By Dr. Scott Jones
In a series appropriately named Lessons Learned, the U.S. military takes pride in documenting what it has learned from battles and campaigns. The assumption being that this record will guide strategies and tactics in future wars. The irony is not lost to the professional warrior that the major lesson to be learned from every war is that the next war starts with failure: peace has been lost.
A host of lessons were learned during my thirty years of military service. While many memories have faded, some never will. One in particular has specific relevance to the core purpose of this article. In October 1952, on my second Korean War tour as a jet fighter pilot flying off a U.S. aircraft carrier, I was flying a low-level armed reconnaissance mission over North Korea. U.S. forces controlled the air, and North Korean and Chinese forces rarely tried to move troops and supplies during the day. Expectations were therefore low to see any movement of a military nature. The assigned road for this mission made a zigzag climb out of the valley onto a plain leading to the Chinese border. This was the end of my route and time to climb to a higher altitude for a direct return to the carrier task group. However, as I climbed out of the valley I saw an oxcart on the road being escorted by soldiers. The disciplined soldiers in their winter-white uniforms dove for protection into the deep ditches on either side of the road. There was no escape for the oxcart and its cargo. I fired several hundred rounds from each of the four 20mm canons in the nose of my aircraft. Every third round was a high-explosive projectile. An instant before the rounds reached the target I saw four civilians walking very close to the cart and a shrouded body was its cargo. The gun camera film confirmed that I had killed four innocent civilians. It was operational policy and professional pride to carefully delivery attacks to minimize collateral damage. On that day I had badly failed, and wars are not a game. There are no do-overs. There are no words to describe all that I learned from that flight.
Timely assessments of lessons learned are only the beginning of a process that can, but no guarantee that it will, lead to more rational decisions and civilization serving policies.
It is therefore critically important not to lose any opportunity that has the potential to lift us from dangerous paths and to initiate action to increase the odds of global survival. When Akio Matsumura published his January 2011 article: The Powerful and Fading Message of Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s Global Survivors: The Case for a Group Nobel Peace Prize, it refreshed a number of my own fading memories. One of these is haunting reframe that over the years I have discussed with former military comrades; why did I survive? It is not unusual for some element of guilt to be provoked by this thought. Survivors of combat will understand this, as they remember the loss of brothers in arms. Carrier aviation has very specific operational challenges, and when those are added to the inevitable costs of combat, we were assured to lose ten percent of squadron pilots. But in war, and I strongly affirm that this equally applies in peace, the focus must be placed on the survivors. There is always additional work to be done, including unfulfilled hopes and dreams.
The survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are an extraordinary group. They are the only living witnesses of an event about which there is global unanimity must never happen again, but the necessary final steps needed to assure that outcome have not been taken.
At both macro and micro levels, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki events were international in character. They marked the extreme ending of a horrifying global war, and citizens from at least half a dozen countries were killed along with tens of thousands of Japanese.
There are many ways that the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki can be identified. I was trained during mid-career to become a Nuclear Weapons Deployment Officer. Responsibilities for that job was to select desired ground zero, weapon yield, and height of burst to maximize the kill and damage levels desired by the operational commander for a specific target. Blast, thermal and radiation effects circles from ground zero identified the desired kill and damage realm. Areas beyond these circles were where collateral damage took place. The meaning of collateral carried a sense of unintended, but also unavoidable.
When the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are honored as noble witnesses of what happened and reminders of work to be done to assure that it never happens again, we can apply to them the other meaning of collateral: property acceptable as security for an obligation to take the necessary civilization saving action.
Few in the ranks of these witnesses remain, and the attrition of time is unceasing. What can we expect from the Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to this group? The respected notoriety concerning the remaining work to be done will provide opportunities to launch a global education effort. It can be more than educational. Each positive step leading to zero nuclear weapons should be celebrated in art, music and in all creative ways. The target of this effort will be post August 1945 generations. The intent will be to clearly identify the action responsibilities that they have to future generation. It is irresponsible to believe that as long as any nuclear weapons exist, we will continue to avoid a replay of the faithful days of August 1945. There is only one reason for the existence of nuclear weapons – to be used.
Dr. Scott Jones was a career naval officer with extensive nuclear weapon experience. He was a qualified nuclear weapons delivery pilot, and in intelligence assignments, a Nuclear Weapons Deployment Officer, and created Nuclear Weapon Target Annexes for U.S. European Command War Plans. Following this he became special assistant to Senator Claiborne Pell.