Today is the Feast of St. Edith Stein, martyred in the modern Golgotha of Auschwitz. The National Socialists executed her sixty-eight years ago.
Exactly three years later, sixty-five years ago today, the United States B-29 bomber, the Bockscar, under the command of Charles Sweeney, dropped the atomic bomb known as the “Fat Boy” on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. According to estimates, the bomb created winds of over six hundred miles per hour and heat at close to 4,000 degrees fahrenheit. Somewhere between 60,000 and 80,000 persons died either instantly or over the next two months from injuries sustained from the bomb.
It is difficult for any thinking person–American or otherwise–not to consider this one of the greatest crimes in history, given that so many of those who died were civilians and innocents.
We can make all of the excuses we want: the United States would have had to have invaded the island with 1,000,000 men, resulting in an untold number of casualties. Or, perhaps, more callously, some casualties are merely the result of war; besides, the Japanese bombed us first.
All of the above–and more–is true, of course. One might even take the argument further and still be within the realm of truth–no country treated its captured enemy POWs more brutally than did the Japanese.
Does any of this really justify not only the development of the bomb under President Roosevelt (certainly, no fan of Asians as witnessed by his countenance and encouragement of the vile internment camps for American citizens of Japanese ancestry) or dropping of a weapon of mass destruction (yes, the Americans knew how powerful this thing was, though they didn’t quite realize the extent to which radiation would continue to affect the population) on innocents?
Is what we did to Japanese innocents in August 1945 that different from what the National Socialists did to Edith Stein and so many others in August 1942 (and until the end of the war)? I would argue it was not. It all comes down to state-sanctioned murder of the innocent.
Then, let’s add some other interesting but patriotically-inconvenient information about Nagasaki. It did possess considerable manufacturing and war-production abilities, but it was also one of the older cities in Japan, one of the most intensely pro-Western and Christian (yes, thousands of practicing Japanese Christians) cities of Japan, feared and distrusted by the Japanese mainstream.
Sixty-five years ago, the United States not only committed an evil, it did so with grand stupidity. It blew up the one city in all of Japan that might have actually supported the United States and the West.
Those “Made in America” six-hundred mph winds and nearly 4,000 degree heat almost instantly provided the Christian church with one of the single largest groups of martyrs in the entire century.
Nine years after the dropping of the two bombs, Russell Kirk pondered the ferocity of American power and progressivism in his book, A Program for Conservatives. “And now a few words concerning power among the nations. It is ours already; and we have done with it what men always have done with pure power: we have employed it abominably. I do not say that the Nazis or the Japanese militarists would have employed it to better advantage, or that the Communists would use it mercifully; on the contrary, I am certain that, to the best of their ability, they would have striven to accomplish still greater mischief. But that does not excuse us. The learning of physical science, and the perfection of technology, instead of being put to the improvement of Reason, have been applied by modern man to achieve mastery over nature and humanity; and that mastery has been brutal. We Americans happened to be first in the race for the acquisition of the tools of mass slaughter, and we used those tools as the Roman used his sword and his catapult against Carthage.”
As Kirk makes so painfully obvious, we Americans speak so loudly about acting upon high principles. But when it comes down to it–or at least when the progressives are in office–America commits atrocities beyond forgiveness, at least forgiveness by anyone on this side of eternity.
“A handful of individuals, some of them quite unused to moral responsibilities on such a scale, made it their business to extirpate the populations of Nagasaki and Hiroshima; we must make it our business to curtail the possibility of such snap decisions, taken simply on the assumptions of worldly wisdom,” Kirk wrote in true Pauline fashion.
“The conservative can urge upon his nation a policy of patience and prudence. A ‘preventative” war, whether or not it might be successful in the field–and that is a question much in doubt–would be morally ruinous to us. There are circumstances under which it is not only more honorable to lose than to win, but quite truly less harmful, in the ultimate providence of God,” Kirk concluded.
If only the progressives of each party today would read such words of beauty, truth, and goodness offered by Kirk over half a century ago.
Today, sixty-eight years after the fascists executed a brilliant saint, sixty-five years after the U.S. committed an act of genocide against an innocent population, should be remembered by all Americans. If we have the right to glory collectively in the things our republic has accomplished in the name (and actuality) of humanity, we have an equal duty to remember collectively the sins our nation has committed in the name of progress.
Sadly, though perhaps the most atrocious, today’s act (that is, the remembrance of that act committed on August 9, 1945) is merely one of many days that Americans should remember in sorrow and penance, asking forgiveness from He who is, as St. John assured us, love itself.
Through His witnesses–in Auschwitz and Nagasaki–perhaps we can learn, at the very least, some humility.
Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.