08/03/2009, 00.00
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The atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a moral failure

by Pino Cazzaniga
August 6 and 9 mark the anniversaries of the atomic bombs launched on the two Japanese cities. It marked the beginning of the era of nuclear terror. The testimonies of Jesuit Fr Arrupe, in Hiroshima at the time, and a Catholic doctor from Nagasaki. In 1945 political designs prevailed over the scientists and humanists who refused the use of atomic power. And now?

Tokyo (AsiaNews) - Every year in the early morning hours of 6 August in Hiroshima in Peace Memorial Park (Peace Memorial Park) thousands of Japanese citizens and a few hundreds of tourists sit in meditation in front of the cenotaph to remember the victims of the first atomic explosion. At 8:15 the rhythmic sound of a gong calls the assembly to silent prayer.

Above the sky 64 years before, the "Little Boy", the first atomic bomb, dropped from an American B29, exploded with a power equal to 13 thousand tons of dynamite instantly causing 80 thousand victims who became 350 thousand by the end of the year.

Three days later, August 9 at 11am, a similar memorial ceremony is held on the Hill of Peace in the city of Nagasaki, even here 64 years earlier, at the same time an atomic bomb exploded, "Fat Man", launched a few moments before by another B29. Here the immediate victims were only 44,000 because of the sudden strategic deviation of the bomber, the bomb exploded above the Urakami Valley, which contained the deadly radiation.

For the severity of damage inflicted and especially the fact that this is the first and only use of such weapons, the two attacks are considered by analysts among the most significant episodes of war in the history of humanity. But the significance of the tragedy of gloom supersedes strategic or legal aspects: it is above all moral.  

The tragedy in the testimonies of two witnesses

"Rest in peace, so this mistake will not be repeated," are the words carved on the stone of the cenotaph in Hiroshima. The phrase, a little ambiguous perhaps, was chosen with the intention of commemorating the victims of Hiroshima without politicizing the issue.

But what "mistake" does it refer to? A strategic one? A legal one? A morale one? Our response is unwavering: the error was above all moral. Two testimonies help us to focus on this ethical dimension

Father Pedro Arrupe (1907-1965), who later became Superior General of Jesuits, August 6 of 1945, he was in the house of his religious community on the outskirts of Hiroshima. Here's what he wrote: "I was in my room with another priest at 8.15 when suddenly we saw a blinding light, like a magnesium flare. As soon as I opened the door that overlooked the city, we heard an explosion similar to the formidable blow of the wind of a hurricane. At the same time the doors, windows and walls blasted upon us in pieces. We climbed a hill to get a better view. From there we could see a city in ruins: in front of us was a decimated Hiroshima. As this happened while in every kitchen the first meal was being prepared, the naked flame in contact with electric current, within two a half hours, turned the whole city into blazing inferno. I will never forget my first sight of what was the effect of the atomic bomb: a group of young women, eighteen or twenty years old, clinging to each other as they dragged themselves along the road. We continued to seek some way to enter the city, but it was impossible. Then we did the only thing that could be done in the presence of such massive carnage: we fell to our knees and prayed for guidance, because we were deprived of any human help. "

Prayer gave the missionary the energy to be of aid and comfort for the desolate city and in turn for depressed post-war Japan.

A rosary from the ashes of Nagasaki

Dr Paul Takashi Nagai (1908-1951), radiologist and dean of the faculty of medicine at the University 'of Nagasaki, on the morning of 9 August 1945 was at his job not far from the epicenter of the explosion but separated from it by the backbone of a hill. Beyond that hill lived a large Catholic community.

One historian writes: "For the allied military command, the atomic bomb was a necessity, because it was not a question of bending an armed resistance, but the idea very much alive among the Japanese that god was on their side .... The atomic solution would wipe out this certainty because it would inflict a mortal blow on a Shintoism artificially transformed into a militarist ideology. Instead, the analyst continues, the bomb instead of hitting at the heart of Japanese religion, struck the Catholic district of Nagasaki, the most numerous and important center for the Church in the Far East. The Catholic community then had more than 12,000 faithful. Almost all perished. The epicenter of the explosion was the cathedral which, among other things, at that time was crowded with the faithful in the queue in front of the confessional to prepare for the Feast of the Assumption".

Nagai's house was located a few tens of meters from the church. When the professor was able to return he found only ashes and bones. As an expert radiologist he had no difficulty in identifying the remains of his wife, Midori. Among the bones of the hand shone something: it was a circle of the rosary and a crucifix. He placed everything into a bucket and sad but not depressed, he made his way towards the graveyard. In the jingle of the rosary and crucifix he seemed to hear the voice of his bride giving him hope.

The accountants of war and humanists

Despite being convinced that the two atomic bombings were morally despicable acts and not just a lesser evil, we shy away from laying their responsibility on a people or a nation.

First, a clear dividing line between the government and the Christian Churches of America should be marked. A report by the National Council of Churches called "atomic war and Christian faith", written in 1946, reads: "As American Christians are deeply repentant for the irresponsible use already made of the atomic bomb. We agree that, whatever the opinion that one can have of the war in principle, the surprise bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are morally indefensible".

  Responsibility for the decision to use atomic power against Japan lies with U.S. President Harry Truman who came into office only in April of 1945, after the sudden death of Franklin Roosevelt. But by this date the first atomic bomb was ready.

In 1939, Roosevelt, on recommendation of Albert Einstein, had consented to the "Manhattan Project" which concluded with the first atomic test at Alamogordo in the New Mexico desert on 16 July 1945. The suggestion is that Einstein had been motivated by the knowledge that the Nazi Germany of Hitler was working on a similar project. But in 1945 Einstein and other scientists were decidedly opposed to the use of the bomb.

There are historical reports that indicate that the decision to use atomic bombs was made in order to provoke the early surrender of Japan through the use of impressive power. For this reason the bombs were deliberately used on targets that included areas inhabited by civilians. The accountants of the war strategy prevailed over the humanists. And so mankind entered the era of the nuclear terror.

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