Tomorrow is the anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Nagasaki in August 1945.
I don’t feel the need to summarize it. Everyone knows the devastation it caused, the tens of thousands killed. Proponents of the bombing, including this writer at Forbes, argue that it was necessary to end the war to avoid an invasion, which might have cost one million American casualties.
I used to be one of them.
When I was in college, I defended the bombings against the charge that they were an act of terror, claiming they “acts of mercy,” because they ended the firebombing campaigns that killed hundreds of thousands more than the atomic bombs ever did.
Years later, those words now haunt me, all the more so because I didn’t merely believe it, but I had the confidence to espouse this sentiment in front of a classroom of my peers.
What converted me was a hypothetical situation I posed to myself: Would I have been willing to drop those bombs if ordered to do so, knowing what they would do and whom the victims would be?
No matter how hard I tried to rationalize it, I kept answering “no.” I knew in my heart, no matter what I had been taught or read, that it was wrong. If it was wrong for me to kill innocent people as an individual, it was wrong to kill them when ordered to by a government.
None of this in any way absolves the Japanese government at the time of their blame for this travesty, nor their responsibility for other atrocities committed by their armies during the war. In many ways they are responsible for refusing to surrender when there was absolutely no hope of victory, notwithstanding their invasions of Manchuria, China, and the attack on Pearl Harbor violated the Just War Theory anyways.
But the barbarism of one side does not excuse the savagery of the other, either.
It only proves what I’ve said before on the evils of war. The actions of a few bring death to many who have no power or control over the situation. It allows people to justify wholesale murder.
As a Christian, I would have converted much more quickly had I known that the “fat boy” bomb also incinerated the most Christian city in Japan.
Despite years of persecution by the government, Christianity managed to gain a foothold in a traditional Shinto country, operating unnoticed and underground much as it had during the Roman persecution.
Eventually, Christians were tolerated, though frowned upon by their government. In Nagasaki, they built St. Mary’s Urakami Cathedral, the largest one in the region.
Gary G. Kohls reveals that it was this cathedral the U.S. used to identify Nagasaki for the bombing run.
When the atomic bomb exploded, the cathedral was filled with people attending Mass. Not only was the entire congregation killed, but other Christians within the city were burned alive.
Three orders of nuns and a Christian girl’s school disappeared into black smoke or became chunks of charcoal. Tens of thousands of other innocent non-combatants also died instantly, and many more were mortally or incurably wounded. Some of the victim’s progeny are still suffering from the trans-generational malignancies and immune deficiencies caused by the deadly plutonium and other radioactive isotopes produced by the bomb.
And here is one of the most important ironic points of this article: What the Japanese Imperial government could not do in 250 years of persecution (destroy Japanese Christianity) American Christians did in 9 seconds.
Even after a slow revival of Christianity over the decades since WWII, membership in Japanese churches still represent a small fraction of 1% of the general population, and the average attendance at Christian worship services has been reported to be only 30. Surely the decimation of Nagasaki at the end of the war crippled what at one time was a vibrant church.
In his address to the nation on the use of the atomic bomb, President Truman said the following:
We thank God that it has come to us, instead of to our enemies; and we pray that He may guide us to use it in His ways and for His purposes.
I don’t think I need to point out the terrible irony of this statement.
Do not misunderstand my point: The bombing of Nagasaki was an immoral act of violence against innocent people; their religious beliefs or lack thereof changed nothing.
What it does is demonstrate the moral hypocrisy that most people accept without knowing it.
When it’s wrong to do something against people who are like you, it’s wrong to do it against others, as well. Obviously, I am not inferring there is a moral difference when the person killed is of a separate religious faith.
It demonstrates quite effectively why Christians should be anti-war – and libertarian anarchists while they’re at it.
Throughout history, they have been ordered to kill fellow Christians wearing a similar uniform but from another country who, like they, are “just following orders” of their respective government.
In some cases, they even carry out a de facto cleansing of their own faith in a foreign country.
In Iraq, the Christian community that has survived as a minority for decades under the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein is now being exterminated. All this has come about as a result of the U.S. invasion in 2003. (It also proves that the insurgency that fought against U.S. troops did so for reasons that had nothing to do with protecting their countrymen whom they are now murdering in droves; it all had to do with who gets to oppress who).
In other word, Christians in Iraq are being murdered because Christians in the U.S. who advocated and still defend the Iraq War have failed to study and grasp the repercussions their governments’ actions have against their brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.
In his book Tortured for Christ, Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand wrote that his country fell to the communists through the assistance of the U.S. government, and when he came to the United States he was frustrated by the ignorance of Christians as to their government’s actions. Some churches even refused to let him speak because of his anti-communist views.
What all this does is highlight the mutually exclusive orders given to a Christian: one from Christ to love and serve other believers, and another order from the State to murder them due to their geopolitical circumstances.
I write this as I think of other Christians who, like I myself once did, defend atrocities and wars because they do not give it sufficient thought. They do not examine the actual details of the event. They see it as necessary, yet they cannot explain how it is acceptable.
As a Christian, this is why I will never join a military force, never accept a draft notice, and never fight in a war unless it adheres to the Just War Theory as articulated by St. Thomas Aquinas – and even then I would fight on no one’s terms but my own.
I choose this if for no other reason – and there are plenty – because I refuse to involve myself in a conflict I may not fully understand and where I may potentially kill not only the innocent, but another member of my faith.
Fellow believers can argue and bicker with me all they please about the moral ambiguities of war and how circumstances and context matter when determining right from wrong on matters such as night bombings, urban warfare, and collateral damage. But I have yet to have one reconcile killing fellow Christians with the Greatest Commandments.
Until then, I’ll adhere to the Non-Aggression Principle and continue to reject any order by the State that tells me to hate and kill men who have committed no crime deserving of death.