Monday, August 10, 2015

Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Our Souls

By Craig Hovey

Seventy years ago, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, ending World War II. Now, after decades of nuclear weapons buildup across the globe and some disarmament following the end of the cold war, there are questions about whether and how Iran’s nuclear plans can be kept reliably peaceful and how Japan’s pacifist constitution can be maintained. Nine nations currently have nuclear weapons.

Urakami Cathedral following the Nagasaki bombing Courtesy of atomicarchive.com
Aristotle taught that we do not simply act based on decisions that we make; our characters and dispositions are formed by what we do and in turn inspire our further actions. This works for both virtues and vices: good actions can make a good person; bad actions can make a bad person. And while most ethicists categorically condemn the US bombing of Japan, it is less common to ask what kind of societal soul both produces and is produced by it.

So much has been written about nonviolence “in the nuclear age,” but I’m reminded in particular of these two powerful statements and what they say about our souls:

Dorothy Day, one of the greatest voices for nonviolence in the 20th century, was disturbed by those who celebrated after the bombing. Even St. Augustine, whose teaching about the possibility of a just war has been so influential, still taught that wars must be fought mournfully. 
“Mr, Truman was jubilant. President Truman. True man; what a strange name, come to think of it. We refer to Jesus Christ as true God and true Man. Truman is a true man of his time in that he was jubilant. He was not a son of God, brother of Christ, brother of the Japanese, jubilating as he did. He went from table to table on the cruiser which was bringing him home from the Big Three conference, telling the great news; "jubilant" the newspapers said. Jubilate Deo. We have killed 318,000 Japanese.”  
(Excerpt from “We Go on Record: the Catholic Worker Response to Hiroshima” by Dorothy Day)
George Zabelka was a chaplain with the U.S. Army air force, stationed on Tinian Island in the South Pacific in 1945. Later, Zabelka embraced nonviolence and reflected back on his role as chaplain to the airmen who dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
“I, like the Catholic pilot of the Nagasaki plane, 'The Great Artiste,' was heir to a Christianity that had for seventeen hundred years engaged in revenge, murder, torture, the pursuit of power, and prerogative violence, all in the name of our Lord.
"I walked through the ruins of Nagasaki right after the war and visited the place where once stood the Urakami Cathedral. I picked up a piece of a censer from the rubble. When I look at it today I pray God forgives us for how we have distorted Christ's teaching and destroyed his world by the distortion of that teaching. I was the Catholic chaplain who was there when this grotesque process that began with Constantine reached its lowest point—so far.”
(From Cloud of Witnesses, ed. Jim Wallis and Joyce Hollyday [Orbis Books].)

Craig Hovey is executive director of the Ashland Center for Nonviolence.

1 comment:

Sharon Shelly said...

Thank you for this beautiful and timely piece.

As we observe the "anniversary" of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I think it's a good thing for all of us to re-read Mark Twain's "The War Prayer."