On this day, Nagasaki was devastated by “fat man” as he fell from the sky and wiped out hundreds of thousands of people. Just a few days earlier on the feast of the Transfiguration, “little boy” fell on Hiroshima. These two events, like the transfiguration and the resurrection which it prefigured, can never be lost to history. Like the shadows which they imprinted on Japanese sidewalks through the power of their blast, so they must remain imprinted on our souls as memory of our capacity for evil. Twenty-five years after Hiroshima, Pedro Arrupe, SJ wrote:
The explosion of the first atomic bomb has become a para-historical phenomenon. It is not a memory, it is a perpetual experience, outside history, which does not pass with the ticking of the clock. The pendulum stopped, and Hiroshima has remained engraved in my mind. It has no relation with time. It belongs to motionless eternity.
St. Paul wrote in 2 Thessalonians 2 about the “lawless one:”
Let no one deceive you in any way. For unless the apostasy comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one doomed to perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god and object of worship, so as to seat himself in the temple of God, claiming that he is a god–
The first Adam never went away. He continues to live in us. Perhaps we are the “lawless one,” the first Adam, redeemed, but continuing to want to be like God, exalting ourselves above all other gods, striving, like Adam, to be God. The atomic bomb reminds us that we are still that Adam. We are still capable through freedom of such horror. Paul had a vision of who would come. So let us remember, with Dorothy Day and Pedro Arrupe, SJ, that horrible day.
Written in 1945 in The Catholic Worker:
Mr. Truman was jubilant. President Truman. “True man:” what a strange name, come to think of it. We refer to Jesus Christ as true God and true Man. Truman is a true man of his time in that he was jubilant. He was not a son of God, brother of Christ, brother of the Japanese, jubilating as he did. He went from table to table on the cruiser which was bringing him home from the Big Three conference, telling the great news; “jubilant” the newspapers said. Jubilate Deo. We have killed 318,000 Japanese.
That is, we hope we have killed them, the Associated Press, on page one, column one of the Herald Tribune says. The effect is hoped for, not known. It is to be hoped they are vaporized, our Japanese brothers, scattered, men, women and babies, to the four winds, over the seven seas. Perhaps we will breathe their dust into our nostrils, feel them in the fog of New York on our faces, feel them in the rain on the hills of Eton.
Jubilate Deo. President Truman was jubilant. We have created. We have created destruction. We have created a new element, called Pluto. Nature had nothing to do with it.
The papers list the scientists (the murderers) who are credited with perfecting this new weapon. Scientists, army officers, great universities, and captains of industry-all are given credit lines in the press for their work of preparing the bomb-and other bombs, the President assures us, are in production now.
Everyone says, “I wonder what the Pope thinks of it?” How everyone turns to the Vatican for judgment, even though they do not seem to listen to the voice there! But our Lord Himself has already pronounced judgment on the atomic bomb. When James and John (John the beloved) wished to call down fire from heaven on their enemies, Jesus said:
“You know not of what spirit you are. The Son of Man came not to destroy souls but to save.” He said also, “What you do unto the least of these my brethren, you do unto me.
From a talk given in 1950 recalling his memories of helping victims of the Hiroshima bombing:
At first, without electricity or radio, we were cut off from the rest of the world. The following day cars and trains began arriving from Tokyo and Osaka with help for Hiroshima. They stayed in the outskirts of the city, and when we questioned them as to what had happened, they answered very mysteriously: “The first atomic bomb has exploded.”
“But what is the atomic bomb?”
They would answer: “The atom bomb is a terrible thing.”
“We have seen how terrible it is, but what is it?”
And they would repeat: “It’s the atomic bomb…the atomic bomb.”
They knew nothing but the name. It was a new word that was coming for the first time into the vocabulary. Besides, the knowledge that it was the atomic bomb that had exploded was no help to us at all from a medical standpoint, as no one in the world knew its full effects on the human organism. We were, in effect, the first guinea pigs in such experimentation.
But from a missionary standpoint, they did challenge us when they said: “Do not enter the city because there is a gas in the air that kills for seventy years.” It is at such times that one feels most a priest, when one knows that in the city there are 50,000 bodies which, unless they are cremated, will cause a terrible plague. There were besides 120,000 wounded to care for. In light of these facts, a priest cannot remain outside the city just to preserve his life. Of course, when one is told that in the city there is a gas that kills, one must be very determined to ignore that fact and go in. And we did.
Nathan O’Halloran, SJ