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Jewish World Review Sept. 20, 2001 / 2 Tishrei, 5762

Bob Greene

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"Tell your friend Tibbets
that we need him again" -- "IT wouldn't work," he said toward the end of the terrible week just past. "This is a different kind of war. You need to win it a different kind of way."

In the hours after the airborne attacks on New York and Washington, more than one person got in touch with me to say: "Tell your friend Tibbets that we need him again." It was difficult to tell if these people were being darkly sardonic, or literal. Paul Tibbets, at the controls of a B-29 he named for his mother, Enola Gay, in 1945 flew the world's first atomic bomb to Hiroshima and brought about the end of World War II.

The attacks last Tuesday have been compared with Pearl Harbor; if we used the ultimate weapon to end the war that was started at Pearl Harbor, the voices were implying, why stop halfway now? The fury among Americans is that intense. I could tell that at least so

me of them were serious. So I talked with Tibbets, now 86 years old. He had sat in front of a television set for most of the last week. He said that last Tuesday's events caused any number of reactions in him -- about America's past, America's future, and the way to win wars.

The way to win this one, he said, is not the way that World War II was won.

"The way to win this is to get President Bush and the Congress to agree that we should do whatever is necessary to kill the germ," he said.

The germ being terrorist attacks. But, he said, what worked in World War II -- the world's first deployment of nuclear weapons -- would be futile in this war.

"We can't do it with bombs," Tibbets said. "We can't do it with airplanes. He's like a mouse -- he's always getting away from the trap."

The "he" Tibbets referred to is the man behind the terrorists -- whether it is, as some speculate, Osama bin Laden, or someone else.

The ultimate weapon was effective in August of 1945, Tibbets said, because only the United States had it. "Now, if you used it, you might win in the very short run," he said. "But so many other people have it. It would just be counterproductive. Too much kill. You'd end up losing -- the whole world would lose."

The answer, then?

"We have the capacity in this country to be the greatest terrorists in the world," he said. No

t exactly a phrase -- especially in these fragile days -- to soothe the souls of gentle men and women. But Tibbets was -- is -- a combat pilot, not a politician or a clergyman.

"Go into the yard of the guy over there and start tearing things up," he said. "Train our guys to be the worst killers in the world. Infiltrate the guy's society. Use double agents. Use civilians who can get close to him."

And then?

"Do it with money, not with bombs," said the man who, with his crew, dropped the atomic bomb. "Put out the word quietly. Say that we have $50 million to spend.

"Let the right people know that we'll pay $50 million for this guy's head on a tray."

And back here, in America? Tibbets said that he hopes the country will change as a result of what happened last Tuesday.

"We're not going to be as free and easy as we have been, and we shouldn't be as free and easy," he said. "We've slipped badly, as a country. I thought we learned something during World War II, but we've gotten back into our old habits of carelessness and the attitude of `The rules don't apply to me -- they apply to the other guy. I can do whatever I want.'

"Maybe what happened this week will help swing things the other way. Let's start by paying attention to the people we elected to do the job. Let the president and the Congress agree on how to fight this thing, and then get behind them, like the country got behind Harry Truman."

When -- after Truman authorized Tibbets' mission -- World War II ended, "I told my crew: `Fellows, we've just fought a war with more airplanes and more munitions than the world has ever known. But there won't be one like this again.'

"I knew warfare would change -- but I didn't foresee this. I didn't foresee this week. The only way terrorists can win a war is to put the people on the other side into a panic -- and we haven't panicked yet."

During the week just past, did he think about what it would be like to climb back into a warplane?

"You can't do anything in the cockpit," he said. "You play a better role by helping with decisions."

You can't do anything in the cockpit? Paul Tibbets, the man in the cockpit over Hiroshima,

was really saying that? "Different war," he said. "Different times. This week, there were good men in the cockpits of those four passenger planes, when the planes took off. But then someone else took over the flights.

"Yes, I was in the cockpit in World War II. But I didn't have any terrorists on my plane. I had 10 guys who were on my side."

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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