August 6&9, 1945: Reflecting

Aug. 9, 1945 was Nagasaki – 78 years ago.  Today’s post reflects briefly on “78”.

First, Speaking personally: war is insanity, period.  It is never a solution.   The winner of one war, can expect another war to follow.  The saying “What goes around, comes around” comes to mind.  Having said that, there have always been and there will always be war.  Conflict sells.  There is always a new generation of tyrant, exploiting people’s fears and loathing of some ‘other’.


Two coincidental events led to my posts about the Atomic Bomb, here (Oppenheimer) and here (Letter from Japan).  Both include interesting comments.

Oppenheimer intrigued me:  I saw it, twice, and very glad I did.  It was a movie, granted, but with abundant food for thought.

My posts focused on what some ordinary people thought, at the time, and to use their own words to convey their reality soon after the bombs fell in 1945.  None of them have the wisdom of hindsight.  It was people like them, after all, who had endured years of fear: Aunt Jean and Mrs. Coan thousands of miles from the front; Captain Gus, and Uncle George in day to day peril combatting an enemy they knew only as a deadly enemy.

O course, the Japanese had identical feelings.  Japan’s large cities had already been devastated by conventional bombs.  Four cities, among which were Hiroshima and Nagasaki, had been spared….it seemed to their residents.

For both sides at the end, the value judgement was survival; and vanquishing the enemy.

Days after the second bomb, in mid-August, 1945, the Japanese leadership decided to surrender, and for a very short time, there was peace.  Then came Korea, and nuclear proliferation, and the Cold War, and Vietnam and on and on and on.

War doesn’t end.


There has been a small blizzard of opinions which have come my way after the blogs.  They are the usual analyses about the horror of the end of WWII, essentially the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Why?  Whose fault? Hindsight?

Like other similar noteworthy events of the past, there are endless informed opinions of who did what, why, and what it all means.  When the dust settles, all that remains is the reality of what happened, then, and the hope that we (everyone, everywhere) are not so insane as to trod the same road again.


Speaking for myself, these past days I’ve concentrated on the number 78 to help get perspective.

It was 78 years ago that the bombs destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  I ask myself: 78 years from now (2101), how will people review what we were like in 2023, assuming that a society and a record remains to do such an assessment.

(78 years before 1945 was 1867 – shortly after the Civil War; 78 years before that was 1789 – shortly after the U.S. became the United States.)

78 years ago our citizenry, and indeed, the ones who built the bomb, really had little idea of what had been born.  Mostly, until Trinity, what lay ahead with the Atom bomb was all theory.  In Oppenheimer, I included this clip – Atomic Bomb 1945 news20200809 as found with a letter from my Aunt to her husband in the Pacific, probably from the Grand Forks ND Herald in early August, 1945.  The article was about the test, and speaks for itself.  World War II had raged on for four deadly years and people were tired of it.  Communication and technology generally were very primitive by today’s standards.  A youngster today would have trouble relating to 1945 in any way.

Even given the current dilemmas in our world, I still tend towards being an optimist.  Given that admitted bias, here’s my take on the 78 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki:  nuclear bombs have been oft-threatened, and in the 1950s tested, and still stock-piled, but have not been used again.  The United Nations was formed after the war, and with all its faults is a functioning and stabilizing organization with many assorted sub-alliances in place.  Most recently, Putin has threatened nuclear in Ukraine, but it appears an idle threat – he along with other Russians, not to mention all of us, have everything to lose.  Behind the bluster, there is at the minimum some common sense.

78 years from now, an observer looking back to the really old days of 2023 may see us much differently than we see ourselves today.  When I print out this post, it will be history, every bit as much history as events in 1789, 1867 and 1945 became history the day after they occurred.

In short, we own the present: the good and not so good.  We basically know what happened  78 years ago.  What will we do with the time we have left in the coming years?  It is up to us.


I’ll close with a thank you to a mentor.

I’ve had many mentors in my life, one of them was Lynn Elling.

Lynn, who I knew from 2006 till his death in 2016 at 94, was not always easy to know.   He was focused and determined and could be very exasperating.

I bring him up because his background relates directly to this conversation.

In 1943 he graduated from the University of Minnesota, and immediately went into the Navy as a trainee Naval Officer.

His assignment was to an LST in the Pacific theatre.  LST’s were not glamorous vessels.  At a funeral of one of his shipmates, he remembered the descriptor of LSTs as “Large Slow Targets” – which brought a hardy laugh from some veterans in the pew who were in the know.

Lynn Elling 1944

One of Lynn’s first assignments was after the deadly battle at Tarawa in late 1943.  The LST on which he was assigned came in to pick up the pieces, quite literally.  Tarawa had been a bloody battle, many casualties on both sides.  Some sailor came back with a “souvenir”, a skull of someone killed, and Lynn had to deal with that issue.

After the war, he came back to build a life, interrupted for a time by recall during Korean conflict, and along the way came to be involved in organizations  (One the United Nations Association and the other now called Citizens for Global Solutions), working for a better world.

One of his first ventures for peace was to travel with his wife, Donna, and another couple, to Hiroshima, in 1954.  That experiences changed his life forever.

Yes, Lynn could be exasperating, but he and others helped come to a realization that War is not the answer.

It’s up to all of us to work for a better future.


from Steve:  I’m often surprised when the anniversaries of significant events seem to go unnoticed–like August 6 and 9. It was that way this year, except for your note earlier this week. The Kennedy assasination, the allied assault on Normandy, the passage of either the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act are examples.

There are, of course, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Presidents Day, and the 4th of July–each a national holiday recognizing collective events. And there’s Women’s History Month and Black History Month, both giving recognition to the legacy of many individuals and their importance in our past.
I don’t know what I expect would be an appropriate recognition of specific dates. I’m usually annoyed by perfunctory “celebrations,” events carried out only to satisfy our feeling that “something should be done.” Maybe just a respectful note in the newspaper or reference on the evening news—a kind of Remembrance of Things Past, a sober thought that on this day years ago our nation–or someone–left an inheritance of some distinction, or a legacy to overcome.
Maybe it’s just up to each one of us to choose those days and events that provide us with a connection to the past and relevance in our own lives.
Thanks, as usual, for your frequent notes.

from Ginny (Uncle George’s daughter): Dad never talked of the war but I heard about the crossing Equator line.  Now I have some understanding of why Dad was a civil defense person.  He had two trays of slides on personal and infrastructural damage from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.  It gave me insight into what radiation does to the human body.

Richard Greelis in Mpls Star Trib, Sep 3, 2023: Oppenheimeer Greelis Mpls STrib Sep 3 23
1 reply
  1. Jay Humsey
    Jay Humsey says:

    I just saw “Oppenheimer” yesterday and found it to be an extremely well-done and important film. Now having a son in the military who is being deployed this month, I definitely see bettter the perspective of those who didn’t want to lose any more GI lives invading Japan. I knew about the ugliness of McCarthyism, but wasn’t aware of how it had affected Oppenheimer, a seeming war hero. As a child, I watched the horrors of Vietnam on the TV news. Then came the Iraq War, which seemed to reflect a total failure to learn any lessons from the past. I only hope my children (and grandchildren, someday?) and the generations to come can display more wisdom. Thanks, Dick.


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