By Christopher Blackett
Paul looked out the side window of the cockpit of his Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber. Below was the vast expanse of ocean. Clouds drifted below his plane, and he felt an indescribable excitement. A whole world was opening up underneath his bomber. Paul was religious—his mother Enola had brought him up to be a God fearing man who believed ardently in an afterlife. This ephemeral white ocean of aerosols was what he pictured Heaven to be like. He pressed his left hand against the glass pane, while with his right he continued to guide the bomber. This mission played out like a dream. The Wright brothers, the dispatching of the previous pilots of this bomber, the discovery of the atom, all unlikely events that led to this strange climax. There was a weapon in his plane’s cargo-hold the likes of which the world had never seen, and he—Paul—was in possession of it. It was his charge. Power seemed so familiar a friend now that he held it in his grasp.
He heard a voice on his intercom ask, “How are you holding up Paul?”
“Fine,” he murmured into the radio.
“What did you say?”
“I said I’m fine.”
“Alright, alright. ETA twenty minutes.”
Paul looked down at the radar, and then at the map unfolded on his lap. They were so close. The apprehension was building up in his throat; he could feel it crawling up his intestinal track. He imagined himself shitting apprehension. It would probably be bilious. The minutes crawled by, until suddenly the city came into view, emerging from the fog.
“Target approaching in five minutes.”
“I’m ready,” Paul answered.
“This Little Boy’s going to make quite a splash, eh Paul?”
Paul didn’t answer. He looked down at his hand grasping the steering wheel. His knuckles were white from the tension. He turned to his co-pilot. They both stared at each other for what seemed like ages, and then the co-pilot said, “We’re almost there.” At Sunday school, his priest had told him that killing someone was a Cardinal Sin, the most malignant trespass of God’s laws. To snuff out life, he said, was a complete rejection of the values that Our Lord instilled in us. Yet the army priest had told him that sacrifices had to be made in the name of your country. His name was Father Patrick Donnelly. Patrick told him that if killing a thousand men could spare ten thousand men, then wasn’t it worth it? Wasn’t there a net gain of nine thousand lives? The math didn’t seem to make sense to Paul at the time. If you kill a thousand to save ten thousand, how many people do you kill? Trick question: None. You give birth to nine thousand lives, you hand the gift of life to nine thousand people. You’re Eve to nine thousand miracles. Nobody dies, don’t you see? Paul understood the logic now.
He understood the logic even as he stood on a precipice. He didn’t consider whether Father Patrick Donnelly might be wrong. He didn’t even consider whether him pulling a lever would annihilate a million lives. He only considered it his duty to pull the lever, unquestioning. Didn’t all the Office of War Information’s posters portray the Japanese as monsters? He’d heard stories of their treatment of captured soldiers, and didn’t that relegate them as sub-human? They had to be stamped out. Hiroshima was his Sodom—Nagasaki his Gomorrah. It was his duty and his destiny. Enola gave birth to him thirty years ago. She was giving birth to him anew today.
Father Patrick Donnelly once got piss drunk at the mess hall and started orating to the soldiers gathered around him: It was their Sermon on the Mount. Their Beatitudes were thus; “Killing is not a crime,” “If your country asks you to kill, you kill,” and “If God didn’t want you to kill, why’d he make it so easy?” Rifles were meant to be fired, bombs were destined to drop—else gravity would not assist in their descent. Their staff sergeant eventually ordered him to exit the building, and as two men dragged Father Donnelly out of the mess hall, he shouted one last testament: “If you don’t kill them, they’ll kill you.” It was a warning every soldier took to heart. Nobody wanted to return in a coffin. A funeral pall was not a comfort.
Paul stared down at the city below him. The buildings looked like ants—at this altitude you couldn’t even see humans, it was like nobody lived in the deserted metropolis below. Paul loved airplanes because of how omnipresent the height made him feel. He always imagined what it’d be like to bring a telescope up to his cockpit. He could peer down and secretly intrude upon people’s privacies. Watch them in the bathroom, or in bed with a mistress, or mugging someone in an alley. Only him and God privy to the furtive actions of the people below. Clandestine in their deception, or so they thought, never knowing that hovering above them, Paul Tibbets watched.
He remembered the first time he had ever shot skeet. His father told him to train his eye not to where the skeet started, or where they were in flight, but their trajectory. You do not look at a point, he said, you follow the motion. His father pulled, and Paul fired, hitting a disc. He smiled at his dad. That’s right, Paul, piece of cake once you know how it’s done. You do not scan the sky below. It’s not where your shadow is cast, but where it will be cast. You look through the scope, you take into account the Coriolis effect, and you measure the wind, the distance, the fallout, and the collateral. Paul learned from a young age that you never measure things from their starting point. Instead, you imagine the destruction at the outskirts, and move towards the epicenter. You picture yourself soaring through the chaos on the fringe, the buildings collapsing, the asphalt being thrown up. And then you move in a hundred meters, where the fires are beginning to rage, where burnt husks of bodies lie. Then you move in another thousand meters to where everything is vaporized and unrecognizable. You feel yourself being tugged towards the heart of the Destruction. It is a hotbed of activity, molecules heated up to exponential speeds. The air is impossible to breathe. That is the epicenter. That is where Paul aims.
The voice on the intercom called his name. “Paul, we’re ready.”
Paul pulled the lever.
Enola screeched with vehement fury and let go her cargo.