Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Hiroshima Remembrance Day

hiroshima.jpg  06 August 1945 the world was forever changed as U.S. bomber Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb nicknamed “Little Boy” on Hiroshima, Japan, a city with very little military value.  This was the first time that any nation used nuclear weapons against another.  The initial explosion devastated 5 square miles (a small fraction of what later nuclear weapons could do) and destroyed more than 60% of the buildings of the city.  Initial Japanese count put the casualties at 118, 661, but later understandings of radiation sickness and related deaths led to international estimates that 140,000 of Hiroshima’s 350,000 population were killed. This does not count injuries and later cancers that cut short life expectancies.

President Harry Truman justified the bombing by claiming that it saved millions of lives that would have been lost in an invasion of Japan, but this belies alternate plans to demonstrate the bomb for the Japanese on an uninhabited atoll or (not knowing then about radioactive fallout) detonating the bomb a mile up and over the ocean in front of Tokyo where it could be seen. (As it was, it took days for Tokyo to hear and confirm what had been done to Hiroshima.) It also belies the fact that the Japanese had been trying to surrender and use the Soviets as go-betweens with the U.S.

As my friend, Dan Trabue, has noted, opposition to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima did not just come from liberals or pacifists at the time, but from within the military establishment and with prominent conservative leaders:

“…in [July] 1945… Secretary of War Stimson, visiting my headquarters in Germany, informed me that our government was preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. I was one of those who felt that there were a number of cogent reasons to question the wisdom of such an act. …the Secretary, upon giving me the news of the successful bomb test in New Mexico, and of the plan for using it, asked for my reaction, apparently expecting a vigorous assent.

“During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of ‘face’. The Secretary was deeply perturbed by my attitude…” General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces of Europe and later U.S. President.

“It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons.

“The lethal possibilities of atomic warfare in the future are frightening. My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.”  Admiral William Leahy, Secretary of the U.S. Navy in 1945.

In our Peace Sunday service, yesterday, Dan and his wife, Rev. Donna Trabue, sang the following song of grief and hope and I leave it as a prayer.

1,000 Candles, 1,000 Cranes
by Rich Prezioso

My grandmother had three sons
She dreamed about her children’s children
Then came 1941
Only one son would see the war end

Joseph died marching in Bataan
Frank on the sands of Iwo Jima
The day the bomb destroyed Japan
She thanked God and Harry Truman

She blamed the godless Japanese
For having crushed her sweetest dreams
One thousand candles for my sons
Every day I will remember

In Illinois, far from her past
Miss Nakamura still remembers
She was six when she saw the flash
That turned the world to smoke and ashes

Mother taught her daughter well
Run from the fire to the river
There she found a living hell
But not a mother or a father

Though she survived with just a scrape
Her family vanished into space
One thousand suns, a thousand cranes
Everyday I will remember

My grandmother had three sons
She never dreamed she’d have a daughter
But at the age of eighty-one
She met a nurse named Nakamura

 It was a question only meant
To make some talk and pass the hours
About a picture by the bed
A photograph of two young soldiers

Hatred and anger stored for years
Slowly melted into tears
One thousand candles, a thousand cranes
Everyday I will remember

 I’ve a picture in my mind
Of two women slowly walking
August 6th, 1985
Walking to church to light a candle

And they once asked me to explain
Why grown men play such foolish games
One thousand candles, a thousand cranes
Everyday I will remember


August 6, 2007 Posted by | nonviolence, nuclear weapons, peacemaking | 3 Comments