Yesterday before church I read my devotional for the day from Common Prayer, then glanced at today's. It was the story of Maximillian Kolbe, a Polish priest who sheltered Jews and criticized Nazi violence. He was arrested and sent to Auschwitz. When a prisoner tried to escape, the Nazis responded by killing 10 others. As one of them pleaded for his life, on behalf of his family, Maximillian volunteered to be executed in that man's place. Before he was martyred he led others in prayer and singing. Today, August 14, is Father Kolbe's feast day in the Catholic Church, a day to celebrate his life and sainthood.
The Nazis will not kill our souls, since we prisoners certainly distinguish ourselves quite definitely from our tormentors; they will not be able to deprive us of the dignity of our Catholic belief. We will not give up. And when we die, then we die pure and peaceful, resigned to God in our hearts. - Maximillian Kolbe
Years before Auschwitz, Maximillian founded a monastery in Nagasaki, Japan. When the US dropped the atomic bomb there, the second dropped on Japan in a single week during August 1945, the monastery mirculously was not damaged. Between Hiroshima and Nagasaki, more than 200,000 Japanese civilians died. I used to debate with my grandfather, a WWII veteran, whether the use of atomic weapons on Japan was justified. He held the view that yes it was; the planned invasion of Allied forces onto Japanese soil would have caused much more loss of life- Japanese, American, and everyone else involved. I'm still not sure I believe that to be the case, and I know historians debate it to this day, nearly 80 years later.
In the excellent movie Oppenheimer, President Truman and Oppenheimer debate this point in the Oval Office of the White House- after the bombs were dropped. Oppenheimer is troubled by the loss of innocent lives by a weapon he meant to be used against the Nazis. Truman dismisses Oppenheimer with the words, "Keep that crybaby out of here," which evidently Truman actually said. I saw Oppenheimer twice, on consecutive days, at the end of July. The screening was in IMAX; the second on actual 35mm film in Richardson.
The movie, directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Nolan favorite Cillian Murphy, is a masterpiece, more biography than spectacle- the bomb test takes place about halfway through the movie; the remaining half are the political struggles Oppenheimer endured after sharing publicly his fears of nuclear proliferation between Russia and the USA. It reminded me a whole lot of JFK. In my opinion as a longstanding Nolan fan, it's the frontrunner for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor. Robert Downey Jr may well take home an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor as well. The movie does not really take a strong view on the morality of the atomic bomb (or the hydrogen bomb for that matter, although Oppenheimer was opposed to developing the weapon because its use is beyond comprehension- the amount of devastation is just insane).
What does the United Methodist Church say?
We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ. We therefore reject war as an instrument of national foreign policy. We oppose unilateral first/preemptive strike actions and strategies on the part of any government. As disciples of Christ, we are called to love our enemies, seek justice, and serve as reconcilers of conflict. We insist that the first moral duty of all nations is to work together to resolve by peaceful means every dispute that arises between or among them. We advocate the extension and strengthening of international treaties and institutions that provide a framework within the rule of law for responding to aggression, terrorism, and genocide. We believe that human values must outweigh military claims as governments determine their priorities; that the militarization of society must be challenged and stopped; that the manufacture, sale, and deployment of armaments must be reduced and controlled; and that the production, possession, or use of nuclear weapons be condemned. Consequently, we endorse general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.
This power in the hands of a few people, in the hands of a few countries, terrifies me. What can we do about it? This page has good discussion points and next steps to consider. If you want to know more about J Robert Oppenheimer, check out this excellent documentary on the Criterion Channel: The Day After Trinity - The Day After Trinity - The Criterion Channel
Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be children of God" (Matthew 5:9). Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.