leningrad into a children’s clothing factory, a quintessential swords into plowshares project.

John D. Montgomery had just completed his master’s degree in municipal administration when he received his draft notice from the U.S. Army during World War II. He entered the Army as an enlisted soldier, a private, but because of his education, he was selected for Officer Candidate School and became an Army officer. Because of his field of expertise, the Army assigned him to a civic affairs company. Montgomery was sent to language school and took a crash course in Japanese.

When he was twenty-five years old, the Army sent Montgomery to Kure, Japan, which is about an hour away from Hiroshima. Soon after he arrived in Japan, the mayor of Hiroshima sent a letter to the occupation forces commanded by General Douglas MacArthur requesting an advisor for Hiroshima’s City Reconstruction Planning Commission. Hearing about the mayor’s request, Montgomery did the unthinkable in the military: he volunteered for an assignment. In essence, Lieutenant Montgomery became the emissary to convey Hiroshima’s reconstruction and re-building requests to the American and Japanese authorities in Tokyo. Montgomery found that General MacArthur’s headquarters in Tokyo was “not at all sympathetic to our plans, and for its part the Imperial Japanese Government decided it could do nothing for Hiroshima…”

Despite this lack of American and Japanese cooperation, Montgomery persisted. In June 1946, Montgomery appealed to residents to “make Hiroshima a symbol of international peace…the memorial tower is for me, not for commemoration…but should stand for the baptism of the first dropping of the A-bomb, ending of World War II and creation of eternal peace.” Montgomery was the first person to suggest building a museum and memorial at ground zero, a proposal that soon gained international support and resulted in the building of the Hiroshima Peace Park and Museum.

When Montgomery got out of the Army, he went to Harvard where he earned a masters degree in 1948 and a PhD in 1951. Over the next decade, he was a Guggenheim Fellow, researcher at Johns Hopkins University, Dean of the Faculty at Babson College, Director of Research on Africa at Boston University, and Chief Academic Advisor for the National Institute of Public Administration in Saigon, Vietnam. He also wrote a book based in part on his experience in Hiroshima. He then returned to Harvard where he was the Ford Foundation Professor of International Studies until he retired in 1987. Even though he was retired, however, Hiroshima remained in his thoughts. But, like Mark Hatfield, Harold Willens, John Montgomery, and my father, Dr. Montgomery did not talk about his experiences. A good friend of mine, Dick Swanson, served as Professor Montgomery’s research assistant for two years at Harvard and during that time, Montgomery never mentioned World War II or Hiroshima.

SGI, an organization affiliated with Soka Gakkai, the Japanese Buddhist sect, invited Dr. Montgomery to direct the Pacific Basin Research Center of Soka University of America. Montgomery directed the center for ten years and initiated studies in human rights, social capital, globalization, and responses to its challenge to sovereignty. For his work, Montgomery was awarded the Ikeda Center’s Global Citizen Award and the Hiroshima Peace Award. Montgomery’s own reflections on war and Hiroshima speak powerfully:

“Making peace is more than avoiding war. For war is changing, and we can no longer rely on simple solutions based on the assumption of unambiguously ‘good’ nations and ‘bad’ nations. Those times have not entirely vanished—there are still very guilty nations and less guilty nations, though I doubt if there are any innocent nations. The real innocents are the people who had no voice in initiating or even supporting war but suffer its harms nevertheless.

Sixteen million Americans served in World War II, and many of them saw death, destruction, disorder, and devastation; that is one of the main reasons why many of the “greatest generation” of veterans chose not to speak of the war and what they had seen. Hundreds, if not thousands, of them saw the catastrophic results of the nuclear weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Seeing the destructiveness of nuclear weapons had a life-long impact on many, including Mark Hatfield, Harold Willens, and John D. Montgomery. After visiting Hiroshima, each of these leaders sought to reduce the probability of war and its destructiveness: Hatfield in politics, Willens in business and public advocacy, and John Montgomery in academia. Each of these men in their own ways in their chosen professions sought to make the world a better, more peaceful place.

Almost two and a half million Americans have served in Afghanistan and Iraq. What lessons and motivations will they draw from their service and sacrifices? War elicits very different, even contradictory, reactions from those who participate in it. The veterans of World War II had very different reactions ranging from supporting the use of military force to halt aggression, to rejecting all forms of violence.

I don’t know if Hatfield, Willens, and Montgomery ever met each other or discussed their reactions to Hiroshima, but they drew similar lessons from their experiences.

• First, they turned what could have been a disabling experience into an enabling experience. I had the great honor of attending the dedication of the memorial to American Veterans Disabled for Life in Washington, D.C. last October. It was, quite simply, one of the most moving ceremonies I have ever attended both for what was said, but also because of the presence of hundreds of disabled veterans going back to World War II. As I saw these heroes, it occurred to me that their service in Hiroshima could have been so deeply disturbing to Hatfield, Willens, and Montgomery that they were prevented from addressing the problems of war, peace, and nuclear weapons. But their experiences enabled these men to work for peace and a better world. I wonder how many Hatfields, Willens’, and Montgomerys are among the four million living American disabled veterans?

• Second, they were deeply and profoundly influenced by what they had seen, which affected them the rest of their lives.

• Third they rejected the use or even the threat to use nuclear weapons.

• Fourth, they rejected the hyper-nationalism, be it Japanese or American, that resulted in hate.

• Fifth, they each worked for reconciliation among people.

• And, last, they cared about seemingly little things like helping a veteran to keep his ID card and a Japanese family to preserve ceremonial swords of great symbolic meaning.

And those are good lessons for all to remember and think about.

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