The Ninth of August
by Gary G. Kohls
by Gary G. Kohls
On the 9th
of August, 1945,
an all-Christian B-29 bomber crew took off from Tinian Island in
the South Pacific, with the blessings of its Catholic and Protestant
chaplains. In the plane’s hold was the second of the only two nuclear
bombs to ever be used against human targets in wartime. The primary
target, Kokura, Japan, was clouded over, so the plane, named Bock’s
Car, headed for the secondary target, Nagasaki. St. Mary’s Urakami
Cathedral, a massive Nagasaki landmark that the bombardier had been
briefed on for weeks before the bombing, was briefly seen through
the thin clouds and targeted as ground zero.
Cathedral was the oldest and largest Christian church in the Orient,
and Nagasaki was the oldest and most influential Christian community
in Japan, having been founded by Francis Xaviar in 1550. The Nagasaki
Christian community was legendary in the history of Oriental Christianity
because of its two centuries of catacomb-like existence during the
horrible persecutions by the Imperial Japanese government
including mass crucifixions of faithful Christians who refused to
give up the faith. Despite the persecutions, and the outlawing of
Christianity (as a capital crime to be a Christian for 250 years),
Nagasaki Christianity survived and ultimately flourished – until
11:02 am, August 9, 1945.
Japan could not do over two centuries of brutal persecution, fellow
American Christians did in 9 seconds. The Cathedral was destroyed
by the plutonium bomb (named Fat Man after Winston Churchill), thousands
of Nagasaki Christians were mortally burned, carbonized or vaporized
and the subsequent radiation-induced disease and deformities among
the survivors and their progeny continues to this day as a gruesome
testament to the horrors of nuclear war. But Nagasaki Christianity’s
spirit lives on.
On the 9th
of August, 1943, Franz Jaegerstaetter, a devout Austrian Christian
pacifist, was beheaded by German Christians for refusing to fight
and kill in Hitler’s army. Because of his conscientious objection
to war and killing, he had been abandoned by his bishop and pastor,
as well as by his family and friends, all of whom had tried to convince
him to do his patriotic duty and kill for "Volk, Führer und
Vaterland." They all tried to convince him that his commitment
to Christian nonviolence was futile. Instead, being obedient to
his God rather than to men, he died by guillotine at Brandenburg
Prison, at the hands of obedient baptized Christian soldiers, whose
belt buckles read "Gott Mit Uns" (God With Us).
And yet Jaegerstaetter’s spirit lives on.
On the 9th
of August, 1942, Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, a Jewish
Catholic Carmelite nun, was murdered by fellow German Christians
at Auschwitz. Gott Mit Uns was stamped on their belt buckles
too. The German Christian churches had, by their collaboration or
by their silence, endorsed the Nazi’s rabid nationalism, militarism,
racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and "legal" right to
kill other children of God. Ironically, two years later, Sister
Teresa’s Carmel in Cologne was incinerated during the massive American
and British saturation bombing of various civilian targets, making
it a moot point precisely which Christian warriors killed her, Nazis
or Allied. Teresa has since been sainted in the Roman Catholic Church,
and her spirit lives on.
Composite Group, whose responsibilities were to deliver the two
radioactive weapons of mass destruction, had two Christian chaplains.
The Catholic chaplain, George Zabelka, spoke of societal attitudes
at the time: "The whole structure of secular, religious and
military society told me clearly that it was all right to ‘let the
Japs have it.’ God was on our side." Father Zabelka knew what
his bomber crews were doing to innocent people and their defenseless
cities in the summer of 1945, and yet "I said nothing."
He regretted that silence for the rest of his life.
Charles McCarthy, the foremost apostle of Christian nonviolence
in America today, has dedicated his life and ministry to raising
the consciousness of the church to the truth of Jesus’ nonviolent
teachings. McCarthy says:
as for most of the last 1700 years, most Christians continue to
justify as consistent with the spirit of Christ those energies,
understandings, and emotions which lead inevitably to August 9.
Today most Christians still do not unequivocally teach what Jesus
unequivocally taught on the subject of violence. Today most Christians
still refuse to proclaim that violence is not the Christian way,
that violence is not the Holy way, that violence is not the way
to call the Christian community to repent and to return to the truth
that violence is not the way of Christ, Father McCarthy leads a
fast from solid foods for 40 days, breaking it on August 9. In August
1995 he was at Nagasaki, leading one of the 50th anniversary
It is suggested
that fellow peacemakers remember all the victims of past
August Ninths in their prayers on the upcoming 60th anniversary
commemoration. It is hoped that conscientious Christians consider
a day-long fast in remembrance of the hundreds of millions of war
dead, the hundreds of millions of physically and psychologically
traumatized survivors of war violence, and the billions of spiritually
dead victims, both soldier-perpetrators and their civilian victims,
innocents who continue to suffer from the starvation, homelessness,
poverty, sickness and hopelessness that follows every war.
Kohls, MD [send him mail],
an associate of Every Church a Peace
Church, is a practicing physician in Duluth, MN.
© 2006 Gary G. Kohls, MD