Commemorating 75 Years Since Atomic Bombings A voice is heard in Ramah
lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are not. (Jer. 31:15)
(This video has no sound.)
Around 8:15AM, August 6, 1945 one of the most horrific events in human history occurred. The bomb, named Little Boy, was dropped from the bowels of the Enola Gay and incinerated the city of Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later, Nagasaki was bombed. More than 100,000 died immediately. Many were vaporized, disappeared, babies in their mother’s wombs – gone, babies outside the wombs – gone. Takashi Tanemori (who has spoken at Fellowship Church) on that fateful day was an 8-year-old second grader living in Hiroshima. He was less than a mile from ground zero when the American B-29 dropped an atomic bomb on the city. He was a child, playing hide-and-seek with his classmates that morning.
“That was the last thing I remembered for a while,” he said. Tanemori saw a flash in the sky and a second later, the explosion took place. “All the color was confiscated,” he said. “It all happened in pure whiteness.” A moment later the whiteness turned to darkness and Tanemori could smell the heat coming closer and closer. “All the sound in the universe exploded,” he said. Eventually he saw orange, red and blue flames approaching the school and heard the cries of his classmates. “I’m burning. Come help me,” they said. Four square miles of the city burned that day.
“A Japanese soldier came, dug me out, and took me from the debris in his arms,” Tanemori recalled. The soldier carried him behind the school and down to the beach of one of the seven rivers that runs through Hiroshima. On the way, they saw a man who asked the soldier for water, but he had none. “Sir,” the man said, “then put me out of my misery.” They also encountered a woman who carried a baby on her back. “I cannot erase her from my mind,” sighed Tanemori. The woman was calling her children by name, but as he passed her, he saw that the baby was headless.
Thousands of people were gathered at the river. Behind them was an inferno and in front of them the tide was rising. “It swept many people away,” Tanemori remembers.
Professor Ronald Takaki wrote that during the days before that fateful August 6, 1945, General Douglas MacArthur learned that Japan had asked Russia to negotiate a surrender. “We expected acceptance of the Japanese surrender daily,” one of his staff members recalled. When he was notified that an atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima, the general was “livid.” MacArthur declared that the atomic attack on Hiroshima was “completely unnecessary from a military point of view.”
Takaki continues: “Like many Americans, the president was also swept into a rage for revenge for the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. This rage had been racialized. Truman repeatedly blasted the enemy as the ‘Japs.’ This racist term identified the enemy as the Japanese people, a contrast to the term ‘Nazis,’ which refers only to the followers of Hitler.” Truman argued: 'When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him as a beast.'. . . The major news media also voiced apprehension and disquietude. Time magazine wrote that ‘the demonstration of power against living creatures instead of dead matter created a bottomless wound in the living conscience.’The New York Times issued a sobering message: ‘We have been the first to introduce a new weapon of unknowable effects which may bring us victory quickly, but which will sow the seeds of hate more widely than ever. We may yet reap the whirlwind.’
Physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the laboratory and so-called ‘father of the atomic bomb,’ watched from afar that morning as the bomb released a mushroom cloud 40,000 feet high. His description of that moment has since become famous: “I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture the Bhagavad-Gita . . . ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’
I personally feel also that there was tremendous resentment that these colored people had the audacity to attack the bastion of white power. Certainly, lamentation is needed.
Lamentation brings us face to face with tragedy. It causes us to acknowledge and accept the sins or crimes placed before the altars of our hearts. Rationalization has no place there, only honesty and emptiness. This becomes the basis for tapping into the creativity in the darkness of womb where we are required to breathe and then push forth new birth. Out of creativity, social imagination comes alive.
However, our nation refuses as a nation to lament. Because we have never lamented over slavery and genocide of our indigenous people, Hiroshima and Nagasaki can occur. Did not Frederick Douglass inveigh July 5 1852: “Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.”
If there is no clearing through lamentation, mourning, no clarity of direction or purpose can be perceived. Consequently, Hiroshima and Nagasaki can happen nearly one hundred years later. And, because there was no national apology or repenting of the atomic bomb massacres, Martin Luther King, Jr. broke silence and declared in 1967: “. . . I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.”
Douglass and King depict a sordid narrative of this nation’s plundering of peoples -- their lives, ideas, humanity, and divinity. Yet, there is another narrative of which they are also participant along with John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, Ida B. Wells Barnett, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mother Jones, Rosa Parks, Ella Baker, Julia Ward Howe, Cesar Chavez, Dorothy Day, Black Elk, Chief Seattle, Grace Lee Boggs, Fred Korematsu, Ronald Takaki and countless others. It’s a narrative of creation, not merely going against the tide, but blessing us with the scent of living water. It’s a story of our being called out and called forth. It unveils our vocation. King speaks concerning our responsibility: “Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world.”
Rev. Nobu Hanaoka (who also has spoken at Fellowship Church) was 8 months old and living in Nagasaki when the bomb was dropped. Both his sister and mother died when he was 6 years old due to radiation. The doctor attending at the death of his sister told the father that Nobu would not live to reach his 10th birthday. It is difficult to imagine the trauma – physical, mental, emotional that has been his companion since that day. Yet, he offers us this prayer: A Prayer of Remembrance for Hiroshima and Nagasaki O God, the Creator of this beautiful planet and all that dwells in it, we now pause to remember the souls of those who perished in the atomic bombings and those who suffer from radiation even now. We join our hearts and voices together to pray for peace everywhere. May the deadly power of nuclear arsenals never be unleashed again upon your sacred creation. May such weapons of mass and indiscriminate annihilations be forever banned and eliminated from the face of the earth. Forgive our silence, O God, and enable your Church to raise its prophetic voices to speak against the madness of nuclear pursuits anywhere. Renew our commitment to be faithful stewards of your beautiful creation and vehicles of peace. In the name of Christ, our Prince of Peace. Amen.
The blade of grass is cosmic speech, the language of connection, dialogue with eternal, inexhaustible cosmic power emphatically proclaiming that life will not be defeated even by the most potent arsenal of nuclear weaponry ever developed. It’s a silent, determined voice, a voice of comfort to Rachel, the drying of eyes, conversing with and embracing the future. There is resilience, tenacity, renewal built into life, into creation, that despite all earthly obstacles reaches toward the heavens.
Howard Thurman: “The day the bomb fell on Hiroshima, my young Japanese secretary sat in my office as the news came over the air. She had family there. We were both devastated by the announcement. She used my large handkerchief to absorb her tears. No words were said. There was only the sound of the broadcast, with its lurid description of the carnage. We could establish no psychological distance between ourselves and the horror of the moment. The experience flowed together as a single moment in time. This was Fellowship Church, not action but in being.” Blessed are they that mourn; for, they shall be comforted (strengthened, encouraged). Matthew 5:4