(unpublished essay, 2008)
Back when I was in my first semester as a college freshman I took a public speaking class. For my final speech my topic was on the very hip topic of why we shouldn’t have dropped that Bomb on Japan. I put a lot of work into it, and my arguments were pretty adamant, and even though my delivery was mumbly and nervous, the writing was no doubt sharp and self-assured. It always was.
But I wish I had known ahead of time that the popular, liberal, mild mannered little instructor—one of the most beloved teachers in the school—had been a rifleman in one of the divisions scheduled to hit the beaches in Kyushu, the planned first phase of the final defeat of Japan. Let’s just say he didn’t agree with my speech. It was the only time all semester he had raised his voice in class, maybe the only time ever. All his calm public speaking demeanor caved in. I remember his angry “Bullshit!” About how he and his buddies had all considered themselves dead men. How the bomb had saved his life and the lives of thousands of soldiers from the suicidally fanatical Japanese who, every man, woman and child of them, would die in defense of their emperor. You could hear the fear, repressed these past thirty years, filling his mind. He was visibly trembling, his voice cracked with emotion and constrained outrage, a total what-the-fuck-do-you-know moment. The class sat in shocked silence. After a minute, maybe two, he collected himself and was teacher again. He even regained his sweet charm. I returned to my seat. The other students looked away; some of the girls smiled wanly. Oh man. I felt like the Bomb had been dropped on me. And I deserved every kiloton of it.
He gave me a generous B. But that was the end of my public speaking career.