years ago, on August 9th, 1945, the second of the only
two atomic bombs (a plutonium bomb) ever used as instruments of
aggressive war (against essentially defenseless civilian populations)
was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, by an all-Christian bomb crew. The
well-trained American soldiers were only "doing their job,"
and they did it efficiently.
had been only 3 days since the first bomb, a uranium bomb, had decimated
Hiroshima on August 6, with chaos and confusion in Tokyo, where
the fascist military government and the Emperor had been searching
for months for a way to an honorable end of the war which had exhausted
the Japanese to virtually moribund status. (The only obstacle to
surrender had been the Truman administration's insistence on unconditional
surrender, which meant that the Emperor Hirohito, whom the Japanese
regarded as a deity, would be removed from his figurehead position
in Japan — an intolerable demand for the Japanese.)
Russian army was advancing across Manchuria with the stated aim
of entering the war against Japan on August 8, so there was an extra
incentive to end the war quickly: the US military command did not
want to divide any spoils or share power after Japan sued for peace.
US bomber command had spared Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Kokura from
the conventional bombing that had burned to the ground 60+ other
major Japanese cities during the first half of 1945. One of the
reasons for targeting relatively undamaged cities with these new
weapons of mass destruction was scientific: to see what would happen
to intact buildings — and their living inhabitants — when atomic
weapons were exploded overhead.
in the morning of August 9, 1945, a B-29 Superfortress called Bock's
Car, took off from Tinian Island, with the prayers and blessings
of its Lutheran and Catholic chaplains, and headed for Kokura, the
primary target. (Its bomb was code-named "Fat Man," after
only field test of a nuclear weapon, blasphemously named "Trinity,"
had occurred just three weeks earlier, on July 16, 1945 at Alamogordo,
New Mexico. The molten lava rock that resulted, still found at the
site today, is called trinitite.
instructions to drop the bomb only on visual sighting, Bock's Car
arrived at Kokura, which was clouded over. So after circling three
times, looking for a break in the clouds, and using up a tremendous
amount of valuable fuel in the process, it headed for its secondary
is famous in the history of Japanese Christianity. Not only was
it the site of the largest Christian church in the Orient, St. Mary's
Cathedral, but it also had the largest concentration of baptized
Christians in all of Japan. It was the city where the legendary
Jesuit missionary, Francis Xavier, established a mission church
in 1549, a Christian community which survived and prospered
for several generations. However, soon after Xavier's planting of
Christianity in Japan, Portuguese and Spanish commercial interests
began to be accurately perceived by the Japanese rulers as exploitive,
and therefore the religion of the Europeans (Christianity) and their
new Japanese converts became the target of brutal persecutions.
60 years of the start of Xavier's mission church, it was a capital
crime to be a Christian. The Japanese Christians who refused to
recant of their beliefs suffered ostracism, torture and even crucifixions
similar to the Roman persecutions in the first three centuries of
Christianity. After the reign of terror was over, it appeared to
all observers that Japanese Christianity had been stamped out.
250 years later, in the 1850s, after the coercive gunboat diplomacy
of Commodore Perry forced open an offshore island for American trade
purposes, it was discovered that there were thousands of baptized
Christians in Nagasaki, living their faith in a catacomb existence,
completely unknown to the government – which immediately started
another purge. But because of international pressure, the persecutions
were soon stopped, and Nagasaki Christianity came up from the underground.
And by 1917, with no help from the government, the Japanese Christian
community built the massive St. Mary's Cathedral, in the Urakami
River district of Nagasaki.
it turned out, in the mystery of good and evil, that St. Mary's
Cathedral was one of the landmarks that the Bock's Car bombardier
had been briefed on, and looking through his bomb site over Nagasaki
that day, he identified the cathedral and ordered the drop.
11:02 am, Nagasaki Christianity was boiled, evaporated and carbonized
in a scorching, radioactive fireball. The persecuted, vibrant,
faithful, surviving center of Japanese Christianity had become ground
what the Japanese Imperial government could not do in over 200 years
of persecution, American Christians did in 9 seconds. The entire
worshipping community of Nagasaki was wiped out.
above true (and unwelcome) story should stimulate discussion among
those who claim to be disciples of Jesus. The Catholic chaplain
for the 509th Composite Group (the 1500 man Army Air
Force group, whose only job was to successfully deliver the atomic
bombs to their targets) was Father George Zabelka. Several decades
after the war ended, he saw his grave theological error
in religiously legitimating the mass slaughter that is modern land
and air war. He finally recognized that the enemies of his nation
were not the enemies of God, but rather children of God whom God
loved, and whom the followers of Jesus are to also love. Father
Zabelka's conversion to Christian nonviolence led him to devote
the remaining decades of his life speaking out against violence
in all its forms, especially the violence of militarism. The
Lutheran chaplain, William Downey, in his counseling of soldiers
who had become troubled by their participation in making
murder for the state, later denounced all killing, whether by a
single bullet or by a weapon of mass destruction.
Hallock’s important book, Hell,
Healing and Resistance, he talks about a 1997 Buddhist
retreat led by Thich Nhat Hanh that attempted to deal with the hellish
post-war existence of combat-traumatized Vietnam War veterans. Hallock
said, "Clearly, Buddhism offers something that cannot be found
in institutional Christianity. But then why should veterans embrace
a religion that has blessed the wars that ruined their souls? It
is no wonder they turn to a gentle Buddhist monk to hear what are,
in large part, the truths of Christ."
a lifelong Christian, that comment stung, but it was the sting of
a sad and sobering truth. And as a physician who deals with psychologically
traumatized patients every day, I know that it is violence, in all
its myriad of forms, that bruises the human psyche and soul, and
that that trauma is deadly and contagious, and it spreads through
the families and on through the 3rd and 4th
generations — until somebody stops continuing the domestic
violence that military violence breeds.
of the most difficult "mental illnesses" to treat is combat-induced
posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In its most virulent
form PTSD is virtually incurable. It is also a fact that whereas
most Vietnam War recruits came from churches where they actively
practiced their faith, if they came home with PTSD, the percentage
returning to the faith community approached zero.
is a serious spiritual problem for any church that (either by the
active support of its nation's "glorious" wars or by its
silence on such issues) fails to teach its young people about
what the earliest form of Christianity taught about violence: that
it was forbidden to those who wished to follow Jesus.
a Christian community fails to thoroughly inform its confirmands
about the gruesome realities of the war zone before they are forced
to register for potential conscription into the military, it invites
the condemnation that Jesus warned about in Matthew 18:5–6:
"And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name
welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believes
in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone
hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea."
purpose of this essay is to stimulate open and honest discussion
(at least among the followers of Jesus) about the ethics of killing
by and for ones government, not from the perspective of national
security ethics, not from the perspective of the military, not from
the perspective of (the pre-Christian) eye-for-an-eye retaliation
that Jesus rejected, but from the perspective of the Sermon on the
Mount, the core ethical teachings of Jesus in Matthew 5, 6 and 7.
of that discussion (if any are willing to engage in it) should come
answers to those horrible realities that seem to immobilize decent
Bible-believing Christians everywhere: Why are some of us Christians
so willing to commit (or support and/or pay for others to commit)
homicidal violence against other fellow children of a loving, merciful,
forgiving God, the God whom Jesus clearly calls us to imitate? And
what can we Christians do, starting now, to prevent the next war
and the next epidemic of combat-induced posttraumatic stress
can we do to prevent the next round of these atrocities, all of which
have been perpetrated by professed Christians: the My Lai Massacre,
Auschwitz and the other Nazi death camps, Dresden, El Mozote, Rwanda,
Jonestown, the black church bombings, the execution of innocent
death row inmates, the sanctions against Iraq (that killed 500,000
children during the 1990s), the military annihilation of Fallujah
and much of the rest of Iraq and Afghanistan, the torturing of innocents
at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay plus the many other international
war crimes (albeit unindicted to date) perpetrated by the current
"Christian" administration of the United States. And what
is to be done to prevent the next Nagasaki?
large portion of the responsibility for the prevention of military
atrocities like Nagasaki lies within the organized Christian churches
and whether or not they soon start teaching and living what the
radical nonviolent Jesus taught and lived.
next Nagasaki can be prevented if the churches finally heed
Jesus' call to nonviolence and refuse their government's call for
the bodies and souls of their sons and daughters.