August 5, 1945: Briefing For the Hiroshima Mission

At midnight August 5-6, Colonel Paul Tibbets held a final briefing for the 26 men who would fly the three planes for the Hiroshima mission.  Enola Gay, named after Tibbets’ mother, would carry the atomic bomb and be piloted by Tibbets.  The Great Artiste would measure the blast with special instruments.  A then unnamed plane, later known as Necessary Evil, would photograph the bomb and carry scientific observers.  At the end of the briefing a 25 year old Protestant Army Chaplain, Bill Downey, gave the following prayer:

Almighty Father, Who wilt hear the prayer of them that love Thee, we pray Thee to be with those who brave the heights of Thy heaven and who carry the battle to our enemies. Guard and protect them, we pray Thee, as they fly their appointed rounds. May they, as well as we, know Thy strength and power, and armed with Thy might may they bring this war to a rapid end. We pray Thee that the end of the war may come soon, and that once more we may know peace on earth. May the men who fly this night be kept safe in Thy care, and may they be returned safely to us. We shall go forward trusting in Thee, knowing that we are in Thy care now and forever. In the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Interviewed in 1985 he noted that he was often asked what he would say to the survivors of the bombing:

”I would say I am sorry that you Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, I am sorry you attacked the Philippines, I am sorry for their unspeakable acts of barbarism on Americans during the Bataan Death March, I am sorry that Japan was such a barbaric nation,” Downey said. ”That’s the only things I would say I am sorry for.”

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  1. The chaplain would have been better off saying nothing to the survivors. Suffering people don’t need need to be lectured about about how wicked their nation was. If he couldn’t find consoling words, worthy of a minister of Our Lord, he should simply hold his peace.

  2. Yes, Ernst, but that is a worldly culpability. If he were helping a repentant Japanese citizen with confessing his sins it would be right (“I am sorry I bombed Pearl Harbor…”) but that’s not what he was doing. Here we have an American Catholic priest saying he is sorry for Japanese sins. The truth of course is he is not and cannot be sorry, he is just telling the Japanese they have no right to complain about their suffering. I agree with chris c, except to note that many Japanese indeed have never repented and might benefit from a lecture.

  3. In point of fact, what we have here is a Protestant chaplain offering his pat answer to a common hypothetical. As I’m sure you’ll agree upon a closer reading.

  4. You are correct Ernst. I missed the ‘Protestant’ in my scrolling. These fonts look very small and grey to me and if I enlarge them I lose other things on the page. I’ll have to slow down a bit. As to the rest, well, moral theology is often made up of hypotheticals. It’s a stock in trade.

  5. True again, but an answer with “sorry” throughout it touches on morality. It is his answer that steers into that territory.

  6. Agreed. It’s too bad more Japanese didn’t consider Christianity. They are a great people, but greatness is nothing in God’s eyes.

  7. I am with the Catholic philosopher G.E.M Anscombe. She considered St. Thomas Aquinas (Principle of Double Effect), St. Augustine (just war) and New and Old Testament and concluded: It was a criminal act in Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the Americans. Nowadays the Catholic philosopher Edward Feser says the same thing.

  8. Pedro,

    G.E. M. Anscombe and Edward Feser were not tasked with the defeat of an enemy who preferred death to surrender. They are entitled to their opinions, but not their own facts.

    Go ahead and stand with them. I am waiting for all of you revisionist Catholic historians to justify what the Japanese military did to the Catholic Filipino population.


    Truman understood what Charles Martel and great Catholic leaders such as Queen Isabel the Catholic, Don Juan of Austria and King John Sobieski understood. None of them asked for war but they took it to the Muslim invaders and thoroughly smashed them. None of them gave a rat’s rear end what philosophers thought because philosophers don’t fight evil. They write and talk.

    There is a time and a place to write and talk and there is a time and a place to fight. This is true no matter what the leftist anti-American Catholic or the hard core traddy American hating Catholic thinks.

  9. Dear Penguins Fan,

    Yeah, for sure, there is a time and place to fight. I am also a huge fan of Crusaders. I love St.Louis IX, and Richard Lion Heart. And G.E.M Anscombe wrote more than half of his article War and Murder against pacifism.

    But, she was right it was a criminal act. Just war is no vengeance. And by the Principle of Double Effect (St.Thomas and St.Paul – Romans 3:8) one can not use a bad act to reach a good goal.
    Not even against Muslims (Francisco de Vitoria said).

  10. one can not use a bad act to reach a good goal.

    Is there such a thing as a good act in war? Maybe we should have surrendered after Pearl Harbor. Think of all the lives we could have saved by doing so.

    Just war is no vengeance.

    I don’t think anybody at the time thought of the use of the atomic bomb as vengeful acts, although I wouldn’t doubt that a great many took some degree of satisfaction at the destruction caused by its use.

  11. Yes, Ernst. War can be a good act, according to St.Augustine. And yes many good acts happen during wars.
    I and GEM Anscombe never said that Second War was a mistake and that the US should surrender. I and Anscombe never said that nuclear bombs are mistake per se.
    We are discussing Hiroshima. Read Anscombe. She was totally against pacifism.
    Regarding vengeance the Church says that it can be just. I agree with that.


  12. So Pedro, would the starvation of 1-2 million Japanese in a blockade have been a ‘good act’? How about the deaths of Japanese children killed before they could crawl under American tanks with their explosives?
    If the answer is no, these are not good acts, then how does a blockade or invasion escape the ‘double effect prohibition’ you place on the atomic bombings? My answer is they don’t, especially the blockade option. The atomic bombings appear more immoral only due to their immediacy: view the others from God’s perspective, watch the recording in fast motion, and the immorality would not look much different.

  13. President Truman made the decision to drop the first bomb after asking the Japanese to surrender. The Japenese refused. The Japanese also refused to surrender before the 2nd bomb was dropped. Truman’s military advisors had calculated that a quick end to the war through use of the bomb would save between 500,000 to 1,000,000 American lives. Doing what is necessary to save lives for which your are responsible is heroic!! And Truman, as commander-in-chief, was strictly responsible for US lives.

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