04 August 2005

How the Grinch stole Hiroshima

It is the season for Hiroshima and Nagasaki observances, and once again I will not take part.

Not that I approve of the bombings or of atomic weapons. In the case of Hiroshima, August 6, 1945, my mother told me when I was a child that she had been on a train at the time. She was close enough to see the flash. I have childhood memories of her leukemia check-ups (at least that's my grown-up interpretation of her need to have her "atomic blood" checked). She was always sure that the whole Pacific war was at least half the USA's fault, since (in her mind) Roosevelt had deliberately ignored warnings of the Pearl Harbor attack in the hopes that it would justify his already-planned entry into World War II. I do not personally agree with her interpretation, but I've always been fascinated by how different those events looked from her family's viewpoint in Japan.

In 1976, I was a participant in the Friends World Committee for Consultation triennial sessions in Hamilton, Ontario. One of the high points of that event was T. Canby Jones speaking on Psalm 126, "Those who sow in tears shall reap with sounds of joy." In the course of his talk he meditated on the Japan of his childhood and on his recent visit to Hiroshima. His presentation was modest and uplifting.

In 1985, I was again at an FWCC triennial, this time in Oaxtepec, Mexico. August 6 rolled around during those sessions. I think we all went to the Hiroshima-Nagasaki memorial meeting. For some reason that is surely nobody's fault at those sessions, I was overwhelmed to the point of nausea by the public self-flagellation, the undifferentiated denunciations, the lack of any spiritual diagnosis comparable to that provided nine years earlier by Canby. I walked out.

That was my last Hiroshima memorial meeting. I now prefer to keep my mourning private (excepting, maybe, this weblog entry).

Years ago, Dale Aukerman wrote an amazing book, Darkening Valley: A Biblical Perspective on Nuclear War. If I remember correctly, he described nuclear weapons as, very simply, extension of the human fist and the impulse to say "thou fool."

I don't want to get in the way of anyone who feels that their fist and their mouth are likely to be more humane and Godly if they attend a Hiroshima/Nagasaki observance. (Or do some of us actually feel that only others need to change?) My priority is the Lamb's War. If we do not fight this noncarnal war against evil in high places, we will continue to respond too late to the buildups of earthly evil that put our Churchills and Trumans into such unbearably ambiguous dilemmas—apparently having to choose between one massacre or another.

It is legitimate to ask Christian pacifists what we would have done in the face of the fascist threat. (Substitute your favorite representative of mass evil.) I welcome the challenge of countering the implication that our nonviolence is useless, but it IS to some degree useless at the hypothetical point of this challenge (although obedience to the Prince of Peace can never be ultimately useless).

Instead of being required to answer why pacifists would withhold the scalpel of righteous violence, I want to know why the question is always framed at the point where the patient is dying of advanced cancer. I want the Church's response to the cancer of militarism and fascism to begin long before the forces are arrayed and the bullets begin spraying. With the worldwide network of believers engaged in the Lamb's War against evil in all forms, couldn't we do better preventive medicine? Couldn't we do more to infiltrate the world's camps and divisions, subvert all official definitions of enemy, raise the alarm when flows of weapons, illicit funding, wicked and inhumane ideologies begin creeping here and there across our far-more-alert radar screens?

Unless we put more of an effort into prayerful "peacetime" vigilance, persistent and winsome evangelism, and divine subversion, we will always be caught with too little, too late when the superpatriots and the power politicians finally reveal their hand. In fact, they too are legitimate subjects of prayer and evangelism, because they are not the enemy, they are prisoners of the Enemy.


Martin Kelley said...

Good stories. Whenever someone asks me at Nonviolence.org one of the "What would you do about Hitler" kind of questions, I point out how the seeds of that war (and all wars) were planted many decades earlier. When the bullets start flying it's often too late. It's weird saying this as a pacifist who's supposed to have a pat answer but really we need to be instilling a culture of peace: the Lamb's War indeed. Your reminder that the "superpatriots" are prisoners of the enemy is welcome. We have a lot of ministry we need to be doing and it's not the "aren't we Quakers great?" kind of stuff we hear too often.

I'm spending most of tomorrow -- August 6th, Hiroshima Day -- at the wedding of two friends. There's rich irony, as he works for military contractor Lockheed Martin. Although I'm terrible with dates, I'm a fully indoctrinated pacifist and so all summer long it's been easy to remember the date of E- and A-'s wedding. I don't bring up the connection and won't tomorrow: it's not a Quaker wedding and besides, I'm not a dour person. I love these two and that's more important that anniversary dates. But it occurs to me that I've rarely if ever really ministered to E-. Is he a prisoner? How would I free him? Taken out of the abstract, it's an almost-impossible role to think about. Hmm...

Paul L said...

Good question, Johan. Our Friend Mulford Sibley used to express the same frustration: Why do you seek advice from pacifists when the war is about to start? Why not talk to us at the end of the previous one?

I began to write that we don't know what to do because we lack historical imagination; we lack the long-term narrative and perspective that shows where the road we're on is heading and where a better route branches off.

But instead I got to thinking of a time when certain pacifists -- Friends -- did get it right, did plant seeds of peace in the midst of a dying world that yielded good fruit. I'm thinking of the efforts Friends led in ministering to German POWs in France before the end of WWI. The connections made with them and subsequently with their families positioned Friends to be able to accept Herbert Hoover's invitation to the AFSC to coordinate the emergency feeding of Germans in the years after the war.

At the same time, the Allies were planting (nurturing is probably more accurate) the seeds of fascism and National Socialism with their insistance on a vengeful Treaty at Versailles, imposing on Germany not only an impossible financial burden but also an intolerable moral one.

Yet while the catrastrophe was being sown, Friends were feeding the Germans, building goodwill -- creating social capital as come would call it today.

Then, in 1944 or so, in the middle of the next whirlwind, the Friends' reputation was such that they were given extraordinary privileges by (some of) the German occupiers of France to visit and minister to refugees and some political prisoners in concentration camps.

One result of this ministry was the connection made between the AFSC and Andre Trocme, the pastor of the Protestant congregation in Le Chabon, that in turn led to Le Chabon being turned into a place of refuge that saved the lives of at least 5000 Jews.

Obviously this didn't stop WWII from happening or materially change its course -- except for the 5000 Jews who survived. But it did give Friends -- and other committed peacemakers -- a way to answer with integrity the question, "What would you have done with Hitler?"

But you asked for more than an isolated anecdote of Goodness, you asked for concrete responses the Church can make to the cancer of militarism and fascism before it has metastasized.

But isn't it really the same answer: Do Good. Do what you can to make the social body healthy and able to recognize and isolate the cancer. Exercise your rights. Practice your powers of discernment. Absorb the poison yourself instead of passing it on to others. Minister to the early victims of the cancer. Keep them from giving up.

Saying what to do is the easy part. The hard part is doing it, and it is here that Friends and the Church have something to offer. We know by experience that God will provide us with the courage and imagination necessary to do what needs to be done if only we ask. We know that our deepest fears can be eased and our defenses disarmed by the experience of the Love of God.

I'm reminded of Eugen Herrigel's Zen and the Art of Archery where he tells of visiting with a Japanese business associate when an earthquake rocked the hotel (it might have been the big one of 1923?). While everyone else in the hotel ran around, screaming in a panic, Herrigel's friend calmly slipped off the couch onto his knees, placed his hands in his lap, and sat in such medatative calm that Herrigel found himself doing the same thing. He emerged from the earthquake calm and unshaken. That incident led to Herrigel's investigation of Zen.

I think if Friends exhibited the same kind of calm certainty, rooted not in superior educational or professional achievement but in the Sprit of the Living God, we would find and attract others to work with us before it is too late.

Unknown said...

I said as much-- though less eloquently at one yearly meeting once. I was chastized roundly by someone who told me I was denigrating the epace effort.

Perhaps I was. I have never stood on the front lines of anything. If it is by your fruits you are known I have done nothing for peace-work.

Meanwhile this morning I attended a small protestant church up the street where the minister leading the prayers of the people asked for God's protection for our troops in Afghanistan and I wondered (silently) if he had ever read the sermon on the mount. But I said nothing. Quakerism has taught me silence.

Anonymous said...

Two words: "Paxton boys." That was a case where the Quakers had the opportunity not to let a cancer grow in their midst, and they blew it big. Until you can answer how you might avert that kind of tragedy (Google it if you don't know the story. It was almost a Quaker Srbrenica.) you have no good way to defend Christian pacifism.

Unknown said...

I googled Paxton Boys as suggested. The incident clearly shows that Christian pacifists can also make mistakes in judgment and sometimes act in ways that lead to violence. And I'm sure there are also stories out there of militarists or of invading armies who chose in a moment's grace not to kill.

That being said, acting in such a way as to not foster violence strikes me as not only a very good idea -- but as a holy idea.

Anonymous said...

I don't think you can dismiss the Paxton Boys incident so casually. The Boys' attitude was that Quaker pacifism was worthy of contempt. In that, the Paxton Boys were not alone, at all. There are plenty of people in the world who respond to it in the same way, and the only way to dispel their contempt is to show willingness to use force against them. In 1764, the Quakers did exactly that, but only after the massacre of the Conestoga Indians.

Johan Maurer said...

Thanks for all these comments.

For us to be effective in the Lamb's war against evil, we need to go beyond just Quakers and other peace churches, although I believe we need to do that without giving up our identity and values.

We need to organize! One possible basis is to organize around the growing interest in spiritual warfare, an important concern that includes such diverse thinkers as C. Peter Wagner and Walter Wink (whose dialogue has enriched the conversation greatly) and crosses the Catholic/Protestant/Orthodox divisions.

Encouraging Christians to organize effectively against evil requires us to be reflective about our own failures (hence the relevance of the Paxton Boys case), to be gracious concerning the diversities of others, willing to engage in honest debate and conflict, and ready to accept a division of labor based on the varying gifts of individuals and groups.