Growing up, it always seemed to me that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were massive war crimes.
Dropping experimental atomic bombs on civilian cities.
Causing death and suffering for decades after the war was over.
Not just amongst civilians, but amongst people who weren’t even born during the war.
It seemed to me the proper place to drop the bombs was on military targets.
So they at least killed the people who were doing the fighting.
But this wasn’t a debate I could have with my parents’ generation.
They weren’t objective about it.
Because, as they always said, they lived through the war and I didn’t.
Particularly, I couldn’t have this debate with my Uncle Ginger.
Uncle Ginger had been a marine on HMS Prince of Wales.
A massive battleship four times as big as HMS Belfast, the ship that’s moored in the Thames.
His ship was sunk off Singapore and Uncle Ginger was captured by the Japanese.
He was a prisoner of war for four years.
He was six foot tall and over fourteen stone when he was captured.
When he was freed he weighed six and a half stone.
He never talked about what happened.
Most of the people who survived didn’t talk about it.
But I really liked Uncle Ginger.
He was the funniest of all my Uncles, a proper cockney always laughing and joking.
Towards the end of his life, maybe forty years after the war, we began to talk about his experiences a bit.
Gradually he’d start telling me stories about life on the ship, the countries he’d been to, the people he’d seen.
Life in the marines, and eventually life in the prison camp.
And eventually the bits he hadn’t been able to talk about.
The way the local Chinese would try to get food to the starving British prisoners.
Then next morning, the British would be marched to work past the heads of those same Chinese, planted along the path on bamboo poles.
And eventually I brought up the subject of the bomb.
I asked him if he didn’t think it was a crime to drop the bomb on civilians.
Uncle Ginger said “I don’t know about that Dave. All I know is what we all knew. That the Japanese guards had orders to get rid of all prisoners as soon as they knew they were losing the war.
When they had to withdraw they wouldn’t leave any of us alive. We all knew they were preparing to kill us all.
But one morning, the guards didn’t wake us up for work.
We laid there waiting for them to come and get us but no one did.
Gradually we got up and looked out of the huts and the compound was empty.
We walked out of the huts and everywhere was deserted.
We couldn’t believe it, all the guards had suddenly scarpered and we were still alive.
At the time we didn’t know what had happened.
We only found out later it was the bomb.
It all happened so fast they didn’t have time to kill us all.
They just dropped everything and ran.
So I don’t know if it was right or wrong to drop the bomb.
But I do know that me and all the other blokes wouldn’t be alive now without it.”
And I realised why my relatives always said the same thing to me whenever I sounded off with an opinion about what everybody should have done.
They always said “You don’t know, you weren’t there.”
And that is the truth.
Whenever we tell anybody else what they should have done.