Anniversary of Hiroshima

[What follows is the first of two bulletin inserts our Pax Christi group prepared for our church bulletins this past weekend and next weekend. Today, let us pray that such a savage use of WMDs will never again occur.]

August 6, 2007 marks the 62nd anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. August 9 marks the same anniversary of the dropping of the plutonium bomb on the Catholic city of Nagasaki. The purpose of this newsletter is to help the parishioners of St. William and Immaculate Heart of Mary better understand the teachings of Jesus and the Church related to war and the use of weapons of mass destruction. Theses anniversaries mark the first use of weapons of mass destruction on civilian populations.

Father George Zabelka was the Catholic chaplain on Tinian Island. He gave his blessings to the crews of the Enola Gay (Hiroshima) and the Bock’s Car (Nagasaki). At the time Father Zabelka never questioned what he was blessing or what the men were doing. Over twenty years, he came to realize that he had made a grave mistake. In 1985, Father Zabelka gave a speech. In part he said:
“Now, brothers and sisters, on the anniversary of this terrible atrocity carried out by Christians, I must be the first to say that I made a terrible mistake. I was had by the father of lies….
All I can say today is that I was wrong. Christ would not be the instrument to unleash such horror on people. Therefore no follower of Christ can legitimately unleash the horror of war on God’s people….
I ask forgiveness from the Hibakushas (Japanese survivors of the atomic bombings) in Japan last year, in a pilgrimage that I made with a group from Tokyo to Hiroshima. I fell on my face there at the peace shrine after offering flowers, and I prayed for forgiveness—for myself, for my country, for my church. Both Nagasaki and Hiroshima. This year in Toronto, I again asked forgiveness from the Hibakushas present. I asked for forgiveness and they asked for forgiveness for Pearl Harbor….”
This is powerful testimony from a priest who had a conversion of heart. He calls us to conversion.
At least 140,000 people died in Hiroshima and 74,000 in Nagasaki. The majority of the victims were civilians.

Christianity was introduced to Japan by St. Francis Xavier, S.J., in the Nagasaki area. It flourished until the Japanese decided to expel all foreigners and to martyr those who professed to be Christian. In the interim, Christianity flourished in catacomb like settings. When Christianity reemerged in Japan, a cathedral was built in Nagasaki. Nagasaki was a secondary target; however, the weather and the failure of one of the four engines on the aircraft, resulted in the selection of Nagasaki. Through the clouds the bombardier sighted the spire of the Urakami Cathedral which soon became ground zero. Christian crew members bombed fellow Christians into oblivion.

The history we learned told us that the use of these weapons of mass destruction was necessary to save countless American lives which would be lost in an assault on the Japanese mainland. Other evidence has emerged. The Japanese were planning to surrender. Because of their reverence for the emperor, they were balking at the demand for unconditional surrender. General Dwight Eisenhower recounted his reaction when Secretary of War Stimson, visited him in Europe and disclosed plans to use the atomic bomb on Japan:
“During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I though that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of ‘face.’ The secretary was deeply perturbed by my attitude….” (Making for Change, p. 380)

Likewise, Admiral William D. Leahy had strong objections about the use of the bombs:
“It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons. The lethal possibilities of atomic warfare in the future are frightening. My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.” (I Was There, p. 441)

The Manhattan Project had been expensive and we needed to use the bombs. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima was an atomic bomb. The other bomb was a plutonium bomb. There is credible evidence that we had to use the weapons we had created. Howard Zinn, historian, writes, “Yet Truman would not relent, and the Potsdam Conference agreed to insist on ‘unconditional surrender.’ This ensured that the experimental atom bombs would be detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” (A Power Governments Cannot Suppress, p.53) Another motive for using the bombs was to send the first Cold War message to the Soviet Union. Zinn also reports that “British scientist P. M. S. Blackett, one of Churchill’s advisers, wrote after the war that the dropping of the atomic bomb was ‘the first major operation of the cold diplomatic war with Russia.’” (p. 53)

Robert Oppenheimer, the key developer, seemed to have misgivings, “Now I have become death, the destroyer of worlds.” The use of these nuclear weapons was justified as payback for Pearl Harbor. Jesus, the nonviolent Jesus, has instructed us to “return good for evil.” When we used these weapons in retaliation, we violated a key element of our beliefs. We returned evil for evil! We can never use evil means to secure legitimate goals. The means contain the embryo of the results. Evil begets evil.

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