by Pasquale Pugliese*
This 78th anniversary of US atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki takes place just over a month after the forty-fifth anniversary of the death of what philosopher Günther Anders defined as “the last victim of Hiroshima”, i.e. the greatest Claude Eaterly, aircraft commander who on the morning of August 6, 1945, after flying over Hiroshima, started the operation of dropping the atomic bomb. It’s basically a story today removedwhich must be told again because it also concerns our present and our relationship with war.
Let us briefly recall the facts. More and more historians who have been able to examine the declassified documents recognize that the Japanese government was ready to surrender about a month before the first atomic bombs fell, and certainly before the second also arrived, but the US president Harry Truman – who had recently succeeded Roosevelt – did not intend to squander the results of the very expensive technology secretly developed with the Manhattan Project, led by the physicist Julius S. Oppenheimer – on which the eagerly awaited film by Critopher Nolan is being released in Italy – and also gave way to the uncoupling of the two nuclear bombs. “The real stake – he wrote Zygmunt Baumann about that decision – can easily be gleaned from the triumphant presidential address the day after the destruction of hundreds of thousands of lives in Hiroshima: ‘We made the most audacious scientific bet in history, a two billion dollar bet – and we won!’ (you see The Sources of Evil, 2021)”. Three days after the same bad bet was also poured on Nagasaki: 220,000 direct victims of the two explosions, almost exclusively unarmed civilians, and about another 150,000 subsequent victims due to the consequences of nuclear radiation.
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At the end of the war all nuclear crew pilots were celebrated at home as… “Bearers of Peace”ma Claude Eathery [in foto il terzo in alto da sinistra, ndr] he shied away from obscene ceremonies and fell into one depression due to the overwhelming sense of guilt for the immense destructiveness of the military operation to which he had personally contributed, albeit as a cog in a mechanism that dominated him. His human story after the war saw Eatherly make suicide attempts and common crimes to be recognized as a social culprit, rather than a hero, ending up instead being considered mentally ill and locked up in the military psychiatric hospital. More and more enclosed and isolatedas he gradually became aware of the need to cry out his guilt to everyone – and the need to atone for it – and with it that of the political-military machine that had made it possible, acceptable and celebrated.
This process of increasing individual ethical clarification, which unmasked the violence of the “good guys”was also favored and supported by correspondence with the German philosopher Günther Anders who, having become aware of the “Eatherly case”, initiated an extraordinary exchange of letters with the pilot locked up in a mental hospital which revealed the dynamics of the moral removal of responsibility. “The usual method of getting over too big a thing,” Anders wrote in his first letter to Eaterly dated June 3, 1959, “is a simple cloaking maneuver: we continue to live as if nothing had happened; one erases what happened from the blackboard of life, one acts as if the too serious fault weren’t even a fault”. Not only as an individual defense mechanism but, in the case of war in general and atomic warfare in particular, as a community defense mechanism against collective guilt. If mentally ill is the one who feels shame and pain, the politics and society that wanted and allowed it result sane. This is why doctors, writes Anders to Eatherly again, “limit themselves to criticizing, instead of the action itself, his reaction to it; that’s why they must call the pain of him and your expectation of a punishment a ‘disease’ and that is why they must consider and treat your action as a ‘self-imagined wrong’, a crime invented by you” (see The latest victim of Hiroshima2016).
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Eatherly will end his days in the military asylum for wanting to assume his responsibilities in a context of generalized moral deresponsibility of the winners, “good” by definition and forever. Not surprisingly, the correspondence between the philosopher Anders and the Hiroshima pilot was one of the readings that took place in Barbiana, where don Milani he taught that in the era of atomic destruction “obedience is no longer a virtue, but the most subtle of temptations”. It is no coincidence that while Adolf Heichmann’s “banality of evil”, i.e. his moral disengagement, described by Hannah Arendt, has been removed Eatherly’s crushing responsibility for evil, which puts us in front of our responsibilities. Especially today when the nuclear powers – instead of signing the UN Treaty for the prohibition of nuclear weapons (90 seconds before nuclear midnight) and cooperating for peace in a world in global systemic crisis – lead a new incredible warup to the impossible “victory”, in the heart of Europe.
*philosopher, author on peace and nonviolence