Duty to Warn: The Bombing of Nagasaki August 9, 1945: The Untold Story
by Gary G. Kohls on 09 Aug 2011 3 Comments
64 years ago, on August 9th, 1945, the second of the only two atomic bombs ever used as instruments of mass destruction was dropped on the defenseless civilian city of Nagasaki, Japan, by an all-Christian bomb crew who had been training for this mission for months. The crew was only “doing its job,” and they did it with military efficiency and precision.


It had been only 3 days since the first bomb, a uranium bomb, had incinerated Hiroshima, with chaos and confusion in Tokyo, where Japan’s fascist military government leaders and the Emperor Hirohito had been searching for months for a way to an honorable end to the war, a war which had exhausted Japan to virtually moribund defenseless state.


The only obstacle to surrender had been the Truman administration’s insistence on unconditional surrender, which meant that the Emperor would be removed from his figurehead position – an intolerable demand for the Japanese, who regarded their ruler as a deity.


The Russian army was advancing across Manchuria with the stated aim of entering the war against Japan on August 8, so there was an extra incentive for the US to end the war quickly: the US military command did not want to divide any spoils or share power after Japan sued for peace, which both sides knew was inevitable. The main sticking point was the unreasonable American demand for unconditional surrender


US bomber command had spared Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Kokura from the conventional incendiary bombing that had burned to the ground 60+ other major Japanese cities during the first half of 1945. One of the reasons for delaying the targeting of undamaged cities with these new weapons 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. The plutonium bomb in its hold was code-named “Fat Man,” after Winston Churchill.


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 lava-type rock that was generated from the intense heat - called “trinitite” - can still found at the site today.


With instructions to drop the bomb only on visual sighting, Bock’s Car arrived at Kokura, but the city 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.


Nagasaki is 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, had established a mission church in 1549, a Christian community that grew rapidly and prospered for several generations. However, as had happened in South America, Africa, Asia and other newly “discovered” countries, Portuguese and Spanish commercial interests that had supported Xavier’s missionary activities, began the planned exploitation of Japan’s resources and its people. But, unlike many other colonized tribes and nations, the merchants were accurately perceived as exploiters, and they were ordered out of Japan. And the religion of the suspicious foreigners soon became the target of brutal persecutions.


Within 60 years of the start of Xavier’s mission church, Christianity became an outlaw religion and professing the faith became a capital crime. The Japanese Christians who refused to recant and return to Shintoism or Buddhism suffered ostracism, torture and even crucifixions similar to the Roman persecutions in the first few centuries of Christianity. After the reign of terror was over, it appeared to all observers that Japanese Christianity had been wiped out.


However, 250 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, when the community was discovered, 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 the massive St. Mary’s Cathedral was one of the landmarks that could be seen at 31,000 feet by the Bock’s Car bombardier, and, looking through his bomb site, he identified the cathedral and ordered the drop.


So, at 11:02 am, August 9, 1945, Nagasaki Christianity was boiled, evaporated and carbonized in a scorching, radioactive fireball many times hotter than the sun. The vibrant, faithful, persecuted 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. 8,500 of the worshipping community of 12,000 perished directly as a consequence of the bomb.


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 secret 1500 man Army Air Force group, whose main function was to successfully deliver the atomic bombs to their targets) was Father George Zabelka. Several decades after the war ended, he finally saw his grave theological error in religiously legitimizing the organized mass slaughter that is modern land and air war. He finally recognized that the enemies of America 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 his important book, Hell, Healing and Resistance, author Daniel Hallock tells about a 1997 Buddhist retreat led by Thich Nhat Hanh that attempted to deal with the hellish, post-combat realities experienced by combat-traumatized Vietnam War veterans. The irony of what happened there prompted Hallock to write, “Clearly, Buddhism offers something that cannot be found in institutional Christianity. But then why should veterans (who largely have abandoned the faiths of their childhoods as hypocritical) 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 has dealt daily with psychologically traumatized patients, I know that it is violence, in all its forms, that bruises and breaks 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 – and will continue to spread until the military violence that fuels so much domestic violence is stopped.


One of the most difficult so-called “mental illnesses” to treat is combat-induced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In its most virulent form PTSD is, in my considered opinion, incurable. It is also a fact that, whereas most Vietnam era soldiers had been raised in churches where they actively practiced their faith, if they came home with combat-induced PTSD, the percentage returning to the faith of their families approached zero.


This is a serious spiritual problem for any church that - either by its active support of its nation’s “glorious” wars or by its silence on such issues - fails to teach its young people what Jesus taught about violence: that it was forbidden for those who wished to follow him.


If a Christian community fails to thoroughly inform its confirmands about the gruesome realities of the war zone and the threats to their very souls before they 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.”


The purpose 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 gospel within the gospel - the Sermon on the Mount - that contains the core ethical teachings of Jesus found in Matthew 5, 6 and 7 and Luke 6.


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 so many 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 Christians do, starting now, to prevent the next war and the next epidemic of soul-destroying, combat-induced post-traumatic stress disorder?


What can we do to prevent the next round of such atrocities as this partial list, all of which have been largely perpetrated by professed Christians: the My Lai Massacre, Auschwitz, Dresden, El Mozote, Rwanda, Jonestown, the black church bombings, deadly sanctions against Iraq (that killed 500,000 Iraqi children during the 1990s), the current war that has killed more than a million innocent Iraqi civilians), the Fallujah massacres, the torturing of “un-indicted suspects” at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo plus the many other atrocities that, by definition, are international war crimes, crimes against the peace and crimes against humanity.


So what is to be done to prevent the next Nagasaki?


Much of the responsibility for causing and, therefore preventing, military atrocities like Nagasaki lies with the Just War Theory American Christian churches and whether or not they will finally start teaching what Jesus taught and then living as he lived: the unconditional love of friend, neighbor and enemy the refusing to kill other children of a loving God.


The next Nagasaki can be prevented if the churches courageously and publicly resist militarism by active nonviolent means and refuse their government’s call for the conscription of the bodies and souls of their sons and daughters.


If the churches start to exercise their sacred duty to warn their young parishioners about what killing does to their souls, it may not be too late to save the suffering people of a dying, war-torn, financially and morally bankrupt planet.


Dr. Kohls is a founding member of Every Church A Peace Church (www.ecapc.org) and a member of Duluth’s 2009 Hiroshima/Nagasaki Commemoration Week planning committee.

Posted at: http://www.rockcreekfreepress.com/CreekV3No8-Web.pdf

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