On the 9th of August, 1945, an all-Christian B-29 bomber crew, took off from Tinian Island in the South Pacific, with the blessings of its Catholic and Protestant chaplains. In the plane’s hold was the second of the only two nuclear bombs to ever be used against human targets in wartime. The primary target, Kokura, Japan, was clouded over, so the plane, named Bock’s Car, headed for the secondary target, Nagasaki.
St. Mary’s Cathedral, located in the Urakami district of Nagasaki, was a massive structure and a landmark easily visible from 31,000 feet above, and one of the landmarks on which the Bock’s Car’s bombardier had been briefed on for weeks before the mission. The cathedral was briefly seen through the thin clouds and he ordered the drop.
The Urakami Cathedral was the oldest and largest Christian church in the Orient, and Nagasaki was the oldest and most influential Christian community in Japan, having been founded by the Jesuit missionary, Francis Xavier, in 1549. The Nagasaki Christian community is legendary in the history of Oriental Christianity because of its two centuries of catacomb-like existence during the horrible persecutions by the Imperial Japanese government – including mass crucifixions of faithful Christians who refused to give up the faith. Despite the persecutions and the formal outlawing of the religion (it was a capital crime to be a Christian - as it was for the original nonviolent form of Christianity – for over 2 centuries), Nagasaki Christianity survived and ultimately flourished - until 11:02 am, August 9, 1945.
What Imperial Japan could not do over two centuries of brutal persecution, fellow American Christians did in 9 seconds. The Cathedral was totally destroyed by the plutonium bomb and thousands of Nagasaki Christians were instantly killed, vaporized or incinerated. Radiation-induced disease and deformities among the “surviving” victims and their progeny continues to this day as a gruesome testament to the horrors of nuclear war. And yet the spirit of Nagasaki Christianity lives on.
On the 9th of August, 1943, Franz Jaegerstaetter, a devout Austrian Christian pacifist, was beheaded by German Christians for refusing to join Hitler’s army. Because of his gospel-based conscientious objection to war and killing, he had been abandoned by his spiritual leaders, as well as his family and friends, all of whom had tried to convince him to do his patriotic duty and kill for “Volk, Fuhrer und Vaterland.” They all tried to convince him that his commitment to gospel nonviolence was futile – and fatal. Instead, being obedient to his God rather than to men, he did not relent and was murdered at Brandenburg Prison, at the hands of obedient baptized Christian soldiers, whose belt buckles read “Gott Mit Uns” (God With Us). And yet Jaegerstaetter’s spirit lives on.
On the 9th of August, 1942, Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, a Jewish Catholic Carmelite nun, was murdered by fellow German Christians at Auschwitz. Gott Mit Uns was also stamped on their belt buckles. Most of German Christianity had, by its collaboration and/or by its silence, endorsed the Nazi’s ruthless forms of nationalism, militarism, racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and its “legal” right to kill. Teresa has since been sainted in the Roman Catholic Church, and her spirit lives on.
On the 9th of August, 1945, the United States Army Air Force’s 509th Composite Group, whose major responsibilities were to deliver the two nuclear weapons of mass destruction, had two Christian chaplains. The Catholic chaplain, Father George Zabelka, spoke of societal attitudes at the time: “The whole structure of secular, religious and military society told me clearly that it was all right to ‘let the Japs have it.’ God was on our side.” Father Zabelka knew what his bomber crews were doing to innocent civilians and their defenseless cities with conventional incendiary bombs in the spring and summer of 1945, and yet “I said nothing.” He regretted that silence for the rest of his life.
Father Emmanuel Charles McCarthy, the foremost apostle of Christian nonviolence in America today, and the person most responsible for Zabelka’s conversion away from biblical violence to gospel nonviolence, has dedicated his life and ministry to raising the consciousness of the church about the truths of Jesus’ nonviolent teachings. McCarthy says:
Today, as for most of the last 1700 years, most Christians continue to justify as consistent with the spirit of Christ those energies, understandings, and emotions which lead inevitably to August 9. Today most Christians still do not unequivocally teach what Jesus unequivocally taught on the subject of violence. Today most Christians still refuse to proclaim that violence is not the Christian way, that violence is not the Holy way, that violence is not the way of Jesus.
Every July 1st, to call the Christian community to repent and to return to the truth that violence is not the way of Christ, Father McCarthy leads a fast from solid foods for 40 days, breaking it on August 9th.
It is suggested that sincere Christian peacemakers remember all the victims of past August 9ths in their prayers on the upcoming anniversary commemorations on this year’s August 9th. It is hoped that conscientious Christians consider a day-long fast in remembrance of the hundreds of millions of war dead, the hundreds of millions of physically, psychologically and spiritually traumatized survivors of war violence, and the billions of those who may be spiritually dead, both soldier-perpetrators, their civilian or soldier-victims, the innocent and guilty bystanders and the second and third generations of those who continue to suffer from the starvation, poisoning, radiation exposure, homelessness, poverty, hopelessness and domestic abuse that follows all wars.
Gary G. Kohls, MD, Duluth, MN - for the Community of the Third Way, an affiliate of Every Church A Peace Church.