Thursday, August 6, 2009

On this day

It's August 6 and in both the Eastern and Western Churches it's the Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus (Luke 9:28-36, Mark 9:2-12, Matthew 17:1-9, c.f. 2 Peter 1:12-19). And in a sort of Satanic parody it was also on this day in 1945 that the first atomic bomb was used in warfare to incinerate the people and city of Hiroshima. Then three days later the city of Nagasaki suffered the same fate; it also scored a first too, the first plutonium bomb to be used in war. At least some 130,000 people were killed with many more to die in subsequent years from the effects of radiation.

When I was growing up there was considerable debate about the ethics of those atom bombings. The dominant voice a saying that they were necessary to force the Japanese surrender as an invasion of Japan would have cost countless deaths both Allied soldiers and Japanese. A minor voice argued that the bombings were unnecessary and that the real purpose of the bombings was to warn the Soviet Union that the US now had such weapons and was not to be trifled with in the post-war world. And other minor voices argued that the bombings could have been avoided if the Allies had tried different strategies to end the war with Japan. The Wikipedia entry on the atomic bombings seems to run with the dominant voice.

Whatever the case, these bombings remain an atrocity and remind us of what a blasphemy war is. The 20th century has the dubious distinction of being one of the most bloodthirsty of times. The art of mass killing was one of the century's key achievements, being framed as it was by genocidal campaigns, at the beginning by the Germans in Namibia against the Herero and the US in the Philippines to suppress the independence movements there and at the other end with the slaughters in Rwanda, the Balkans and Chechnya. And in the middle were the great mass slaughters of the Second World War period.

So today is Hiroshima Day, World Peace Day, a day to commit to nuclear disarmament, well, to total disarmament if I had my way. Because it's not just about bombs anymore. There's the whole question of the use of depleted uranium and the US pursuit of tactical battlefield nuclear weapons. As if the non-nuclear ones weren't bad enough. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have provided a ready theatre for all many of experimentation in warfare. Unsurprisingly, I guess. For me one of the most appalling aspects of the US response to the September 11 attacks in 2001 was the gleeful and eager way the Bush Administration from the top down declared that the US had entered the first world war of the 21st century. They were happy and excited! They had a war! They should have been wearing sackcloth and ashes.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were crimes, crimes within the greater crime that is war. May the bombs and rifles and tanks and cannons and destroyers and aircraft carriers and missiles be beaten into ploughshares and the military bases and munitions factories be razed to the ground. I'm feeling in a quite Old Testament mood right now, perhaps because of the full moon and lunar eclipse. So, because war is also a big business I have to quote this:

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks


You that never done nothin'
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it's your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly

Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain

You fasten the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion
As young people's blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud

You've thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain't worth the blood
That runs in your veins

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I'm young
You might say I'm unlearned
But there's one thing I know
Though I'm younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul

And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand o'er your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead

(Bob Dylan, Masters of War. Copyright ©1963; renewed 1991 Special Rider Music)


But more gently close with this:

And when the soldiers burn their uniforms in every land
The foxholes at the borders will be left unmanned
General, when you come for the review
The troops will have forgotten you
And the men and women of the earth shall rest
(Joan Baez, All the Weary Mothers)

And for a good Transfiguration reflection on Hiroshima click here.

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