August 6, 1945: Hiroshima plus 75

light a candle

I’ve mentioned before how the late Paul Peca, my sixth-grade teacher, was arguably the best one I ever had. As I noted here, he believed the conventional wisdom. The dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan on August 6 and 9, 1945, respectively, was necessary in order to end World War II in the Pacific.

I pushed back against that. But hey, I was only a kid. It wasn’t until years later I discovered this 1963 quote by the first President in my lifetime, Dwight David Eisenhower. He was, of course, a five-star general in World War II, and served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe.

Ike wrote: “Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary… Secondly, our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives.”

116 Days

FOX news guy Chris Wallace was on CBS This Morning this past June. He was discussing his new book, “Countdown 1945: The Extraordinary Story of the Atomic Bomb and the 116 Days That Changed the World.”

The review of the book in the New York Times makes the process of deciding quite riveting.

“In the end, the reader is forced to ask: Should Truman have dropped the bombs? Wallace points out that more than 100,000 people were part of the bomb-making effort, the program was approved by Roosevelt and over $2 billion was spent. ‘It is unrealistic,’ Wallace says, ‘to think Harry Truman would make any other choice.’ Truman himself exulted after the success of Little Boy, ‘This is the greatest thing in history.’

“Was it? Wallace’s superb, masterly book lets the reader decide.”

Peace response

Upper Hudson Peace Action notes: “Recognizing and remembering those who perished in the horror of the dropping of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima and Nagasaki while staying safe during the COVID-19 pandemic is a challenge.

“Throughout the day on August 6th,” on the UHPA Facebook page, there will be posts “featuring pieces of John Hersey’s novel Hiroshima, along with speeches related to the bombing, first account testimonials, videos of Hiroshima and photographs.”

They are “asking people to put a candle in their window or porch (an electric candle in the home might be safer – use your judgment) at sundown, on the nights of August 6th and 7th.” Also please place either a peace crane – here is link with instructions for making one – or the Picasso peace dove,” pictured, “next to your candle along with a sign that says: WE MOURN THE 250,000 DEAD IN THE DROPPING OF THE ATOMIC BOMBS.”

Mr. Peca

“Mr. Peca told us we were the smartest class he ever had. We, of course, believed him; dare I say we still do, in itself another of his legacies.”

My sixth-grade teacher, Mr. Paul Peca, died earlier this month at the age of only 73. You can read the obit here for as long as those Legacy pieces remain online. “Paul was a dedicated teacher for 35 years. 32 years in the Johnson City School District. He made a difference in many children’s lives.” I definitely believe that.

My friend Carol, not to be confused with my wife Carol, wrote in the guest book: “I also had Mr. Peca in 6th grade at Daniel S. Dickinson in Binghamton. He encouraged us to create our own in-house newsletter – he was interested in what we were thinking, and what we had to say. Very inspiring.

He told us we were the smartest class he ever had. We, of course, believed him (dare I say we still do, in itself another of his legacies – although you’ll notice by the venue we were one of his first classes…). What a wonderful, meaningful life. Much too short, but all of us, his students, were blessed to have been taught by him. With sympathy to the family.” We must have been one of his first classes, but hardly the last one to care deeply for the man.

All that Carol wrote is true. I also have more specific memories of that class than just about any other. How we had debates about the efficacy of dropping A-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (he was in favor, or at least took that position, most of us weren’t), how we had a mock Presidential election (LBJ won 13-3, he favored AuH2O). He was always provocative, innovative, and intelligent.

The year after we were in his class, at least a half dozen of us walked to his house, just to visit him. He lived up near the airport, so we ended up walking at least 16 miles; I literally wore out a pair of shoes on that trip.

Paul Peca was the best teacher I ever had, at any level.


Atomic Cafe, the 1982 documentary about the bombings as well as the subsequent Cold War propaganda, had a strong effect on me.

The best teacher I ever had was Paul Peca, my sixth-grade teacher. He encouraged us to think, create, and debate about things in the world. He was a staunch Republican, yet encouraged a mock election in class in which Lyndon Johnson beat Barry Goldwater for President, 13-3.

One of the issues we debated was whether the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945 and the Nagasaki bombing a couple of days later was justified. Mr. Peca said yes; it shortened the war. Most of us said no; it was brutalizing, with health effects far beyond the immediate event.

I haven’t really changed my position, and I suspect neither has Mr. Peca, who we loved so much that some of us walked 12 miles roundtrip one day to visit him the next year.

Here’s the complete video for Atomic Cafe, a 1982 documentary about the bombings as well as the subsequent Cold War propaganda, which had a strong effect on me. Or use the embedded video below. Here’s Vincent Canby’s review of the film in the New York Times.

Public Reading of John Hersey’s “Hiroshima”
Friday, August 6 at 12:30 pm
Location: John J. Bach Branch, Albany Public Library

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