REFLECTION: On the anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – a plea for peace

Scott WrightJean StokanBy Scott Wright, with Jean Stokan
Pax Christi Metro D.C.-Baltimore

To remember the past is to commit oneself to the future. To remember Hiroshima is to abhor nuclear war. . . . In the face of the calamity that every war is, one must affirm and reaffirm, again and again, that the waging of war is not inevitable or unchangeable. Humanity is not destined to self-destruction.
                                                                                                                   – Pope John Paul II

Some years ago, Jean and I were fortunate to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with our daughter Maura, who was eight-years-old at the time. We were responding to an invitation from the Japan Catholic Council for Justice and Peace that Jean had received as policy director of Pax Christi USA to participate in an Asia Pacific peace conference.

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In the years since, we have tried to write about that experience, but have been at a loss of words to describe the enormity of human suffering and evil represented by what happened there in 1945. The saving grace was to meet with survivors – the hibakusha – who were my daughter’s age when the bombs dropped. That memory is seared forever in their hearts, and in their bodies.

One story that stands out in my mind is the story of Takashi Nagai, a medical doctor who survived the bombing of Nagasaki, lived to care for the victims, and returned to Ground Zero to build a hut where he received visitors as he himself lay dying. On Christmas Eve, 1945, he recounted a “miracle” that occurred. The bells from the cathedral of Nagasaki, which was destroyed in the bombing, rang! Parishioners who survived the bomb blast dug up the bells from beneath the atomic rubble and debris, hoisted them up and rang them, morning, noon, and night. Takashi wrote:

“Men and women of the world, never again plan war! With this atomic bomb, war can only mean suicide for the human race. From this atomic waste the people of Nagasaki confront the world and cry out: No more war! Let us follow the commandment of love and work together. The people of Nagasaki prostrate themselves before God and pray: Grant that Nagasaki may be the last atomic wilderness in the history of the world.”

Following the end of the Second World War, the people of Japan pledged never again to go to war and adopted its Constitution which says, in Article 9:

“Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. To accomplish this aim … land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”

For years, Pax Christi USA has been supportive of the effort of the Japan Catholic Council for Justice and Peace and the Japanese people to uphold the principles of peace outlined in Article 9 of their Constitution. The recent decision of Japanese Prime Minister Abe to lift the restrictions on Japan’s military responds to the U.S.’s “pivot to Asia,” but it also raises concerns of further destabilizing the fragile peace in the region.

In the words of the Global Article 9 Campaign, “Article 9 is not just a provision of the Japanese law. It also acts as an international peace mechanism towards reducing military spending, supporting conflict prevention, promoting nuclear-weapon-free zones, and recognizing the human right to peace.”

As Christians, our reflection on the challenge of peace begins with touching the wounds of the crucified and risen Christ. It is our encounter with the crucified Jesus – present in the crucified victims of war and violence – that helps shapes our understanding of the urgency of peace and nonviolence. It is our experience of the risen Christ – in the survivors and witnesses who cry out for justice and for life – that gives expression to our deepest hopes for peace and reconciliation. Nothing short of the total abolition of war and nuclear weapons from the earth must be our common goal.

One response to “REFLECTION: On the anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – a plea for peace

  1. Harold M. Frost, III, Ph.D. (physics)

    Thank you for the timely “REFLECTION: On the anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – a plea for peace” posted on August 9, 2014 by Scott Wright, with Jean Stokan, Pax Christi Metro D.C.-Baltimore. My perspective on this article and the reality that it briefly touches upon is that of a disabled research physicist retired from the University of California, USA via employment off and on over 1984-2001 as a staff member at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), in the State of New Mexico, USA, the place where the atomic bomb was developed and through which the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were accordingly destroyed in 1945. In my time several decades later in Los Alamos when I had interacted with Japanese scientists and engineers and visited Japan on business- and education-related trips, I was in a very small minority of scientists in Los Alamos who voiced moral concerns at work and in public about the initial use of atomic weapons on civilian populations and the global culture of nuclear terror and fear that they spread through the period of the so-called Cold War and afterwards. For me as a Roman Catholic, though, it was a dear matter of a tenderly informed conscience to not work on Bomb parts per se which actually came into my work area at LANL on a regular basis. I thus paid an unjust price for holding and stating this position, including not only loss of my job but also of my career as a paid researcher and even of my health. But because of Jesus Christ in my life to whom his mother Mary led and leads me and keeps me with constantly, I have found life and meaning in the same non-violent response he mounted against his own crucifixion. Further, though people in his time in Palestine thought he was dead after being taken down from the Cross, he arose from the dead and is with us to this present day. He who is the Resurrection promises us, too, who follow him with the crosses that He gives us, the resurrection of life and everlasting communion with our heavenly Father.