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.
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.