Zinn, Howard. The Bomb. Pollen: City Light Books, 2010. Call No. 940.54’2521954
The Bomb gives a unique insight on the bombing of Hiroshima and Royan from the perspective of an air force bombardier World War II veteran Howard Zinn. This two-part book includes Zinn’s essay over the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Zinn’s experiences of the bombing over the town of Royan. Although this book may be a quick read, it is an influential and inspiring book. With the introduction being completed by Zinn one month prior to his death in January of 2010, this book is Zinn’s final attempt of opening people’s eyes to the effects war and bombing and to prevent America from doing it again in the future. The book begins with a prelude by Greg Ruggiero and an introduction by Howard Zinn. The introduction, with its powerful and insightful call for an end to war, makes for a fitting farewell note for a man who has made such an impact against war and making a better world. Zinn’s work takes place during the era of Hitler’s unquestioned evil, and the allied forces that brought him down in what is known as World War II. This war was a devastating and detrimental war that was responsible for countless human casualties and nearly an extinction of the entire Jewish culture altogether, a war that went out with a bang, literally. The war was eventually brought to an end with the help of the atomic bomb. When the news of the bombing breaks out, Zinn is only a young married man who viewed these headlines with celebration. The war was going to end, how could that be a bad thing? In this narrative, Zinn focuses on the horror of the unnecessary devastation and demolition caused by both the U.S. atomic bombings on Japanese civilians. Statistics say that about 200,000 people of Japan were killed instantaneously by the two bombs. Not only does Zinn use these breathtaking statistics to make his points, but also he uses testimonies from survivors of the atomic bombing. For example, “I ordered the driver to stop, with the funeral pyres still burning in the city, and turned to the American soldiers: ‘Look there. That blue light is women burning. It is babies burning. Is it wonderful to see the babies burning?’” (52). When Zinn returned from the war in Europe, he expected to be sent to the war in the Pacific, until he saw and rejoiced at seeing the news of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Only years later did Zinn come to understand the inexcusable crime of the dropping of nuclear bombs in Japan, actions similar in some ways to the final bombing of Royan. The war with Japan was already over, the Japanese seeking peace and willing to surrender. Japan asked only that it be permitted to keep its emperor, a request that was later granted. But, like napalm, the nuclear bombs were weapons that needed testing. The second bomb, dropped on Nagasaki, was a different sort of bomb that also needed testing. President Harry Truman wanted to demonstrate nuclear bombs to the world and especially to Russia. And he wanted to end the war with Japan before Russia became part of it. The horrific form of mass murder he employed was in no way justifiable. The government’s claim was that it was a military necessity to bomb the German soldiers stationed in the area of Royan, disregarding the fact that the end of the war was obviously in sight. Americans allowed these things to be done in their name, just as the Germans and Japanese allowed horrible crimes to be committed in their names. Zinn points out, with his trademark clarity, how the use of the word "we" blends governments together with peoples and serves to equate our own people with our military, while we demonize the people of other lands because of actions by their governments. The assignment for Zinn and his corresponding pilots was “…to bomb pockets of German troops remaining in and around Royan, and that in our bomb bays were thirty 100-pound bombs containing jellied gasoline, a new substance (now known as napalm)” (66). After the town was bombed for three days, the German soldiers surrendered. Nearly all the buildings of the town had been ruined. While reading through the reality of the book, Zinn conveys his belief that in the end, neither atomic bomb was necessary to end WWII, and in fact the overall purpose of these bombings was to show America had nuclear bombs, and Russia didn’t. Thus the beginnings of the Cold War. During the summer before 1967, Howard Zinn spent time in Royan at a library where he gets majority of the material he bases his essay on. He does a very good job backing up his point of view with a mixture of facts, personal accounts of his own and others, and some basic moral/philosophical beliefs. In his section of the book over the bombing of Hiroshima, he refers to David Ivring’s The Destruction of Dresden (Ivring, David. The Destruction of Dresden. Holt, Reinhart & Winston, 1964) and T. C. Cartwright’s A Date with the Lonesome Lady. In the second half of his book, which covers the bombing of Royan, he references many different sources, like David Ivring’s book The Destruction of Dresden (as mentioned before) and Dr. J.R. Colle’s book Royan, son passé, ses environsi (Colle, J.R. Royan, son passé, ses environsi. La Rochelle, 1965). This article, along with numerous others, was collected in a little book titled Royan – Ville Martyre (Botton, Pére et fils, Royan – Ville Martyre. Royan, 1965) and again in Le Pays d’Quest of Royan. Howard Zinn’s The Bomb was a well-organized book illuminating the nature of war. It stood out to me as an eye-opener of the real life side effects we can cause to innocent civilians in or near a blast radius of an atomic bomb. If Zinn had an overall message from the book, it would be to be more conscious of what our government today in the world; To not fall into a system of letting the news be your only source of information. If “we the people of the United States of America” are being represented by our government, and our government is centered on a system of democracy, then the goal would be for us as American citizens to have similar motives as the head of our state and country. As that may not be true in many cases, I think Zinn is encouraging us to become more involved. What I find unique about Zinn’s stance on the bombing of Hiroshima and Royan, would be the fact that Zinn himself was an air force bombardier in World War II. Zinn’s last piece of work in The Bomb certainly serves a great impact addressing his anti-war beliefs.