Fulfilled in Jesus

Our pilgrimage with our Beloved in Japan -- Yoko & Ramone on the journey with Jesus!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

What Nagasaki Means to Me

I was raised near Washington D.C. in the white majority (pretty much unaware that I was half-Mexican until 2004). I grew up pretty enamoured with our military, with our many successful wars, and believing that all of our fighting was just because we didn't start it. I went to Army-Navy surplus stores, wore camoflague clothing, tromped through the woods, watched war movies and TV dramas, and thought of one-day joining the Army or being a pilot in a fighter plane. When the first Iraq War ended and the Armed Forces decided to display their firepower by putting planes, helicopters and other military equipment on the National Mall, of course I was there taking pictures, getting soldiers' and pilots' autographs. I loved going to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, gluing together and painting model fighter jets, and seeing the yearly air show at Andrews Air Force base.

Like many other children who are raised in awe of our military, I saw the atomic bombings with a sense of wonder, even pride, at our country having been able to develop such a powerful weapon and win the war with it. I knew it caused terrible destruction with its blast and with its radiation, but I only wanted to pay attention to those things as much as I wanted to go down to the local cancer ward and see terminally ill patients. Neither I nor my family wanted to deal with that. Like every other 'patriotic' American, I thought that "loving my country" meant never saying we did anything wrong. Thinking that we were at fault in anything felt like I was being traitorous, anti-American, or cheering for the other side.

As a child, though, my sense of American righteousness was severely damaged when I read the story of Sadako Sasaki, a little girl who survived the Hiroshima bombing, but died of leukemia years later. Before she died she tried to fold 1,000 paper cranes in the hopes that the gods would grant her wish to live. I don't know if I cried when I read it, but I do now just thinking about it. Especially since I now have my own little boy, Timothy, who is almost a year and five months old.

I finally visited Hiroshima in May of 2003. I don't think I'd given much conscious thought to Hiroshima in the prior decade to that visit. Yet when a friend offered to pay for me to go, I went there with a sense of being on a pilgrimage (indeed my last name, "Romero", means "pilgrim" in Spanish). Somehow I had slowly begun to understand that there was terrible horror there, my country had caused it, and I needed to face it finally. At the museum I came face to face with the sheer fact that it was an experimental bomb, and that the city had been chosen not as a military target, but as a psychological one. A populated area was chosen instead of a strictly military target; one which also had terrain that would better "test" the effects of the experimental bomb.

My second shock came when I began to learn about Nagasaki. The footnote-like phrase I remember from my school textbooks ("A second more powerful bomb was dropped on Nagasaki three days later") did not tell me that Nagasaki was the historical center of Japanese Christianity, nor that Japan had a Christian history older than that of the United States. I didn't know about the thousands of martyrs that had died in Japan, and that Nagasaki became their reunion point when the country was re-opened to the world and to Christianity in the 1800s. While I knew the comical name of that second atomic bomb ("Fat Man"), I didn't know that it exploded over a church with 850 people inside. I didn't know that within one kilometer of the blast were eleven schools for children, and that they all died.

Watching this year's Nagasaki peace ceremony on TV, I heard a survivor tell of how her brother didn't want to go to school that day because he had a bad headache, but his father scolded him and made him go to school. When the bomb exploded, the family at home survived. They searched for their son for days but never found him. The city gave them a bone (as is the Buddhist custom) from a pile of the of remains of hundreds of unidentifiable schoolchildren who died in the schoolyard. How that father wished he had not sent his son to school that day... how would I feel if that were my son?

A night before the peace ceremony, I watched a new NHK documentary about the photographs of the late Joe O'Donnell, a Marine photographer who was sent to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For forty years he did not speak of the horrors he saw. But he finally took his photos out of his trunk and began to speak, because the faces and voices were tormenting him too terribly. His son, Tyge, has started "The Phoenix Venture" to continue the testimony for peace that his father started.

Yesterday as I watched the Nagasaki peace ceremony, I began to see a picture of the destruction and a hill in the background where the 26 martyrs were crucified. To me it represents what "Nagasaki" means to me -- a lot of things I didn't know, a lot of people just like me, and the heart of God that is necessary to see how much He loves us all, even when we were His enemies.

I know that the only way we will have any "peace" in the world is by learning to see one another through different eyes, through eyes of love and value. God saw us with those eyes, didn't He?
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

- Romans 5:6-8
He didn't count our sins against us, but rather His Son took our sins on Himself so that we might be reconciled to Him. The only way we will have any "peace" between people on earth is by sitting still at the feet of that love, learning that the One who had right to destroy us chose instead to love us while we were His enemies. If He loved us so much, shouldn't we love one another? He died for my enemies, just like He died from me.

Help us see one another, Lord, as You see us. Help us look past our immediate feelings and whatever we've been taught. Help us forgive, help us love. Give us grace to overcome and be reconciled, in Jesus' name, amen.


Two articles from years past:

"In Memoriam" - about the Christians of the Nagasaki bombing and Takashi Nagai (2005)
"Remembering Hiroshima" - an account of the Hiroshima bombing from Christians who were there

Some years later God explained the meaning of the picture to me: "Reaping Nagasaki"



  • At August 10, 2008 9:51 PM, Blogger Ramone said…

    A few more thoughts:

    Over the years I've grown steadily more upset at defenses for the bomb. It's hard for many Americans to simply hear mention of the tragedy of the bomb without feelign the need to quickly cite some justificating reason for it.

    "Remember Pearl Harbor" usually comes first. But does it compare? Pearl Harbor was an attack using conventional weapons (not radioactive ones) that was made against military targets (some historical evidence also suggests that the attack was known about in advance).

    "Remember what Japan did during the war." The Japanese army did indeed do terrible things during the war. And the military and its leaders are largely responsible for what destruction the war brought to Japan. Yet from a biblical perspective, it is good to remember that while God used Babylon (and other unrighteous nations) to punish Israel, this did not make Babylon more "right" or clear her of responsibility. In fact, God later judged many nations for the way that they destroyed Israel. Even though a nation (Israel) was punished for its sins, the way in which the punishment came about did not leave the other nations guiltless. In the same way, it isn't right to cite the Japanese military's sins as though it somehow justifies the use of a horrific experimental radioactive bomb on two Japanese cities. Did the women, children and elderly have a part in the Japanese military's war crimes?

    Many Americans say, "The bomb saved lives", referring usually to the lives of American soldiers. Sometimes defenders cite saved Japanese lives. But it's difficult to stand on conjecture. Also, there is a difference between killing soldiers and killing civilians. The soldier is already giving his life for his country. He knows he may die, but he is laying down his life. He is sacrificing himself for his people. The civilian, on the other hand, is not. Civilians did not choose to lay down their lives. If we use this argument, that killing these civilians saved lives (primarily military lives), then we are essentially saying that the people of these two cities were sacrificed to save others' lives. Sacrificed against their own will, and that we were right to sacrifice their lives to end the war.

    Both of my grandfathers served in the military. One worked on PT boats in the Pacific, and the other worked on airplane engines (when his unit was scheduled to go to the Pacific, his request to stay stateside was granted; his was wiped out). I might not be here today if it were not for the bombs. But I can't say that for sure. Moreover, when I stand in front of pictures of dying people and burnt children, I simply cannot "argue for" the bomb anymore. I only know that such a "weapon of mass destruction" should never, ever be used against anyone.

    Arguing justification for any side in a war is difficult. I'm making these points simply to say that the bomb was terrible and it was wrong. Ultimate responsibility for "who started it" and all the things that came along the way is a very difficult thing to sort out. And even if responsibility is "sorted out", it doesn't reduce anyone's very real suffering. It is much better to simply recognize genuine suffering and "mourn with those who mourn." We as Christians hinder our God-given duty to mourn with others when we qualify our morning by adding disclaimer justifications. In so doing we not only misrepresent God's heart, but we miss out on it ourselves:

    "In all their distress he too was distressed." (Isaiah 63:9)

    I realize that somehow, through the cross, Christ has taken the pains and sins of the world -- including the war, Nagasaki, Hiroshima, America, China, Japan, and everyone. Somehow I see hope there on the cross, even as we continue to hurt, wound, attack and kill one another today.

    Bring us to peace, Lord, peace in You. In Jesus' name, amen.

  • At August 11, 2008 7:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I guess I've always somehow instinctively been anti-military and war. Not really sure where that came from, although as I get older I can entertain the thought that war at times may be the only solution. I guess from a European perspective WWII was about stopping Hitler and the horrendous things the Nazi's did and clearly Hitler needed stopping. But when I was younger I was very strongly a pacifist and couldn't see any justification for war.
    Anyway, I visited Hiroshima on about Sept 15th 2001 when America was in shock that there were people in the world that wanted to do something as terrible a 9/11 to them and was pondering how to retaliate. The trip had been booked well in advance so it wasn't planned at all, but now somehow the two events are always linked in my mind. If I remember correctly America has never apologized for Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
    On an aside note I think people in Britain are not as patriotic as many American's seem to be. Perhaps it is because we live in a post-colonial time where we can recognize mistakes Britain has made.

  • At August 11, 2008 11:58 PM, Blogger Ramone said…

    Sometimes I really wish Augustine had never come up with his "just war" doctrine. In theory, it makes sense, but there is always so much more to the story. I love America and her people, but we have been suckers throughout our history for the "they started it" line, and sadly it blinds us not only to being manipulated by fear and propaganda, but it also blinds us to our own subsequent responsive actions that may not be above reproach. Case in point, the atomic bombs.

    I lament that I've written so much across this article and in comments merely pointing out what should be obvious -- that the atomic bomb was unjust. It's sadly not obvious to many (most?) people in my homeland. Ironically, the Catholic church has clarified four strict conditions for the "just war" doctrine, including:

    "The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated."

    It almost seems to speak directly to things such as the atomic bombs.

    On a spiritual note, the mention of "Hitler" brings to mind the final paragraph of Roger Ebert's review of the 2005 film, "Downfall"...

    ..."We realize that he did not alone create the Third Reich, but was the focus for a spontaneous uprising by many of the German people, fueled by racism, xenophobia, grandiosity and fear. He was skilled in the ways he exploited that feeling, and surrounded himself by gifted strategists and propagandists, but he was not a great man, simply one armed by fate to unleash unimaginable evil. It is useful to reflect that racism, xenophobia, grandiosity and fear are still with us, and the defeat of one of their manifestations does not inoculate us against others."

    Humankind naturally has this habit of looking to the person who does something bad as being the problem, and once we rid society of the "bad apple(s)", we tend to think that we've moved beyond the problem(s). We don't recognize the roots of what happened which made it possible for the certain "bad apples" to rise to the occasion and say things that ultimately we wanted to hear. The more frightening thing is not that there may be more "Hitlers", but rather that we continue to make place for them if we do not learn from history and discern the roots that support the tree.

    Spiritually, Paul described how we must see things in Ephesians 6.12:

    "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

    And this is why,

    "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world." (2 Cor.10:3-4)

    At times there may be no other choice, but such times are the exception, not the rule. The rule, rather, is to see that there is a bigger, spiritual battle going on, one that whispers into our souls and has us cling to roots of bitterness, fear, and so on -- things which make us vulnerable to propagandic manipulation and cause us to be blind to seeing our enemy through gospel, grace-healed eyes.


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