Ninteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time and the atomic bomb


What does our second reading have to do with American and world history for today?

Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption. All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice.
Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.
Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma. So reads today’s second reading.

Today also commemorates the bombing of Nagasaki and the three-day anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. In Japanese Hiroshima means “broad island,” from Japanese hiro “broad” + shima “island.” So called in reference to its situation on the delta of the Ota River. It is interesting to note that “Hiro,” is the Greek word from which we get Hierarchy or hierarkhia “rule of a high priest,” from hierarkhes “high priest, leader of sacred rites.” Shema” is the most sacred prayer in the Jewish tradition, “Hear’ Israel, God is Almighty; God is One.” Using Greek and Hebrew, false cognates admittedly, Hiroshima means, “Listening to the Holy Priest. Nagasaki means naga “long” + saki “headland, promontory.”

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In Nagasaki the bomb was dropped a Catholic cathedral. “The epicenter of the blast was the heart and soul of Catholicism in Japan since the sixteenth century.” “Devotion to Mary among the Urakami Catholics was based on a great and proper respect for the Mother’s suffering for them, as her children. This was manifest by the statue outside the entrance of the Urakami Cathedral—Mary standing beside her Crucified Son. Devotion to Mary as Mother of God and their Mother was manifest by widespread, daily devotion to the Rosary.” “Of the 12,000 Catholics in the Urakami district, 8,500 were killed.”

Several military leaders weighed in on the importance of the bombing. Admiral William D. Leahy, the President’s Chief of Staff–and the top official who presided over meetings of both the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Combined U.S.-U.K. Chiefs of Staff, “The use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan.” “Admiral Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, ‘The Japanese had already sued for peace before the atomic age was announced to the world with the destruction of Hiroshima and before the Russian entry into the war.” “Admiral William (Bull) Halsey, Jr., Commander U.S. Third Fleet, stated publicly in 1946: ‘The first atomic bomb was an unnecessary experiment. . . . a mistake. . . . The scientists had this toy and they wanted to try it out, so they dropped it. . . . It killed a lot of Japs, who had put out a lot of peace feelers through Russia long before.”

As a Navy Veteran this writer served aboard the USS Forrestal, the first of America’s post WWII super carriers, now a coral reef somewhere. “In the week before the 5/17 meeting with Truman, Forrestal had questioned the wisdom of having Russia participate in an invasion of Japan. The Dept. of War believed that Russian entry would help save American lives. Forrestal, on the other hand, feared control of additional occupied territory by Russia. He also hoped that postwar Japan might become a counterweight to Russia in the Far East. The Navy favored their blockade as the primary means of defeating Japan.

Strategic importance in winning the war did not provoke the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It may have included being the first blast of the cold war; trying to convince the Soviets, we had the bomb. The Japanese emperor listed as the causes of surrender, both firebombing of his cities, but of more importance, “The domestic situation.” He was well aware that his citizens and his military were on the verge of revolution.

Our readings today give us the real reason for the bombing. “Unconditional Surrender.” Whether part of long-term strategic thinking, or as part of a propaganda campaign, ““Unconditional Surrender” was based upon bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling, as St Paul complains about. It was wall about getting even with the Japanese. It was about Pearl Harbor and what the Japanese did in China.

“Unconditional Surrender” put the Japanese leadership in a bind. They knew about the war crimes trials starting in Europe. They knew what had already happened to most of their allies’ leadership. “Unconditional Surrender” gave the Japanese leadership a choice between dying at the hands of the Americans, in the hands of their own people, or with the shame of war crimes trials. It is never smart to give people a choice of only how they are going to die, and not expect people to go out fighting. Our reading gives us the important dilemma, aught this nation have forgiven the very extreme war crimes of the Japanese leadership, which were as bad as the Germans in that war, or aught the Americans have killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese, many of whom were Catholics in the name of ending that war?

In our eagerness to support “Unconditional Surrender”, we chose bitterness and hatred, and we chose to kill fellow Catholics, when alternatives were available. As we move forward, let us learn our lessons; may it never be “My way or the Highway.” Give the other person an honorable out being mindful of ills others of completed. We learn this lesson in the name of international politics, but also in the name of living with those who live next to us. For convicted criminals, this means capital punishment, putting criminals in the same position as the Japanese leadership when it comes time for their arrest. It also means how we live our daily lives. The important lesson is that we must live with each other. When we hold grudges, the person we hurt the most is not those who hurt us, but often ourselves, and the innocents nearby.

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