The Ninth of August

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.

The Urakami 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.

What Imperial 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, Fhrer 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.

The 509th 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 u2018let 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.

Father Emmanuel 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:

Today, 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 of Jesus.

Every summer, 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 events.

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.

July 15, 2006