The Myth of Major Eatherly
By RONALD BRYDEN Oo the morning of August 6, 1945, Claude Robert Fatherly, a twenty-six-year-old pilot from Van Aistyne, Texas, was at the controls of Straight flush, the first of the 11-29s which took off from Tinian. His task was to reconnoitre and report the weather over the target, a bridge connecting one of the main Japanese military headquarters with the skirt of the city of Hiroshima. When he made his reconnaissance at 7.30, he was glad to see, he said later, that strata of cumulus 15,000 feet below him obscured most of the city, but the primary objective was clear and he sent the bomber behind him a message to go ahead. In the interval before his message was acted on, however, the cloud over the city broke and scattered, baring it to the sun. At 8.15, Enola Gay's bombardier discharged his cargo. It fell a thousand yards beyond the bridge, over the centre of Hiroshima*.. Sixty thousand people were dead, 100,000 injured, the shadows of those near the heart of the blast burned on to the ground where they fell.
Claude Eatherly also led -the second mission three days later which destroyed Nagasaki, and was one of the notables who junketed the following year to Bikini to see the first atomic test in the Pacific. In 1947 he was honourably discharged from the Air Force, a major with a Distinguished Flying Cross, and returned to civilian life in Texas with his wife, a Hollywood starlet whom he had met during training in California. He became a sales manager with an oil company in Houston, studied law in evening classes and for six years nothing was heard of him. Then in 1953 he was given a short prison sentence for forging a cheque. It was submitted in his defence that he had sent the money to a fund for the children of Hiroshima. In 1957 came another news item: Major Eatherly had been acquitted on a charge of breaking and entering, or rather had been allowed to seek voluntary psychiatric treatment in a veterans' hospital at Waco after pleading insanity. The story gained little prominence, most of it in Asian and continental newspapers, but a legend had been born. One of the Hiroshima flyers had gone mad. They had offered him a pension, but he would rather burgle.
Good news. It seems he loved them after all. His orders were to fry their bones to ash. He carried up the bomb and let it fall And then his orders were to take the cash, A hero's pension. But he let it lie.
It was in vain to ask him for the cause.
Simply that if he touched it he would die.
He fought his own, and not his country's wars.
John Wain's 'A Song about Major Eatherly' was read on the BBC in 1959, and printed sub- sequently in the Listener. After that, stories about Major Eathcrly, seldom with identical de- tails, became frequent in European and Japanese magazines. Romantic circumstantiality thickened: war-time photographs of a handsome, intent boy with a cleft chin and slightly chubby jaw; his wife's stories how, before she divorced him, he would wake at night shaking and screaming, 'Release it, release it l'; his two attempts at suicide, the first in 1950—the year Truman an- nounced the hydrogen bomb. In May, 1959, another story appeared in Newsweek: Eathcrly had returned as a voluntary patient to the Waco hospital after a further brush with the police. He seemed, his psychiatrist said, to be trying to expiate his guilt for Hiroshima by seeking 'the punishment of society by acts which would bring down its wrath.' The legend was ripe for plucking.
'Dear Mr. Eatherly,' commences the first letter in Burning Conscience,* a collection of corre- spondence which arose as a result of the News- week story, 'the writer of these lines is unknown to you; you, however, are known to my friends and me. No matter whether we are in New York, in Vienna or in Tokyo, we arc anxiously watching the way you are trying to manage and master your condition.' The jacket of the book, which appeared with considerable sales in Ger- many last year, identifies the writer as Gunther Anders, 'the eminent Austrian philosopher and pacifist.' English readers may strain at the first half of the description. Dr. Anders's philosophy is of a kind which, here at least, has been more at home since the end of the nineteenth century in pulpits than in schools of logic, consisting chiefly of exhortations against the 'technification of our being,' the mastery of men `by the in- herent maxims of their instruments,' a process which involves them in an ethical predicament described as being 'guiltlessly guilty.' There is no doubt, however, about his pacifist auspices. The correspondence he has edited comes gar- landed with a preface by Earl Russell, a fore- word by Robert Jungk, author of Brighter than a Thousand Suns and Children of the Ashes, and a sprinkling of grateful references to Pro- fessor Linus Pauling, the leader of the American movement for nuclear disarmament. Selections of the letters have already been published in newspapers in Poland, Japan and Brazil and in pamphlets of the international movement for unilateral disarmament by the West.
In his foreword, Mr. Jungk recalls how, late in the 1940s, a rumour went round the world that one of the Hiroshima pilots had entered a monastery, there to pray for forgiveness of his sin. In the event, it transpired that the flyer named had accepted a job directing a chocolate factory. None the less, says Mr. Jungk, the rumour was a true myth, truer than mere fact.
BGRNING CONSCIENCE. The case of the Hiroshima pilot Claude Eatherly told in his letters to Gunther Anders. (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 16s.) 'It had invented an act of repentance which, in any case, had some time or other to become a reality.' Certainly the letters of Claude Eatherly reveal a man overwhelmed by the horror in which he participated, obsessed by the need to put an end to war. All the same, a doubt lingers after reading this book whether the myth may not still be in process of manufacture: a pro- cess in which this book is a conscious step and to which mere fact and some of the more mundane forms of humanitarianism are still being sub- ordinated.
Dr. Anders's first letter to Eatherly is chiefly taken up with stating, as dramatically as pos- sible (his second was a request for permission to publish letter and answer), his belief in the enormity of the pilot's guilt. Guilt, consuming guilt, he asserts, is the sane and proper response to the bombing of Hiroshima; the attempts of Eatherly's doctors to allay it reflect the neurosis of a society which will not face its own crime.
You know better. Not without reason do the screams of the wounded deafen your days, and not without reason do the shadows of the dead force their way into your dreams. . . . To be as guilty as you are and yet to be publicly classified as innocent, even to be praised as a smiling hero on the 'strength' of this guilt— that must be a situation which a decent person just cannot tolerate.
But the formal point of the letter is to suggest a message to the people of Japan on the anniversary of Hiroshima. When Eatherly, in a vague, exploratory reply, omitted this point, Anders returned with a more specific proposal. If Eatherly should be unable to send a message, would he like Anders to send one in his name?
I think the best and shortest text for such a telegram would be 'Your No More Hiroshima is my No More Hiroshima. Claude Eatherley, one of the Hiroshima pilots.' In case you can- not send this telegram personally to Japan, yet you wish me to send it in your name, please send a cable to me with the one word OK.
Shortly after, Eatherly mentions that he has been approached by Bob Hope Productions about a film of his life. Anders writes hurriedly to discourage the project.
The Bob Hope offer which you have received causes me the greatest uneasiness. 1 lived in Hollywood for years, and I know the prin- ciples, better: the utter lack of principles, of movie producers. . . . Resist all temptations of the movie business until you are absolutely sure that the producer and director are on our side, and that they are not eager to exploit your fame as the 'hero of the atomic age' for their dubious purposes.
If Claude thinks, however, that a film of his life might do some good, he should take respon- sibility for the scenario himself; and since he is unused to professional writing, it would be imperative to collaborate on this with a profes- sional writer who has his full •confidence. 'Your words seem to suggest that you would prefer to chi the job in teamwork with me. I don't say no. . . . We should try in daily teamwork to produce a text, at least a first draft on which I could work at home, in order to give it a cer- tain literary quality—of course under your con- stant supervision.' The plan tur collaboration on a life of Eatherly never bore fruit, although Anders got as far as discussing advance payments with a German publisher. Or rather, the nearest substi- tute possible while Eatherly remained confined was Burning Conscience. Fortunately, by includ- ing three or four histrionically philosophic letters to President Kennedy the US Attorney-General, Eatherly's doctor and Eatherly himself, Anders has managed to indicate the main themes such a work might have developed Eatherly is to be seen as the mythical antipode to Eichmann: rather as Mr. Gollancz proposed that Eichmann should be treed to roam the earth, loathed and spurned (the Wandering German?), Anders seems to visualise Eatherly haunting it as the Repentant Executioner, the unknown func- tionary who insists on shouldering responsibility for the orders he obeyed. He is to be the man who rebelled against the machine of the modern State, who refused to be a cog with no con- science of its own.
His orders told him he was not a man: An instrument, fine tempered, clear of stain, All fears and passions closed up like a fan: No more volition than his aeroplane.
But now he fought to win his manhood back. Steep from the sunset of hi, pain he flew Against the darkness in that last attack. It was for love he fought. to make that true.
Only, of course, Anders and his friends do not admit, as Wain does, that Eatherly is insane. Eatherly, rather, is the one sane man who has reacted normally to Hiroshima in a society neurotically sealing its mind against its own guilt and fear. In his rebellious assertion of re- sponsibility, he is the heroic archetype of all campaigners for nuclear disarmament, and in a world obsessed by neurosis or death-wish (any- one who does not think the West should uncon- ditionally lay down its weapons must be gripped by death-wish) he has been victimised for his sanity. `No unbiased person, declares Lord Russell, 'after reading Eatherly's letters, can honestly doubt his sanity, and I find it very diffi- cult to believe that the doctors who pronounced him insane were persuaded of the accuracy of their own testimony.'
He has been punished solely because he re- pented of his comparatively innocent participa- tion in a wanton act of mass murder. . . . The world was prepared to hanour him for his part in the massacre, but when he repented. it turned against him, seeing in his act of re- pentance its own condemnation
This is also the main case developed by Anders in the book : Claude Eatherly is the world's first martyr for Nuclear Disarmament.
I should not have said, after readiqg Eatherly's letters myself, that they provide adequate evi- dence for any unbiased person who has not met him (Anders, Mr. Jungk and Lord Russell have yet to do so) to pronounce on either his sanity or the honesty of his doctors. The letters are short, extremely unsophisticated documents by a man clearly unused to expressing himself in writing. Their style is simple, with a slightly laborious trim of Biblical quotation and received Phrases ('my anti-social actions,' regardless of race, colour or creed,' the message all peace- loving people strive for suggesting a gentle, rather humble and suggestible character: he rapidly picks up the terminology of his psy- chiatrists and his admired, articulate pen-friend. He is capable (as, of course, are many mentally ill persons) of perfectly sane and unexception- able statements—we must end the arms race, prevent another war, replace cruelty, hatred, violence and injustice with 'creative love, trust and brotherhood But in some of the letters his sense is markedly blurted and disjointed. Anders, admitting that he has had to 'polish a few, blames this on excessive doses of tran- quillisers and denounces Eatherly's doctors for trying to blunt the edge of his memories and conscience. His only basis for this is one refer- ence by Eatherly to being 'a little doped today.' li is hard to see how he, in Vienna, can know what drugs Eatherly may have been given, or can judge what treatment doctors should give a man who has twice attempted to destroy himself.
But the strongest impression Eatherly's letters leave is one of innocence. It may be an unreal, artificial innocence, a sign of unnatural with- drawal in a man of forty-two but it angers me to see it threatened by men to whom the image of this book's title would be more useful. I am not, I suppose, what Lord Russell would call unbiased. I find Burning Conscience an ex- tremely distasteful document. I find the idea of enlisting this unhappy middle-aged man to blazon the cause of unilateral disarmament, to lend emotion to its already perfervid propaganda by rehearsing, on platforms round the world, the appalling moment when the execution of his orders scorched the dying of Hiroshima on to their pavements and his brain, revoltingly cruel. I can see little distinction between the use made of him by the service to which he gave his loyalty seventeen years ago and the use made of him by the cause which commands it now. In both he seems equally a 'cog,' a victim of the 'technification of our being'—in this case the technification of conditioning minds by emo- tional images rather than rational persuasion.
But having stated all doubts about this book —its motives in claiming Eatherly as a martyr, the kind of evidence it advances, the use it makes of him—it is necessary to turn with even graver doubt to another quarter. Eatherly's letters, as I say, are meaningless as evidence: they could have been written by a sane, not particularly coherent man, they could have been written by an intermittent psychotic. Only those '1‘;‘,. I Ilityclit triumphed over self-pity! with full knowledge of his record of instability, which goes back (his pacifist helpers tend to play this down) to a nervous breakdown during active service in 1943, can say whether it is now over. But the letters contain statements which raise a serious question whether the medical authorities responsible for his care may not have been in- fluenced, in their anxiety to shield him from activities which might disturb his mental balance, by anxieties of another, sinister kind. More than once Eatherly mentions conversations about , political pressures to keep him in hospital. In April, 1960, his brother, who had been placed in charge of his finances, refused to accept Claude's discharge in his care.
He came to see me and asked me to remain in the hospital voluntarily. . . He gave as his reason for my continued confinement political pressure put on him, because of my writings in magazines against continued nuclear build-up.
In October the same year he writes:
Last Wednesday 1 talked with my doctor and he told me I was in the unfortunate position
of being so well known and famous that I
must stop my writings against nuclear weapons and using my influence in foreign countries through US magazines. He said that he could do nothing to help me, that he and the hos- pital staff had to take orders from the Air
Force and State Department. I asked him if
they intended to keep me here, and he said yes.
Eatherly may be exaggerating or translating suspicions into avowals by others. But it is diffi- cult to understand why a voluntary patient, as he was then, should not have been able to leave hospital when he chose. What followed his con- versation with his doctor is still more difficult to understand. Eatherly escaped from hospital (if such a word may be used of a voluntary patient —he says he 'eloped') and made plans to cross the border into Mexico. An announcement that he was missing was put out on radio, television and in newspapers. Early in December, 1960, he was arrested by a policeman in Dallas, charged with driving through a red light (he denies that he was even at the wheel) and a month later was recommitted to hospital—now an involun- tary patient—by court order after a jury hearing. Anders wrote to the US Attorney-General to ask on what grounds a voluntary mental patient had been detained in this way. He was informed by an assistant to Mr. Kennedy that the deten- tion had been made under Texas law and was the responsibility of the State authorities.
It is difficult to discover at this distance pre- cisely what rights a State government has over a citizen who has voluntarily committed himself to mental hospital—the official American infor- mation services can offer no guidance. This seems, to say the least, incautious of them. The Eatherly case has become enough of a propa- ganda football in the past three years, in Europe and Asia, that the State Department might have been expected to circulate some official version of the story. This seems a case in which justice should not only be done, but seen to be done. The lack of any explanation is bound to lend countenance to suspicions that none is possible.
This is even more true of the last, most curious turn in Eatherly's story. Early in De- cember, a Canadian magazine reported that Eatherly is once more at large; its information appears to have come from Anders. Apart from a comment on the Canadian report in the New York Post, no American paper has reported the escape, nor has there been any denial of it. The American information services, here again, dis- claim any knowledge of the matter. It cannot help looking as if the Kennedy Government had decided to shed an embarrassment inherited from its more military-minded predecessor, lest a new hue and cry should lend ammunition to those who claim Eatherly as a political martyr. But their silence can only lend further ammunition to charges that an injustice has been done and has still to be publicly righted It is not a situation from which anyone stands forth with unmistakably spotless hands. Still, I cannot regard it as wholly unhappy. Eatherly at least is free : free not only from his confinement, but from the myth which has made him equally a prisoner and an instrument of hands more strong and subtle than his own— while he is officially an escaped lunatic he is unlikely to be paraded for exploitation out of his obscurity. It would be merciful if he could remain there. For if Claude Eatherly has been his century's victim, it has not been by 'tech- nification,' but by another dehumanising process of which Anders and his friends are representa- tives. They have allied themselves to those forces of mass persuasion which have made their way equally into Fascism and democracy : to that modern world of lobbyists, advertisers, PR men and what Mr. Priestley calls 'ambiences,' in which nothing is fact any longer, but an image, a myth, a subliminal appeal. It is a world which dehumanises men by denying them reason, the ability and right to judge things and men as themselves, by their own qualities and conse- quences. The old cry that we are all becoming robots always breaks down at the individual case —not just at Eatherly, but at the forty-two others who. flewwith him and decided, on the informa- tion they had, to obey what seemed a terrible but necessary order. They are as human and rational as Eatherly, and when Anders cries 'Automata' he means that he denies their right to use their own reason and disagree.
It is he and his co-campaigners who seek to make robots in their belief that people need to be conditioned and led by emotional appeals. They might meet more success if they would realise that the enormous majority of people in the world share their determination to prevent another Hiroshima, but feel no need to have their emotions ,whipped against it—can see no object to be gained by doing so, and a danger that by surrendering to horror and fear we may bring another Hiroshima closer. The fact of Hiroshima speaks for itself, requiring no myth. So does the story of Claude Eatherly. It can speak for no one else, and to make it do so is to falsify; this, as his poet says, 's penitence for its own sake, beautiful./uncomprehending, Inconsolable, unforeseen.' He can never be wholly freed; but he can be left alone.
. . . do not trouble to unlock the door And bring the Major out into the sun.
Leave him: it is all one: perhaps his nightmares grow cooler in the twilight of the prison. Leave him; if he is sleeping come away. But leave a folded paper brills head, nothing official or embossed, a page torn from your notebook, and the words in pencil. Say nothing of love, or thanks, or penitence: say only 'Eatherly, we have your message.'