The Enola Gay, “proudly” displayed at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington DC. Source of Image
World War II brought more suffering to humanity than any other event in the twentieth century. Nearly 60 million people died throughout the six years of that war which included atomic bombs, cities completely destroyed, and the Jewish Holocaust. Out of this nightmare of war sprung the dreaded atomic age.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn described it as a “godless embitterment” that could have moved ostensibly Christian states to employ poison gas, a weapon so obviously beyond the limits of humanity. He said, “The same kind of defect, the flaw of a consciousness lacking all divine dimension, was manifested after World War II when the West yielded to the satanic temptation of a nuclear umbrella.”
This was indeed a godless embitterment considering the infamous words of Bob Lewis, co-pilot of the Enola Gay, following the detonation of a first nuclear weapon. He said, “My God, what have we done?” What had they done, indeed?
The crew who flew the atomic bombs were seen by Americans as “saviours” who had prevented further huge causalities that could have resulted from a full invasion of Japan. The Pilot of Enola Gay General Paul W. Tibbets told a documentary interviewer that he was anxious to do it….
I wanted to do everything that I could to subdue Japan. I wanted to kill the “bastards.” That was the attitude of the United States in those years. I have been convinced that we saved more lives than we took both Japanese and Americans… It would have been “morally” wrong if we’d have had that weapon and not used it and let a million more people die.
Here is a lengthy account given Dr Gary G. Kohls of how the decimation of Nagasaki at the end of the war crippled what at one time was a vibrant Japanese church:
An all-Christian bomber crew dropped “Fat Man”, (code named after Winston Churchill) a plutonium bomb, on Nagasaki, Japan, instantly annihilating tens of thousands of innocent civilians, a disproportionate number of them Japanese Christians, and permanently or mortally wounding uncountable numbers of others.
In 1945, the US was the most Christian nation in the world (that is, if you can label as Christian a nation whose churches overwhelmingly fail to sincerely teach or adhere to the ethics of Jesus as taught in the Sermon on the Mount). Prior to the bomb exploding over St. Mary’s Urakami Cathedral on 11:02 AM, Nagasaki was the most Christian city in Japan. The Nagasaki cathedral was the largest Christian cathedral in the Orient.
Those baptized and confirmed Christian airmen, following their wartime orders to the letter, did their job efficiently, and they accomplished the mission with military pride, albeit with any number of near-fatal glitches. Most of us Americans in 1945 would have done exactly the same if they had been in the shoes of the Bock’s Car crew, and there would have been very little mental anguish later if we had also been treated as heroes.
Nevertheless, the use of that monstrous weapon of mass destruction to destroy a mainly civilian city like Nagasaki was an international war crime and a crime against humanity as defined later by the Nuremberg Tribunal. Of course, there was no way that the crew members could have known that at the time. Some of the crew did admit that they had had some doubts about what they had participated in when the bomb actually detonated.
Of course, none of them actually saw the horrific suffering of the victims up close and personal. “Orders are orders” and, in wartime, disobedience can be, and has been, legally punishable by summary execution of the soldier who might have had a conscience strong enough to convince him that killing another human, especially an unarmed one, was morally wrong……
The first and only field test of an atomic bomb had been blasphemously code-named “Trinity” (a distinctly Christian term). It had occurred 3 weeks earlier at Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945. The results were impressive, but the blast had just killed off a few hapless coyotes, rabbits, snakes and some other desert varmints. That bomb had totally destroyed lots of cactuses and sagebrush and had obliterated a family of manikins that had been planted in hastily built homes for the photographic portion of the experiment.
The Trinity test also unexpectedly produced huge amounts of a new mineral that was later called “Trinitite”. Trinitite was a molten lava rock that had been created from the intense heat (twice the temperature of the sun) of the above ground bomb blast.
Nagasaki is famous in the history of Japanese Christianity. Nagasaki had the largest concentration of Christians in all of Japan. The Urakami Cathedral was the megachurch of its time, with 12,000 baptized members……
From 1600 until 1850, being a Christian was a capital crime in Japan. In the early 1600s, those Japanese Christians who refused to recant of their new faith were subject to unspeakable tortures – including crucifixion. After the reign of terror was over, it appeared to all observers that Japanese Christianity was extinct.
However, 250 years later, after the gunboat diplomacy of Commodore Matthew 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.
With this humiliating revelation, the Japanese government started another purge; but because of international pressure, the persecutions were eventually stopped, and Nagasaki Christianity came up from the underground. And by 1917, with no help from the government, the re-vitalized Christian community had built the massive St. Mary’s Cathedral in the Urakami River district of Nagasaki.
So it was the height of irony that the massive Cathedral – one of only two Nagasaki landmarks that could be positively identified from 31,000 feet up (the other one was the Mitsubishi armaments factory complex) became Ground Zero for the infamous bomb. The Bock’s Car bombardier identified the landmarks through a break in the clouds and ordered the drop.
At 11:02 am, during Thursday morning mass, hundreds of Nagasaki Christians were boiled, evaporated, carbonized or otherwise disappeared in a scorching, radioactive fireball that exploded 500 meters above the cathedral. The black rain that soon came down from the mushroom cloud surely contained the mingled remains of many Nagasaki Shintoists, Buddhists and Christians. The theological implications of Nagasaki’s Black Rain surely should boggle the minds of theologians of all denominations.
Most Nagasaki Christians did not survive the blast. 6,000 of them died instantly, including all who were at confession. Of the 12,000 church members, 8,500 of them eventually died as a result of the bomb. Many of the others were seriously sickened.
Three orders of nuns and a Christian girl’s school disappeared into black smoke or became chunks of charcoal. Tens of thousands of other innocent non-combatants also died instantly, and many more were mortally or incurably wounded. Some of the victim’s progeny are still suffering from the trans-generational malignancies and immune deficiencies caused by the deadly plutonium and other radioactive isotopes produced by the bomb.
And here is one of the most important ironic points of this article: What the Japanese Imperial government could not do in 250 years of persecution (destroy Japanese Christianity) American Christians did in 9 seconds.
Even after a slow revival of Christianity over the decades since WWII, membership in Japanese churches still represent a small fraction of 1% of the general population, and the average attendance at Christian worship services has been reported to be only 30. Surely the decimation of Nagasaki at the end of the war crippled what at one time was a vibrant church.
The fact that the US is a highly militarized nation makes the truths of gospel nonviolence difficult to teach and preach, especially to military veterans and their patriotic families (particularly the impoverished and homeless ones) who may have lost their faith because of past events on the battlefield……
It is important to know the hidden history of Nagasaki Christianity and the attempted annihilation of it by American Christians……. As in all wars, the WWII soldier trigger-pullers – and their chaplains – who are at the bottom of the chain of command usually don’t know exactly who they are trying to kill – or even why.
The early church leaders, who knew the teachings and actions of Jesus best, rejected the nationalist, racist and militarist agendas of the national security agencies, the military-industrial complex, the war-profiteering corporations and the pre-Christian eye-for-an-eye retaliation doctrines that have, over the past 1700 years, enabled Christians to willingly kill other Christians in the name of Christ.
Dr. Gary G. Kohls is a founding member of Every Church A Peace Church and is a member of a local non-denominational affiliate of ECAPC, the Community of the Third Way. He often dealt with the horrific psychological consequences of veterans (and civilians) who had suffered psychological, neurological and/or spiritual trauma. He continues to be involved in peace, nonviolence and justice issues.