Blessing Mass Murder

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George Zabelka, a Catholic chaplain with the U.S. Air Force,
served as a priest for the airmen who dropped the atomic bombs on
Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, and gave them his blessing.
Days later he counseled an airman who had flown a low-level reconnaissance
flight over the city of Nagasaki shortly after the detonation of
"Fat Man." The man described how thousands of scorched,
twisted bodies writhed on the ground in the final throes of death,
while those still on their feet wandered aimlessly in shock-flesh
seared, melted, and falling off. The crewman’s description raised
a stifled cry from the depths of Zabelka’s soul: "My God, what
have we done?" Over the next twenty years, he gradually came
to believe that he had been terribly wrong, that he had denied the
very foundations of his faith by lending moral and religious support
to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Zabelka, who died in 1992,
gave this speech on the 40th anniversary of the bombings.

The destruction
of civilians in war was always forbidden by the church, and if a
soldier came to me and asked if he could put a bullet through a
child’s head, I would have told him, absolutely not. That would
be mortally sinful. But in 1945 Tinian Island was the largest airfield
in the world. Three planes a minute could take off from it around
the clock. Many of these planes went to Japan with the express purpose
of killing not one child or one civilian but of slaughtering hundreds
and thousands and tens of thousands of children and civilians – and
I said nothing.

As a Catholic
chaplain I watched as the Boxcar, piloted by a good Irish Catholic
pilot, dropped the bomb on Urakami Cathedral in Nagasaki, the center
of Catholicism in Japan. I never preached a single sermon against
killing civilians to the men who were doing it. I was brainwashed!
It never entered my mind to protest publicly the consequences of
these massive air raids. I was told it was necessary – told
openly by the military and told implicitly by my church’s leadership.
(To the best of my knowledge no American cardinals or bishops were
opposing these mass air raids. Silence in such matters is a stamp
of approval.)

I worked with
Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights struggle in Flint,
Michigan. His example and his words of nonviolent action, choosing
love instead of hate, truth instead of lies, and nonviolence instead
of violence stirred me deeply. This brought me face to face with
pacifism – active nonviolent resistance to evil. I recall his
words after he was jailed in Montgomery, and this blew my mind.
He said, "Blood may flow in the streets of Montgomery before
we gain our freedom, but it must be our blood that flows, and not
that of the white man. We must not harm a single hair on the head
of our white brothers."

I struggled.
I argued. But yes, there it was in the Sermon on the Mount, very
clear: "Love your enemies. Return good for evil." I went
through a crisis of faith. Either accept what Christ said, as unpassable
and silly as it may seem, or deny him completely.

For the last
1700 years the church has not only been making war respectable:
it has been inducing people to believe it is an honorable profession,
an honorable Christian profession. This is not true. We have been
brainwashed. This is a lie.

War is now,
always has been, and always will be bad, bad news. I was there.
I saw real war. Those who have seen real war will bear me out. I
assure you, it is not of Christ. It is not Christ’s way. There is
no way to conduct real war in conformity with the teachings of Jesus.
There is no way to train people for real war in conformity with
the teachings of Jesus. If a soldier came to me and asked if he
could put a bullet through a child’s head, I would have told
him, absolutely not.

The morality
of the balance of terrorism is a morality that Christ never taught.
The ethics of mass butchery cannot be found in the teachings of
Jesus. In Just War ethics, Jesus Christ, who is supposed to be all
in the Christian life, is irrelevant. He might as well never have
existed. In Just War ethics, no appeal is made to him or his teaching,
because no appeal can be made to him or his teaching, for neither
he nor his teaching gives standards for Christians to follow in
order to determine what level of slaughter is acceptable.

So the world
is watching today. Ethical hairsplitting over the morality of various
types of instruments and structures of mass slaughter is not what
the world needs from the church, although it is what the world has
come to expect from the followers of Christ. What the world needs
is a grouping of Christians that will stand up and pay up with Jesus
Christ. What the world needs is Christians who, in language that
the simplest soul could understand, will proclaim: the follower
of Christ cannot participate in mass slaughter. He or she must love
as Christ loved, live as Christ lived and, if necessary, die as
Christ died, loving ones enemies.

For the 300
years immediately following Jesus’ resurrection, the church universally
saw Christ and his teaching as nonviolent. Remember that the church
taught this ethic in the face of at least three serious attempts
by the state to liquidate her. It was subject to horrendous and
ongoing torture and death. If ever there was an occasion for justified
retaliation and defensive slaughter, whether in form of a just war
or a just revolution, this was it. The economic and political elite
of the Roman state and their military had turned the citizens of
the state against Christians and were embarked on a murderous public
policy of exterminating the Christian community.

Yet the church,
in the face of the heinous crimes committed against her members,
insisted without reservation that when Christ disarmed Peter he
disarmed all Christians.

continued to believe that Christ was, to use the words of an ancient
liturgy, their fortress, their refuge, and their strength, and that
if Christ was all they needed for security and defense, then Christ
was all they should have. Indeed, this was a new security ethic.
Christians understood that if they would only follow Christ and
his teaching, they couldn’t fail. When opportunities were given
for Christians to appease the state by joining the fighting Roman
army, these opportunities were rejected, because the early church
saw a complete and an obvious incompatibility between loving as
Christ loved and killing. It was Christ, not Mars, who gave security
and peace.

I struggled.
I argued. But yes, there it was in the Sermon on the Mount, very
clear: ‘Love your enemies. Return good for evil.’

Today the world
is on the brink of ruin because the church refuses to be the church,
because we Christians have been deceiving ourselves and the non-Christian
world about the truth of Christ. There is no way to follow Christ,
to love as Christ loved, and simultaneously to kill other people.
It is a lie to say that the spirit that moves the trigger of a flamethrower
is the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ. It is a lie to say that learning
to kill is learning to be Christ-like. It is a lie to say that learning
to drive a bayonet into the heart of another is motivated from having
put on the mind of Christ. Militarized Christianity is a lie. It
is radically out of conformity with the teaching, life, and spirit
of Jesus.

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. I participated in the
big ecumenical lie of the Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox churches.
I wore the uniform. I was part of the system. When I said Mass over
there I put on those beautiful vestments over my uniform. (When
Father Dave Becker left the Trident submarine base in 1982 and resigned
as Catholic chaplain there, he said, "Every time I went to
Mass in my uniform and put the vestments on over my uniform, I couldn’t
help but think of the words of Christ applying to me: Beware of
wolves in sheep’s clothing.")

As an Air Force
chaplain I painted a machine gun in the loving hands of the nonviolent
Jesus, and then handed this perverse picture to the world as truth.
I sang "Praise the Lord" and passed the ammunition. As
Catholic chaplain for the 509th Composite Group, I was the final
channel that communicated this fraudulent image of Christ to the
crews of the Enola Gay and the Boxcar.

All I can say
today is that I was wrong. Christ would not be the instrument to
unleash such horror on his people. Therefore no follower of Christ
can legitimately unleash the horror of war on God’s people. Excuses
and self-justifying explanations are without merit. All I can say
is: I was wrong! But, if this is all I can say, this I must do,
feeble as it is. For to do otherwise would be to bypass the first
and absolutely essential step in the process of repentance and reconciliation:
admission of error, admission of guilt.

There is no
way to conduct real war in conformity with the teachings of Jesus.

I was there, and I was wrong. Yes, war is hell, and Christ did not
come to justify the creation of hell on earth by his disciples.
The justification of war may be compatible with some religions and
philosophies, but it is not compatible with the nonviolent teaching
of Jesus. I was wrong. And to those of whatever nationality or religion
who have been hurt because I fell under the influence of the father
of lies, I say with my whole heart and soul I am sorry. I beg forgiveness.

I asked forgiveness
from the Hibakushas (the 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 forgiveness, and they asked forgiveness for Pearl Harbor
and some of the horrible deeds of the Japanese military, and there
were some, and I knew of them. We embraced. We cried. Tears flowed.
That is the first step of reconciliation – admission of guilt
and forgiveness. Pray to God that others will find this way to peace.

All religions
have taught brotherhood. All people want peace. It is only the governments
and war departments that promote war and slaughter. So today again
I call upon people to make their voices heard. We can no longer
just leave this to our leaders, both political and religious. They
will move when we make them move. They represent us. Let us tell
them that they must think and act for the safety and security of
all the people in our world, not just for the safety and security
of one country. All countries are inter-dependent. We all need one
another. It is no longer possible for individual countries to think
only of themselves. We can all live together as brothers and sisters
or we are doomed to die together as fools in a world holocaust.

Each one of
us becomes responsible for the crime of war by cooperating in its
preparation and in its execution. This includes the military. This
includes the making of weapons. And it includes paying for the weapons.
There’s no question about that. We’ve got to realize we all become
responsible. Silence, doing nothing, can be one of the greatest

The bombing
of Nagasaki means even more to me than the bombing of Hiroshima.
By August 9, 1945, we knew what that bomb would do, but we still
dropped it. We knew that agonies and sufferings would ensue, and
we also knew – at least our leaders knew – that it was not
necessary. The Japanese were already defeated. They were already
suing for peace. But we insisted on unconditional surrender, and
this is even against the Just War theory. Once the enemy is defeated,
once the enemy is not able to hurt you, you must make peace.

Christianity is a lie. It is radically out of conformity with the
teaching, life, and spirit of Jesus.

As a Catholic chaplain I watched as the Boxcar, piloted by a good
Irish Catholic pilot, dropped the bomb on Urakami Cathedral in Nagasaki,
the center of Catholicism in Japan. I knew that St. Francis Xavier,
centuries before, had brought the Catholic faith to Japan. I knew
that schools, churches, and religious orders were annihilated. And
yet I said nothing.

Thank God that
I’m able to stand here today and speak out against war, all war.
The prophets of the Old Testament spoke out against all false gods
of gold, silver, and metal. Today we are worshipping the gods of
metal, the bomb. We are putting our trust in physical power, militarism,
and nationalism. The bomb, not God, is our security and our strength.
The prophets of the Old Testament said simply: Do not put your trust
in chariots and weapons, but put your trust in God. Their message
was simple, and so is mine.

We must all
become prophets. I really mean that. We must all do something for
peace. We must stop this insanity of worshipping the gods of metal.
We must take a stand against evil and idolatry. This is our destiny
at the most critical time of human history. But it’s also the greatest
opportunity ever offered to any group of people in the history of
our world – to save our world from complete annihilation.

9, 2006

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