62 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.
It 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.)
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.
The 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.
Early 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 Winston
The 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 lavarock that resulted, still found at the
site today, is called trinitite.
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 target, Nagasaki.
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.
Within 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.
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.
Now 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.
At 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 zero.
And 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.
The 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.
In Daniel 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."
As 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.
One 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.
This 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.
If 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."
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 one’s 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.
Out 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 disorder?
What 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 un-indicted to date) perpetrated by the current "Christian"
administration of the United States. And what is to be done to prevent
the next Nagasaki?
A 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.
The 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.