American Portraits

Bringing an End to War: Paul Tibbets and the Decision to Drop the Atom Bomb

In this lesson, students will learn about Paul Tibbets and his mission to drop the atomic bomb. Students will explore how the unselfish actions of he and his crew helped to bring the war with Japan to a close. Through his example, they will learn how they can act unselfishly in their own lives.

Founding Principles

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

Narrative

He understood what he was being asked to accomplish. He also understood that one day, the pages of history might question his actions. However, on the morning of August 6, 1945, when the Enola Gay strained to get off the ground as a result of the 10,000-pound atom bomb that made the B-29 dangerously close to the airplane’s cargo capacity, Colonel Paul Tibbets was not worrying about how history would judge him. One thing in his mind was far more important than his reputation—ending World War II. Over the past six years, the world had been embroiled in war. Millions of soldiers and civilians had lost their lives. Germany had surrendered in May, bringing an end to combat operations in the European Theater. Now, only the Empire of Japan stood between the world and peace….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How can Paul Tibbets risking his life and reputation for the United States inspire you to make sacrifices in your life?

Virtue Defined

Self-sacrifice is purposeful action exchanging personal loss for the good of others.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will learn about Paul Tibbets and his mission to drop the atomic bomb. Students will explore how the unselfish actions of he and his crew helped to bring the war with Japan to a close. Through his example, they will learn how they can act unselfishly in their own lives.

Objectives

  • Students will analyze Paul Tibbets’ actions in dropping the atomic bomb.
  • Students will understand how acting selflessly can benefit their community.
  • Students will apply their knowledge to act more selflessly in their own lives.

Background

By 1945, the Second World War had been dragging on for six long years. The United States had entered in December of 1941 after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Since mid-1942, the United States had been executing a slow and bloody campaign against the Japanese Imperial forces. Following a strategy known as “Island Hopping,” American troops moved inexorably closer to the Japanese “Home Islands.” As they went, they set up airfields and support bases that helped them expand further and further into the Pacific. The closer the Americans got to shores of Japan, the more fierce and costly the conflicts became. Two of the bloodiest battles were on Iwo Jima and Okinawa, the first of the Japanese “Home Islands.” Both were fought in 1945, collectively costing nearly 20,000 lives. Planners feared that the eventual invasion of Japan would be even more costly.

While the American forces advanced slowly across the Pacific, U.S. scientists were busy working on a secret weapon, the atomic bomb. The United States hoped the atomic bomb would be so powerful that it would force the Japanese to the negotiating table. The weapon was finally tested in early 1945. All that was left was to use this new deadly tool in the war zone. That mission fell to Paul Tibbets.

Vocabulary

  • Strained
  • B-29
  • Embroiled
  • Japanese Home Islands
  • Unpredictability
  • Stark
  • Barnstormer
  • Unfathomable
  • Great Depression
  • Enthusiastically
  • Aeronautical
  • Unprecedented
  • Provoke

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

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Questions

Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • Who was Paul Tibbets?
  • Why was this mission undertaken? What did Paul Tibbets risk in carrying it out?
  • How did Paul Tibbets’ unselfish actions help to shape his identity?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

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