Nagasaki

Posted: August 10, 2008 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

Yesterday was the anniversary of the second A-bomb attack by the United States against Japan at the close of World War II.

You might have heard a great deal about whether or not the bombs were justified. I am not a subscriber to just war theory, but for those who are, I’d offer the following for your consideration:

…Eisenhower said after the war that “the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”

… [R]ight-wing extremist (and inspiration for Jack D. Ripper in the movie “Dr. Strangelove”) General Curtis LeMay … publicly proclaimed afterward that the war would have been done with in two weeks and that the bomb played no part in hastening its end.

“More important was to demonstrate to the world—and particularly to the Soviet Union—the newly acquired might of the United States,” Nobel Peace Prize-winner Joseph Rotblat [a Manhattan Project scientist] wrote … “I personally happened to find this out, directly from the mouth of General Leslie Groves, the head of the Manhattan Project, who said in a casual conversation in 1944, ‘You realize, of course, that the main purpose of the project is to subdue the Russians.’ ”

In just war thinking, the common rationale for the A-bombs — that their use saved the lives of many more American troops, who would have died in an invasion, than it cost in Japanese lives — is invalid. Wholesale destruction of cities as a war strategy discards the just war criteria of discrimination, which requires that harm to civilians be avoided. It even violates the more recent and more spurious criteria of “double effect,” which gives just warriors more leeway in killing civilians if they die in an attack on a legitimate military target. Nagasaki and Hiroshima were civilian centers that, incidentally, included the heart of the Japanese Christian community. The fact of the matter is that in just war theory, the lives of troops of either side are sacrificed precisely to protect the civilians of either side. (Troops and militant civilians may not like this aspect of just war theory, but it is inescapable if you subscribe to this way of thinking.) I have yet to meet the defense of the wholesale slaughter of entire cities such as was seen in the A-bomb attacks that is not itself an attack on the core principles of just war theory.

I do not subscribe to just war theory. It is an anti-Christian accommodation with “the lesser, necessary evil,” which ignores completely the life and teachings of Jesus, the Prince of Peace and advocate of nonviolent, self-sacrificing love for allies and enemies. Just as I do not believe the wholesale slaughter of civilians by atomic weapons can be “Christian” (what a blasphemy…it sticks in my throat), I do not believe soldiers should be heaped up on the altar of My Safety (especially in conflicts that involve compulsory military service). I do not believe that a uniform is an effective enough disguise to mask the image of God in all men and women.

Jesus taught that we should be perfect in our love, just as the Father is perfect. The Cross shows us perfect love. The God revealed in Jesus loves his disciples enough to die for them. He loved his torturers enough to desire mercy on their behalf. And he loved even the foreign military oppressors of his friends and family enough to cause his countrymen to desire his death, however they could secure it. Weapons in the hands of people threatening Jesus did not separate them from his love. This is how we Christians should react today to our enemies. Hiroshima and Nagasaki ripped off any veneer of military conflict as a Christian vocation. This past week was a good opportunity to reflect on what sits behind the mask of civil religion during wartime.

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