Friday, September 09, 2005

Pride and the Atomic Bomb

I finished reading The Gospel According to America by David Dark. A very helpful and thought-provoking book. In order to take advantage of the opportunity to read this book, I had put down another book, and, once I had finished The Gospel According to America, I returned to my previous book. Funny, actually. I have owned this book for years, having purchased it at some used-book sale, but I have never read it before now. The title: The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes. It’s a fairly hefty book, coming it at 886 pages (including indices and such), but I’m almost finished with it. I would highly recommend it. Somehow, Mr. Rhodes manages to take a topic that has wide-ranging connections to theoretical physics, politics, and ethics, and manages to describe all the various issues and personalities involved in the massive undertaking that led up to the development and use of the atomic bomb in World War II. I’ve been having a hard time reading the book recently, though. I’m past all the theoretical developments, the building of the Los Alamos labs, and the test firing at the Trinity site. Now, I’m reading about the bombing of Hiroshima. Seventeen pages of eyewitness accounts. Seventeen pages. Here, try these on for size:
I heard a girl’s voice clearly from behind a tree. “Help me, please.” Her back was completely burned and the skin peeled off and was hanging down from her hips. A man with his eyes sticking out about two inches called me by name and I felt sick… People’s bodies were tremendously swollen—you can’t imagine how big a human body can swell up. There was a charred body of a woman standing frozen in a running posture with one leg lifted and her baby tightly clutched in her arms. At the base of the bridge, inside a big cistern that had been dug out there, was a mother weeping and holding above her head a naked baby that was burned bright red all over its body, and another mother was crying and sobbing as she gave her burned breast to her baby. I had to cross the river to reach the station. As I came to the river and went down the bank to the water, I found that the stream was filled with dead bodies. I started to cross by crawling over the corpses, on my hands and knees. As I got about a third of the way across, a dead body began to sink under my weight and I went into the water, wetting my burned skin. It pained severely. I could go no further, as there was a break in the bridge of corpses, so I turned back to the shore. And they had no faces! Their eyes, noses and mouths had been burned away, and it looked like their ears had melted off. It was hard to tell front from back. Mother was completely bedridden. The hair of her head had almost fallen out, her chest was festering, and from the two-inch hole in her back a lot of maggots were crawling in and out.
According to The Making of the Atomic Bomb, between the initial blast and the radiation poisoning that followed, 54% of the population of Hiroshima died as the result of this atomic attack. And now, a quote from The Gospel According to America:
George Washington asserted that the Declaration of Independence was a claim, on the part of the colonies, to the rights of all of humanity, and, in an interesting paradox, he believed that the rights, for which the colonists fought, should be applied to enemy combatants. He wanted British prisoners to be treated with more humanity than the colonists received at the hands of British soldiers. When the war was over, thousands who fought against America’s independence chose to remain in the land where they would enjoy more rights than they could hope for elsewhere.
Remember what the Declaration said: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” For better or worse, this is the creed that makes us Americans. But apparently, during the World Wars, we let this slip. Apparently, “all men” didn’t include Jerry or the Nips. Therefore, apparently it was okay to light their cities on fire so that their old men and women and children boiled away. Apparently then it was okay to light the atomic fire in their cities, wiping away entire cities until they did our pleasure. Apparently the rights of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” didn’t extend to them. Does that mean that we thought that the Japanese were merely animals, worthy of extinction? I’m not speaking here as a Japanophile. The sneak attack on Pearl Harbor was an underhanded act, but oh so Japanese. Amoral pragmatism is acceptable, so long as the forms are followed. A samurai doesn’t kill a sleeping opponent; he kicks him so that he is awake, and then he kills him. It’s still a sneak attack, but the forms were followed. That is the Japanese way, and it is so very wrong. Yet the Japanese did not claim to be anything other than this. Yet America has claimed to be a champion of human rights and freedom throughout the world…unless you are on our bad side, of course. Suddenly all the noble platitudes that we mouth don’t quite seem to apply anymore. And so I begin to wonder about American hypocrisy. We are perfectly willing to condemn the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, the London subway bombings, the Oklahoma City bombing, and other assaults on civilians. But bring up the Hamburg and Dresden firestorms, the incendiary attacks on Japanese cities, or the atomic destruction that we wrought on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and suddenly the justifications begin to roll out. We needed to break their morale. They would never have surrendered without these measures. We wanted to shorten the war. We wanted to save lives. Did you know that the gas attacks in World War I were justified using exactly the same reasoning? And now, we come to Hurricane Katrina. An American city has been shattered. At this point, it remains to be seen if New Orleans will be able to be rebuilt. And some choose to shake their fists at the sky and demand that God make an accounting. Recently, on NPR, I heard Daniel Schorr issue his challenge to God: “[I]f this was the result of intelligent design, then the Designer has something to answer for.” Well, sir, I believe in an intelligent Designer, and I do not believe that He has to answer to you. (Job 38:1-3; 40:1-2) But, I also believe that the atomic bomb was the result of intelligent design. Do you think that its’ designers have something to answer for? What about those complicit in its use? What about those that rejoiced as their enemies burned? What about their descendants, who continue to justify this murderous sin as a necessity? Is it not justice for our nation to have its cities shattered while we look on in impotence? Why does this make me angry? It makes me angry because we as Americans have become Pharisaical. We claim the moral high ground, demanding that all must acknowledge our rightness or be struck down. We claim that God is on our side, that our military missions have the sanction of the Almighty, that we have a manifest destiny to spread freedom and democracy across the globe. But if you stand in our way, we will destroy you, grind you into the dirt, light you on fire, nuke your cities, and then claim that it was "necessary" in the cause of freedom. What I want to see in our country is humility. I want us to repent of our pride that says that God’s Kingdom has arrived and that it flies the Stars and Stripes. I want us to acknowledge that our country has sinned grievously, that we have not lived up to our own creed, let alone the demands of the Glory of God. I want us to confess that we have presumed upon the goodness of God, claiming to be righteous when we are not. I want us to proclaim that we are not a good, decent, upright people, but that we are horribly depraved, proud people, who have laid claim to the prerogatives of God Himself. If we do this, then we will flourish. God is still merciful. We still have time. If we don’t, then we may find that Hurricane Katrina was only the warning shot. And by then, it will be too late.

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