This week's stories | Home Page
Issue Date:  August 12, 2005

60 years later, apology for Hiroshima

In one of her last public appearances before she fell ill for several years, Dorothy Day stood, with trepidation, before an audience at the 1976 Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia. The date was Aug. 6, the Feast of the Transfiguration and the 31st anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

The late Eileen Egan, an ardent peace activist and long-time associate of Day, set the scene in her book, Peace Be With You: Justified Warfare or the Way of Nonviolence.

Nearby at another event on the Eucharistic Congress schedule, church officials were conducting a Mass for the military. “That morning, as Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa and I made our way together … Dorothy confided to me that she dreaded the talk” because she felt she had to raise the issue of the Mass for the military and the fact that the day marked the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. The Hiroshima anniversary was nowhere mentioned in the Congress literature.

“It is almost easier to stand before a judge and go to jail than to come before you,” Day told the gathering, confessing that she had taken the unusual step, because of her fear, of writing out her remarks.

“Our Creator,’ ” Day continued, “gave us life, and the Eucharist to sustain our life. But we have given the world instruments of death of inconceivable magnitude.’ ”

Day suggested that the Mass for the military, “and all the Masses today” be regarded as “an act of penance, begging God to forgive us.”

An ovation broke out, Egan reports, and lasted for several minutes after Day finished the speech, an ovation joined by “Mother Teresa and all on the platform.”

It is not unusual for moments of clarity and truth to break through even the best planning and staging. One need not be a pacifist, nor caught up in the tangle of debate over the need for security to conclude that celebration of the Eucharist and celebration of our war-making capabilities are two realities that simply don’t fit in the same worship space.

The point is that even if one can conceive of a just war, Christians would undertake the use of violence with great remorse. That’s not what happens.

Sixty years after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 60 years after U.S. bombs vaporized and irradiated the populations of those two cities, we still find unsettling the prospect of a Catholic priest apologizing to the Japanese for the horrible loss of civilian life.

Even allowing for the kind of personnel issues that may remain hidden in such circumstances, it seems beyond dispute that Fr. Robert Cushing lost his position at a parish because he persistently raised the issue of Christian response to war and because he undertook a mission to join an observance in Hiroshima and to apologize to the Japanese.

We don’t want a priest, said the bishop, pushing such an “agenda.”

Nor, presumably, would we want priests expressing their opinion about the horrible use of young lives in Iraq at the service of a neoconservative ideology that not only lied us into this war but has further miscalculated at nearly every tactical, military and political step along the way.

Why aren’t John Paul II’s words condemning this war ringing from our pulpits?

Why don’t we hear a condemnation of prisoner torture and secret flights delivering detainees to torture and why aren’t we appalled that we don’t even count the Iraqi dead or worry ourselves about proportionality when it comes to the deaths of innocent civilians?

It is fascinating that in matters having to do with sexual choice and personal reproductive issues, about which the government demands nothing of churches or individuals and in which churches are free to preach without any hint of government reprisal, the bishops are willing to become thinly veiled partisans in advancing “the culture of life.”

But when it comes to what government does require: massive payments for war-making and the development of ever more potent generations of actual, verifiable weapons of mass destruction; seduction of our kids into the military with promises of cash and the equivalent of real-life video games; use of our youngsters in military adventures that have no end in sight. In these instances we are silent.

When the government demands that we pay for and participate in the culture of death, our religious leaders have nothing to say.

As this is being written, Christians all over this country, many of them Catholics and many of the groups led by Catholics, are heading to desert test sites and weapons labs to observe the 60th anniversary of the event Pope Paul VI characterized as “butchery of untold magnitude.” We think that agenda -- of remembering what we did as a nation and acknowledging the untold violence we keep preparing in our weapons labs today -- is essential to our integrity as Christians.

Even if one were absolutely convinced that militarily there was no alternative, we ought to go to the desert in remorse and ask forgiveness.

It is a sign of the level to which the state and the culture claim our allegiance that Dorothy Day would be apprehensive, at a Eucharistic Congress, about opposing militarism and asking forgiveness for the dropping of atomic bombs.

What concerns might she have in a similar setting today?

National Catholic Reporter, August 12, 2005

This Week's Stories | Home Page | Top of Page
Copyright  © The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO   64111
All rights reserved.
TEL:  816-531-0538     FAX:  1-816-968-2280   Send comments about this Web site to:  webkeeper@natcath.org