Background leading to the bombing of Nagasake
By Gary G. Kohls, MD, Duluth, MN, (Excerpts from )
64 years ago, on August 9th, 1945, the second of the only two atomic bombs ever used as instruments of mass destruction against virtually defenseless civilian populations was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, by an all-Christian bomb crew. The well-trained American airmen were only doing their job and they did it with military efficiency.
It had been only 3 days since the first bomb, a uranium bomb, had decimated Hiroshima on
August 6, with chaos and confusion in Tokyo, where Japan’s fascist military government and the Emperor Hirohito had been searching for months for a way to an honorable end of the war, a war which had exhausted Japan to virtually moribund status.
The only obstacle had been the Truman administration’s insistence on unconditional surrender, which meant that the Emperor, whom the Japanese regarded as a deity, would be removed from his figurehead position – an intolerable demand for the Japanese.
The US bomber command had spared Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Kokura from the conventional bombings 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.
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Early in the morning of August 9, 1945, a B-29 Super fortress 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.
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, established a mission church in 1549, a Christian community which survived and prospered for several generations. However, as had happened in South America and other newly discovered countries, Portuguese and Spanish commercial interests soon followed the missionaries and Japanese rulers accurately regarded them as a threat to their sovereignty and the religion of the Europeans and their new Japanese converts soon became the target of brutal persecutions.
Within 60 years of the start of Xavier’s mission church, professing Christianity became a capital crime. The Japanese Christians who refused to recant of their beliefs 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 stamped out.
However, 250 years later, in the 1850’s, 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 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.
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Now it turned out, in the mystery of good and evil, that St. Mary’s Cathedral was one of the landmarks that the Bock’s Car bombardier had been briefed on, and looking through his bomb site over Nagasaki that day, he identified the cathedral and ordered the drop.
At 11:02 am, Nagasaki Christianity was boiled, evaporated and carbonized in a scorching, radioactive fireball. The persecuted, vibrant, faithful, surviving 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 seconds. 8,500 of the worshipping community of 12,000 perished directly as a consequence of the bomb.
The Catholic chaplain for the 509th Composite Group, the 1500 man Army Air Force group, whose only job was to successfully deliver the atomic bombs to their targets, was Father George Zabelka. Several decades after the war ended, he saw his grave theological error in religiously legitimating the mass slaughter that is modern land and air war. Years later he finally recognized that the enemies of his nation were not the enemies of his God,….. 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.
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One of the most difficult mental illnesses to treat is combat-induced posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In its most virulent form PTSD is very difficult to impossible to cure. It is also a fact that, whereas most Vietnam War soldiers had been raised in churches where they actively practiced their faith, if they came home with PTSD, the percentage returning to the faith community approached zero.
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