Sixty-four years ago today, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, instantly killing about 80,000 people and eventually leading to the death of between 90,000-140,000 people.

Forty years later, Catholic chaplain George Zabelka, who had blessed the crews of the bombers that dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, gave a speech titled, “Blessing the Bombs.” Here it is:

The destruction of civilians in war was always forbidden by the church, and if a soldier came to me and asked if he could put a bullet through a child’s head, I would have told him, absolutely not. That would be mortally sinful. But in 1945, Tinian Island was the largest airfield in the world. Many of these planes went to Japan with the express purpose of killing not one child or one civilian but of slaughtering hundreds and thousands and I said nothing.

I never preached a single sermon against killing civilians to the men who wet e doing it. I wits brainwashed. It never entered my mind to protest publicly the consequences of these massive air raids. I was told it was necessary–implicitly by my church’s leadership. To the best of my knowledge no American cardinals or bishops were opposing these mass air raids. Silence in such matters is a stamp of approval.

I worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights struggle. His example and his words of nonviolent action, choosing love instead of hate, truth instead of lies, and nonviolence instead of violence stirred me deeply. This brought me face to face with pacifism–active non-violent resistance to evil.

I struggled. I argued. But yes, there it was in the Sermon on the Mount, very clearly: “Love your enemies. Return good for evil.” I went through a crisis of faith. Either accept what Christ said, as unpassable and silly as it may seem, or deny him completely.

For the last 1,700 years the church has not only been making war respectable: it has been inducing people to believe it is an honorable profession, an honorable Christian profession. This is not true. We have been brainwashed. This is a lie.

War is now, always has been, and always will be bad news. I was there. I saw real war. Those who have seen real war will bear me out. It is not of Christ. There is no way to conduct real war in conformity with the teachings of Jesus.

The morality of the balance of terrorism is a morality that Christ never taught. The ethics of mass butchery cannot be found in the teachings of Jesus. In Just War ethics, Jesus Christ, who is supposed to be all in the Christian life, is irrelevant. He might as well never have existed. In Just war ethics, no appeal is made to him or his teaching, because no appeal can be made to him or his teaching, for neither he nor his teaching gives standards for Christians to follow in order to deter mine what level of slaughter is acceptable.

Christians need to stand up and pay up

So the world is watching today. Ethical hairsplitting over the morality of various types of instruments and structures of mass slaughter is not what the world needs from the church, although it is what the world has come to expect from the followers of Christ. What the world needs is a grouping of Christians that will stand up and pay up with Jesus Christ. What the world needs is Christians who, in language that the simplest soul could understand, will proclaim: the follower of Christ cannot participate in mass slaughter.

For 300 years immediately following Jesus’ resurrection, the church universally saw Christ and his teaching as non-violent. Yet the church, in the free of the heinous crimes committed against her members, insisted without reservation that when Christ disarmed Peter he disarmed all Christians. Christians continued to believe that Christ was their fortress, their refuge, and their strength, and that if Christ was all they needed for security and defense, then Christ was all they should have. Indeed, this was a new security ethic. Christians understood that if they would only follow Christ and his teaching, they couldn’t fail. When opportunities were given for Christians to appease the state by joining the fighting Roman army, these opportunities were rejected, because the early church saw a complete and an obvious incompatibility between loving as Christ loved and killing. It was Christ, not Mars, who gave security and peace.

Today the world is on the brink of ruin because the church refuses to be the church, because we Christians have been deceiving ourselves and the non-Christian world about the truth of Christ. There is no way to follow Christ, to love as Christ loved, and simultaneously to kill other people. It is a lie to say that the spirit that moves the trigger of a flamethrower is the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ. It is a lie to say that learning to kill is learning to be Christ-like. It is a lie to say that learning to drive a bayonet into the heart of another is motivated from having put on the mind of Christ. Militarized Christianity is a lie. It is radically out of conformity with the teaching, life and spirit of Jesus.

Now, brothers and sisters, on the anniversary of this terrible atrocity carried out by Christians, I must be the first to say that I made a terrible mistake. I was had by the father of lies. I participated in the big ecumenical lie of the Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Churches. I wore the uniform. I was part of the system. When I said Mass over there I put on those beautiful vestments over my uniform. When Father Dave Becker left the Trident submarine base in 1982 and resigned as Catholic chaplain there, he said: “Every time I went to Mass in my uniform and put the vestments on over my uniform, I couldn’t help but think of the words of Christ applying to me: Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

As an Air Force chaplain I painted a machine gun in the loving hands of the nonviolent Jesus, and then handed this perverse picture to the world as truth. I sang “Praise the Lord” and passed the ammunition. As Catholic chaplain for the 509th Composite Group, I was the final channel that communicated this fraudulent image of Christ to the crews of the Enola Gale and the Boxcar.

All I can say today is that I was wrong. Christ would not be the instrument to unleash such horror on his people. Therefore no follower of Christ can legitimately unleash the horror of war on God’s people.

I was there, and I was wrong. Yes, war is hell, and Christ did not come to justify the creation of hell on earth by his disciples. The justification of war may be compatible with some religions and philosophies, but it is not compatible with the nonviolent teaching of Jesus. I was wrong. And to those of whatever nationality or religion who have been hurt because I fell under the influence of the father of lies, I say with nay whole heart and soul I am sorry. I beg forgiveness.

I asked forgiveness from the hibakushas (the Japanese survivors of the atomic bombings) in Japan last year, in a pilgrimage that I made with a group from Tokyo to Hiroshima. I fell on my face there at the peace shrine after of feting flowers, and I prayed for forgiveness–for myself, for my country, for my church. For both Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

The bombing of Nagasaki means even more to me than the bombing of Hiroshima. By August 9, 1945, we knew what that bomb would do, but we still dropped it. As a Catholic chaplain, I watched as the Boxcar, piloted by a good Irish Catholic pilot, dropped the bomb on Urakalni Cathedral in Nagasaki, the center of Catholicism in Japan. I knew that St. Francis Xavier, centuries before, had brought the Catholic faith to Japan. I knew that schools, churches, and religious orders were annihilated. And yet I said nothing.

Thank God that I’m able to stand her e today and speak out against war, all war. The prophets of the Old Testament said simply: Do not put your trust in chariots and weapons, but put your trust in God.

Their message was simple, and so is mine.

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Comments
  1. sporkmaster says:

    This is going to be a quick reply, but I think that using the bomb was the right thing to do. I understand what things come with war, but ask the people that they where about to send on the invasion of Japan if it was the right thing to do or if they have any remorse about it’s use.

    I will try to reply to this and the other comments more then just a few sentences.

    • Nathan Smith says:

      Is it possible that dropping the bomb v. invading Japan was a false dichotomy?

      • sporkmaster says:

        No because the Soviets had declared war on Japan and would have tried to do something on their own. Also with the past island invasions had shown that the majority where willing to fight to the last man. I think that I was reading a Time book on it and it all but showed that this is what would have happened. Also there was a attemtped coup against the Emperor when it was looking like Japan was going to give up. I will have to find the history magazine that was in.

        Also if the war last long things would have been interesting.

  2. Timothy Seibel says:

    Zabelka is not only condemning the nuclear bombings in this speech. He is also stating his belief that “there is no way to conduct real war in conformity with the teachings of Jesus…There is no way to follow Christ, to love as Christ loved, and simultaneously to kill other people.” Zabelka also says hairsplitting about different methods and techniques of warfare is not right. He calls the church to stand up and condemn all killing.

    I don’t know if all war is unjust, but Zableka is right that Christians must never glorify or place their faith in weapons. When the U.S. is attacked by terrorists, we must not advocate retaliation. We must instead lead our nation in finding a nonviolent path to peace. In rare cases when nations such as Germany or Japan threaten to dominate the world and take away human rights, it does become more difficult for a Christian to object to war and refute the lie that peace comes through bombs and grenades.

    In war, the killing of innocent people cannot be avoided. However, I am remorseful for the tortuous deaths thousands of people suffered in the months and years following the nuclear hells unleashed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Why didn’t the U.S. detonate a nuclear bomb over a less inhabited area? It probably would have had the same effect on the Japanese government. And why was Nagasaki bombed only three days later? An article from the National Catholic Reporter (http://ncronline.org/node/1572), makes the case that “the bombing of Nagasaki was unnecessary, gratuitous at best, and genocidal at worst.”

    I believe that the use of nuclear weapons is a war crime, but isn’t that what all warfare is, crimes of war? It’s nice to hear nations making treaties to respect innocent civilian life during wars, but in reality anything goes in war. The U.S. firebombed Dresden, Germany and unleashed a nuclear Holocaust on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in WWII. Recently, the U.S. has employed torture to interrogate suspected terrorists. In the end, the winner always makes the rules.

    J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the bomb, insisted that nuclear weapons must be strictly regulated by a transnational organization such as the United Nations. Einstein wished atomic weapons had never been built and condemned their use by the U.S. I believe if the U.S. truly seeks greater national and world security, we must lead the world in disarmament. If we don’t want other nations to possess nuclear weapons, we must lead by example.

  3. sporkmaster says:

    But with your first sentence I think your trying to judge from ideals rather then realties. War is bad to begin with, the only thing the can be done to make it better is delay and contain the damage that is caused by it. But as far as condemning war made me think of this quote. (If I said this before I apologize)

    It takes in reality only one to make a quarrel. It is useless for the sheep to pass resolutions in favor of vegetarianism while the wolf remains of a different opinion.

    Except with the case of 9/11 this was the first time that this group has attacked us. The Twin Towers in 1993, the Embassy bombings in Africa, the USS Cole, and other smaller things. So there was a concern there would be additional attacks as well. The line about weapons making peace comes from the notion that id there is mutual fear of destruction by the other side there will not be war.

    But with the Atomic bomb was a new weapon that we really did not know much about the effects of radiation. There are films where people have ingested radioactive food to see how the digestive system works because they could see inside of the human body. Also there where nuclear exposition done during excursuses that US troops went into the area of the blast shortly after the bomb went off. Because we where going after their production families that where located in major cites. Also the choice to surrender was not a sure thing as people may think. The reason that the surrender was done on the battleship Missouri was because of the Coup attempt shortly before and the possible risk of attacks from dissenting Japanese Officers. (Also this is the same Church that was quiet on the Holocaust?) But one thing that needs to be looked at is that there where just as many Churches destroyed in Europe because snipers of all nations used them as cover and vantage points.

    I agree that the effects of these weapons is great and that they should never be taken lightly. But the reason that we still have them is that not everyone has that opinion about using them. Because one question that came up about the deterrence plan was that what would be our action if the Russians launched a nuclear strike?

    But as far as what happens in war, it is more restricted then one would think. But with the atomic bomb it is something that can quickly eliminate the numbers of a attacking army. Also the UN is not the end all be all, because it seems that people give it even less respect then the League of Nations. But with the comments about Einstein, the Germans where already trying to make one themselves. The main reason that they did not ways because the did not put it as high on the list of things because they thought they would have won the war by the time it was done. Regardless of if we did not make it, someone else would have. The reason that we still have these weapons is that not everyone shares the view that they should not be used. So it can be said that these weapons ensure that no one uses them. Because is a conflict like that there would be no winners. To combat the threat of a attack they have tried to make missile defense systems that will help.

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