"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." — Elie Wiesel

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Journey of Repentance

My Friends,

It was 8:14 a.m. in Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945, a calm and sunny morning. The city went about its usual Monday morning business, bustling with activity. At 8:15 a.m. that same morning the bombadier aboard the Enola Gay, a U.S. B-29 bomber released the planes deadly cargo, a uranium-type atomic bomb from an altitude of 31,000 feet. The bomb plummeted towards the city below, the people completely unaware of the pending doom. Fourty-three seconds later the bomb detonated at an altitude of 1,900 feet above the ground.

The initial heat of the explosion incinerated everything near the hypocenter. The blast wave crumpled bodies and collapsed buildings. Those who were not killed instantly succumbed to the effects of their injuries and the intense ionizing radiation emitted by the explosion. It was an unimaginable hell. You can read a narrative of the bombing here. I will say no more of it.

Today, 64 years later, nations continue (led by the U.S. and Russia) to maintain nuclear arsenals, and other nations seek to develop them. If we are to abolish nuclear weapons, the U.S. and Russia will have to lead the way. As for the U.S., we need to recognize that we should never have used nuclear weapons in the first place and that we can never use them again. We must, in a very real sense, begin a journey of repentance (not unlike that of Fr. George Zabelka in my previous post). That journey of repentance can only begin with a sincere apology.

Acts of contrition are never easy. As I write this post, a group of peacemakers are in Hiroshima on this solemn anniversary, the destination of their Journey of Repentance. Father Bill Bichsel of the Tacoma Catholic Worker is one of 16 people who made the journey to Hiroshima "to acknowledge the tremendous damage done by our country, by what has happened."

The Journey of Repentance, composed of people of various faith traditions, is making the journey to both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The group includes Dominican Sister Teresa Montes, Franciscan Father and Catholic Worker Louis Vitale and U.S. Navy veteran Tom Karlin and Mitch Kohjima, a former Buddhist monk. "The apology is necessary in order to begin to repent for the sins of war," Father Bichsel said. “What we have done not only has inflicted tremendous damage on the Japanese, it also has done tremendous damage on the (American) people when we don’t remember what we have done.”

In any healthy relationship, a sincere apology is necessary in order to move on towards healing. No matter what the justification might have been for dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as people of faith we are called to recognize that in the eyes of a loving God we need to renounce violence of any kind. Until we are able to see the lack of humanity we exhibit when we continue to justify the killing of well over 200,000 people (estimated 240,000 deaths by the end of 1945, with half those on the days of the bombings), we will not be able to renounce the use of nuclear weapons.

Yesterday, after touring the Hiroshima Peace Museum, Fr. Bichsel stopped and said, "There is just no reason" he said. "There is absolutely no reason for us to still have the capability to drop those bombs." Indeed, there is not!!! August 6, 1945 was a turning point in human history; we had developed (and demonstrated) the ability to destroy ourselves. Since then we have raised it to a high (and dark) art. Until we recognize our folly (and our hubris) we will not be able to move forward towards peace.

Let us stop and be silent for at least a few moments on this day, listening for the voices of those who suffered and died on August 6, 1945. I hope that we can all hear their call for healing, for reconciliation, and for peace.



You can read blog postings about the Journey of Repentance by clicking here.

Notes on the photograph of watch: Kengo Nikawa (then, 59) was exposed to the bomb crossing the Kan-on Bridge, 1600 meters from the hypocenter, by bike going from his home to his assigned building demolition site in the center of the city. He suffered major burns on his right shoulder, back, and head and took refuge in Kochi-mura Saiki-gun. He died on August 22. Kengo was never without this precious watch given him by his son, Kazuo

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