Pondering Hiroshima

This past week marked the 65th anniversary of the devastation of Hiroshima by the United States through the fury of the first atomic bomb. This is an anniversary that brings out much emotion on the topic of just war.

We quickly make judgments on the decision of President Truman to unleash the horror of atomic weaponry on Japan. Some castigate the decision as a war crime of the highest level. Others ponder the inevitable loss of life on both sides in the alternative, the invasion of Japan. I likewise struggle with the ethics of the decision. And to that end, I wanted to share a few thoughts.

While at the University of Idaho, when I was working on a Physics undergrad, one of my professors was a fellow by the name of Dr. Lawrence H. Johnston. He was a man who worked on the Manhattan Project and, as I remember, actually developed the detonation devices used on the bombs. On August 6, 1945, Dr. Johnston flew in The Great Artiste, the B-29 that accompanied the Enola Gay on the bombings of Hiroshima and, later, Nagasaki. Dr. Johnston was on the plane to collect scientific data after the detonation.

But what was more powerful to me was the faith of Dr. Johnston. This noted physicist was an elder of an evangelical church that I attended. And it was his faith rather than his academic achievements or his wartime stories that had a great impact on me, as a young freshman.

Often, after church, we students would congregate at his home. I remember discussing with him his thoughts on the bombings. He told of the events of the day with passion and sincerity. You could see the pain in Dr. Johnston’s eyes as he reflected upon the many killed in the attacks. Yet, he was one who understood the times. He lived in the 40’s. I do not think any of us “moderns” were there. The barbarism of the Japanese regime was well known. And, as we all should remember, innocents were not killed on that day. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Likewise, the wages of sin is death.

That said, I am not suggesting that the deaths of the noncombatants was justified. Thousands died in the initial bombing and thousands more in the weeks that followed as a result of radiation poisoning. Dr. Johnston and I contrasted the challenges of that sad day in world history, reflecting upon other wartime atrocities of the past. Was it a justified action? Were more lives saved through the bombing? Was this pragmatism, seeing an just end and ignoring the means?

It seemed Dr. Johnston struggled with the ethics of the bombing. But he was one who trusted in the Sovereignty of God. We talked about the Conquest of Canaan and God’s directions to annihilate wicked civilizations. Yet, we remembered Jesus’ admonition to do good to those who persecute us. And we discussed that we all stand in the midst of a history decreed by the sovereign plan of God, who works all things according to the counsel of His will since the foundation of the world.

At the end of the day, I am still torn over the whole event. The ethics are complex. The implications are far reaching. These are events that Christians should consider and prayerfully ponder, even debate. And indeed Christian brethren will come to different conclusions. But one thing I do know, the Kingdom of the Lord will indeed cover the earth like the waters cover the sea and there will be a day when our swords will be beaten into plowshares. It is to the success of the Kingdom that we pray, it is to the success of the Kingdom that we strive, it is to the success of the Kingdom that we battle.

And to make it legal, the opinions expressed herein are not necessarily those of the other elders or members of Providence Church.

2 comments

  1. Doug Mitts /

    Pastor James,

    Thank you for the challenges and the thought provoking questions. Especially in regards to something that seems distant and unreal to us. Truly, to live at that time and be a part of the daily history would make it a challenge to weigh ethical decisions. I have found myself reading history and being stirred emotionally to think of the issue as “it serves you right” mentality. “Remember Pearl” I am sure was on many individuals hearts and lips. We sort of have our own issue w/ that in 9/11. Thank you for the shepherding words and caring reminder to draw our conclusions from the peace and hope that God’s word contains.

  2. Shaun Green /

    Dear Pastor, I am not sire if you have read this, it may be that Dr. Johnston had a hand in compiling it.
    http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/685
    At the end of the report, there is an eye-witness account of the Hiroshima bombing. It is quite an eye-opener.

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