Hiroshima 06 August 1945 – The Sturgeon Moon

Seventy years ago, on Aug. 6, 1945, the single most destructive weapon ever unleashed upon human beings and the environment — the atomic bomb — was dropped by an American B-29 bomber on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing approximately 80,000 people instantly.
Three days later, a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, immediately killing an estimated 40,000 people, with tens of thousands dying later from the bombings because of radiation poisoning.
Blessing the crews and their two missions was Fr. George Zabelka, the Catholic chaplain to the 509th Composite Group — the atomic bomb group.
In a 1980 interview with theologian, peace advocate and later Catholic priest Charles McCarthy in Sojourners magazine, a Christian social justice and peace publication, Zabelka said during war, the destruction of civilians was always forbidden by the church.
“If a soldier came to me and asked if he could put a bullet through a child’s head, I would have told him absolutely not. That would be mortally sinful,” he said.
But in 1945 on Tinian Island in the South Pacific, where the atomic bomb group was based, three planes every minute would take off around the clock, Zabelka said.
From the interview:

“Many of these planes went to Japan with the express purpose of killing not one child or one civilian but of slaughtering hundreds and thousands of children and civilians — and I said nothing. …

As a chaplain I often had to enter the world of the boys who were losing their minds because of something they did in war. I remember one young man who was engaged in the bombings of the cities of Japan. He was in the hospital on Tinian Island on the verge of a complete mental collapse.

He told me that he had been on a low-level bombing mission, flying right down one of the main streets of the city, when straight ahead of him appeared a little boy, in the middle of the street, looking up at the plane in childlike wonder. The man knew that in a few seconds the child would be burned to death by napalm which had already been released.

Yes, I knew civilians were being destroyed … Yet I never preached a single sermon against killing civilians to the men who were doing it. …

I was “brainwashed”! It never entered my mind to publicly protest the consequences of these massive air raids.

I was told the raids was necessary; told openly by the military and told implicitly by my Church’s leadership. To the best of my knowledge no American cardinals or bishops were opposing these mass air raids. Silence in such matters, especially by a public body like the American bishops, is a stamp of approval. …

Look, I am a Catholic priest. In August of 1945, I did not say to the boys on Tinian, “You cannot follow Christ and drop those bombs.” But this same failure on the part of priests, pastors and bishops over the past 1700 years is, I believe, what is significantly responsible for Hiroshima and Nagasaki and for the seemingly unceasing “Christian” blood-letting around the globe.

It seems to me that Christians have been slaughtering each other, as well as non-Christians, for the past 1700 years, in large part because their priests, pastors and bishops have simply not told them that violence and homicide are incompatible with the teachings of Jesus.”

Zabelka said that 75,000 people were burned to death in one night of fire bombing over Tokyo. And hundreds of thousands were killed in Dresden and Hamburg, Germany, and Coventry, England, by aerial bombing.
“The fact that 45,000 human beings were killed by one bomb over Nagasaki was new only to the extent that it was one bomb that did it,” Zabelka said.
Whether it’s from one nuclear bomb or conventional bombs, bombs kill. Jesus did not teach us to kill, but to love everyone unconditionally — even our enemies.
After years of soul-searching, Zabelka’s complete conversion from a strong proponent of the “just war theory” to a total pacifist was announced in a 1975 Christmas letter to friends, stating, “I must do an about face. … I have come to the conclusion that the truth of the Gospel is that Jesus was nonviolent and taught nonviolence as his way.”
Zabelka dedicated the rest of his life to teaching, preaching and witnessing to Gospel nonviolence. He died in 1992.
In 1983, he and a Jesuit priest, Fr. Jack Morris, organized and participated in the Bethlehem Peace Pilgrimage starting at the nuclear submarine base in Bangor, Wash., and ending on Christmas Eve in 1984 in Bethlehem.
When Zabelka reached Maryland, I had the good fortune of hearing him personally share his inspiring story of conversion.
I strongly recommend reading Zabelka’s entire Sojourners magazine interview and ordering from the Center for Christian Nonviolence the excellent DVD “Fr. George Zabelka: The Reluctant Prophet.”
Love is the only remedy to the world’s violent ills. In the end, the God of love, the God who is love, will unfold the fullness of his kingdom where all violence, all war, all injustice, and all sin have been conquered.
But for us here and now, we can either choose to rationalize and condone violence and war, or we can help God build his kingdom of life and love.
In the biblical book of Deuteronomy, the author lays out a divine ultimatum for humanity: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord, your God, obeying his voice, and holding fast to him.”
May we always choose life!
Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist. His email address is tmag@zoominternet.net.
The Sturgeon Moon*
A high-flying bird went fishing
in the first days of the month
of the sturgeon moon.
From a cloudless morning sky
the sun shone on green garden patches
between buildings
as after-breakfast people hurried to work.
The bird opened its claws high above the city
and let go its catch.
Those who were fortunate
did not know what happened next.

  • Native American Algonquin people

give each month’s full moon a name
August is the month of the Sturgeon Moon.

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  1. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Fr. Robert Cushing III, an original founding member of the USACP, was relieved of his duties at his parish for participating in a pilgrimage to Japan to apologize to Japan’s people for the United States’ use of atomic warfare against Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
    Is it too late to stand up for his actions? It’s never too late. The Vatican should issue a formal apology to Fr. Cushing and any other priest like him in the US who was reprimanded for speaking out on this matter.
    I was able to correspond with Fr. Cushing early on during the USACP’s inital formation and did some background research on him. He is a personal hero of mine for doing what he did without any regard for how he would be seen or received after this pilgrimage.
    May God bless him, wherever he may be.

  2. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    If the Hiroshima bomb exploded in Dublin over Christchurch Cathedral, there would be total destruction of everything within a two-mile radius. This would be from Phoenix Park in the west to the port in the east, and from Glasnevin cemetery in the north to Rathgar in the south. Outside this, the degree of destruction would begin to decrease.
    I take the example of Dublin because it is where I live. How would it apply to a major urban area with which you are familiar?
    But Hiroshima and Nagasaki are unusual only in that it was done with just one bomb on each. There had been carpet bombing with “conventional” weapons of Tokyo and other cities in the previous months, with enormous civilian and military casualties. In Europe there was the Blitz in Britain and Netherlands, and of Dresden, Hamburg and other cities in Germany.
    Intentional destruction of civilian of civilian targets was an accepted “tactic.”

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