I will warn you right now, that you will most likely not be able to keep yourself from crying if you read this.
It is the story of Dr. Takashi Nagai, a man who survived the dropping of the atom bomb at Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.
Dr. Nagai's wisdom, charity, humility, patience and peace glow like a bright ember embedded in a dark gray mushroom cloud of infamy. The hardest thing about confronting the reality of that infamy is admitting that our nation, which calls itself "one Nation, under God," was responsible for this act of unspeakable evil.
Is "evil" too strong a word, when we talk about the use of the atom bomb at Hiroshima or Nagasaki? After all, the war had to end somehow. An invasion or blockade of Japan might have killed just as many people, and lots of our own troops would have perished as well. There were at least some military targets in both cities, as there were in most industrial cities. And before Hiroshima we might not have realized fully just how many innocent civilians would die in that moment of horror.
But those arguments don't hold water, when measured against clear Catholic teachings. It is morally evil to target civilians, even in wartime. It is morally evil to kill a disproportionate number of civilians even when we have legitimate military targets, something which made our earlier conventional bombing runs morally problematic as well. And whatever we claim our leaders did or didn't know before Hiroshima, they knew perfectly well what they were doing when they destroyed Nagasaki.
A little more than one-fourth of the nearly three hundred thousand people who lived in the city died at our hands, 45,000 of those in the instant the bomb was dropped. Some of them were nearly vaporized by the blast itself, but others died from the heat; go here to see the bones of a human hand fused to a clump of melted glass, for a graphic illustration of what that sort of death was like.
An additional fourth, another 75,000, suffered severe and lasting injuries from the Bock's Car's cargo. I'm not going to post a link to pictures of radiation injuries; they're too heartbreaking and too graphic.
I will show you the ruins of Nagasaki's Cathedral--Nagasaki had a large population of Catholics and Christians, about 8,000 of whom died on August 9, 1945. One of the worst effects of war, sometimes, is the propaganda both sides spread about each other; many Americans, by 1945, believed that the Japanese were all brutal pagan savages who would never surrender without the use of such a devastating weapon as the atom bomb. I wonder if there were even eight thousand Americans who had any idea that there were eight thousand Christians in all of Japan, let alone in Nagasaki itself?
This damage, this destruction, this devastation, these deaths--they were our doing. War is always ugly, but it is not always evil; yet no just war permits the targeted death and destruction of the innocent.
Dr. Takashi Nagai could have become a bitter, broken, angry man. Not one of us would have blamed him for it. Yet the words he spoke at the ruined cathedral transcend the horror around him, and reach for the eternal. For the remainder of his life of suffering he wrote and spoke about his experiences, and always wove words of peace, and his deep Christian faith, into everything he did.
His final words on earth were, "Pray! Please pray!"
In his memory, in his honor, please say a prayer today that human beings will never again unleash the destructive force of weapons like these against each other.