August 2011

Remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki

The devastation of Nagasaki and Hiroshima points beyond the parameters of history to the limitless dimensions of the human heart, writes Good Samaritan Sister Diana Law.

BY Diana Law SGS

With the Russian army penetrating Manchuria, heading towards Japan to engage in conventional battle (planned for August 8), the United States dropped its first atomic bomb (uranium based), code-named “Little Boy” on Hiroshima. Up to that day, both Hiroshima and Nagasaki had escaped the World War II raids which had flattened over 50 other Japanese cities.

Three days after Hiroshima on August 9, another bomb (plutonium core and three times more powerful than at Hiroshima), code-named “Fat Man” exploded over Nagasaki. Originally, the town of Kokura was the intended target, but as it was concealed by cloud, Nagasaki became the target, clearly identified by St Mary’s Cathedral. The result was the incineration of the Christian centre of Japan which had already survived persecution and a history of underworld existence.

In Hiroshima, an estimated 75,000 people were killed outright and a further 75,000 injured. The temperature directly under the explosion was between 3,000 and 4,000 degrees Celsius, so everything inside a two-kilometre radius was burnt to ashes. Consequently, thousands more died from burns, shrapnel and radiation contamination. By the end of 1945, an estimated 130,000 to 150,000 had died, and five years later, the numbers had increased to about 200,000. Meanwhile, in Nagasaki, some 39,000 people were killed outright and a further 25,000 were injured, with thousands more dying later from burns, injuries and radiation contamination.

The active atomic age began on July 15, 1945 close to Alamogordo, New Mexico, at the testing site (code-named “Trinity”) of the first atomic bomb, “Gadget”. The rocks formed from the molten mess at that site are called trinitite. The sinister significance reverberates through history, compounded by the three days between Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the plutonium-cored “Fat Man”, three times as powerful as the uranium “Little Boy”.

The preparation for this age, code-named the “Manhattan project”, was the USA secret network, which by 1945 had 40 laboratories and factories employing 200,000 people. The German-born physicist, Albert Einstein, had earlier encouraged President Roosevelt to develop the atom bomb ahead of Germany which had succeeded to split the uranium atom (fission).

Fear energised scientific expertise and Einstein sensed that technology was demonising our humanity. However, would it be more accurate to ask: “Was it humanity demonising technology since science is a tool and it is we who choose how to use it”? (Ellie Betteridge, 2011). On August 9, 1945, US President Harry Truman said: “I realise the tragic significance of the atom bomb… It is an awful responsibility which has come to us… We thank God that it has come to us, instead of to our enemies, and we pray that He may guide us to use it in His ways and for His purposes”.

Arrogance corrupts our power, perception and prayer and, because “there is never a good war nor a bad peace” (Benjamin Franklin, 1783), the devastation of Nagasaki and Hiroshima points beyond the parameters of history to the limitless dimensions of the human heart.

Here the sinister ramifications of the interior ‘atom-splitting’ of arrogance, greed and oppression reveal its immeasurable power of destruction. It’s always easy to see such a dynamic within ‘the other’ but “whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process, he [or she] does not become a monster” (Friedrich Nietzsche, 1885).

On the other hand, when splitting the interior ‘atom’ of forgiveness, compassion and love we release the infinite power of God’s spirit into our world. We see this in the lives of so many hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) who struggled with anger and revenge but who broke through to other ‘regions’ of their human hearts. They discovered the infinite power of forgiveness which creates transformative inner peace, with radiation of heiwa (peace) into the world of human consciousness and existential daily living.

Just as with the hibakusha, the choice of thought and the challenge of choice is ours. The harpsichords of our human hearts play the dirge of destruction or the songs of salvation according to our choosing. If we harbour one negative thought to harm, diminish or silence another human person, we work at ‘splitting the atom’ of destruction within our own heart and releasing this as a continuation of the crucifixion of Jesus in our world.

Conversely, if we allow the power of the Holy Spirit to ‘split the atom’ of forgiveness and compassion within us, we release the ineffable power of the resurrection into the ‘Hiroshima and Nagasaki’ of both our hearts and our world.

Diana Law

Good Samaritan Sister Diana Law is a member of the Gympie, Murgon, Cherbourg Outreach Conferences of the St Vincent de Paul Society. Previously, she taught with Jesuit priests at Jochi University, Tokyo, where she concentrated on inter-religious dialogue and assisted in the opening of a refugee centre in Gose. She values the interdependence of partners in ministry, Oblates and Sisters in the Good Samaritan journey.

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