It is the season for Hiroshima and Nagasaki observances, and once again I will not take part.
Not that I approve of the bombings or of atomic weapons. In the case of Hiroshima, August 6, 1945, my mother told me when I was a child that she had been on a train at the time. She was close enough to see the flash. I have childhood memories of her leukemia check-ups (at least that's my grown-up interpretation of her need to have her "atomic blood" checked). She was always sure that the whole Pacific war was at least half the USA's fault, since (in her mind) Roosevelt had deliberately ignored warnings of the Pearl Harbor attack in the hopes that it would justify his already-planned entry into World War II. I do not personally agree with her interpretation, but I've always been fascinated by how different those events looked from her family's viewpoint in Japan.
In 1976, I was a participant in the Friends World Committee for Consultation triennial sessions in Hamilton, Ontario. One of the high points of that event was T. Canby Jones speaking on Psalm 126, "Those who sow in tears shall reap with sounds of joy." In the course of his talk he meditated on the Japan of his childhood and on his recent visit to Hiroshima. His presentation was modest and uplifting.
In 1985, I was again at an FWCC triennial, this time in Oaxtepec, Mexico. August 6 rolled around during those sessions. I think we all went to the Hiroshima-Nagasaki memorial meeting. For some reason that is surely nobody's fault at those sessions, I was overwhelmed to the point of nausea by the public self-flagellation, the undifferentiated denunciations, the lack of any spiritual diagnosis comparable to that provided nine years earlier by Canby. I walked out.
That was my last Hiroshima memorial meeting. I now prefer to keep my mourning private (excepting, maybe, this weblog entry).
Years ago, Dale Aukerman wrote an amazing book, Darkening Valley: A Biblical Perspective on Nuclear War. If I remember correctly, he described nuclear weapons as, very simply, extension of the human fist and the impulse to say "thou fool."
I don't want to get in the way of anyone who feels that their fist and their mouth are likely to be more humane and Godly if they attend a Hiroshima/Nagasaki observance. (Or do some of us actually feel that only others need to change?) My priority is the Lamb's War. If we do not fight this noncarnal war against evil in high places, we will continue to respond too late to the buildups of earthly evil that put our Churchills and Trumans into such unbearably ambiguous dilemmas—apparently having to choose between one massacre or another.
It is legitimate to ask Christian pacifists what we would have done in the face of the fascist threat. (Substitute your favorite representative of mass evil.) I welcome the challenge of countering the implication that our nonviolence is useless, but it IS to some degree useless at the hypothetical point of this challenge (although obedience to the Prince of Peace can never be ultimately useless).
Instead of being required to answer why pacifists would withhold the scalpel of righteous violence, I want to know why the question is always framed at the point where the patient is dying of advanced cancer. I want the Church's response to the cancer of militarism and fascism to begin long before the forces are arrayed and the bullets begin spraying. With the worldwide network of believers engaged in the Lamb's War against evil in all forms, couldn't we do better preventive medicine? Couldn't we do more to infiltrate the world's camps and divisions, subvert all official definitions of enemy, raise the alarm when flows of weapons, illicit funding, wicked and inhumane ideologies begin creeping here and there across our far-more-alert radar screens?
Unless we put more of an effort into prayerful "peacetime" vigilance, persistent and winsome evangelism, and divine subversion, we will always be caught with too little, too late when the superpatriots and the power politicians finally reveal their hand. In fact, they too are legitimate subjects of prayer and evangelism, because they are not the enemy, they are prisoners of the Enemy.