Sixty seven years ago on August 6th the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and killed at least 166,000 people. On August 9 a second nuclear bomb was deployed on Nagasaki and destroyed 80,000 more. At this news I, as a 12 year old patriotic daughter in a military family, rejoiced with triumphant glee. The war was a glorious cause for the neighborhood kids and it seemed wonderful that so many enemies had been killed at one blow.
It never crossed my mind that incinerating individuals (including women and children) and destroying cities might be immoral or less than Christian. An earlier resistance to bombing European cities as unethical had been overcome in the beginning of the war and was never mentioned again. Any empathy for the Japanese was erased from consciousness because of the pervasive racist conditioning we had been subjected to in movies and comic books. The Japanese were depicted as less than human, similar to monkeys or thought of as a “nameless mass of vermin.”
Our leaders held up the extermination and annihilation of Japan and its people as the war’s righteous goal. Censorship ensured that we were ignorant of the remote concentration camps where Japanese American citizens were incarcerated. Later too after the war silence was pervasive and documentary films of the atomic destruction were rarely shown.
I never heard a dissenting word against the violent destructiveness of war until I attended a Quaker college and met pacifists. Soon after in converting to Catholicism I became inspired by Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker’s witness to the church’s peace and justice teachings. The road home from the crusades has been a long one.
On every anniversary of Hiroshima I am reminded with shame how flawed human beings like ourselves can be. Individuals are blindly shaped by group conditioning and can learn to turn off innate responses of empathy for others. Quite routinely contradictory assumptions and beliefs are accepted: Love your enemies,yet support killing them.
People succeed in turning away from collective injustice and horrible atrocities. Only much later is the abuse, the war crime, the genocide acknowledged and brought to light. At least retrospective shame can induce the disquieting question: What injustice might we be calmly accepting at the moment?