Tom Hull on "The Good War" by Studs Terkel



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Perspective C: The War’s Effect

Victor Tolley, a marine in the first group to occupy Nagasaki (pp. 544-545):

I may be carrying a touch of radiation myself. If a person picks up one rem it can linger in your cells all your life. It may lay dormant and nothing may happen to me. But when I die and I'm cremated and my ashes are scattered out over some forest, that radiation is still alive. Twenty-seven thousands from now, somebody might pick up that rem of radiation from those ashes of mine and come down sick.

I believed in my government. Whatever Roosevelt said, by god -- and he was God -- we believed it. When I was in the Marine Corps, I was totally dedicated. They gave me a rifle and when they said go forward and kill that enemy or be killed, you did it. You didn't question it, 'cause you're doing it for your country. Now I'm sixty-eight years of age and I've had a chance to reflect back on my life. I've had a chance to sit down and do a lot of reading and a lot of studying. Now, I question. I question my government and I think every American should. I don't think that any individual can say Mom, apple pie, and the President of the United States is it and stop thinking. Whatever the government says is not always right.

Caspar Weinberger and I went to high school together. I sat right next to him for four years. We were friends and we've corresponded. But I can no longer believe in Cap Weinberger and what he stands for. I don't give a damn what Cap or the President or what anybody says, I have to think for myself. And I saw what I saw.

We didn't drop those two [atomic bombs] on military installations. We dropped them on women and children. The very minute I was jumping up and down and hugging my buddy and was so elated, there was a little baby layin' out in the street charred and burned and didn't have a chance to live. There was seventy-five thousand human beings that lived and breathed and ate and wanted to live that were in an instant charred. I think that is something this country is going to have to live with for eternity.

Paul Edwards, who worked with UNRRA on relief and refugees after the war (p. 573):

While the rest of the world came out bruised and scarred and nearly destroyed, we came out with the most unbelievable machinery, tools, manpower, and money. The war was fun for America -- if you'll pardon my bitterness. I'm not talking about the poor souls who lost sons and daughters in the war. But for the rest of us, the war was a hell of a good time. Farmers in South Dakota that I administered relief to, and gave 'em bully beef and four dollars a week to feed their families, when I came home were worth a quarter-million dollars, right? What was true there was true all over America. New gratifications they'd never known in their lives. Mass travel, mass vacations, everything else came out of it. And the rest of the world was bleeding and in pain. But it's forgotten now.


John Kenneth Galbraith, who participated with George Ball and Paul Nitze in a 1945 study of the effectiveness of aerial bombing in the war (pp. 208-210):

The results were not in doubt. The bombing of Germany both by the British and ourselves had far less effect than was thought at the time. The German arms industry continued to expand its output until the autumn of 1944, in spite of the heaviest air attacks. Some of the best-publicized attacks, including those on German ball-bearing plants, practically grounded the Eighth Air Force for months. Its losses were that heavy. At the end of the war, the Germans had ball bearings for export again. Our attacks on their air-frame plants were a total failure. In the months after the great spring raids of 1944, their production increased by big amounts. [ . . . ]

The [atomic] bomb did not end the Japanese war. This was something that was carefully studied by our bombing survey. Paul Nitze headed it in Japan, so there was hardly any bias in this matter. It's ironic that he has sine become fascinated with the whole culture of destruction. The conclusion of the monograph called Japan's Struggle to End the War was that it was a difference, at most, of two or three weeks. The decision had already been taken to get out of the war, to seek a peace negotiation.

The Japanese government, at that time, was heavily bureaucratic. The decision took some time to translate into action. There was also a fear that some of the army units might go in for a kind of Kamikaze resistance. The decision was not known in Washington. While the bomb did not bring an end to the war, one cannot say Washington ordered the attacks in the knowledge that the war was coming to an end.






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