EP175: Reparations

By Merrie Haskell.
Read by Mary Robinette Kowal.

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I just swab my arm and administer the cocktail, a booster for my
radiation immunization. The taste of brass fills my mouth in seconds,
and I know that the cocktail has flooded my system. With this stuff
burbling inside, I can stare down three sieverts without blinking, or,
more importantly, losing my immune system, teeth, hair, and intestines.

When I finish with my dose, I grab the skin on the newbie’s arm, swab
her and shoot her up, too. “Ow!” She jumps and rubs her arm. I watch
carefully to see her smack her lips at the taste. “You could’ve warned

“No time,” I say, doctoring Ken and the others just as abruptly. We’re
pressed, and they know it.

We’re all nice and anodized on the inside at 8:12. We’re waiting for
8:16, or thereabouts. There aren’t any atomic clocks in 1945, so all
times are approximate, internally speaking. And from here on in, there’s
no point speaking any other way.

Rated PG. Contains mass destruction and graphic descriptions of the wounded.

Comments (53)

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  1. The Devil's Advocate says:

    God Bless the Fallen

    All I will say is, I have a new favorite Escape Pod episode.

  2. Howie Feltersnatch says:

    So what about changing the future? It’s OK to just go back in time and treat people’s injuries and somehow that doesn’t destroy the time/space continuum, change history, or lead to horrible paradoxes? But, presumably, it wouldn’t be OK to just go back and stop the bombing?

    And why are reparations even needed? As I recall, it was the US that suffered a cowardly sneak attack. One wonders if, while the Americans are providing reparations for the bombing, if the Japanese are providing reparations for the Rape of Nanking, or the Bataan Death March, or any of the other atrocities they committed.

  3. TurboFool says:

    This one did a lot for me due to the clever solution for a real problem.

    I consider myself a social liberal, but reparations have always caused an internal conflict for me. On the one hand I can see the need to apologize for and somehow try to fix wrongs we have done to people in the past. It’s hard not to want to do something. But there’s two major flaws. One is that “we” didn’t do it, our predecessors did. Yes, we speak for them, yes, others in our time might have done the same, but still, “we” are not “them.” The other problem is the opposite, and more serious. “They” are not the same “they” that we wronged. They may still be affected by the action in some tangible or intangible way, but they’re still not the actual victims. We can apologize to, give money, land, whatever to the descendants of the people we once did such wrong to, but in reality it’s a shallow gesture that’s little more than a PR move.

    This story solves this problem by using time travel to help the EXACT people we wronged. It’s a unique, clever, direct solution to an otherwise insurmountable problem, and for that I enjoyed the story.

    The only real flaw in the story is that the oft-mentioned butterfly effect isn’t accounted for at all. Healing and saving the lives of potentially thousands of people who died can’t possibly have zero effect on the future from which the caretakers come. I find it hard to believe any government would allow an action that has the potential to change their power structure in any unexpected way.

    The other issue, from a listener’s standpoint, is the same as with so many short stories: I wanted to know what happened next. Granted, I thought it was the best way to leave us without explaining the events of those two days, but I still was left very curious. Not to mention the effects of bringing the man and boy into the future. A little too much left to the imagination for me.

    I also have a couple of comments about the post-comments to the episode. There were two moments that brought genuine tears to my eyes that I had to say something about:

    Steve, your news about the Cirque du Soleil wardrobe department water cooler talk hit me hard. I’m relatively new to Escape Pod (since February) and only just Wednesday finished listening to every single episode of Escape Pod ever produced (including reviews, flash, and metas). I take Escape Pod personally, and perhaps your efforts to remind us how Escape Pod is about us have worked, because I take great pride in what we have going here. Escape Pod is a vital part of my world now, and any good news about Escape Pod brightens my day. Knowing others are enjoying it as much as I am is important and exciting, and knowing creative people like those involved in Cirque du Soleil are in the same boat seems extra special. Thanks for sharing that.

    The quote of the week had a similar effect for very obvious reasons. The humanity of the comment, no matter who you are or what your politics, should matter. At the end of the day human life is too precious to take lightly. It’s somehow easy when you combine a large group of people together to see them as a statistic instead of individual lives. And when it’s “them” instead of “us,” it’s that much easier. No wonder throughout history wars and mass slaughters have been common practice in government. No matter how justified the action seems, I think it’s still vital to our humanity to stop and recognize what we’re destroying. Fellow humans deserve that much from us, even if we follow through with the action.

  4. phignewton says:

    heres a thought, has anyone ever done a count of ‘going back in time to fix things’ stories by ‘event needing to be fixed’?? there are three top ones i think.. kill Hitler, save Kennedy and stop the A bomb… there is a certain amount of regret in the US about the bomb, despite the argument that at it was a good idea at the time, lots of other people died in the war from american bombing, and continue to, certainly we have no compunctions about using bombs… the a-bomb was unique though, the amount of death and destruction caused by a single human action offends our sense of proportion. it doesnt seem right.

  5. The Devil's Advocate says:

    Someone mentioned that this story does not make sense because of the butterfly effect. That is, if you go back and change the past, you change the future. The thing is, you cannot change the past. They went back in time to help those people when the bomb was dropped, that means, when the bomb was dropped all those years ago, they were already there, helping the people. they changed nothing, as they had already done it.

    I do agree about the not killing hitler, though, it would be interesting to see someone play that idea in a future story.

  6. Me says:

    On the ‘future change consequences’.

    This assumes that, at one point, no one had been saved by people from the future and then folk went back, saved some and changed The Future.

    But it could just have easily always have been that there were time-travellers and that in the following 100 years it was known and expected that this would happen.

    So, you get ‘reparation’ and you also get continuity.

  7. Me says:

    Howie, I might have missed that part of the story, but I didn’t get a reference to a particular war/event or a country that it happens in.

    And, for one thing, the people in the past seemed shocked that Americans would be there helping them, so I doubt this is set in the US

  8. Howie Feltersnatch says:

    Me–the story’s about the US dropping the Bomb on Japan. They mention people speaking Japanese, and also give the year.

    My point is that given that the US was forced into a war by Japan (after Japan had been committing atrocities in China for years), it isn’t clear why we’d “owe” reparations to them. WWII should have taught the world an important lesson–don’t mess with the US, or we will invent whole new ways to bring the hurt to you. Seriously, we invented at least four new physics and engineering disciplines to create a bomb that would finish what Japan started. No reparations necessary.

    The story would actually have been marginally more interesting if the time travelers had been Saudis or Afghanis traveling back to help the wounded in 9/11. There’s something that requires reparations–some disenfranchised malcontents with goofy ideas, protected by Afghanistan and funded primarily with Saudi money perpetrated a cowardly sneak attack on innocent civilians.

    A time travel story from the point of view of some future Muslims trying to repent for this sin would have been a much more interesting story, but it would have taken huge balls to write it. Using the US and Japan was the easy way out.

  9. Brave Space Monkey says:

    Brave Space Monkey considers himself a middle of the road type of guy. However, the right has moved so far right in the last decade, that the Monkey now seem liberal.

    However, Brave Space Monkey see reparations as what they are:a naked money grab.

  10. SGAcreative says:

    I’ve been listening to Escape Pod religiously for ages now, I’ve even narrated a few times, but I’ve never commented on an episode.

    This one, though, had a strong impact on me–or rather, two strong, opposing impacts.

    On one hand, the story itself drew me in but good. I never cry over stories, but this one made me cry three separate times. The whole notion of basic human compassion overwhelming the protagonist’s professional detachment, her training, and even her knowledge of what you can and cannot do without endangering the timestream…. Wow.

    And I suspect that if the story had been left to stand on its own, I would have been even more impressed with the way it opens, drawing us into the plight of the innocent victims of an unspecified disaster in an anonymous city, and only then pulling the rug out from under us and letting us know we’re in Hiroshima. It would have made us look past the strategic decision of forcing an end to the war, and forced us to notice instead the individual men and women and children of that city, non-combatants who had nothing to do with their government’s surprise attack on a military target at Pearl Harbor.


    Releasing this story on 9/11, with an intro conjuring up images of Ground Zero, gave that opening a VERY different feel, at least for me.

    364 days out of the year, I’m willing to look at recent history as a complex tapestry, a long chain of conflicts and grievances behind any “sudden” event like 9/11, or Pearl Harbor, or even Hiroshima.

    But one day out of the year, I think it’s okay to focus on our own great wound. To remember those who died in New York and at the Pentagon, and those who gave their lives in a field in Pennsylvania. To feel vulnerable and innocent. For many of us, that’s what 9/11 has become.

    So to release a new episode on that day, starting with an introduction that conjures up the image (and the feeling) of watching the towers fall, and then to segue into a story that begins in the soon-to-be wreckage of an anonymous city that feels very much like the file footage of Ground Zero… and then, in effect, “No. Not 9/11, Hiroshima. This is the one WE did.” It felt like a political commentary, a condemnation of the whole notion of memorializing the innocence of 9/11, delivered with a sledgehammer.

    It’s a testament to my love of Escape Pod that I kept listening. And a testament to a great story that I was still drawn in, and that I cried by the end.

    I’m an easy-going guy. It’s hard to offend me. Hard, but apparently not impossible. I’m glad you gave us this story, Steve. But when you ran it, and how you introduced it, really bothers me.

  11. L33tminion says:

    I’m not sure the premise of this story makes sense. But I visited the memorial in Hiroshima not that long ago, and this story made me cry.

  12. Ken_K says:

    What BS. Think the Japanese will go back and undo all their atrocities? Nah. They don’t even apologize for it today. Only maudlin chumps worry about stuff that’s long past and whose victims are beyond remedy.


  13. KingNor says:

    I liked this story, I mean I found it interesting and, you know, I liked it.

    However if found the choice of when to run it a bit unimpressive. I understand the point you’re trying to make, and I appreciate your attempt at not overdoing it.

    That said, though, I find the juxtaposition of a terrorist attack compared to a horrific act of war to show an unfortunate lack of insight on the historical significance AND moral intention of each event.

    I won’t go so far as to say running this show on 9/11 is disrespectful, but I will say that the intended point might seem compelling on the surface, but the comparison of the two events is just that: superficial.

    I would belabor the point, but since you didn’t in the podcast, I don’t think I will in the comments.

    Thanks for the story. I definitely did enjoy it for what it is.

  14. There is a bit of a disturbing thread running through these comments, and for me it reduces down to this: “The Japs did it to us first – and do you think they feel sorry enough to go back in time to make it better?”

    This makes me cringe.

    Perhaps the choice of title is unfortunate, because it does imply a government-sanctioned program. But I don’t see it that way.

    That they are Americans is important to the story. But that they are human beings overcome by the horror of the event, and wish to reach out to other human beings who are suffering in unimaginable ways, this to me is an even greater point.

    They started it, we finished it, who did or didn’t do what to whom – this is the reason wars and violence are perpetuated across centuries. When does it stop? Should our hand of mercy be held back because the other person may not be as merciful, should the positions be reversed? I say no.

    To paraphrase the narrator at the beginning of the story, it isn’t enough, but you still have to do it.

  15. DrCrisp says:

    In the first Atomic War, America killed around 250,000 Japanese with two individual bombs. This did several things. It ended the war by making Japan realize they had lost. Not to make light of it, but Japan was rather like the Black Knight in Monty Python’s Holy Grail; no legs, no arms and still itching for a fight that would kill them all. I am exceedingly happy that we killed all those people. I wish we had killed them all 2 years earlier and had applied the same to Berlin 2 years earlier. Millions of Russians would have been saved and Germans and Japanese and Chinese. Compared to these countries, our loses in life were minuscule. But dropping those bombs told the rest of the world what kind of people Americans were at war; savage, hairy barbarians. We are an easy people at peace and are more than happy at times to trade away ourselves into servitude. We love to put on the veneer of culture and trappings of luxury. But not so deep down under the skin, we are what we came from, the descendants of barbarian hordes that swept down Rome, destroyed European Islam, enslaved Africa and boxed in Asia. At peace, Americans can forgive and forget with frightening speed and generosity. Americans at war are terrifying, brutal, efficient and unstoppable. We are everything the haters of America like to say about us. Hiroshima and Nagasaki tell the world in no uncertain terms; DO NOT MAKE WAR ON AMERICA.

  16. DrCrisp says:

    On a completely different note, Mary Kowal did a superb reading job. Her voice carried clearly and distinctly over my woefully under-juiced ipod earbuds, every word crystal clear.

  17. Rachel says:

    OK, this is kind of running a tad disturbing for me. Hello, on this planet now there are 6.5 Billion humans. The difference between you and the other guy is less than 3%. Yes! 3%! Most of your genetic information in you is junk. It doesn’t do anything. But the difference between you an anyone you spot in a global genetic look is 3 percent. (Jill Bolte Taylor on a Special Oprah show also a NOVA special on mapping the human genome.) The difference between you and a Chimp is 10%. (Physical Anthropology)

    People are talking here about being glad that people died. People are talking about being glad about killing other people. People here are talking about let’s kill this group of people or that group of people. But hasn’t the body of Science Fiction taught you anything? Even the crappy Stars Wars Episode 1-3 pointed this out. The difference morally between you and Darth Vader isn’t that far away.

    Those who say you are glad Japan went down act like the US doesn’t have its fair share of things to be ashamed of. Such as the camps for the Japanese-AMERICANS in WWII, the NBC commentary on Asians for this year’s Olympics, the Chiquita Banana scandals where the US government backed a COMPANY with tax payer money so you could eat those bananas you’ve been craving and not look at the slaves that raised them in exchange for sweet potatoes. (Sugar, coffee, strawberries, tea… all those too have a history of slavery attached to them). This I lifted off of my Cultural Anthropology class. You can verify this. Look up sugar and slavery on google and you will see that civil rights movements advocated Honey over Sugar.

    This is not to say the US is evil, but think that no country is without sin. Like no person isn’t without something to be ashamed of. It’s the bigger man that’s willing to apologize.

    You talk of Nanking and how superior the US is at the end of WWII morally because we won. You don’t think about the live freeze drying experiments the Japanese scientists did on US soldiers that the US basically sanctioned by BUYING that information from those Japanese Scientists. You want to talk WWII from a Japanese perspective? You want to talk about WWII from a true American history… I have you. Because you may think because we won we were not without sin, but it’s the more courageous person who says they are wrong. Just because the other guy doesn’t say it first, doesn’t make them better or worse than you. It just makes you more mature than you are without the apology. It doesn’t matter what the other person does. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

    And yes, I know about the rape of Nanking in detail. I know about the rape of Korean women with Comfort women in graphic detail. I watched videos that Japanese themselves filmed for a class in College. But those are soldiers and they hit soldiers in the US at Pearl Harbor. (BTW, the way the planes were lined up at Pearl Harbor is just stupid…)

    I know about both sides and the horrible things we did to each other in WWII. And it doesn’t make me want to glorify and talk about killing people sooner.

    But the US attacked civilians that had nothing to do with the war or the government. And yet you say it was right to kill all those people and leave thousands more with cancer. This sickens me. Did you not learn anything?

    Watch the unedited video of the footage from Nanking, what should occur to you isn’t “those Japanese bastards,” but what should occur to you is what is the line between me and THAT? And that’s what shook me so deeply watching it. It’s a question that Japanese have learned and Germans too. Perhaps we should examine it too…

    BTW, I’m not the Rachel with the water cooler comment.

    On the story itself… I was waiting for part 2…

  18. Evo Shandor says:

    Horrible and insulting. Unlikeable characters and dripping with Western guilt.

    The title implies the United States must (not chooses to, but most) make up for a past wrong or injustice. I will not disagree with the horrors of atomic war and the suffering endured, but it was done in a time of war against military targets. The U.S. has NOTHING to make reparations for because we did nothing wrong. The alternative–an invasion of the Japanese isles–would have been much, much worse in terms of suffering and (civilian) lives lost.

    Millions across the globe, and on both sides, suffered from fires, shrapnel, bullets, explosions, famine, disease, fists and knives. We cannot make reparations for one military action and not others.

    To play this story on 9/11 AND to exclude the “have fun” affirmation we needed more than on any other day as a nation, makes me question Steve as an editor and publisher.

    Awful. F’ing awful choice, Steve.

  19. The Devil's Advocate says:

    I disagree completely with Evo. the title implies nothing except that we are making up for a tragic event, not that we have to.

    At no time in the story do they involve any sort of politics or biased into the story, and in fact, I believe that it puts America into an even better light: what happened was necessary, but we will help the PEOPLE anyways because it is the humane thing to do.

    As for leaving out the “have fun” I am glad you did that Mr. Steve. for me, telling us to have fun on a day were we are supposed to be reflecting on a tragedy would have been, at least for me, making light of the day it marks.

  20. scatterbrain says:

    From where I stand, Eley is the only ‘media personality'(of sorts) I’ve heard mention September 11th so far at all.
    People don’t care any more. Like a branch in a stream, it will eventually be swepted away. It cold reasoning, but that’s how it stands.

    About the story though, I found it ironic that this was published in the Fortean Bureau, when I’ve just read an article about time travel in the Fortean Times. I’m sure Charles Fort would have an opinion, but his ghost hasn’t gotten back to me yet.

    Oh, and Evo Shandor, if you’re so upset light a bloody candle; the man’s only trying to express his sorrow for Christ’s sake!

  21. Draux says:

    Two things:
    -I haven’t gone back and listened to the story again, but I don’t remember a specific reference to the time travel being a government operation. My take on it was that it was a civilian thing, much like any other charity. To me, this makes much more sense than the idea that the government would do something this active. In any situation of this magnitude, there are going to be people who think that it is monsterous, and people who think “they had it coming”. Argument is impossible, as both opinions are built on belief. But just as much, there will be people who want to want to help, and those who don’t. The way I look at it, those who want to help aren’t hurting those who don’t, so why argue.

    -A more technical point, there’s been a lot of “Butterfly Effect” talk on this one. I know that this is one of the generally accepted rules of time travel in sci fi, but since it hasn’t (and in my opinion never will) been proven either way, people are free to write it however they want. I got kicked out of a creative writing class back in college once because of an issue like this. A fellow classmate wrote a story about vampires, and changed up some of the tropes, and the teacher told her that people wouldn’t like the story because she “got her vampires wrong”. The subsequent argument between myself and the teacher about what constitues right in a work of fiction earned me a round of applause from the class, and a transfer of classes to another session from my professor. Debate what you like and don’t like all you like, but don’t tell the author what’s ‘wrong’ with their world.

  22. Draux says:

    Oh, and by the way, I liked the story, very well written. blush

  23. Norm says:

    This is why I hope we don’t invent time travel, it makes my head hurt thinking about the complications. I honestly thought the story was boring. It barely kept my interest, but I made it through, so it was OK.

  24. Raving_Lunatic says:

    This story made me think about the old way of just leaving war behind, and forgetting about various atrocities. But what you can’t forget is that in war, human beings died. No one has the right to say that the life of a US soldier is worth any more than a Japanese civilian. In the end, we are all human beings. What happens in war is that we deny our humanity, through anger or fear. People do inhuman things in times of war.
    Again, the winners write the history. My own country, Great Britain, was involved in brutalisation and slavery for a very long time. Wars like World War II shouldn’t be about winners or losers. They should never happen. Humanity should never be taken that far.

    About Hiroshima and Nagasaki, particularly in reference to DRcrisp’s comments: How can you possibly endorse the killing of 250,000 civilians, even if it would have ended the war? Any country could have had a dictator at the helm, and any country could have been bombed for that reason.
    Also, had World War II been solely ended through atomic power, 2 years earlier as suggested, then who would be the monsters? There is a very fine line between us and them, sanity and madness, human and inhuman.

    What the characters in this story did may have been out of a sense of guilt, or something owed. But on the other hand, they were doing the most human thing- helping others to survive.

    The story wasn’t saying that America was wrong to drop the bomb anyway. It was showing how these things cannot just be forgotten, that human beings cannot be objectivised in this way. 250,000 deaths. The human mind cannot even cope with that. That is probably, unless you are extremely social, everyone you will ever talk to. Maybe everyone you would ever see!

    There is a tendency as well to divide things in terms of us and them. The second comment here shows this: The US suffered Pearl Harbour. But the civilians were not responsible, and it is simply wrong for that event, terrible though it was, to justify the bombings.

    A final note here about the atomic bomb. Its role as a deterrent against war only works as a deterrent against nuclear war. War is still everywhere. The disadvantadge of the bomb is that it is the great equaliser. One small state with enough power and will could bring down continents due to the bomb.

    I hope I haven’t offended anyone too much, or been too contradictory or stupid in this comment. Humans make errors, and I like to think that I am still human.

  25. Raving_Lunatic says:

    I’d also like to add that guilt isn’t what’s important- it’s the fact that the voulenteers wanted to help, wanted to do the human thing, and the right thing by their own moral compass. To say that that is wrong in any way just because of atrocities committed by the Japanese is denying them their humanity.

  26. The Devil's Advocate says:

    Well said Raving_Lunatic, I actually agree with you. You earned yourself a cookie!

  27. Matt says:

    The atomic bombs weren’t right because of the rape of Nanking. They were right because they Ended The War. A land invasion, which in light of the withering conventional bombing that the Japanese government had withstood up until that point was the only non-atomic way forward, would have cost at least as many Japanese lives plus countless thousands of Americans.

    It is false, insulting, and naive to say that the US owes reparations to Japan for the atomic bombs. In fact, the real horror lies in the laps of the Japanese government and military, who were absolutely foolish not to have already surrendered before the first atomic bomb, and who were stark raving insane not to surrender before the second. Shame on them.

    I do not relish the killing of war, but I agree with the earlier commenter – I wish we had bombed Japan sooner. I wish we had bombed Berlin, and cut short the war. It was right to drop the bomb on Japan.

    That said, I really liked the story. I have a quibble, though – if future-rescuer used present-rescuer’s return trip, presumably she returned to present-rescuer’s tme. Present-rescuer then returned to that same time, or 2 days later, or however it works in this particular form of time travel, via the second return window. At that point, aren’t there 2 of them in the same time frame? And isn’t future-rescuer’s future outing impacted by this?

    Anyway. Dumb politics/morality, confusing in the minutiae as all good time travel stories are, but a very good story.

  28. DrCrisp says:

    Never say I shy away from controversy. I just dislike historical revisionism, even in a fictional mode.

    Rachel: I ask you as an American citizen, would you prefer 250,000 Japenese to die or 250,000 Americans and probably about the same number of Japenese die anyway? War is nasty, evil and brutish. The only thing worse than a war is a half-war that does not have a victory for one side or the other. The Japanese would have been perfectly happy at that time to have treated the civilians in Hawaii the same way they did the Chinese. The Russians were more than happy to point their nuclear warheads at our children for 40 odd years. I don’t believe the World Trade Center had very many military personnel in it.

    The comparison of American interment camps of other American citizens to Japanese death marches or Auschwitz does not even warrant a comment.

  29. DrCrisp says:

    Evo: I think I can deal with the lack of “have fun” after a story like this and the fact of it being 9/11.

  30. DrCrisp says:

    Raving_Lunatic: Britain abolished the Slave Trade, you know. Under Pitt the younger and Wilberforce, the British Empire (with its many faults) took it upon itself to rid itself and the world of the slave trade to the best of its ability. Mind, it was in its self-interest to begin with (not totally ignorant of history) however it had a moral underpinning. So, Rule Britannia and all that. And don’t be shocked that a colonial actually knows some British history, it is accidental and not a product of our public educational system!

    War is about killing people. Gosh guys, that’s what it is! Now Heinlein in Starship Troopers accurately understood that it is better to be accurate in the use of force to get the most for the least. Instead of destroying a whole city, just knock out its power supply and make them useless and a drain on the country. The military philosophy we used in attacking Iraq; precision weapons, graphite for the power stations. Tactically, it would have been much more effective and efficient to have merely crippled say 10% of the population as it would have drained resources and made the rest militarily inoperable. However, due to “moral concerns”, chemical and biolgical weapons, were “banned” at the time. Nuclear weapons, being new, were not. Sounds awful doesn’t it? But that’s how military people weigh things.

    You are dead right on the fine line between human and inhuman, lots of excellent fiction, science and not, written on that.

    And again, almost right on nuclear deterrent only stopping nuclear war. It also makes sure that us and the Russians do not DIRECTLY fight each other. Note Georgia. That’s the country not the state.

  31. Tapin says:

    Matt @ 27: “They were right because they Ended The War.” Doing the wrong thing for the right reasons doesn’t mean it’s automatically the right thing. Nor — right or wrong — should it obviate compassion for the victims.

    DrCrisp @ 28: “would you prefer 250,000 Japenese [sic] to die or 250,000 Americans and probably about the same number of Japenese [sic] die anyway?” False dichotomy, appeal to fear. There is a legitimate way to argue in favor of the events of Hiroshima; this isn’t it.

    Steve, I never would’ve guessed you had such a militant crowd.

  32. Dethklok says:

    We all have some comforting fictions we stick to, and the mass murders at Hiroshima and Nagasaki are a huge one. Most Americans only know the official whitewashed public school version of this terrible chapter in our history.
    “It was necessary to end the war.”
    “It saved a million American Lives.”

  33. Blake says:

    Presentation is everything.

    I feel that by putting this out on 9/11, you made your own statement out of the story, one that overshadows and changes the author’s message. I didn’t like that.

    If you want to send a message, use your own writing Mr. Eley.

  34. Farkshinsoup says:

    Long time listener, first time commenter. This story was so good that I felt I had to comment.

    So many comments miss the point of the story. No where does the narrator say that the bomb should or should not have been dropped. Good for the author for avoiding that. If she had said it, the story would have been merely a polemic, and not a melancholy character study.

    One can imagine a future United States where the leaders come to the conclusion that although the nuking of Japan was necessary to end the war, and should not be undone, it might also be a good idea to create a “temporal Doctors Without Borders” to help the victims.

    To those who read this story as a screed against the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I think you’ve done the author a real disservice, and I suggest you give this story another try with a slightly more open mind and a bit more imagination.

    Like almost all time travel stories, there are paradoxes (How could there not be? Time travel is impossible!) so it’s best to just ignore those, as long as they aren’t too glaring.

    I loved that the narrator comes off in the first half of the story as this slightly jaded veteran who’s closed off her feelings in order to get this important job done. She sneers at the newbie and reminds her of the rules and the schedules. She accepts these things without question, much the same way we all do in our jobs and our lives.

    When she literally sees herself, it’s a great moment. There is no explanation offered by her older self as to why should make this sacrifice, but she does it anyway. She doesn’t stay behind because she’s worried about violating some time travel paradox, she does it because it reminds her of why she got involved with this project in the first place. It reconnects her to her humanity, and I found it a very moving moment.

    The reading was wonderfully done, props to Mary Kowal.

    More like this Steve.

  35. DrCrisp says:

    Tapin @ 31: As the fish says, “I’ll bite”. What would be the correct way to argue in favor of Hiroshima?

    Speling iz knot my fourtay.

  36. Seraph says:

    The story stopped just as it was getting interesting.

    Oh well.

  37. I’ve been reading through the comments here and am surprised by some of the reactions. Granted, this may not have been in Ms. Haskell’s mind, but as I was doing the reading I just assumed that this was one of many acts of reparation. If the technology existed to send back doctors to this event it is inconceivable to me that it would be the only time and place that doctors go. There’s clearly a large infrastructure in place. Why in heaven’s name would they confine themselves to Japan?

  38. Richard says:

    I enjoyed the story. The concept was great, but the title completely turns me off. Reparations? For what? Of the stories I have listen to, this is the time I most agreed with your comments. People should know their history. If the author had know theirs, the title may have been different. More Chinese civilians were murdered in the three months after the Doolittle raid than died from the bomb. Which is better, forcing a surrender or fighting to the death?

    I also completely agree with your thoughts on 9/11 and the media. I do not have confidence that they will get it right so I just avoid the TV.

  39. DrCrisp says:

    Mary Robinette Kowal: Well, the whole concept of sending them back over and over again is sort of weak I thought too. Mind, it was necessary for the story for the meeting of oneself. But imagine if these events did occur and that tens of thousands were let to live. How would that affect the future? But that’s a typical feedback issue with time travel stories anyway.

  40. Blaine Boy says:

    Wow…I’ve only read through a few of everyone else’ comments and I have only scratched the surface of this argument. I don’t pretend to be an expert on what has happened and what is commented on, but I know enough to make an educated statement. Would it really be so wrong if our government did begin these sorts of reparations? Yes, we did do something wrong, but so did everyone else who was involved in the war. I’m not saying we could have stood by and done nothing. War is very complicated and so are global politics. We were dragged into the war with the Japanese yes, and it was our duty then to defend our country, but we were also dragged into the muck of sin that we call war. True, the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki may have saved hundreds even thousands of lives (mostly American), does not absolve of us our sins. Arguably the bombs were justifiable, but does this mean that we can forget the innocent people we killed just because “it ended the war.” I must say, I’m taken aback by some of the more extreme militants in the crowd of ‘Scapers. I’m not saying your opinions are wrong, just that they are uncomfortably extreme. You may criticize me for being a pacifistic, liberal ninnie, but honestly I don’t give a shit what you think. (I’m sorry if I may have offended anyone.)

    I am a loyal American, I do not care to deny it or any opinions that you may cast on me because of it. I hope to join the Armed Forces as a medic to help save our soldiers. That’s why I want to go to war, to save lives, not take them or destroy them. That is what war is supposed to be about if it even is to exist at all: DEFENDING.

    This is to you now Mr. Stephen Eley. It seems that you are being sucked into an argument by trying to stay out of and away from it. I’m very sorry that this has happened to you. I know you did not try to provoke this, but some things can’t be helped. Kudos to you and your intro, outro, etc.

    To all ‘Scapers: Please, please, please (and this is just as much for me as for all of you), don’t ever degrade someone for their opinion please. We are equal here and we should treat each other as such. All that we say is of equal value and all people are entitled to speak their mind. (I’m pretty sure I screwed up the English there, but whatever.)

    I loved this story. Not for anything that had to do with the story or with the date or anything else, but for what it has done to this community. It has brought us alive and has kept the memory of 9/11 alive. I don’t want to comment on the story itself because I think that that will take away from this discussion.

    While I am no one of too much importance, I want to thank everyone who has shared their opinion and taken part in this experience for (I think) this has been a learning experience for everyone. And I’m going to stop here before I get any cheesier.

    Welcome all you new ‘Scapers; welcome back all you veteran ‘Scapers; thank you to the administrators and managers and creators of this fine Podcast; thank you to the writers, because, of course, where would we be without you. (Sorry if I left any one out)

    Hopefully, the next story will be just as…fulfilling as this one.

    Yours faithfully,
    the Blaine Boy.

  41. Shock says:

    (Long time listener, first time poster…)

    I’m skipping over the rest of the comments here just to say that I liked the story very much. Maybe the over-significance given to releasing on 9/11 escaped me because I didn’t listen until later in the month, but I have to say some folks got a little too wrapped up in it.

    I found it to be a good story on its own merits. Sure, there can be some loopholes, but the over all SF aspect of the story with the time travel seems relatively well thought out. I could actually foresee some organization attempting to do this in the future if the ability became available.

  42. DrCrisp says:

    Blaine Boy: The comment on Defense is interesting. Talk about your double speak, the Department of Defense used to be called what it really is; the Department of War. And it was the Secretary of War. An uglier title and one much less “antiseptic”. A reminder of what they are really in the business of.

  43. Raving_Lunatic says:

    Dr Crisp, on the same subject: Civilian causualties, something incredibly relevant in this of all stories, have become colletoral damage. We are taking words that used to mean something and create an image and turning them into clean and clinical so that when they are said, people don’t see them for what they are.

  44. DrCrisp says:

    Raving_Lunatic: 1984 used to be scarey social commentary. I use it now to play BS Bingo on all of my conference calls. NewSpeak is of course is nothing more than Politically Correct. Both “liberals” and “conservatives” hide behind words that mean their opposites. I am not paranoid, its just that the whole village is watching me…

    Boy, we got off topic

  45. Icepick says:

    I really enjoyed this story. It was thoughtful and poignant.

    My only problem is kind of a philosophical one, does the future really have an obligation to the past? Beyond the legacy of current conditions (or genetics) do we owe the past a debt?

    Will the U.S. of the future owe the Japanese of the past? Do the Americans of the present owe the Native Americans of the past?

    I don’t have an answer, but it is an interesting practical and philosophical question.

  46. zard says:

    I was driving when I listened to this episode, like I do with so many podcasts. I was on my way to an airsofting skirmish, you know, adults pretending to be little children playing soldiers. I had to pull over.
    I was sat in the car for about 5 mins, engine just idling. I questioned what I was about to do: after such a profound episode, could I really go and point a (toy) gun at another human being? Should I really be trivalising what so many many people have given their lives for?

    The answer was yes, but I can’t remember the last time (even if there was a last time), that a story made me stop what I was doing and question my actions.

  47. DrCrisp says:

    Icepick: An interesting point. When do we kiss the past goodby; what’s the statue of limitation on war or slavery? Americans seems to (for good or ill) forget rapidly enemies or the past. Lingering dislike of Japanese lasted much longer then with Germans, but that had an ethnic quality (?) to it. Then there are areas of the world where a 600-year old feud is as fresh as yesterday. Is it better to always live in the past, never letting go of old hatreds or always live in the future, never learning from the past’s lessons?

  48. […] breaks loose in the present. Not so much tourism as voyeurism. Merrie Haskell’s “Reparations” follows a different course—one that has moral as well as scientific implications. […]

  49. TerminusVox says:

    Steve; I caught your outro to EP182. Bravo!

  50. Jake says:

    Have to agree with our host’s comments in the outro for Episode 182. We British citizens have a similarly morally ambiguous moment in our history, namely the deliberate targeting of German civilians by RAF Bomber Command, though rendered even more complex by the sheer desperation of our position; unlike the deployment of nuclear weapons against Japan, the go-ahead for ‘area bombing’ was given at a time when there was a clear and present danger of a large-scale invasion that we were far from equipped to adequately oppose. It was also a tactic that was known to have been employed by our Nazi adversaries in the past, most infamously at Guernica, and we had no reason at the time to trust the Third Reich’s claims that the first civilian casualties of a Luftwaffe raid on London were a result of a navigational error.
    Still, like Mr Eley said, it was both justified and terrible; Dresden in particular might as well have been Hiroshima in slow-motion. But it hastened the end of the war.
    And if I’m still alive and in good physical health if and when the time comes that we have the ability to go back there, sign me up. Guernica, Coventry, Dresden; it’s all the same in the end. A lot of noncombatants dead and a lot of noncombatants wounded.

    As for my opinion of the story itself, let’s just say that this was the first Escape Pod story in a long time to move me to tears.

  51. […] to the holidays, you might appreciate “Reparations” by Merrie Haskell, in an excellent reading on Escape Pod. Like “Wikihistory” it involves time travel to Worrld War II, but […]

  52. Jasher says:


    I also caught your outro to EP182, and it made me go back and listen to this story. Thank you.

    I have visited both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and seen the artifact left from those events. Hearing the story brought back the feelings I had while visiting the memorials in the two cities. I was moved, and I pray that the world never will experience another atomic war.

  53. steve pota says:


    I have a japanese wife, as well as a family of inlaws that treat me well and make me feel like I am one of their own .. I currently live in Japan and have for the past three years ..

    About the bomb .. I agree it should have been dropped because at the time america had lost so many, and if you understand the japanese people at this time; there was NOOO WAY they were gonna surrender without it .. If I was gonna go back in time I would rather shoot their generals as well as their at the time emperor ..

    Also I am not American so mere patriotism has not cloudly my judgement